Scots living within the boundary of the area chosen to be the country's new National Park should be given the chance to vote whether to approve or veto the plans in a local referendum, according to the SNP MSP Fergus Ewing.

The former rural affairs secretary made the call in an article for the Herald on Sunday and following a commitment by the Scottish Government under the Bute House Agreement to establish a third park by 2026.

Mr Ewing, who represents Inverness and Nairn, said ministers should have reviewed the impact of the two existing national parks - Cairngorms National Park, designated in 2003, and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in 2002 - before proceeding to establish a third.

Five areas have been nominated by their local communities to be considered as Scotland’s next National Park, Lochaber, Tay Forest, Loch Awe, Galloway and the Borders. 

The Scottish Parliament will be required to consider and approve the necessary legislation which will lead to the designation of a new National Park in the area.

Last month The Herald revealed that opposition is mounting to a plan to designate Lochaber as a National Park with thousands citing concerns about job losses, over-tourism and rising house prices.

The Herald: LochaberOpposition is growing among local people to a new National Park in Lochaber.  Photo Colin Mearns

A campaign group, opposing plans to give Lochaber the designation, has been backed by more than 6000 online supporters.

Mr Ewing, a long serving Highland SNP MSP, has become a high profile critic of various government policies and was suspended last month from his party's group at Holyrood for a week for backing a no confidence motion in the Scottish Greens minister Lorna Slater in June last year.

He defended his action saying he was standing up for his constituents over Ms Slater's handling of the now defunct deposit return scheme which would have led to extra costs for businesses and consumers.

READ MORE: Fergus Ewing: Two national parks are more than enough

Writing today, Mr Ewing argued ministers were ready to introduce a new National Park without the support of residents as he called for a local vote.

"Will the Park simply be imposed upon an unsuspecting part of rural Scotland? That‘s what they’re planning. The Scottish Government say that each nominated area must show evidence of local support," he said.

The Herald: SNP MSP Fergus Ewing. 

"But how can that be done without asking the people who live there? And here is me thinking the SNP and the Greens were in favour of holding a referendum? Of asking the people? 

"Do they privately fear people will say “No”- especially when public money should be used for so very many more pressing purposes."

READ MORE: National Parks 'not a priority' for Highlands and Islands

He added: "In a democracy, everyone counts or nobody counts. This issue will be a litmus test of whether our Scottish Government truly believes in local democracy where local people determine their own future, or that their fate will be sealed by a centralising and indeed authoritarian power."

In his article Mr Ewing made a series of criticisms about Cairngorms Park Authority, the body which runs Cairngorms National Park.

The MSP said that beavers had been introduced into the park without farmers' agreement and that plans for new housing had often been held up by red tape, while proposals for a new town An Camas Mor had been scuppered.

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"Beavers are introduced without [the farmers'] consent with the risk of major damage to farm land and injury of livestock. Regulations are stricter within its boundaries than elsewhere. No real effort has been made to promote local produce," he said.

"Local housing projects have all too often been snarled up in bureaucracy and a proposed new town, An Camas Mor, was strangled at birth."

He added that public toilets provision and littering had become worse and local people were not given the opportunity to properly participate on the park board.

Mr Ewing also took aim at Scottish Greens minister Ms Slater, who is in charge of the national park policy, accusing her of not listening to local people's concerns.

The Herald: Scottish Government biodiversity minister Lorna Slater. Photo PA.

"Has the minister in charge, Lorna Slater, recognised any of this? Not in the slightest. She adopts a modern day Marie Antoinette -‘let them eat cake’- approach. Why ask people what they want when you already know what they need. And have decided what they are to get," he said.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority rejected Mr Ewing's criticisms.

It said it had consulted locally about the re-introduction of beavers and almost three quarters of the 164 residents who responded to the survey on the issue were supportive of the move.

The Park Authority also said that more than 2,000 houses had been built in the national park since 2003, including hundreds of affordable houses built over the past few years. 

It added that An Camas Mòr received planning permission twice from the Park Authority and that it was trying to get land with planning permission built upon.   

The Park Authority also dismissed Mr Ewing's claims that local people on the board had been sidelined.

Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said:  “It is disappointing to see Mr Ewing misrepresent the evidence on the ground in the Cairngorms National Park. 

"Everything we do as a Park Authority is shaped by the people who live, work and visit the UK’s largest national park, and over three quarters of residents support the objectives set out in our long-term Partnership Plan. A clear majority of our board are from the local area and are either directly elected or are local councillors.  

 “Over the past two decades the Park Authority has invested millions of pounds across all communities in the National Park, from direct support for businesses and communities to ranger services, land management support and infrastructure, such as new toilets, car parks and paths. 

“We have also been able to leverage in millions of additional funding – including the recent £10.7 million award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for Cairngorms 2030 – and these investments in turn support jobs, from local peatland contractors to farming businesses. 

 “We understand that the management of national parks invite strong opinions on all sides; however, hyperbole rarely helps to address complex issues that need careful debate and understanding.”

Highlands and Islands MSP, and Scottish Greens rural affairs spokesperson, Ariane Burgess said:

“The process of selecting Scotland’s new National Park has been community led from the start, and I was delighted to see so much interest and excitement from across the country when nominations were finalised last week

“National Park status is a win-win. They are a celebration of our outstanding landscape and the communities, farmers and land managers who work them. They will see additional resources invested in the area, benefitting local communities and economies, and supporting responsible and sustainable tourism.

“Our existing National Parks have been a roaring success. Not only have they helped restore our natural environment and established world famous destinations, they’ve also spearheaded initiatives from public health programmes to community energy generation within their boundaries. It’s this sort of investment that has seen the Cairngorms National Park population boom by 14%.

“We’ll continue to work closely with residents and stakeholders to ensure Scotland’s National Parks work for people and planet.”

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Public consultation has demonstrated broad support for new National Parks in Scotland and the Scottish Government is clear that any new Park should meet the needs of the local area. 

“Once a decision is made on the location of the proposed new National Park in the summer, there will be extensive consultation with stakeholders, businesses and communities in the area to determine how a National Park can best meet local needs. 

“This includes consultation on the proposed geographic area, the desire to designate the area as a National Park and what functions a National Park authority in the area should exercise.

“Local representation on National Park authority boards is fundamentally important and helps to ensure that National Parks are focused on tackling the issues that matter to local communities – from climate change and nature restoration to affordable housing, business support, local employment opportunities and investment in facilities for visitors and local people.”