'Buckie was known as Little Norway - we had a consulate and the king came to visit'
Moray SNP councillor Sonya Warren, who represents the Buckie ward, talks to Holyrood about the day the Norwegian king came to town and how connectivity is an issue across the area
Describe the area you represent in one sentence
The Buckie area and the Moray coast are hidden jewels in Scotland, with beautiful beaches, heritage and culinary delights that make it a great stopping-off point.
How long have you lived there?
I’m born and bred in Moray but have only been in Buckie for 41 or 42 years. I’m originally from Keith but my husband stayed down this way and we found a nice bit of ground and built a house.
Tell us something we won’t know about your local area
During World War Two Buckie was known as Little Norway. A lot of Scandinavian refugees came across the North Sea in little boats – we even had a Norwegian consulate here and the king of Norway came to visit in 1943. Last year four sailors sailed from Norway to Buckie to commemorate the people who did that, following the route they took. It took them four days, bobbing about in the sea.
Who is the best-known person from your area?
The singer and TV presenter Isla St Clair’s family were from the North East. She lived in Findochty and came to Buckie High School. Alex Wilson, who played football for Scotland, came from Buckie, as did Speyfest founder James Alexander. He was a fiddle player and teacher who formed the Speyside Fiddlers and took them all over Europe and America.
What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?
There’s quite a bit. Some of the most critical issues are rural poverty and isolation. It’s concerning when we see Stagecoach cutting bus routes [the company announced a series of timetable changes across Aberdeenshire and Moray earlier this year] because it isolates more people. Not everyone has good phone signal and there are areas along the coast where you just don’t get reception. Then there’s the A96. Moray is like a little island and this part is even more isolated. We have a really good harbour but no strategic road coming to the harbour.
What made you stand for election?
I’d been involved in the area forum and things like that and am passionate about the area and making it the best it can be. I also thought there should be a female voice on the council – so many of the members are male. I came in on a by-election in 2015 and really didn’t expect to be elected – the SNP had never won a by-election in Buckie – but I thought I’d give it my best shot. I got more votes than the other two candidates put together, which really took me by surprise.
What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?
Improve connectivity. Dual the A96 properly and make sure there’s proper 4G connectivity for everyone. There should be equity of provision. When you hear of people having to go to Edinburgh for chemotherapy you want the roads to be the best they can be because that’s a very long round trip and once you start your therapy you have to go all the time. We’re not that far from Aberdeen, but the roads aren’t great; we’re not that far from Inverness, but the roads aren’t great.
What’s the best bit about living where you do?
Absolutely the community and the richness of what we have outdoors. In the morning you could be down on the beach watching dolphins and seals then a couple of hours later you could be up a mountain in the Cairngorms.
Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?
Murlics – they’re the crumbs that get stuck around your mouth.
If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?
My mum comes from Belgium so there’s definitely a piece of my heart there but a really special place for me is Penticton in the Okanagan Valley in Canada. We spent five weeks there when my boys got a place at an ice-hockey school and we felt like we belonged there. It was like a home from home.