From Fair Isle originally, Bressay has been home to me and my family for the last 12 years.
During that time I have worked at COPE Ltd, was manager of the Shetland Alcohol Trust for several years, and more recently spent a lot of time behind mixing desks as a self-employed sound engineer and part-time technician for Shetland Arts.
From early days on Fair Isle, the AHS and Janet Courtney Hostel, crofting, working on the ferry, and the multitude of other jobs which constituted the way of life in a small island, a couple of years touring with Hom Bru, college in Aberdeen and a spell living and working in Devon, I have a wide range of life experience to draw on.
Particularly from my time in the voluntary sector, I know that Shetland is a complex mix of wealth and poverty, inequality and opportunity, and that simplistic solutions to our problems won’t work.
The key to building a healthy community however, must lie in everyone being valued and properly represented.
Why I am standing
Like many in Shetland, I have been shocked over the last few years to hear of the wasted millions of our money. Not just the loss of public money with little or nothing to show for it, but also what it represented – that Shetland, once a place where people made the best of very little, now seemed resigned to waste on such a grand scale.
Contrasted with the budget cuts, where the elderly, the young and the disadvantaged all suffer, it seems that we are going in a direction which is not just unsustainable, but is damaging the foundations of our community.
Shetland could and should be looking forward to the next decade with enthusiasm and confidence – we are in many ways uniquely placed to thrive in an exciting and rapidly changing world. I believe we can make that transition. And I believe that I have the experience, skills and insight to help make that happen.
What I stand for
Above all, change! The whole attitude of a new council must be fundamentally different- how can it be right for lunch clubs to be cut while pouring money into out of court settlements? How can we, in fact, have even reached the stage of the recent budget cuts without taking a damn hard look at why we needed to make them in the first place, given Shetland’s relative wealth?
I am appalled that no public inquiry has been called into the windfarm, especially in light of the promised referendum never materialising.
Given that the Council’s own planning department recommended refusal, and that the consent was at least partially granted on the strength of this being a “community backed” proposal, I see little evidence of a democratic process at work so far.
To risk our money on such a project, when the benefits seem far from clear, and the cons are massive, surely needs a far greater level of debate and understanding than has been noticeable, given the deep divisions and strength of feeling it has caused.
Questions should have been asked, and the implications properly understood, before any decisions were made. And if elected, I would both be asking those questions, and doing my best to represent your views.
Personally, I am far from convinced that the proposal as it stands should go ahead. Initially I was enthusiastic about the possibility of expanding windpower generation – having been involved with Fair Isle’s aerogenerators, and keen for Shetland to both contribute to green energy production and earn some community income.
However, as time has gone on, and more details of the scheme have emerged, I have become increasingly concerned.
I don’t believe the green credentials hold up to scrutiny – the windfarm construction, infrastructure and decommissioning seems to put the carbon payback claimed in some doubt at least, and the financial benefits largely depend on what level of subsidy is going to be available by the time it is built.
It is clear that even on Viking Energy’s own projections little direct employment is envisioned, the scale of construction means that it will be the “big guys” not locals who benefit, and it certainly won’t be solving the real and increasing level of fuel poverty in Shetland.
And to highlight just one of the many other concerns, anyone who believes this won’t affect our blossoming tourist industry is deluding themselves – as one tourist recently told me, after many trips to enjoy our isolated and relatively unspoilt isles, he wouldn’t be returning – if he wanted the Whitelee experience, it would be a sight cheaper to go there!
However, on a deeper level, I am even more concerned by what the windfarm symbolises: the strength of feeling, the deep divisions, and specifically the apparent single minded desperation from some to find an alternative cash cow which can replace our dependency on oil dollars.
I am standing for election on the basis that we need to start using what we have much more wisely, take advantage of our unique situation (how would the Western Isles react to having several hundred million in the bank, 400 well paid jobs in the offing from the gas plant, some of the best infrastructure and services in the country, etc. etc.), and build on that.
From that perspective, and considering the plethora of valid points raised by objectors, I have to be clear and state my opposition to Viking Energy’s plans. A public inquiry could have cleared up many issues – we are now in a situation where Shetland could well be submerged in giant windmills with little local control, uncertain benefits and massive financial risk.
The message from both Westminster and Hollyrood in recent days is clear – the days of large scale onshore windfarm development are now firmly over.
Do we want Shetland to be the last place in the UK blighted with this sort of development, or should we be looking for better alternatives?
Just as a simple example, how about smaller turbines used to heat water and storage heaters for groups of houses? It’s tried and tested, would help with fuel poverty, tick the “green” boxes, and provide local businesses with work in installing and maintaining them.
Or follow Orkney’s example, and build the infrastructure to support renewables’ development. Our wind regime and tidal streams can still be valuable, both locally and globally, without having to supply huge (and vastly fluctuating) amounts of electricity.
I would hope that there would be enough consensus within a new council to find a way forward on this and the related issue of charitable trust reform. To have reached this stage, where so many in Shetland are deeply unhappy, is unjustifiable. To be bullied into continuing is unacceptable.
Possibly the best example of why I believe a clear, consistent plan – that takes notice of the wider value as opposed to simple cost – is essential. The new AHS, music tuition, and many more education related issues have shown that the wider community has much to say on the subject, and a new council must listen, and respond to the understandable demands for a good start for our young people.
The division between town and rural/island is also an example of a piecemeal approach by previous councils – if there is really an understanding that all parts of Shetland need to be healthy and vibrant, how does that square with some of the cuts currently being proposed?
Should schools be shut to cut costs now, or will the real price be the decline of the area?
Would the millions recently spent on the new North Ness council buildings have been better spent on decentralised hubs allowing people to work close to their local area?
And Lerwick is suffering from the effects of the population drift as well – pressure on housing and services in the town is growing too.
I understand that public transport provision is an ever-increasing expense – but in Bressay people are already wondering if they can continue to afford to live in the island, given the cost of ferry travel to the town.
Coupled with rising fuel prices and Shetland’s awkward geography, there has to be much more effort made to find solutions which are affordable and effective – and allow us more freedom from the petrol pump.
We need to also realise Shetland’s potential place not only within Scotland, but the UK and Europe. Much of what is happening south of Fair Isle may be out of our control. But potentially the next few years could see unequalled opportunities for new deals to be brokered. Will we be equal to those challenges which, like it or not, are coming our way from outside as well as inside our community?
We must move towards a healthier economy and build on our many assets to create a more sustainable future for Shetland. I believe we should be making better use of what we have instead of thinking our future prosperity depends on the next handout.
I also believe that the decisions facing the next council will significantly shape Shetland – and should be taken with due care as to their consequences.
Change is necessary – the new council must look back to learn from the past, establish a new attitude to its responsibilities, and develop a clear vision for the future. We have many strengths and skills, not least from the resilience and interdependence which have developed from centuries of life on these islands. However, I strongly believe that we need to understand the difference between our needs and wants – and that much more care needs to be taken in deciding what Shetland’s real requirements are.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I will work hard on your behalf to get those answers, and do my best to listen to as many of your views and opinions as I can – and to act on what I hear.
I certainly won’t make claims either to always get it right – but I will put my hand up when I’m wrong. And be assured that I will put principles first, while understanding the need for a new council to work together effectively.
Use your vote
I will be able to meet a fair number of you before 3 May, and let you know a bit more of what I stand for. I appreciate that I would have a lot to learn as a new councillor, but have never run from new challenges. And while I would be delighted if I was given your trust by voting for me, I would also say that the important thing in this election is simply for you to vote – this will be a significantly changed council, and whoever gets elected deserves to know that people feel strongly enough to vote – the next five years won’t be easy, but could well be a unique and interesting time!
Please feel free to contact me – I would value your comments and questions.
Phone: 01595 820 218
Mobile: 07884 024 788