Lib Dems hit the Highlands in bid to win back Charles Kennedy’s former seat

The party is seeking at the next general election, expected in 2024, to retake Ross, Skye and Lochaber which was held by former party leader Charles Kennedy from 1983 to 2015.

Mr Blackford, the former SNP leader at Westminster, ousted Mr Kennedy in May 2015 following a bitter local campaign marred by claims of bullying.

Mr Kennedy died less than a month after losing his seat with Mr Blackford holding onto it in 2017 and 2019. 

But with Mr Blackford standing down at the next general election and with a long running police investigation into the SNP’s overshadowing his party, the Lib Dems have identified an opportunity to win the seat back.


Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.  Photo PA.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton will be campaigning in Fort William today with Highland councillor Angus MacDonald.

Ahead of the visit to the town Mr Cole-Hamilton accused the SNP of overseeing “a complete dearth of infrastructure spend” and making do with an ageing ferry fleet.

“For years, the SNP have removed autonomy from Highland communities, cut council budgets and singularly failed to stand up for rural issues,” Mr Cole-Hamilton said.

“Ian Blackford and the SNP have overseen a complete dearth of infrastructure spend and the north and west Highlands have had to make do with an ageing, creaking ferry fleet while new vessels fall ever further behind schedule and budget.

“Our Liberal Democrat candidate, Angus MacDonald, cares passionately about this area and its people.”

He added: “Angus will protect jobs, create opportunities and secure a better deal for people right across the region.

“He is already campaigning tirelessly on the issues that matter, such as replacing the Belford Hospital, rejuvenating local high streets and improving the A82.

“The residents of Ross, Skye and Lochaber deserve so much better than a centralising SNP and years of nationalist neglect.”

Prominent businessman Mr MacDonald was selected back in February this year to contest Ross, Skye and Lochaber for the Lib Dems at next year’s expected general election.

Speaking to The Herald then he said his “fury” over the neglect of the north west Highlands by both the Scottish and UK governments had motivated him to fight for the seat.

He claimed tens of billions of pounds had been spent in the Central Belt on new hospitals, motorways and projects including the Edinburgh trams while, “all we have got are two Calmac ferries, years behind schedule at triple the estimated price.”

He accused the SNP of moving powers to Holyrood and cutting funding for councils while “increasing their responsibilities” and vowed to stand up for rural issues.

He took direct aim at Mr Blackford, claiming he had failed to progress a plan first mooted 20 years ago to build a replacement hospital in Fort William and had done little to improve the safety of the A82, “one of the most dangerous roads in Britain.”

The businessman opened Fort William’s first cinema in 15 as a gift to his home town and also runs a bookstore while his son, Archie MacDonald jointly runs The Highland Soap Company, which opened a multi-million base in 2020.

Cllr MacDonald was named Scottish and UK Entrepreneur of the year in 2017 and founded The Caledonian Challenge endurance walk, which has raised £13million for local charities. He is also a published author.

Mr Blackford won the seat from Mr Kennedy after securing a clear majority of 9,443 in the May 2015 general election.

In 2021, a BBC Alba documentary claimed during the election campaign Mr Kennedy suffered “abuse and denigration of the worst kind” from SNP activists and supporters before he died on June 1 2015 at his home in Fort William at the age of 55.

Mr Kennedy led the Lib Dems from 1999 to 2006 and was the Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber from 1983 to 2015.

He was, at the age of 23, the youngest sitting MP at the time he was elected to the House of Commons. 

On January 5 2006, he was informed that ITN would be reporting that he had received treatment for alcoholism; he pre-empted the broadcast by admitting that he had had treatment, and resigned as leader the following day.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was among those who attended his funeral.

The SNP has yet to select its general election candidate for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. It was approached for comment.

Mr Blackford is one of eight SNP MPs standing down from Westminster at the general election.

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