More than a thousand people sign petition against a shake-up of council wards that critics say would mark the 'destruction of rural democracy'
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A petition with more than 1000 signatures has been handed over to the Boundary Commission by Struan Mackie, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Caithness Sutherland and Ross.
People from across the Highlands have rallied behind the community-backed campaign to oppose the commission’s plans to overhaul Highland Council’s ward boundaries.
It comes after the Boundary Commission, which has to carry out reviews every eight to 12 years, proposed a radical shake-up prompted by the Islands Act.
It would see three far north councillors ditched altogether, one in Caithness and two in Sutherland – a move that critics say would lead to the Highlands being run by Inverness councillors through sheer weight of numbers.
The plans envisage a new Caithness ward with three members, while new Wick and Thurso wards would get two councillors each – in total the county would lose one councillor.
The changes in neighbouring Sutherland would be more drastic with the creation of one ward where previously there were two and the loss of two of its current six councillors.
The council has already objected formally to the plans after initially roundly rejecting them in their entirety while the Boundary Commission aims to have the changes in place in time for the May 2022 council elections.
Struan Mackie, who is also a councillor, created the petition after being outraged by what he called the “destruction of rural democracy” as representation across the far north would be severely cut.
“I have been overwhelmed with the community support for the petition, with over 1000 signatories from across the Highlands,” he said.
“It is clear just how widespread the opposition is to the Boundary Commission’s plans and that they simply cannot force through this destruction of rural democracy. These proposals would only accelerate the relentless centralisation of rural Scotland, removing the ‘local’, from local services.
“Now that the petition has been lodged with the Local Boundary Commission for Scotland, we must now turn Holyrood and keep up the momentum of this campaign, where Government Ministers have yet to comment on the proposals.
“Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government seemed oblivious to the community upset at last week's Holyrood questions, when questioned on the proposals.
“It is vital that the Scottish Government understand the impact of the Boundary Commissions plans that are the direct result of Scottish Government legislation. They must intervene and use their powers to halt this.
“Scotland’s remote and rural communities will not forgive the erosion of local democracy and representation at the expense of an unelected quango, who have billed the taxpayer £160k so far for their axework.”