IT’S summer, which only means one thing: The constituency summer tour.

Every year, I use the two months of parliamentary recess to visit as many towns and villages in the constituency as possible. From Dornie to Dingwall, from Kylerhea to Kingussie, I set up base and speak to constituents. I’ve held surgeries in creaky village halls, local shinty clubhouses and cramped coffee shops. Usually, by the time we turn up, there are a few people hovering outside, in anticipation of making their views known.

It’s local democracy in action, as I am held to account for decisions or actions I’ve taken as well as spurred on to represent my constituents as accurately as possible. Of course, there are plenty of others who will never come to a surgery, and they can raise concerns by email or telephone. The whole point is that anybody can speak to their local MSP on their doorstep.

Usually, the issues being raised with me are diverse. Education, healthcare and infrastructure feature highly, as does access to housing and the cost of living. It is rare for one issue to dominate all others, but this summer there is a common theme that unites constituents from all four corners of my constituency.

It is the question of representation. People too often feel like their views and perspectives are irrelevant in the ideological pursuit of certain, laudable policies by large, unelected companies. The issue is simple, it is the sense of powerlessness in the face of massive developments that are justified on the basis of the national transition to net zero.

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The infrastructure developments in question – extensive windfarms in Skye, pylons in Kylrhea and new electricity transmission lines running through the heart of the Highlands – all appear consistent with Scotland’s transition to net zero.

And the question is this: Do ends always justify means?

Now, I am the first to proudly proclaim the immense opportunities for Scotland as part of the just transition. We can create jobs, grow the economy, transform lives and save the planet – all at the same time. Every country is battling to be the first to go completely net zero. Ever competitive and ambitious, we all want Scotland to lead the way.

We are all in favour of investing in renewables, in better infrastructure and in economic opportunity. Nobody can doubt the need to ensure Scotland meets the opportunities of the just transition head-on, but the “just” element cannot be forgotten.

And should infrastructure development necessary for the just transition trump all other considerations, not least local empowerment? I don’t think it should. Without justice, there is no just transition. Without local support for change, there is no transition.

The National: Energy projects such as wind farms can take communities with themEnergy projects such as wind farms can take communities with them

We’ve got to lay solid principles for the just transition, or we will lose more than we gain. Those principles all revolve around the “justice” of the transition. In other words, the means matter just as much as the ends.

As local MSP, I am asked to advise communities on how they can make their strongly held views heard as part of consultations. They fear getting left behind, as the great big tanker of the green economy drives over them.

I’ve previously written about my fears that the Highlands will be expected to disproportionally bear the burden for our country’s transition to net zero. There is some naivety about how easy it will be to meet our laudable targets of net zero by 2045. It will be difficult. In the face of such a challenge, it is too easy to expect the areas with the fewest voices to take the hardest hit.

The conversation might be slightly different if rural Scotland had as much to gain as we did to lose. But on every policy area it feels like rural Scotland is expected to cough up without much in return. They’re expected to accept devastation and carnage as huge swathes of forestry are recommitted to wind farms. They are expected to sacrifice a peaceful outlook for noisy pylons. All whilst the local population struggle to afford the higher costs of fuel, energy and travel.

Taking the wind farms first, the proposals for Skye essentially include substantial expansion of existing wind farms. In sharp contrast with wind farms in the Western Isles which are community-owned, the proposals in Skye will largely only generate profit for the developers.

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Wind is a community asset, just like land, water, buildings and people. Developers will essentially use this asset of wind energy to benefit shareholders rather than the community.

Of course, some income will be redistributed to the local community through some sort of community funding, but it will self-evidently not be on the same level than if the community owned the turbines.

I don’t know where the shareholders (who will benefit the most) live or work. But I think it is highly likely that they won’t be subject to the disruption of the expansion and building works.

They won’t watch the turbines change the horizon or get stuck behind each of the parts being delivered to the site.

In other words, they have everything to gain, and not much to lose, whilst the local community has everything to lose, and little if anything to gain. This must change.

For all the progress we’ve made on community empowerment, the principles of the just transition are flying in the wind. If we continue on this path, the transition to renewables will be just as disempowering as the transition to oil and gas in the 70s.

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Further inland, other community groups are exercised by the proposals by SSEN to upgrade the transition network. This will include large new substations and a lot of upheaval. The aim is to ensure the infrastructure can accommodate the massive increase in energy generation and distribute it to where it’s needed.

That’s vital, necessary and welcomed – by consumers elsewhere in the UK. In other words, once again, the substantial impact suffered by local people is almost entirely to serve consumers who don’t have to deal with the impact.

So what is to be done? Well, there are many people who’d rather the project didn’t proceed at all. But, if the upgrade does need to progress, organisations need to get a lot better at firstly serving the communities most impacted and secondly making it worth their while.

That means granular plans that take into account the particular issues raised by each community, with careful consideration of alternative routes, undergrounding and using existing infrastructure.

Secondly, it means ensuring the benefits are enjoyed locally.

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If the energy is largely generated in the north, thereby requiring the distribution network to take it from north to south, then the Highlands should be seeing the benefits in their energy bills. Why should Highland communities pay for their own community asset, like wind?

If it is really so plentiful here, why are people paying through the nose for it? Why is something so freely available so inaccessible to people – plunging them into poverty?

If private wind farm developers and energy distribution networks want to change the tide and be part of the just transition, then they need to remember that the ends never justify the means.

The just transition isn’t a future, end goal. It is the means to an end. Without justice, there is no transition to net zero.