Six years ago they went head to head for the nomination as the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland.
Now Lord Stephen, Scotland’s former deputy first minister, and Mike Rumbles, the man he beat in the leadership contest, are at loggerheads again over a controversial wind farm development in Aberdeenshire.
Mr Rumbles is leading the political backlash against proposals by a renewables company, in which the recently appointed Lord Stephen is a director, to build a three turbine wind farm close to the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.
Mr Rumbles has described the proposals as a “cynical and outrageous attempt . . . to bulldoze through the planning process” and has warned the developers that they are “in for a fight”.
Green Cat Renewables is acting on behalf of Renewable Energy Ventures Ltd, the company in which Lord Stephen is a director, to site three giant wind turbines, each 328ft high, on the slopes of Pressendye near Cushnie, Alford.
The site is close to the area where a previous wind farm application for a seven turbine development by Cushnie Wind Energy was rejected last year by the Scottish Government’s principal reporter. And the new application has sparked anger among local residents.
Mr Rumbles has joined in the protest, condemning the developers for submitting a fresh application just months after their previous one was thrown out.
In a statement posted on the local Liberal Democrats website, he said: “This is a cynical and outrageous attempt by developers to bulldoze through the planning process.
“Aberdeenshire councillors sent a clear message when they unanimously rejected the previous application for a wind farm at nearby Pressendye. The developers’ appeal was subsequently, and quite rightly, thrown out by the Scottish Government reporter.
“If the developers think they can wear down the community’s opposition they can think again. The developers are in for a fight.”
Mr Rumbles said he had been fully aware of Lord Stephen’s involvement in the controversial scheme when he posted his remarks on the internet.
He added: “I opposed the original Pressendye application and I wrote to the minister opposing it. It was completely wrong and I am fully supportive of my constituents.
“Then this other application came along. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t make a hoot of difference to me who the developer is. If it’s wrong – it’s wrong. I have spent the last 12 years representing West Aberdeenshire and I do it without fear or favour to anybody. Consistency is important here and the developers are in for a fight.”
Lord Stephen defended the application. He said: “I am sure we agree on the need for a big increase in renewable energy over the next few years. Climate change is one of the biggest issues we face in the future.
The question is about the right scale and location of individual projects.
“It is important to emphasise that this is a significantly smaller application on a less prominent site, involving only three wind turbines.”
Caroline Gerrie, chair of the protest group, Stop Turbines in Cushnie, said the threat of a wind farm development was casting an “unwelcome dark shadow over my life and my neighbours’ lives”.