Islands Act Boundary Reviews – Highland

Background

Following on from yesterday’s post looking at Argyll & Bute and North Ayrshire, and last year’s looking at the three Islands Councils, today we’re looking at the last council area set for a review following the Islands Act – Highland. This is a truly massive council area, serving as the key example of how absurdly un-local Scotland’s “local” government is. It therefore gets a post all to its own.

I explained the basic principles of this review in the previous posts, but for a refresher, the Islands Act has impacts on the allowable size of council wards including inhabited islands. The Electoral Reform Act has also shaken up the sizing of wards. That’s most evident here in Highland, where the impact of the Islands Act is basically only that it made a review happen, with the changes all coming from the Electoral Reform Act’s provisions.

These boundaries presumably won’t be reviewed ahead of 2027 when the other 26 councils will have theirs done, so doing the Electoral Reform Act side of it now prevents the area from falling behind. At least, that’s what I’m assuming the logic is.

For ease of discussion, I’ve again divided councils into informal “chunks” consisting of multiple wards. Remember these have no actual existence, and the names I’ve given them may not perfectly describe them. This time though each chunk has its own comparison maps, given the scale of the council area.

Home to more councillors (and voters) than the other two councils in this tranche put together, Highland currently elects 74 councillors from 21 wards. That was a substantial reduction from 80 councillors in 22 wards in 2007 and 2012. That total is further reduced in this proposal, to 72 from 20 wards.

You can read more about the Highland review and respond to the consultation at the Local Government Boundary Commission’s website.

Caithness and Sutherland

Not to belabour the point, but it’s rather grim in governance terms to have two of Scotland’s historic counties reduced to the status of electoral wards electing a couple of handfuls of councillors. The current arrangement is 4 wards electing 14 councillors, which is redrawn to a new 4 wards with 11 seats.

Sutherland bears the brunt of that decrease, shifting to a single 4-member ward covering the whole county, compared to 2 wards electing 6 in total. It also loses the very small chunk of Ross around Edderton, but that at least restores historic boundaries to a degree. I’d also make a guess that Sutherland then becomes the largest ward anywhere in the UK.

Caithness bumps up to three wards by giving Thurso and Wick 2 seaters all of their own, and putting the landward area into a 3-member ward, versus the two “town and hinterlands” wards of 4 apiece at present. I have to admit to being very unconvinced by using the 2-member wards in this particular instance – beyond the impact on proportionality, these towns are the economic hubs for the surrounding areas. Keeping the electoral link between burgh and hinterland would seem sensible.

Easter Ross and the Black Isle

This chunk covers areas on either side of the Cromarty Firth. The geography of Ross is rather hazy and I believe Dingwall is actually typically considered the easternmost extent of Wester Ross, but as I said, the names are just meant to be vague aids to discussion. This is currently 4 wards summing to 14 councillors, being redrawn to a slightly different 4 with 15 seats.

The Black Isle (ward) grows very slightly to include more of, err, the Black Isle (peninsula), though not enough to gain any councillors. Edderton contributes both its geography and name to the redrawn Tain, Easter Ross and Edderton ward, which likewise remains at 3 seats. Dingwall and Seaforth is where that new councillor comes in, increasing to 5 seats after absorbing the area around Strathpeffer from the Wester Ross ward.

Wester Ross, Skye and Aird

This is basically the chunk that justified the Islands Act Review in this council, since it has Skye in it, alongside most of Wester Ross and a big rural chunk to either side of Loch Ness. At present this is a neat division into 3 wards, each electing 4 councillors for a total of 12. The proposed changes are similarly neat, remaining 3 which all drop a councillor to give 9 overall.

The Wester Ross and Lochalsh seat is the truncated remnant of passing Strathpeffer to Dingwall and Seaforth, which will also be behind the drop in councillors. Aird and Loch Ness simply becomes Aird by losing the area to the east of the loch, and a councillor.

Finally, the ward covering Skye which uses the poetic name of Eilean a’ Cheò (island of mist) has absolutely no boundary changes but sheds a councillor anyway for electoral parity reasons. Whether justified by the maths or not, I expect that proposal to go down like a lead balloon with your average sgiathanach.

Inverness and Nairn

Moving onto the capital, Inverness and neighbouring Nairn currently account for a mighty 7 of the Council’s wards and 23 of its councillors. Likely reflecting ongoing population redistributions, that is proposed to decline to 6 wards but increase to 27 seats.

In the city itself, the current Inverness Central ward is effectively dissolved into the wards either side, creating an Inverness North West with 5 seats and a North East with 4. Effectively, the north of the city remains as-is in terms of seats with 9 overall.

South is where the growth is, with the current Inverness Ness-side ward absorbing some of the current Inverness South, plus the rural expanse to the east of Loch Ness, thereby jumping from 3 to 5 seats. The truncated Inverness South East nonetheless gains a seat to settle on 4, so a total of 9 for this sub-chunk.

Nairn is unchanged in boundaries and seats, whilst a very slightly expanded Culloden and Ardersier also experiences a gain of a councillor, for 8 councillors coming from this end.

Lochaber and Badenoch
Lochaber and Badenoch Boundaries

To finish up, a chunk with absolutely no meaningful change. The Lochaber and Badenoch (and Strathspey, yes, yes…) area currently has 3 wards electing a total of 11 councillors, none of which change boundaries or councillors. The only change at all is adding “and the Small Isles” to the Caol and Mallaig ward name. That’s perfectly understandable, as they are adorable and I did the same thing in my New Municipalism project. I did forget to include some labels for them here though, many apologies to the good folk of Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rùm.

Final Notes

Remember that these are only initial proposals! Councils have already had a chance to feed in on these, but further changes could come as a result of public consultation. That is, after all, the point of running one. If you live in one of these areas (or you’re just a nerd with an interest), make sure to put a response in.

As, unlike the Islands Councils, these councils are largely partisan, it would be possible to partly reconstruct 2017 results for new boundaries. I’ll save doing so until we have the confirmed final boundaries however, as the process would be time consuming, and I don’t want to put the effort in and then find it was unnecessary.

You have until the 26th of January to respond to the consultations in this set – so Argyll & Bute and North Ayrshire as well as Highland! All consultations are available on this page.

If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.
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