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Highland councillor calls for 'meaningful change' as he joins Alba Party

By Alan Hendry

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Karl Rosie spoke about devolving powers and decentralising from the central belt.
Karl Rosie spoke about devolving powers and decentralising from the central belt.

Far north councillor Karl Rosie insisted the Highlands can be "one of the richest regions in Scotland" after he announced his decision to join Alex Salmond's Alba Party.

Councillor Rosie highlighted the importance of "empowering communities" and a way to achieve "meaningful change" at a time when many voters have become disillusioned with both the Edinburgh and London governments.

He also emphasised that Mr Salmond, the former First Minister who founded the pro-independence Alba Party three years ago, has a clear understanding of issues affecting the north.

Councillor Rosie resigned from the SNP last month, saying he felt "deeply troubled" by the party's policies which "often seem disproportionately focused on the central belt". He also criticised the SNP's "incoherent independence strategy".

Within five days, Councillor Rosie – who has represented Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council since 2017 – switched to the Highland Independent group on the local authority, saying he wanted to "put people before politics".

Now he becomes the Alba Party’s second councillor in Scotland and fifth elected member. He believes Alba can be the party of choice for Highlanders who feel their needs have been ignored.

He is keen to develop a "Highland manifesto" with scope for powers to be devolved.

“One of the deciding factors in making this change was speaking about how we devolve powers and decentralise from the central belt, and ensure that it's really about empowering communities," Councillor Rosie said.

“The issues in Ullapool can be very different from those in Thurso. The issues in Lochinver can be very different from those in Golspie.

“That's really what we're driving at here. For far too long, probably for decades, we're seeing broad-brushstroke policies at elections

“Have they failed us in the Highlands? I think there's no doubt about that. That is becoming clear.

“Going back to when I resigned from the SNP, I've been astonished at the level of direct contact I've received – from people across the Highlands and across the political spectrum – indicating that they're absolutely fed up with both the UK and Scottish governments. They really do desire a meaningful change.

“I think there's a real opportunity and I hope this happens across Scotland, in all the regions. I think it's what we deserve.

“I think the Highlands itself could be one of the richest regions in Scotland if we get things right. We've got to start developing the appropriate policies to enable that and, more importantly, empowering communities.

“Communities understand the issues and they understand what the solutions could be. We can do that through a variety of means.

“We've often heard conversations about localism and empowering people. That's one of the priorities I've got.

“I've been fortunate to meet Alex Salmond three times over the last two weeks, and trust me there was no need to brief him on issues relating to Caithness. He well understands the opportunities and the challenges that we've got up here.

“We have had lengthy discussions and it's really exciting.

"It has enabled me to get an understanding of what the Alba Party's intentions are.

"Since I've been a councillor, I've always been in the habit of reaching out across the council chamber and being prepared to work with anyone. The intention is to do the exact same in developing a manifesto.

"You've got to get in amongst communities and you've got to engage with people who have got the understanding.

"You've got to engage with the private sector, you've got to engage with industry and business leaders, but crucially for me it's about proper engagement with communities."

Alba leader Alex Salmond said: “We are all delighted that Karl has joined. He will be a great asset in building credibility to enable us to break through in the Highlands and we keenly await his work on a Highlands manifesto.

"Combined with top north business leader Steve Chisholm joining, it shows Alba in the Highlands is on the move.”

Councillor Rosie was the SNP candidate at the general election in December 2019 and came within a couple of hundred votes of unseating Jamie Stone of the Liberal Democrats. Mr Stone held on with a 204-vote majority.

Councillor Rosie was born in Thurso and his career background is in the nuclear and oil and gas industries.

In his announcement on Thursday, Councillor Rosie said: "Following long discussions with family, friends and colleagues, and after consulting with the Alba Party leadership, I am pleased to announce my decision to join them as their first councillor at Highland Council.

"Over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear to me that the SNP's lack of action on Scottish independence and its centralised policies do not align with the needs of the Highlands.

"Despite my admiration for individuals like Fergus Ewing within the SNP for their pro-Highland stance, I am dismayed by the treatment he has received from his own party. His recent words and actions have struck a chord with many Highlanders who feel let down by the Edinburgh government.

"Initially, I intended to continue to serve my constituents as an independent councillor. However, I then received a letter from one of our community councils [Dunnet and Canisbay], expressing desperation due to decades of neglect and centralised policies, and that – along with several other factors – influenced my decision.

"Their issues were those experienced by most communities across the Highlands: a crumbling road network, high energy costs in an energy-rich region, a loss of key public services and depopulation.

"While I believe bold leadership and robust policy are crucial for change, operating outside a party structure limits my effectiveness to improve the conditions experienced by our communities. Thus, I engaged in discussions with the Alba Party, who listened to my concerns and offered assurances that the needs of the Highlands would be prioritised.

"The Highlands face numerous challenges, overlooked by both London and Edinburgh governments. Despite our region's abundant natural resources, we struggle with an inadequate transport network, a centralised NHS system and unaffordable housing, particularly for our youth and essential workers.

"Lack of investment in infrastructure, digital connection and a slow progress on land reform have contributed to economic and population decline, which will only be reversed if urgent action is taken.

"To ensure the Highlands prosper, we require devolution of powers to our communities, greater control of our land and seas, investment in sustainable industries and autonomy over housing and planning policies.

"We need the ability to levy taxes reinvested within our communities, attract business and infrastructure investment and ensure local public service delivery.

"By joining the Alba Party, I am committed to creating a regional manifesto aimed at achieving true economic and political reform for the Highlands and Islands. The Alba Party has the determination and robust policies that make them the ideal entity to pursue Scottish independence and address our region's unique needs."

He added: "I assure all my constituents that I will continue working tirelessly on their behalf."

Judith Reid, secretary of Alba Highland, said: “I know Karl personally and his joining is a great boost for Alba and the north of Scotland. That is two great additional members in just two days. Alba in the Highlands is certainly going places.”

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