Natural Environment Bill

I have received a significant amount of correspondence from constituents asking for the Scottish Government to introduce legislation on the natural environment. I want to confirm that I share the concerns set out and will support the push to bring forward a Bill as soon as possible.

Scottish Labour supports the proposal to introduce statutory nature recovery targets. As we face the twin nature and climate crises; we believe introducing targets will galvanise the action needed to restore Scotland’s natural environment and help us to play a leadership role in encouraging other countries to take action.

I am disappointed that three years on from the Scottish Parliament election the SNP Scottish Government has not yet introduced a Bill on this area to Parliament.

My colleague, Sarah Boyack MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Just Transition, has written to the First Minister to seek confirmation that his Programme for Government in September will include plans for a Natural Environment Bill to introduce statutory nature recovery targets.


Gas Burning Power Stations

It is important for every Government that they have the correct policies in place to ensure our energy security and in doing so ensure that we sprint to clean power and deliver a just transition for workers.

That is why in the recent General Election, the Labour Party had a manifesto commitment to build a clean power system by 2030, making this one of our key missions in government. While technologies like carbon capture and storage will be important for decarbonising heavy industry, Labour knows that if we are to reduce household bills, deliver energy security and show climate leadership we need to prioritise the sprint to a clean power.

To support this, in the King’s Speech on Wednesday 17th July there was a commitment to introduce legislation to set up Great British Energy, a publicly owned clean power company headquartered in Scotland, which will help accelerate investment in renewable energy such as offshore wind. This demonstrates the political leadership the new UK Labour Government is taking to sprint to clean power and demonstrate climate leadership. In advance of the election Labour published it’s Green Prosperity Plan which also highlighted the need to invest in local community and cooperatively owned renewables, such as solar, wind and hydro projects through our Local Power Plan.

In its 2022 Report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) set out a monitoring map for decarbonising electricity supply. To decarbonise our electricity supply the 2022 CCC Report was clear that there needed to be faster planning to allow for the rapid deployment of low-carbon energy generation capacity; that there needed to be investment and innovation to develop new infrastructure to allow for a pipeline of low-carbon options and there needs to be a plan to increase electrification in transport, heating and industry. The SNP Scottish Government have failed to follow this advice demonstrated by the last 8 of 12 climate targets being missed as you have referenced.

My Scottish Labour colleague Sarah Boyack MSP, who is Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Just Transition has been calling on the SNP Scottish Government to get on and publish a Green Industrial Strategy and the final version of their Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. Both of these key Strategies will send a clear signal to industry and stakeholders of the route Scotland will take to decarbonise electricity supply. The failure to publish these Strategies three years after the last Scottish Parliament election has cost vital time in making the transition from fossil fuels to clean power.

My colleague, Sarah Boyack, has already written to the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy to highlight the concerns raised in your e-mail but received a disappointing reply that did not adequately address the issues raised. However, I and my Scottish Labour colleagues will continue to push the SNP Scottish Government to sprint to clean power as quickly as possible and ensure that the need for gas burning power stations is reduced. We will also encourage the Scottish Government to work with the new UK Labour Government as much as possible to ensure a joined up approach in sprinting to clean power as fast and possible and supporting workers through the just transition.

I hope you find this response helpful.

Kind Regards,


Rhoda Grant MSP

Delayed Publication on Island Agricultural Research

Earlier this week saw the anticipated publication of the SRUC report into rural and agricultural development on Shetland, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.

For anyone in any doubt as to the unique demands, costs and pressures for farming on our islands, this report makes stark reading.


This is an important piece of work and I welcome the publication. The research shows that islands face disadvantage in terms of agricultural funding structures and tiered support. It highlights the higher rate of crofting across the islands compared to the mainland, but worryingly also highlights that current Government policies negatively impact smaller producers, such as crofters, due to disproportionate overhead compliance expenses, and additional costs for managing common grazings, which in turn disincentivise enrolment, amongst other built-in inequalities for islanders.

The frustrating thing about this research is that it was delayed from being published while I and other MSPs were working on the Agriculture Bill in Parliament last month. The research contained in the report would have been vital to shape the Bill to minimise the disadvantages faced by island farmers and crofters.

By delaying this report until consideration of the Bill has concluded, suggests that the SNP Government do not want to address these concerns which is a damning indictment and can only be interpreted as an attempt to do down our island communities. Had we been given sight of this report, the Parliament could have put forward amendments to the Agriculture Bill to ensure that the island-specific rural issues that are flagged in this study were addressed.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary insisting that she must consider these findings when drawing up the Rural Support Plan, to ensure that these built-in disadvantages are removed. The Rural Support Plan will set out how agricultural funding is distributed.

Island communities are dependent on a vibrant farming and crofting sector to safeguard their economies and further detriment would be damaging.



All figures and data visualisations are from the SRUC publication. The report can be accessed in full here: Island Agriculture | Rural Exchange | SRUC

Visit Scotland’s ICentres

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, met with the Minister for Employment and Investment, Tom Arthur, on Wednesday (19.06.2024) to discuss the concerns surrounding the phased closure of VisitScotland’s 25 iCentres throughout Scotland, 12 of which are within the Highlands and Islands region.


The phased closure programme is due to begin in September and will end in March 2026 as VisitScotland claims that the demand for information centres has reduced while the demand for online information and booking has continued to grow.


However a Freedom of Information request reveals that while total visitor numbers to the network dropped during the pandemic, they have increased year on year since then with over 1.37million people visiting a centre in 2023. It also shows that 8 of the centres have increased sales from their pre-pandemic figure including four in the Highlands and Islands region – Craignure, Lerwick, Rothesay and Ullapool.


Rhoda Grant said “VisitScotland’s decision is based on people moving online to book holidays, but 1.37million visitors used the iCentres last year and sales have increased in some centres since pre-pandemic.


“I have no doubt many will have used digital sources to plan their holiday too but many clearly still felt the need to seek more information in person when they were in the country so there is a definite demand there.”


94% of VisitScotland’s core funding from 2024/25 comes from Scottish Government Grant in Aid and 6% comes from other sources, such as retail and commercial income.


VisitScotland’s website has a section on Island Communities Impact Assessments and why they need to be carried out when decisions of this nature are taken. VisitScotland didn’t carry out Island Impact Assessments and instead carried out their own screening assessment. They claim the impact the closures will have on island areas won’t be significantly different to the impact they will have in mainland areas.


Mrs Grant continued “VisitScotland claim that most of the jobs will be retained through redeployment but where will island based staff be redeployed to?


“It’s not clear from the information provided by VisitScotland and the Scottish Government exactly how many staff will be affected by these closures, and what alternatives will be offered to island based staff.


“This will have a far bigger impact in island communities and will only seek to add to the depopulation of our islands. For an organisation that is almost entirely funded by the Scottish Government, one would have though that to disregard government policy on this is shoddy at best, arrogant and ignorant at worst.”


Footfall had been collected at each location via the means of either electronic or manual visitor count system. Since November 2023 however, only manual trackers have been used to collate footfall. The MSP wants to know why the process was changed to solely manual trackers in November 2023.


The Minister with responsibility for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, Richard Lochhead, is currently unavailable due to health reasons but he met with VisitScotland in March urging them to continue discussions with partner organisations and to listen to any concerns that communities and businesses may have.


Mrs Grant says “There’s been no prior engagement with MSPs on this. The concerns are being brought to us by constituents and by local newspapers representing the needs of their communities.”


The Minister advised Mrs Grant that he will:-


  • raise concerns with VisitScotland and ask them to consider/reconsider the impact on islands in particular
  • ask VisitScotland to provide her with more information and clarity around the reasons for the decision
  • follow up with her and meet again if needed

Rhoda Grant concluded “The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the worst hit from the pandemic and we need to be bolstering these businesses at this time, not cutting services to the millions of people who visit Scotland annually. We must get this decision reversed.”

NHS Pay Deal 2024-25

Our NHS would be nothing without the skill, service and sacrifice of our staff. They are the backbone of our NHS and they worked tirelessly to protect and care for us during the pandemic. It’s outrageous that Neil Gray has refused to sit down with trade unions and agree a pay deal for NHS workers.

For too long NHS staff have been taken for granted, with the SNP Government overlooking warnings of staff shortages and burnout. We will never be able to restore services and successfully tackle the backlogs without caring for those who care for us.

Scottish Labour are committed to ensuring that our NHS staff are valued by resolving pay disputes with a fair pay deal whilst improving working conditions and growing our workforce. This SNP Government has failed miserably when it comes to NHS workforce planning, and the current challenges facing the NHS demonstrates this only too clearly.

Scottish Labour calls on Neil Gray to sit down with trade unions and agree a new pay deal that values staff.

Grant says A9 delays should have been made public in 2018

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, says the Scottish Government should have been more open with the people of the Highlands and Islands in 2018. They should have advised that the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness was unlikely to be complete by 2025.

The former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee this morning (29.05.2024) acknowledged that her Government should have been more open with the public in 2018 when private Government paperwork suggested there could be a problem.

She apologised for not dualling the A9 and acknowledged the people of the Highlands have a right to be aggrieved, not just about the target not being met but also due to the serious safety concerns.

She trotted out the usual defences of Brexit and Covid (forgetting to mention the war in Ukraine) as reasons for the project slipping by at least a decade.

Rhoda Grant said “Nicola Sturgeon and successive Transport Ministers should have been more open and transparent with the public but they carried on for a further 4 or 5 years misleading people to believe that the A9 would be complete by 2025, even when it was very obvious that this timetable would not be met.

“With industry raising their concerns in 2018 over the 2025 deadline, they should have taken action. Had they effectively addressed it then, we would be much further forward in dualling the A9 than we are today.”

Ms Sturgeon advised that under the Scottish Public Centre Finance manual consideration of private finance options in projects of this nature is required. She advised that in 2014 the NPD (Non-Profit Distributing) model of funding was effectively not available to them as it was reclassified as public, not private, and confirmed that the Government was at that time having to consider a different potential private finance route should that have been something that the Government decided to do. She said there was no obvious alternative during that period and it’s taken until very recently to settle on the current MIM that the present Cabinet Secretary has since announced.

MSP pushes for more safety work on A9 north

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wants to see more safety work carried out on the A9 north of Inverness.

The call comes after Mrs Grant tabled questions in the Scottish Parliament asking when routine maintenance of white lineage and bollards was last carried out at each junction on the A9 between Inverness and Thurso and when the next routine maintenance is scheduled to be carried out at each of the junctions.

Rhoda Grant said “Sadly the A9 is renowned throughout the country for the number of fatalities and serious accidents that take place on the road each year. While much of the focus is on the A9 south, the road north from Inverness must not be forgotten by the Scottish Government.

The MSP, who has campaigned to have improvements introduced at the Munlochy junction, the Tore roundabout and the Aldi and Lidl junctions at Tain continued “While the answers I received look quite constructive at first glance, in reality, they detail only three projects earmarked to be carried out on the A9 north in the next two years.

Mrs Grant continued “Every death on this road is a tragedy which wrecks the lives of the families and communities whose loved ones are involved.

“While the road fundamentally requires millions of pounds of investment, it is within the gift of the Scottish Government to ensure the funding is provided to carry out routine maintenance at the junctions along the A9.

She concluded “I know from my inbox the strength of feeling there is about the level of investment needed on both local authority and trunk roads in the Highlands and I will continue to press the Scottish Government to provide adequate ringfenced funding to Highland Council and to Transport Scotland to allow them to adequately upkeep the road network in the north and introduce safety measures where needed.”

Closure of VisitScotland icentres

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has called on VisitScotland to reconsider its decision to close their information centres throughout Scotland. The MSP has already contacted the Minister with responsibility for the issue, but she has now also contacted VisitScotland directly in light of information on visitor numbers using the Kirkwall centre being uncovered via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The FOI request submitted by The Orkney News reveals that the use of the Kirkwall visitor centre has in fact increased and is used by both visitors and locals which is contrary to VisitScotland’s assertion that demand for information centres has reduced as people move online to book their holidays.

The FOI established that in 2022 the Kirkwall centre was used by 73,182 people to book tickets or to shop. In 2023, the number of people who used the centre was 122,304 – an increase of 67%. It is understood that figure does not include those who dropped in to ask for help or assistance. Sales last year in the Kirkwall centre are also reported to have risen to £155,640 with ShopLocal sales being £27,568.

Rhoda Grant said “The FOI has established that the number of people who used the centre in Kirkwall in 2023 had increased by 67% on the 2022 figures, with sales in 2023 also reported to have increased on the previous year, some of this being ShopLocal sales.”

An Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) is required under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 when developing, revising and delivering any policy, strategy, service or legislation that could have a significantly different effect on island communities. The Scottish Government guidance stresses the importance of consultation and robust community engagement so that islanders are given a platform to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions. It also addresses the need to consult island communities in order for a Relevant Authority to comply with the Section 7 duty.

Mrs Grant continued “I believe what VisitScotland conducted in Kirkwall however was an Island Communities Screening Assessment which states that “ .. at a strategic level, management is confident that this strategic change does not significantly differently impact island communities.”

“I would argue that the loss of jobs in these centres, together with the loss of tacit knowledge of the area, will significantly impact on the areas concerned.

“Furthermore, given that VisitScotland is partially funded by the Scottish Government, I would suggest it would be prudent for them to follow the Government guidance in this situation and conduct Island Communities Impact Assessments for the islands affected.”

The MSP awaits a reply from the Minister but in the meantime she has asked VisitScotland how many jobs are being impacted in each of the centres and what the “various options” for employment will be for staff in island centres.

She continued “I don’t think anyone would disagree that the shift in booking holidays has moved online but these figures show that the centres are still very much needed not only for tourists who need help and advice while they are actually in Scotland but for use by local residents too.

“The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit from the pandemic and we need to be bolstering these businesses at this time, not cutting jobs and services to the millions of people who visit Scotland annually.”

Grant agrees A9 excuses are “pathetic”

Highland and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, says the former First Minister, Alex Salmond, is correct in labelling the excuses given by the Scottish Government for the delay in dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth as “pathetic”.

Commenting on the former First Minister’s appearance in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Citizens Participation and Public Petitions Committee this morning (08.05.2024) Rhoda Grant said “The people of the Highlands and Islands have been badly let down by this SNP Government.

“I don’t readily agree with much that Alex Salmond says but on this I do agree. Using the war in Ukraine, Brexit, and inflation as excuses is not only pathetic but it is utterly shameful.

“Had the work been carried out with the 2025 goal as a clear target contacts would have already been issued, land would have been purchased and designs would have been signed off long before any of these issues had an impact.”

As First Minister, Mr Salmond publicly committed to dualling the road when the Scottish Cabinet met in Inverness in August 2008 and claims he was never advised there were problems with the cost or the 2025 timescale before he left office in 2014.

Having spoken about the number of fatalities on the road, approaching 350 over the last 40 years or so, the former First Minister said he endorsed the evidence previously given by Alex Neil who was the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, who was appointed to drive the project forward.

He also stated that the £3bn estimated for the dualling of the A9 amounted to only half of the capital budget for one year and as the project was scheduled to be completed over 14 years there was “No question it was affordable at that stage.”

A freedom of Information request gleaned that the Scottish Cabinet knew from 2018 that the deadline of 2025 was unachievable but failed to announce this until 2023 after being pressed for a meeting by Mrs Grant.

Energy Infrastructure Plans across the Highland & Island Region

I appreciate that many residents feel very strongly opposed to power lines, turbines and other infrastructure plans that are currently underway across the Highland and Island region. I have received and read through a significant number of emails from constituents and community groups who have put forward their objections. I want to thank those that took the time to contact me and appreciate the strength of feeling on the matter.

A consistent objection is the lack of engagement and communication with the local community. Consultation and plans on projects – including its location, size, physical, environmental, economic and social impact – must all have local residents at its heart, and this must be built into every stage of the decision-making process. We can all agree on the importance of moving towards net zero, but this cannot come at the expense of local communities. I have been clear that any economic and community benefits of a project must be clearly communicated to residents and this commitment must be long-term to provide assurances to residents and businesses. In terms of granting permission for projects, the planning process is in the hands of Highland Council and the Scottish Government and as such, MSPs have no locus in what is a legal process.

Scottish Labour have met with SSEN on a number of occasions recently to make them aware of individual and group concerns about how constituents’ lives will be affected by planned projects and have echoed concerns about the consultation process. The strength of feeling on this issue has also been raised consistently in the Scottish Parliament through committee and chamber business by myself and my Labour colleagues. In addition to this, Scottish Labour will hold a roundtable discussion on grid infrastructure with supply chain developers and ScotWind next month and the concerns raised through the contact I have received will be discussed.

Through my work in Parliament and in discussions with Scottish Government and local partners, I will continue to push to ensure planning legislation is strong enough to investigate and has the capacity to consider and act upon the full range of impacts that infrastructure projects have on those living nearby.