THE GENERAL ELECTION campaign returned to the stage at the weekend following several days of silence in respect for the victims of the Manchester atrocity.
For Moray, that led to a Radio Scotland debate from the Elgin Library going ahead on Friday – with all five candidates represented, although the Lib Dems had Sir Malcolm Bruce replacing their local candidate Alex Linklater.
The debate, perhaps predictably, started out with a stern defence of his own record by Angus Robertson – who insisted that Moray was not ready for any change and he remained confident from feedback during the campaign so far that the SNP remained favourites.
However, pressed on if Independence was an issue in this campaign, Mr Robertson insisted it was not – saying that his party already had the backing from the people of Scotland on that issue at the Scottish Elections last year.
Douglas Ross moved quickly to question why independence was not an issue in Moray when it clearly was in the rest of Scotland, saying: “When Angus Robertson speaks on national television, he confirms that Independence is still the priority of the SNP and is at the heart of their campaign.
“Nicola Sturgeon says that it is at the heart of their campaign for this general election – Alex Salmond has said the same. Yet locally here in Moray Angus Robertson spoke at great length about Brexit, about local opposition parties – about any other policy other than independence.
“In Angus Robertson’s leaflet, he does not mention the word ‘independence’ once – because Angus Robertson knows that the people of Moray just two and a bit years ago voted 58% against separation. People in Moray do not want a second independence referendum.”
Labour candidate Joanne Kirby said that her part absolutely opposed a second referendum, saying it was absolutely unnecessary, adding that there were other issues of more concern in Moray: “When I’ve been out and about in Moray it has become very clear to me that people are absolutely against a second independence referendum.
“The SNP need to get on with the day job and make sure they are focusing on things like the health service – I was talking to a constituent yesterday whose father had to wait three times the waiting limit for a heart operation.
“She was really upset and distressed about that – I realise a lot of these issues are to do with the Scottish Parliament and not the general election but they are issues of interest to the people of Moray.
“We also need to focus on education, which is in a terrible state, if you have one in five leaving primary school functionally illiterate that needs to be looked at. We suffer huge teacher shortages in Moray that is causing massive problems with attainment in primary and secondary schools.”
Questions on how Brexit would affect Moray brought about a possible major policy shift by the Conservatives, with Douglas Ross appearing to reveal that Scotland would have absolute control over all fisheries currently being controlled from Brussels.
That came after Angus Robertson said: “The SNP is opposed to the Common Fisheries Policy and was from the start. Whilst we hear that there is a fishing community in Moray that is really interesting – there is one boat operating from Lossiemouth doing only inshore shellfish.
“In Buckie there is a handful of boats – the most amount of jobs there are to do with fishing in Moray is in fish processing, a sector that is dependent on access to a single European market. So I will absolutely take no lessons from the Tories on standing up for the fishing industry, given we’ve heard again this week that they are willing to sell the industry out – and we know that for them fishing is a low priority.”
Douglas Ross, however, hit back that was not the case, saying: “The promise [from the Conservatives] is quite clear, we will repatriate all of the powers that are currently held in the EU back to the United Kingdom – and these issues are devolved to the Scottish Parliament as well.
“The Scottish Fisheries Federation are fully supportive of the UK Government policy on this, is very keen to ensure that they work with the UK Government.”
Another issue that is of utmost importance in Moray is defence – and again it produced the SNP line that not enough investment is being carried out and the Tory line that no investment would be forthcoming if the SNP had their ultimate wish.
Mr Robertson said: “Moray is one of the most defence-dependent regions in Scotland and the UK, we have gone through in my time three rounds of attempted base amalgamations or closure, and the only reason why we still have two military facilities is that the people stood up and protested against Tory plans to close them.
“We should also be aware that there is an ongoing threat to military facilities in the north of Scotland with the potential of the Highlands not having a single regular army soldier based in it for the first time since the Jacobite Rising.
“Manpower levels are at an all-time low, but thanks to the campaign that took place we have managed to retain RAF Lossiemouth, which is a good thing, because it is now the only remaining air base in Scotland. We are left with Kinloss Barracks, a massive area currently housing an engineering regiment and a large part of the facility not being used at all.”
Mr Robertson repeated his claim that the MoD had intended to close Kinloss and had even gone as far as to discuss the issue with Moray Council officials.
Douglas Ross responded: “You were speaking about investment and you asked Angus Robertson did he welcome that investment and he never got there – he did not mention that at all. We have a £400million investment at RAF Lossiemouth, we will be getting P-8A aircraft and another Typhoon Squadron, that is genuine, credible investment on the ground and is welcomed by people in Moray but Angus Robertson could not even bring himself to welcome that investment.
“He spoke about the threat to Kinloss Barracks and I said that was shocking – last year Angus Robertson came up with what he called a ‘impeccable source’ that Kinloss Barracks were under threat. They were not. In a statement to the House of Commons, Michael Fallon made it very clear that it was not under threat – that is the type of politics that people do not like.”
To listen to the full (almost one hour) debate go to the BBC website.