KATE Forbes has said she believes that Scottish Government policies often fail to recognise “the specific and diverse needs of people who live in the Highlands”.

Speaking in an interview with The Herald, the former finance secretary spoke on a number of issues including Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) and the recent suspension of Fergus Ewing.

It was revealed in June that HPMAs would not be implemented by the Scottish Government as planned following a number of concerns from island communities.

Forbes (below) said: “If you asked any Highlander they’d view this place as an entity before they see Scotland as an entity.

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“For centuries, people here have been denied democratic representation because they lived in an area where land ownership and political power were one and the same.

“The situation in Mallaig is very different from that in Fort William. The needs of Dingwall and Glenfinnan are very different again.

“Policies are never black and white and I’m talking specifically about the Highly Protected Marine Areas.”

The Scottish Government proposals would have seen 10% of the country’s seas designated as HPMAs by 2026 – putting an end to the vast majority of human activities which may cause negative impacts on the environment.

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Forbes continued: “The irony of that policy is that every fisherman I’ve spoken with cares more about sustainable fishing than most politicians and civil servants.

“They don’t just see it as a job. They see it as a multi-generational way of life. If there are no fish then their kids don’t have a future.

“Abd that’s why the language particularly used by fishermen around the island of Tiree was to equate HPMAs with education. If you ban fishing and I lose my job, then we have to leave and the school closes.

“Once you lose a school you lose all the prospective families that might come to an area. If you’re trying to attract families to the local area the first question they’re asking is where the local school is. If there’s no school, they’re more likely to settle elsewhere.

“I think that’s why policy issues in the Highlands go straight to the heart perhaps faster than anywhere else.

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“Education in other parts of Scotland may be more of an intellectual question. In the Highlands it’s about their future, it’s about community, it’s about families.”

Fergus Ewing's suspension

Following the suspension of Ewing from the SNP group at Holyrood, Forbes stood with him as he spoke to the media about the decision to sanction him.

“Fergus is a living legend throughout the Highlands and Islands”, Forbes said.

“He always puts the needs of these communities first. My concern was that he didn’t stand alone going in or leaving that room.

“Our parliamentary group is a family and you must have each other’s backs. And when you face difficult circumstances you need your troops around you.”