In Brief: Denis Rixson running for the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch seat in his own words addressing some of the key problems faced by the constituency ranging from fuel poverty to transport
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On the eve of the Scottish Parliamentary elections, the Scottish Liberal Democrats' Denis Rixson offers his answers – in brief – to some of the most significant issues facing the north ranging from fuel poverty to delivering healthcare after the pandemic to the housing crisis that is de-populating many areas and the problem of transport.
“Our network for the supply and distribution of electricity was never designed to cope with the issues and opportunities of 2021. The existing system suffers from constraints which mean it cannot take advantage of all the new sources of supply.
“The second part of the equation is what we do with that energy once we have produced it and can distribute it. Export depends upon a market existing for it at the price we can profitably supply it.
“Can we produce it cheaply enough to reduce fuel poverty? Parts of the Highlands suffer severe weather conditions – particularly in winter. People here spend a high proportion of their income on fuel and for those on low incomes fuel poverty is a major issue. Can we produce cheap renewable energy that could be used to alleviate household heating bills, either by grid supply or via district heating systems? But this won’t happen by itself. It will require market intervention.”
“I’m not a medical person so write from the point of view of a consumer – a distant, rural consumer, 40 miles from a small general hospital, 100 miles from a big one. I’ve had operations and out-patient clinics in each. What am I, and most other consumers, looking for? We want the expertise, yes, but we want it local. Are these two irreconcilable? No!
“We all understand that for major interventions it is impractical to have lots of expensive equipment duplicated throughout the Highlands. But much Healthcare is not critical or emergency. In those situations we do not want to have all patients travelling. Patients don’t want that. They want services to be accessible. Our healthcare model should suit our environment. We are not Glasgow or London.
“I can see the efficiencies achievable by increasing centralisation. But every step towards centralisation is a step further away from the people you serve. (NB the present Scottish Government)! This is not an economic service that is on offer; it’s a health service.”
“We can and do charge council tax on second homes. That tax is then recycled to help with infrastructure for new housing. However, it is not a sufficient disincentive. We could increase the council tax element – but that might not be popular with Highland property owners and it would have to increase dramatically to have a real effect.
“We can’t tackle Highland’s housing crisis without comprehensive Land Reform and some type of Land Value Tax. Land, wealth and power have always been hopelessly imbalanced in the Highlands. My preference is a form of Land Value Tax that is a disincentive to leaving land underused.
“We don’t want to place undue taxes on land that is used productively for agriculture or forestry. But we can’t let the Highlands become a refuge for the rich.”
“The Highlands cover about one-third of Scotland. We have thousands of kilometres of road and hundreds of bridges. To bring them up to scratch requires almost £200 million now. We need a real cash injection for our roads – not for new ones, merely to fix the potholes. I favour strategic bridges to improve connectivity and reduce journey times, think Skye and Ballachulish.
“For the railways I don’t argue new lines – just improved rolling-stock and better use of the existing infrastructure. Our network could do with more passing places and more commuter services to and from centres like Inverness and Fort William. The Jacobite Steam Train on the West Highland Line shows how we can fill the trains. I favour active travel – but we have to be realistic in gales and horizontal rain.”
“Hydrogen-powered buses and trains, electric planes and ferries – the green transport future is bright for Highland. Not, unfortunately, for the present Scottish Government which has two half-built ferries sitting in Ferguson’s yard.”