Parliamentary sketch: MSPs talk national parks

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 23 June 2017 in Comment

Parliamentary sketch: Tory MSP Fin Carson continues his quest to get a national park to call his own

Yogi bear - credit: Holyrood

Fin Carson, the MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, loves national parks.

There’s no sense in asking why, he just really loves them, and to be honest there’s no point reading beyond that point if you can’t accept that. The man is basically the Yogi Bear of the Scottish Parliament.

But Galloway does not have a national park – a fact that Carson regrets every day. In fact he regrets it so much that he called a debate in Parliament to get to the bottom of the matter.


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“John of the mountains”, Carson explained, “petitioned the US Congress for the national park bill that was passed in 1890, establishing the Yosemite national park.”

It was a bold start, but who or what was John of the Mountains?

“John of the mountains”, he continued, “better known as John Muir, profoundly shaped how people now understand and envision their relationship with the natural world. With a Scotsman as the original promoter of national parks and our world-renowned natural beauty, it is incredible that we have only two national parks in the whole of Scotland. That is something that I believe we need to change.”

Now we were getting to the point. Carson is a jealous man. He wants what the Trossachs have. He wants a national park of his own, and he wasn’t leaving till he got one.

 “We currently have two national parks”, he said, “the Cairngorms, and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs—and there are 10 in England.”

Ten! Ten parks! Does England need that many? It sounded like the Barnett Formula had gone wrong.

But Kate Forbes had an intervention. It is worth pointing out at this point that Kate Forbes is MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch. This means she has a huge constituency, stretching from Portree to Kingussie. Crucially though, it means she also has the Cairngorms national park in her area. In this sense, she has everything Fin Carson has ever wanted.

“It is a fantastic national park”, she boasted, which is true. It is a very nice park. Carson watched on, doing a remarkable job of keeping his jealousy in check.

But having a national park is harder than you’d think, Forbes pointed out, with the different aims of a national park – covering conservation, sustainability, promoting understanding and also economic development – sometimes contradicting one another. “One of the real challenges is the difficulty in meeting those four aims – they can sometimes come into conflict. Has he considered how that would work in other national parks?”

It was a good point. National parks are a lot like puppies, lots of people think they want one, but then they turn out to be more work than they realised. Was Fin Carson responsible enough to have his own park?

He thought so. “Absolutely”, Carson responded, nodding. It wouldn’t even need to be a big national park, Carson explained. “We often describe the national park that we would like to see in Galloway as national park lite, to ensure that it addresses a lot of those potential issues.”

And anyway, Dumfries and Galloway council would help out look after it, he promised.

So far, so good. There were no guarantees Carson would leave the chamber with a national park, but at least it was going well.

Labour MSP Colin Smyth certainly felt Scotland could do with more. “When it comes to national parks, we are a poor relation not just to the rest of the UK but to topographically similar countries such as New Zealand, which has 14 national parks, and Norway, which has 37.”

Edward of the Mountain followed, agreeing with Kate Forbes that having a national park brings challenges – national parks are for life, not just for Christmas – but questioning why the Scottish Government finds “no compelling business case” to build more. You would think Fin Carson would be a compelling enough reason.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone also really likes national parks. “It is no surprise that the visitnorway.com website boasts of 44 national parks”, she said.

How dare they? As if the Fjords aren’t enough, Norwegians have 44 parks to swan around in.

Admittedly Colin Smyth had actually claimed there are 37 national parks in Norway. There seemed to be some confusion among MSPs of the exact number, but whatever it was, it was too many.

Still, it was clear what Johnstone was saying, and something must be done. Someone had to redistribute some of those parks, and that person was Alison Johnson.

Sadly though, despite the clear implication of Johnstone’s rabble rousing, she started to backtrack. “Norway is four times the size of Scotland, so that is fair enough, but I repeat that it has 44 national parks.”

Indeed. Or possibly 37.

It was left to Roseanna Cunningham to close things. “I fully recognise the enthusiasm and desire to build on the success of our existing national parks”, she said, looking at Fin Carson, “but I do not believe that we can divert resources from other priority areas for the creation of new national parks at present.”

Oh dear. No new parks. It was terrible news, and who knows what the effects would be. If a tree falls in the woods, and the wood isn’t part of national park, would it make a sound? Fin Carson would probably know.

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