“I’M never voting for them again. These HPAs, or PMAs, you know, the thing where they’re banning fishing, it’s the last straw, I’m never voting for them again”.

The middle-aged man sitting at the table behind me in a Stornoway cafe two weeks ago could not remember the precise name of the Scottish Government’s proposed Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), but we can perhaps forgive him that.

HMPAs, the consultation over which has just closed, are intended to ban all fishing, aquaculture, and pretty much all commercial activity, in up to ten per cent of Scotland’s coastal waters. Humza Yousaf now says they won't be imposed against communities' wishes.

Back in the cafes of south Edinburgh, political chatter is rare, tending to take place behind closed doors, and is far likelier to focus on the collapse of the NHS, or independence, or (in whispers), gender recognition.

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My father is from the Western Isles, so we often visit. Holiday weeks spent there have always represented a cultural shift from day-to-day life in Edinburgh. There it’s quiet; here it’s busy. There it’s slow; here it’s fast. And that’s just the broadband.

Rural life and urban life in Scotland have always been different, but never in my lifetime has the divergence between the two been so great, or so potentially impactful. The crack which has always been there has become a crevice. That crevice risks widening into a chasm. And that chasm risks the very substructure of the SNP.

HPMAs are not the only artefact in the collection. As Mr Angry from Stornoway said, they are the last straw. The other straws have been numerous, and increasingly short. Islands and peninsulas across Scotland have been cut off from the mainland for unacceptably large portions of the last several years because Scotland has a dysfunctional ferry service; if you want to catch sight of a Caledonian Macbrayne vessel, find a dry dock in the central belt.

Of course, you have to get to the ferry first, and those like me who have years of reluctant experience of having to drive the gauntlet up the A9 will know that the sigh of relief when you safely hit the Kessock Bridge never goes away. The dualling of that road has been long-grassed, at best, and at the young(ish) age of 43 it’s six-to-five and pick ‘em whether I’ll ever drive a dual carriageway from Perth to Inverness. Drivers on the A96, the A75, the A82 or myriad other roads will have their own stories, and their own anger.

All of this matters in many ways. Firstly and most obviously, these lowlanders, these highlanders, these islanders are our people, and they are in a spot of bother. They are entitled to expect our help.

The Herald: Are rural areas being ignored by policy-makers?Are rural areas being ignored by policy-makers? (Image: free)

Secondly, this is not only an act of solidarity; 80-or-so per cent of us may live in the central belt, but the 20-or-so percent who do not are in the places which give us agriculture worth an output of £3 billion a year, and the aquaculture which includes the UK’s largest food export, and the renewables industry which, after the full potential of offshore wind and wave power is unleashed, is highly likely to form the economic backbone of this country for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

Thirdly, of course, this matters because there are deep and wide political implications. Between the orange of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in the north, and the blue of Dumfries and Galloway in the south, the entirety of Scotland’s western coastline is SNP yellow. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of it.

Will it be, by the end of next year? Angus Macneil has held the Western Isles for 15 years, but he is being chased down by Labour’s Torcuil Crichton. He may well lose. Ian Blackford, over the Minch, has a healthy majority, but much has happened since he collected it in 2019, and there is no particular reason for him to feel secure. Brendan O’Hara in Argyll and Bute may be having an unexpected look over his shoulder.

Not all rural areas have coastlines. The SNP is defending no fewer than 13 seats with majorities of less than 5,000. The SNP is not short of troubles, but when First Minister Humza Yousaf finds some additional bandwidth he would be well-served to consider what he might do to ensure that those rural voters who have spent so long loyally crossing the SNP box do so again next year.

I have no doubt, whatsoever, that when the Scottish Government’s Cabinet meets they do not sit thinking about ways to screw rural Scotland. However, in politics, perception is everything. And the perception is that this government is composed of urban lefties who differ only in the grape of the wine they sip.

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Around the table sit ten people, of whom only two could fairly claim to represent a rural constituency. One of them – Mairi McAllan’s Clydesdale – is a stone’s throw from Glasgow, and the other – Mairi Gougeon’s Angus North and Mearns – is half-way between Aberdeen and Dundee and has a dual carriageway running through it. They are hardly the back of beyond.

Perception is everything. Polling by Lord Ashcroft, in February, showed that the two top priorities of Scots were cost of living and the NHS. Those priorities are shared in rural and urban areas, but there are good arguments that some problems are more acute outside of the central belt. The same poll, though, showed that the perceived priorities of the government were independence and gender recognition.

Perception or reality, rural Scotland is increasingly of the view that urban Scotland, and more particularly those urban Scots who walk the corridors of power, simply do not care about them.

The SNP has some reason to feel aggrieved about this, not least because the fingerprints on most of the policies which irk rural Scotland are not yellow, but Green.

When the SNP decided to hand a set of keys to St Andrew’s House to Green leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, most people understood the logic, irrespective of whether they agreed with it. It was a numbers game. They needed votes at Holyrood, and they needed a united nationalist majority to wave at Westminster.

They do not, anymore. Independence is as far away as a dualled A9.

Policy sacrifice to a coalition partner is the price of doing business. But how high a price is Mr Yousaf prepared to pay?