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The Passionate Pragmatist: Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone speaks out on how he still gets fired-up for the Highlands

By Scott Maclennan

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Jamie Stone and Alex Campbell – Port of Cromarty Firth Chief Executive. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Jamie Stone and Alex Campbell – Port of Cromarty Firth Chief Executive. Picture: Callum Mackay.

In the final part of our series of interviews with the two frontrunners for the Caithness Sutherland Westminster seat we talk to Jamie Stone – a parallel interview on the SNP’s Lucy Beattie can be found here.

Jamie Stone is nothing if not convivial but if you spend enough time with him between the extremely lively conversation you can clearly discern two qualities – anger and passion, albeit expressed gently..

The Liberal Democrat seeking election as the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is certainly a talker, in fact everywhere he goes he leaves a trail of donkeys missing their hind legs.

He manages to cover an awful lot of topics in an incredibly short period of time. He can do Westminster gossip, MP adventures, living in the Highlands, political shenanigans and hard policy in the first three minutes.

What you realise is that he is very alive to what is going on around him and response to those he is talking about – he can find common ground with almost anyone and unlike most big talkers, he is an excellent listener.

What you don’t get on the face of it is that he has been a carer for his wife for the last quarter century.

Like his SNP rival, he does not speak about this with self-pity or with a veteran’s pride, the feeling you get from him is that of a very Highland form of duty – ‘this is my wife, I will look after her, what I want does not come into it’.

And you don’t get the anger, perhaps outrage is a better word, that he is far too polite to shout about when he speaks about the north and the governments he believes have failed it.

Those two elements provide the backbone of a large, if not most, of what appears to motivate him as a politician – the personal and how it crosses into the political – showing him to be a passionate pragmatist.

I could only find one public utterance about his role as a carer prior to this campaign and that was in June 2020 when Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to force MPs to vote in person at Westminster.

From Mr Stone you get the sense that certain things are not to be traded on and . when I met with him in Dingwall – a new acquisition for the constituency after redrawn boundaries – here is how he told me it fits into his politics:

Another thing that he will not trade is his belief that the primary problem facing the north is not necessarily economic, not social, not medical, not housing - though they are all fundamental - but depopulation.

And that means persuading people against the Chernobyl-inspired view that all nuclear power is bad nuclear power and providing those in other parts of the UK with the revelation that support exists for it in Caithness.

The reason why is Dounreay, currently being dismantled piece by piece, but for many decades it did not just tackle population decline but in the words of Mr Stone “reversed” it.

During the day spent with Mr Stone he also dropped in for a briefing at the Port of Cromarty Firth for a briefing on the latest developments forthcoming on the Green Freeport.

The massive project involving at least four Highland ports is considered potentially one of the biggest economic boosts that the north has ever seen - that includes oil and gas many people’s opinion.

During the time when it was being considered, he was one of the most passionate and vocal supporters for what is essentially a Conservative and SNP policy.

That is valuable indication that if it is right for the north then it is right for Mr Stone and he is prepared to work on a cross-party basis - the lack of cooperation has helped paralyse British politics for years.

Alex Campbell – Port of Cromarty Firth Chief Executive and Jamie Stone. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Alex Campbell – Port of Cromarty Firth Chief Executive and Jamie Stone. Picture: Callum Mackay.

But not everyone is for it. Some talk about the tax breaks to get the freeport moving negatively while others confuse the pale of investment with the actual customs zones.

Mr Stone is for it. Why? He still feels lucky he was able to get a job at Nigg during the oil boom allowing him to stay near his childhood home of Tain, he wants the same for others.

But as always many things come to politics. And he has no patience for members in Holyrood or Westminster who are what he said is being the “voice of London or Edinburgh” in the far north.

He spoke about his fears the lack of maternity services in Caithness may result in the death of a mother or her child while he remains furious at the “deafening silence” of some.

It is only after leaving his company that you realise just how much information he has delivered, the range of issues discussed and the inner workings of complex operations like the free port.

He is certainly on top of his brief - but ultimately whatever that is, it is for the voter to decide on Thursday, he certainly doesn’t wont for passionate commitment.

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