Argyll and Bute candidates questioned at Mull hustings

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On Thursday November 28, all four election candidates for the constituency of Argyll and Bute attended a hustings at Craignure Village Hall on the Isle of Mull.

The successful candidate will represent Argyll and Bute at Westminster, following the General Election on December 12.

The event was hosted by Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT), and streamed live through its Facebook account. A full recording is available to view on their Facebook page.

The session was chaired by Councillor for Oban South and the Isles, Mary-Jean Devon, who introduced Alan Reid (Liberal Democrat ), Brendan O’Hara (Scottish National Party), Gary Mulvaney (Conservatives) and Rhea Louise Barnes (Labour).

Each candidate briefed the audience on their position and policies before taking questions. Topics included austerity, Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the future of Scotland’s shellfish industry, the future of Scottish agriculture, human rights, indyref2, broadband, climate change, renewable energy and the Child Maintenance Allowance. The devolved issues of education, healthcare and business rates were also discussed.

On Brexit, Ms Barnes held that leaving the EU would be detrimental to Argyll and Bute, citing the loss of European funding as a risk to local industries.

Mr Reid commented that leaving the EU would be ‘bad for the constituency’, highlighting uncertainty surrounding agricultural support post-2022.

Mr Mulvaney argued that delivering Brexit would ‘restore trust in politics’, describing the EU as a ‘declining market’ and emphasising matters of state sovereignty.

Mr O’Hara countered that no economic analysis had yet forecast a good outcome for Argyll and Bute.

Supply chain equity between Scottish and Northern Irish shellfish fleets after Brexit was a key area of concern.

Mr Mulvaney celebrated demand for quality Scottish produce; outlining a Conservative desire for ‘mutual win’ trade deals, but no strategy for replicating current just-in-time supply arrangements.

Mr O’Hara referenced points he had made during Prime Minister’s Questions on October 23, and cited remain as the best possible outcome.

Mr Reid said remain provided an ‘obvious solution’ to the maintenance of frictionless trade, and Ms Barnes underscored Labour’s pledge to offer a temain option on the ballet of a second Brexit referendum.

Indyref2, and the wider ethics of confirmatory referendums, attracted lively debate.

Mr Reid and Mr Mulvaney both opposed a repeat of the 2014 vote. However, Mr O’Hara retorted that ‘democracy is not a destination, it’s a process’, commenting that ‘[political] priorities are what the people of Scotland say they are’. Ms Barnes stated that, if elected, Jeremy Corbyn would consider a second referendum in due course, and she would faithfully represent the will of her constituency.

Shortcomings in Argyll and Bute’s communications infrastructure, and its constraining influence on rural communities, were widely acknowledged.

Mr O’Hara noted that this is a reserved issue, but maintained better connectivity was essential to the retention of young people in rural areas. Mr Mulvaney highlighted his central influence in the event of Conservative victory in Westminster. Mr Reid emphasised his previous work on broadband infrastructure, and pledged to continue it if elected. Ms Barnes restated Labour’s manifesto promise to provide free fibre-broadband for every home and business.

The hustings concluded with thanks from Councillor Devon.

Billy McClymont, convener of Mull Community Council, said: ‘[He] would like to thank the candidates for coming to Mull. There were some very robust responses under tough questioning, and [he] look[s] forward to seeing the outcome of this election.’

Mr Reid commended constituents for their ‘searching questions’, adding that he had ‘very much enjoyed the debate’.

Mr Mulvaney stated it had been ‘an interesting evening, with topical and unusual questions that went to the heart of the matter’.

Mr O’Hara said ‘a turnout of 50 folk, on a freezing Thursday night, shows that the people of Mull are engaged and want to talk’. He went on to extend his ‘huge thanks to MICT’.