Who am I?
A 61 year old lawyer/banker/investment banker/wealth adviser, I was born and brought up in Edinburgh and read Law at Edinburgh University. My wife Shona is the daughter of Adam Robson, the well-known Shetland artist and rugby player. We live in her great grandparents’ croft house in Cullivoe. I have been a regular visitor to Shetland for 20 years and we moved here permanently in 2010.
Why am I standing?
I have been shocked and appalled by the financial mismanagement at Shetland Islands Council and Shetland Charitable Trust. Some of the waste of money seems almost contemptuous. I can either sit on the sidelines and write irate letters to The Shetland Times or else I can seek election as a Councillor, and try to sort out the problems from the inside.
I strongly believe that Shetland needs strong leadership, with a clear vision of the future, a clear strategy that is understood by all and a clear action plan that is agreed by all. All of that seems to be absent at the moment, despite the presence of so many consultants.
What are my credentials to sort out the financial mismanagement?
I have 40 years of experience in entirely relevant fields. I qualified as a solicitor with Shepherd & Wedderburn (Scotland’s premier law firm at the time) before moving to Noble Grossart (Scotland’s leading merchant bank) where I was Assistant Treasurer, managing their investments and balance sheet.
I then became Head of Citibank in Scotland, dealing with most of the major companies and financial institutions, before becoming Managing Director of Bankers Trust’s global custody business, where we administered £50 billion of investments for major global pension funds.
I then became Chief Executive of Morgan Stanley Bank Luxembourg, where I was responsible for £70 billion of investments for pension funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds etc. I have spent the last decade advising family offices, family trusts etc on their wealth strategy and structures.
I believe this experience can be of immense value to Shetland, in financial, investment and strategy terms.
How can I demonstrate my commitment to the North Isles and to Shetland?
For the first six months that we lived here, I commuted to London but hated being away from Shetland. I therefore decided to make my life entirely in Shetland. I have become an unpaid business mentor to a number of Shetland businesses, under the auspices of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, as well as advising a number of local businesses on an unpaid basis.
I am also Deputy Chair of the Yell Tourist Group, which aims to attract more tourists to Yell.
My wife and I have recently set up The Shetland Gallery, which is an arts and crafts gallery, to showcase the outstanding talents that Shetland has in the fields of visual arts and crafts. We plan to take stands at international arts fairs to promote Shetland art.
My wife also plans to run residential arts courses, which should attract a number of visitors who would not otherwise come to Shetland. We will rent Belmont House in Unst for accommodation, with a local chef cooking the best local seafood and meat, whilst the actual courses will take place in the gallery at Sellafirth.
How confident am I regarding the future of Shetland and the North Isles?
Despite the raging financial mismanagement and incompetence of the last decade, Shetland is, remarkably, in not too bad shape. Strong leadership, a clear vision, clear strategy and a clear action plan should be able to take Shetland strongly through the next five years, although there will undoubtedly be short-term pain as we sort out some of the worst excesses.
However, we need some very clear development initiatives in a few sectors, to create new jobs and real alternatives to employment in the public sector.
Tourism – Shetland is crying out for a serious tourism strategy. Excellent websites cannot cover up the ludicrous cost of getting to Shetland and the woeful lack of decent accommodation and acceptable restaurants.
Textiles – Shetland wool is known all around the world, yet we don’t have a credible Shetland textile industry.
Seafood – Shetland has some of the best seafood on the planet, but the industry is not properly organised. Shetland lobster, Shetland crab and Shetland scallops should be asked for at all of the world’s top restaurants. Only Shetland mussels currently have that profile.
I am not so confident regarding the future of The North Isles. I believe there is a real risk that short-term financial pressures will lead to the destruction of our fragile communities, with ferries, education and community care being the obvious areas of concern.
The North Isles needs very strong leadership to avoid this risk. I know that Robert Henderson has been a powerful advocate for The North Isles. I hope to be able to work alongside him, to give the people of The North Isles confidence that their interests are being strongly represented.
What are my views on Shetland Islands Council?
I think it is obvious to us all that SIC has become bloated and obese, with too many overpaid managers and a lot of unnecessary employees. However, we simply cannot carry out the surgery that would be done in the private sector, because the social consequences would be too great, with significant unemployment. However, we cannot carry on this way and well-planned long-term change is essential.
What are my views on Viking Energy?
I am a little ambivalent on Viking and need to understand more detail of the project.
In principle, I want Shetland to be at the forefront of the renewable sector. We have wind, waves and tides as obvious assets. However, I feel uncomfortable about Viking because:
1) there seem to be some obvious conflicts of interest;
2) I simply do not believe the fanciful profit numbers that are bandied around;
3) I feel that Shetland Charitable Trust is risking too much of its portfolio on Viking; and
4) the number and size of the turbines seems intuitively too many and too big.
What are my views on Scottish independence?
I am definitely a unionist with a small “u”. An extraordinary political vacuum after the disastrous Blair years has given Alex Salmond a unique opportunity to change our constitution forever. We must ensure that he does not destroy Scotland on the back of a facile and fatuous argument that “it is Scotland’s oil”.
However, given that he is making that argument, we can make the equally facile argument that “it is Shetland’s oil” to gain some negotiating position with the current SNP regime.
What are my weaknesses?
I don’t know Shetland’s geography or history as well as I would like. As a result, some of Shetland’s issues are a bit of a mystery for me e.g. I have never set foot in Anderson High School, so have no views on its adequacy or otherwise.
However, I feel that all of the other candidates know these issues inside out, so hopefully, my different perspective may bring some balance.
Any other thoughts?
It seems to me that a lot of Shetland’s problems stem from ego, arrogance and machismo. I have often thought that the Six Wise Women of Cullivoe could sort out all of Shetland’s problems in an afternoon, just using common sense and experience. I am sure that most communities have their equivalent Six Wise Women.
Shetland Islands Council needs to tap into that wisdom somehow, even if the Wise Women do not want to stand as Councillors.