Richard Leonard MSP


22 January 2018

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has demanded that regional funding which supports the fragile economy of the Highlands and Islands is maintained by the UK government after Brexit.

Speaking at Scottish Labour’s Highlands and Islands conference in Inverness on Saturday (20 January) he said that it is vital the support currently received from the European Union is not forgotten during the Brexit negotiations.

He said, “We need a UK Labour government to conduct Brexit negotiations in a constructive and positive way.

"Not the shambolic way of the Tories who have shown again, this week, their shocking disregard of devolution while the SNP see Brexit as a means to progress their constitutional fixation.

“Only a Labour government would ensure that jobs and the economy are protected and that key areas like environmental protection, agriculture, fisheries, public procurement and state aid are put in the hands of the Scottish Parliament.

“The Highlands and Islands economy has benefited for years from EU funds, and it is vital the UK government continues to invest at the same level to protect and grow what is still a fragile economy.

"Scottish Tory MPs who failed to ensure to protect devolution this week by amending the EU Withdrawal Bill, should unequivocally state that they will ensure the Highlands and Islands gets the financial support it needs.

Mr Leonard continued , “It is only Labour which has an industrial strategy which seeks full employment and which promotes co-operative ownership and community-led economics which would regenerate the Highlands and Islands, creating jobs, building homes and making communities viable again.”

Mr Leonard also stressed the importance of the area retaining an independent Highlands and Island Enterprise body, free of central belt control.

He said, “Through its centralisation agenda, the SNP has decimated police and fire control rooms throughout the region and tried to end local accountability for Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

“Labour fought hard against the plan and it was amended but it is vital that the new strategic board which will oversee HIE is not used to dilute local autonomy. We remain vigilant.

“Labour is the party of devolution and that doesn’t just mean Holyrood.

"Land reform has put economic levers into the hands of communities but we also need to re-empower local government, giving councils the tools, including the finances to tackle the problems their communities face.”

Speaking after Saturday’s conference, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said,

“It was excellent that Richard Leonard attended our Conference.

"He has a good grasp of the needs of our region, which was clear from his speech, he understands the need for targeted support and the need to prioritise fragile communities.

"He campaigned beside us when HIE was under threat and it is good to know the region has his continued support going forward.”

Mrs Grant’s Highland and Islands colleague, David Stewart, said,

“Our conference was a tremendous success with a record turnout.

"I was pleased to see so many young people attending.

"There were great contributions from our speakers, Dave Watson (Unison), Cathy Peattie (Co-operative Party) and Labour leader, Richard Leonard.

"The party is in good heart and firmly on an election footing.”

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