AN Independence debate saw around 100 people hear both sides of the referendum agenda. Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Mary Scanlon shared the panel with MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, and Scottish Labour’s 2015 general election candidate Mike Robb.
The question and answer forum at Nairn’s Community and Arts Centre persuaded Nairn advice worker Jane Harkiss to vote yes, but it did nothing to persuade Nairn veterinary nurse Janet Stevenson either way.
"I came to get information from the horse’s mouth but I still haven’t made up my mind," said the 45-year-old who works at Crown Vets in Inverness. Nairn portrait artist Nigel Kirk Hanlin said voting yes would be like "spitting on the grave of my mother’s father who fought for this country in the British Army". Ms Harkiss said independence was an opportunity to be a peace-loving nation. "I was yes but I’m now even more of a yes", she said.
John Finnie told the audience he wanted to see a situation where the first contact a foreign citizen has on their own soil with a Scots person in uniform "is if the soldier has a haversack with humanitarian aid in it rather than a rifle".
The independent member for Highlands and Islands insisted devo-max would not address defence.
"It would stop the obscenity of billions of pounds being spent on Trident, you would have no impact on foreign affairs and the role the UK plays in the US in relation to the so-called war on terror. All the things I want to do require independence," he added.
Mary Scanlon pointed-out that Alex Salmond had criticised the UK’s peacekeeping humanitarian role in Kosovo as an "unpardonable folly" and said those staffing the defence bases in Moray "know all about protecting themselves and the constituency of Moray has benefitted enormously". "And what I would say of Trident is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."
The Conservative member for Highlands and Islands said devo-max was "already happening" and Westminster was handing even more powers to Holyrood. "Murdo Fraser MSP for mid Scotland and Fife would like to see Scottish parliament having fiscal autonomy – which means that we raise all the taxes in Scotland but all the money is spent in Scotland – that would give the country much more accountability - that may be happening."
Mr Robb, who is an IT consultant from Muir of Ord, said he felt "massively attracted to the idea of really great change but sadly that is not the world that we live in".
He was confident that Scotland could become an independent country but feels nervous about the transition.
He added: "With "goodwill, good discussion and good thinking on all side over time of course all of the change over problems will get ironed out but it’s exactly the time and cost and the energy that those things are going to take the worries me. We live in a highly-competitive world – by the time that it takes to solve these things – a lot of businesses in Scotland will have voted with their feet. We could find ourselves in a situation where we sort all those things out, we move towards that land of milk and honey and all those collaborative ways of working come around and we find ourselves just as the Irish did, with a wrecked economy."
Highlands and Islands independent MSP Jean Urquhart said that would not happen. She believes devo-max "wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans" for Scotland, and, anyway, Westminster could not be trusted to deliver on their promises of extra power.
She added: "I think when the natives get restless in Scotland we get a little bit of the power – there was disquiet 1979 – there were promises made – some of us remember that. It’s all promises and more promises. If you are thinking that great things will come I will just ask you to remember that. The natives were restless again in the 1990s and I don’t believe for a minute that we had devolution for Scotland because the government in Westminster entirely thought it was a great idea. We got it because we got restless."