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Overhaul leaves the Highlands struggling with the three biggest Westminster constituencies

By Scott Maclennan

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Boundary Changes and MP Jamie Stone.
Boundary Changes and MP Jamie Stone.

The Boundary Commission for Scotland has published its final proposals leaving the north with easily the three largest UK parliamentary constituencies in the whole country while the north will lose one MP.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is the biggest territory, followed by Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, then Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber, Angus and Perthshire Glens is the next biggest followed by Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey.

The commission's 2023 Review Report was submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons and to the secretary of state for Scotland yesterday and laid before the UK parliament today and are likely to be signed off and in use at the next general election.

The proposals have been met with objections at every stage by the serving Highland MPs and will see massive changes to areas they represent along with major challenges meeting constituents face to face.

The purpose of the boundary changes is to even out the number of voters per MP – it has been argued that rural constituencies get greater representation as there typically has been less population for each member.

But MPs say that due to difficulties in physically holding surgeries that many people in rural Scotland miss out on time with their elected representatives because of the vast distances that need to be covered.

The final proposals are as follows:

In total that means four MPs will have to represent a population of 300,020 living across 35,537 km sq of the most remote and rural terrain in Europe – by comparison 11 MPs will represent 453 km sq for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

That is despite the commission itself saying “we may take into account, as we think fit, other factors” such as “special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency.”

Deputy chair of the Boundary Commission for Scotland Lord Matthews said: "The commission would like to thank all those who participated in our 2023 Review by responding to our consultations and providing feedback to enable us to develop our Final Recommendations.

“We listened carefully to comments made on our proposals during the 2023 Review and made a number of changes to boundaries and to constituency names. We believe our final recommendations meet the requirements of the legislation governing the review and within those constraints fairly reflect the views expressed to us during our consultations".

What the MPs had to say

Drew Hendry, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP

“Since being elected in 2015, it has been my absolute privilege to serve the diverse communities of the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency. Therefore, today’s Boundary Commission announcement brings both personal sadness and a wider concern for our region.

“The changes mean that at next year's General Election, our region will only be represented by two constituencies, reduced from the current three, and that is bad news for us all.

“On a personal level, the re-drawn boundaries mean that, regardless of the wishes of the voters at the ballot box, I will no longer represent some of the communities I hold dear in the next election.

“While the plans to reduce representation without fully considering our region's unique geography and distinct needs are disheartening, the Commission did see sense and made some changes from previous proposals. In that regard, I want to thank everyone who shared their views with the Boundary Commission.

“Our concerted campaigning means the communities of Culloden, Balloch, and Smithton have been returned to the Inverness constituency where they rightfully belong, and new constituency titles now rightly include other communities such as Skye, Nairn, and Strathspey.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue serving the City of Inverness, Aird & Loch Ness and other neighbouring communities while establishing new friendships with the residents of Skye, Fort William and Wester Ross communities as I seek to represent their distinct needs.

“Despite the challenges these changes bring, I remain dedicated to serving all our communities. Your voices and your needs are at the heart of my work and, together with my SNP colleagues, I will continue to strive for the very best outcomes for our communities.”

Jamie Stone, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP

"Having been Charles Kennedy’s constituency chair, a Ross-shire councilllor for ten years, and then a Highland councillor, I know the Ullapool, Black Isle, and Dingwall areas well.

"I am very much looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and knocking doors and asking for any new voters’ support at the next general election."

Ian Blackford, Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP

"These new boundaries make now allowances for the vast size of the constituencies in achieving fair representation. Constituents must be able to access their MP who must be seen as a local representative.

"For me it was already challenging enough with constituency offices in Dingwall and Fort William meaning many constituents were too far away to come into my offices to meet with me and my staff as would be the case in an urban seat.

"My current constituency is 12,000 sq km, which, for context, is about the same size as Northern Ireland.

“A big part of the job is being able to meet with people and, from a practical point of view, that is extremely difficult - I have had to do surgeries in 32 different places.

“It is important that people are represented properly and I just do not feel with the size of these constituencies that it is possible to do that. I think people are disadvantaged.”

Douglas Ross, Moray MP

“I am deeply disappointed at the confirmation that the historic Moray constituency has been carved up into two ahead of the next General Election.

“I had fought these proposals every step of the way and still firmly believe that Moray is best served by one MP serving all our communities.

“A whole host of historic links and critical identity will be lost as a result of people in Moray now being represented by two different MPs, rather than mirroring the council boundary.

“I am also very disappointed that my old council ward of Fochabers-Lhanbryde will be split up as a result of even further changes by the Boundary Commission.

“Even though I’m stepping down as Moray’s MP at the next election, I very much wanted this seat to remain in place.

“Ultimately that decision has been taken by the Commission and that now has to be accepted by Parliament.

"I just feel it is a disappointing day with the confirmation that I will be the last MP to represent the Moray constituency in the House of Commons.”

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