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'I got caught up in the Horizon scandal but it was fighting SSE that led me into politics'

Alastair Redman at Port Wemyss | Supplied

'I got caught up in the Horizon scandal but it was fighting SSE that led me into politics'

Independent councillor Alastair Redman, who represents the Kintyre and the Islands ward on Argyll & Bute Councill, tells Holyrood about getting caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal and how fighting SSE gave him a taste for politics.

Describe the area you represent in one sentence

The ward is a number of islands that are rural but also have huge heavy industry due to all the distilleries here – it’s a very dynamic rural economy.

How long have you lived there?

All my life, so almost 37 years. I worked as a farm labourer for a year after school then I took over the local Post Office at the age of 17 and worked there until I was elected in 2017. I got caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal. I was very fortunate because I wasn’t prosecuted, but one of the things that’s getting lost in all the noise around Horizon is that all sub-postmasters were affected. The software was faulty and we all constantly made up differences with our own money. What I paid in ran into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Tell us something we won’t know about your local area

There were prehistoric settlers on Islay. There’s evidence of hunter-gatherers from around 10,000 BC. Archaeologists have discovered Ice Age tools and Mesolithic artefacts on the island – some of the earliest items were actually uncovered by a herd of pigs in 2015. The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte displays some amazing artefacts from prehistoric to modern times.

Who is the best-known person from your area?

Quite a lot of political leaders came from Islay. Labour peer Lord George Robertson was originally from here and so was Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland in the coalition government. BBC journalist Glenn Campbell is also from Islay.

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?

The combination of the rural and industrial. Industry is a good thing because it brings a lot of jobs and prosperity to the area, but we have islands, which are rural, then we have heavy industry, which means ferry spaces are taken up by large articulated lorries, which also damage the roads. We get rural funding but the amount of freight we get would be typical of an inner-city area. Rural, industrial and island all in one go puts a huge strain on local infrastructure.

What made you stand for election?

Back in 2011-12 I was working in the Post Office and there was an obscene amount of power cuts – it was disgraceful. My post office was in darkness for a week and many of my customers – my future constituents – had no running water because it was pumped electronically. I was absolutely furious with SSE, which I believed wasn’t properly maintaining the lines. I wrote 40 angry messages to my local MP and he arranged for me to speak at the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster. I’d never even been to London before – I was like Crocodile Dundee, saying hi to everyone on the underground and getting no response – but I gave SSE both barrels and we haven’t had any power cuts since. They made a huge investment in the lines, they apologised and they paid compensation. I got a bit of a taste for politics as part of that.

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?

Properly fund local authorities, recognise the huge challenges we have with the quantity of distilleries on the islands, and recognise that they themselves are distant. The UK Government knows it is distant and acts accordingly but the Scottish Government sees Scotland as one entity and that’s a mistake. Holyrood talks a great deal about getting more power from the UK Government, but I’d like them to talk more about devolving the powers they do have at a Scottish Government level to local authorities. The council tax freeze debacle was a sign of the Scottish Government having too much power.

What’s the best bit about living where you do?

The people are easily the best. Everyone knows everyone and for the most part everyone is very friendly. There’s also very little crime. I recently got married and we’re hoping to start a family. I’m looking forward to raising my future children here and knowing they’ll be safe and have a good quality of life.

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?

Tha gu math – it’s Gaelic for it’s fine or I’m fine.

If you could live anywhere else where would it be?

I have some family in the Borders around Carlisle and that’s quite a nice area. I also enjoyed a trip I had to Malta – its history and culture are fascinating. But I just like it here.

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