Sun 21 Feb, 2016

Stretching from Kintyre and Cowal in the South to Unst in Shetland, Lewis and Barra in the West to Moray in the east, the Highlands and Islands don’t lend themselves to a ‘wee tour’; but we gave it our best shot.

As good fortune would have it, there was yet another by-election in the Oban and North Lorn Ward so the tour began there on Saturday. Joined by Scottish Greens co-convenor Patrick Harvie, my fellow candidate for Highlands and Islands Isla O’Reilly, and local Green members, we took to the streets to support our excellent candidate Pat Tyrrell. It was a cold day but there was a warm welcome for Pat, whose work with the Health Service means she’s a well-known face in the community.

North to Inverness and an early start on Sunday for a day-trip on the ferry to Orkney, one of the few areas of the region where Sunday campaigning is acceptable.

It was a well-attended public meeting in the Stromness Academy with questions about local involvement in Marine Protection Areas, broadband and wider issues of climate change. An enjoyable bite to eat with Members in Thurso and then back to Inverness before midnight.

We made a cracking visit to Makar, the innovative house design and builders who employ 30 folk on the outskirts of Inverness. It was a pleasure to chat to staff and their highly creative boss, Neil Sutherland, who has a wonderful vision of planning, housing and quality of life.

After a brief visit to AWS Ocean Energy Limited, we went onwards to Inverness College, to chat about the overwhelming generosity of the community towards “Highland Supports Refugees” with founder, Jude Monson.

The official Highlands and Islands Greens campaign was launched that lunchtime in sunny Inverness with the afternoon and evening spend in Badenoch and Strathspey.

The two new premises opening on Kingussie High Street, “Grassroots Gardening Shop” and a new outlet for the wonderful Caberfeidh Horizons, which supports adults with additional needs, show what a local high street can look like.

That evening Patrick, Isla and I spoke at a public meeting in Aviemore and fielded questions on housing, jobs, flooding and other related local issues.

We spent Tuesday in Moray, starting with me watching Patrick and local stalwart James MacKessack-Leitch sample “Speyside Craft Brewery’s” finest ale. Later, consumption was switched to ice-cream at Hopeman’s one-man industry “Stew and Drew’s Ice-cream” whilst a visit to Forres Area Community Trust highlighted the ambitions the area has for its future.

A very lively Q & A at the lunchtime meeting in the “Drouthy Cobbler” set us up for our final visit to Elgin Academy, where I had the chance to chat to pupils and teachers alike, in an educational environment far different to the one I had known as a boy. The mutual respect between pupils and teachers was evident and it was a real pleasure to stop by and hear about their work.

Many thanks to all those we encountered on our tour for the warm welcome we received. This in no small measure the result of the widely held respect there is for Patrick and the constructive role Greens have, and will hopefully continue to play in greater numbers in Holyrood, and I look forward to speaking with many more of you in the months to come.

A wee tour with a big response!

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