CANVASSING for the Orkney and Shetland seat is to begin in earnest after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the long awaited general election for the 6 May.
So far just five candidates have declared their intention to become the next MP for the northern isles. They are Alistair Carmichael for the LibDems, Mark Cooper for Labour, John Mowat for the SNP and Frank Nairn for the Conservatives, and Robert Smith for UKIP.
Orkney and Shetland is seen as one of the safest LibDem constituencies in the country held by the party for the last 60 years.
Five years ago, sitting MP Alistair Carmichael polled 51.5 per cent and was re-elected with a majority of 6,627 votes. Second was Labour’s Richard Meade with 14.2 per cent, third Frank Nairn with 13.3 per cent and fourth John Mowat with 10.3 per cent.
Labour’s Mark Cooper was the first yesterday (Tuesday) to come out with an election statement.
Making renewable energy in general, and the proposed Viking Energy wind farm in particular, a topic for the forthcoming campaign, Mr Cooper spoke in favour of the 540 megawatt project.
“I thought long and hard about the project and have come to the decision that this project will help to secure Shetland’s long term future.
“The Viking wind project has the potential to provide employment, a future for young people and the sustainability of key services for the whole community,” he said.
The 26 year old added that he was delighted to be able to take the case for Labour to people’s doorsteps after months of speculation as to when the election was to be held.
“I'm full of energy for this; enthusiastic about the Labour policies I will be presenting and ready to go in every sense.
“I will be standing confidently both on the track record of Labour policy and values embodied in our progressive manifesto and look forward to meeting folk and discussing these issues with them,” he said.
Second to respond to the Shetland News’ request for an initial election statement was now retired teacher John Mowat who has fought the SNP campaign for the Orkney and Shetland seat twice before.
He said he will split his time equally between canvassing in Orkney and Shetland, adding that he was looking forward to finally get going with the campaign.
He said: “Gordon Brown’s boom and bust handling of the British economy will be the main issue, with knock-on effects as the huge budget deficit is tackled.
“The very high fuel prices are a huge problem for business, transport and tourism industries and to individual motorists.
“Farming, crafting and fishing have particular local importance. Affordable housing, jobs, and renewable energy are other major local issues.”
South Ronaldsay fisherman Robert Smith said last night (Tuesday) that he had just received the go-ahead from UKIP to fight the Orkney and Shetland seat.
He said it was about time that the election had finally been called, and added: “It's indicative of Browns character, to hang on till the last minute.”
The major issues for the northern isles, he said, were energy, transport, government and EU interference, as well as the economy and "green" issues.
“I’m going to give the campaign as much time as I can but it'll have to be on top of the usual workload.
“I'll be setting up a Facebook page so anyone can contact me with suggestions etc. I hope to make at least one trip to Shetland and I'll likely be wittering on the radio and in the press.
“As for the outcome...Who knows, but the Liberal policies don't resemble my perception of what the people of Orkney and Shetland want. I'll be highlighting that. But I'm in it to win it,” he said.
Alistair Carmichael for the LibDems said the election was long overdue and could have called a year ago.
“Instead parliament has limped on wounded for twelve months while Gordon Brown has put the interests of his own party ahead of the best interests of the nation.”
He added that he would not be complacent and certainly did not regard Orkney and Shetland as a “LibDem stronghold”.
“I shall be fighting for ever vote in every community and taking nothing for granted,” he said.
As main issues to be debated during the month long campaign he identified jobs and the economy.
“Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat shadow Chancellor, has warned for years about the danger of having an economy based on borrowing and consumer spending.
“As part of rebuilding a manufacturing base for our economy the interests of the farming, fishing and aquaculture industries must be understood and protected.
“The ongoing unfairness of the extra cost paid by local people and businesses for petrol and diesel will, I believe, continue to be an issue of concern for most local people,” he said.
Conservative Frank Nairn is throwing his hat into the ring for the second time in the Orkney and Shetland contest. He lives in Glen Strathfarrar, near Inverness, where he farms sheep and deer.
He said the UK could not afford another five years of Gordon Brown and urged people to use their right to have their say, and to vote for change.
“David Cameron will give this country a fresh start with new energy and ideas and a responsible approach to economic management.
“He will not lose a moment in his quest to rebuild the trust of the people after the record of recent years. This is an issue of utmost importance to me; I believe the time is right for political integrity to re-establish itself and become the norm once again.
“Politicians must be both honest with others and with themselves. They must ask themselves at all times - am I being hypocritical, insincere or evasive? If yes, then stop and start again! No more double standards please,” Mr Nairn said.