ALMOST every mission statement produced this century promises “decentralisation, empowering local communities, connecting, joining the dots.” But does this apply to people living and working in the Highlands and Islands?

A9 dualling has been kicked into the long grass. A brief, noble complaint from Fergus Ewing; otherwise, barely a word of objection or, ironically, independence of mind, from our SNP or Green parliamentarians. Other news has overtaken this, but – bottom line – the Scottish Government has betrayed the Highlands.

I leave unspoken the A9 north of Inverness, or the A96, or the A82, A83. But of the road between Perth and Inverness, 80 miles were at least scheduled for dualling. There are also, of course, ferry problems, poor rail services. And all of these would be essential works, if Government were serious about sustaining populations, let alone strengthening communities.

This is a kind of "othering": the ostracising of the Highlands, scenic and useful for marketing, but hardly a priority in terms of economic development.

It goes way back. The Gàidhealtachd was always looked down on. People eventually realised you couldn’t eat a view. The Highlands and Islands are a special case. The establishment of the HIDB, subsequently HIE, was the state taking a lead in reversing depopulation and supporting the regional economy.

As academics Andrew Perhard and Niall Mackenzie have highlighted, a consistent thread in policy has been the perception of a "Highland problem" – one which has been addressed most effectively when the interwoven nature of economic sectors is understood. And infrastructure is key in supporting fragile regions; this has been confirmed in the Faroes, southern Italy and northern Norway, as well as being clearly evident across the Highlands and Islands.

The A9 is key infrastructure for the Highlands. It is symbolic. It is scandalous that the Inverness Courier – never knowingly viral - had to use a gravestone front page to call out the murder of previous A9 pledges. The Courier recognised a widely-felt “sense of anger…and powerlessness”.

James Hunter has referred to a historic “culpability”, governments giving support in atonement for past mistreatment. But the consensus has been shattered. The Highlands and Islands have been disproportionately impacted in recent years by the loss of European Union funding, the centralisation of police, education, health, and emergency services, and the evisceration of local government. A 2022 survey by HIE found, worryingly, that 47% of young people plan to move away within five years, citing affordable housing and other issues. The young should be enabled to live and work in their home areas.

These moments are seldom isolated. 2022 saw other failures towards rural Scotland. The Scotwind auction of Offshore Wind Energy – which some believe undervalued renewable assets – missed a great opportunity, especially in remote and coastal locations. Land reform consultation – ignoring land taxation and succession law – fails to address the problematic concentration of land ownership, or help in the process of using land reform to make the essential shift across the country towards net zero.

The A9 backtrack combines disdain for the Highlands with a lazy ‘Green’ anti-car agenda. We in the North deserve better.

Dr Michael Gregson is an Inverness-based teacher and writer