A regional cross-party group of MSPs could tackle rural issues and provide a unified voice for the Highlands, Kate Forbes MSP has said.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch believes that “meaningful collaboration” could bring solutions to longstanding issues rather than “empty political mischief making”.
The Highland MSP made the remarks in a short essay for the Reform Scotland think tank marking 20 years of the Scottish Parliament.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “If I could change one thing it would be to better organise and harness the collective weight of regional MSPs – constituency and list MSPs working together. I’ve seen it work well on an ad hoc basis.
“There is already some good cross-party working amongst Highland and Island MSPs in terms of education and healthcare, where an MSP from one party has invited others to take part in formal discussions about recruiting and retaining professionals in remote areas.
“We discussed the challenges with some of the public bodies in attendance, agreed on a set of actions and decided to meet again to take these forward. No politicking, no public disagreement and no calls on the Government to do anything specific.
“In fact, the solutions are there already, but it takes cross-party leadership on a regional basis to find them. All of us doubtless hear the same gripes about distance and costs, remoteness and rurality. If the problems were easy to resolve, then they would have been solved years ago.”
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: “Having a formalised group sitting somewhere between a Cross-Party Group and a Parliament Committee that requires regional MSPs to work together, could be a vehicle to tackle age-old problems and be a single voice for an area. It could be backed up by standards and scrutinised by constituents.
“The whole regional, cross-party concept might fly in the face of empty political mischief making, but with so many representatives working at cross-purposes the public could be forgiven for thinking that the sum of the pieces is considerably less than the whole.
“Of the electoral regions, none are so impossibly large as the Highlands and Islands. Stretching from Shetland to Helensburgh, it encompasses a land mass that is bigger than the state of Belgium. Aside from the obvious difficulties of travelling across land and sea, there is the additional challenge of ensuring every community gets its fair share of surgeries and visits.
“This region, like others in Scotland, is unique in terms of geography, social challenges and economic opportunities. Scotland might be small, but there are significant regional variations and it’s the local MSPs that understand them best. Additional bureaucracy won’t make any difference, but encouraging MSPs of a region to meaningfully collaborate could.”