THE LIBERAL Democrats have matured and gained in credibility since entering into a coalition with the Tories, according to business secretary Vince Cable MP, who has been visiting Shetland this weekend.
The MP for Twickenham joined other LibDem party MPs and MSPs, including deputy leader Simon Hughes, to celebrate the centenary year of former Orkney and Shetland MP Jo Grimond, who represented the northern isles for 33 years between 1950 and 1983.
Following a lecture and discussion on Grimond’s life and his lasting influence, the business secretary said the party was in good shape and was more electable than ever before.
“Because we have been in government, we’ve got a track record of things we have actually done – the most visible probably is lifting the millions of low earners across the UK out of income tax.
“We don’t just have policies and slogans, we actually deliver things and the party will be seen as a lot more credible and mature having taken on this big responsibility.
“And although Shetland is now booming because of the oil industry, let’s not forget that five years ago the country as a whole had an enormous financial crisis and somebody had to take the responsibility of clearing up the mess afterwards, which is what we are doing,” he said.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael refuted suggestions that it would be more difficult for him to get his message across to island voters come the 2015 general election.
“I don’t buy for a second that the people who voted for me did not think I would work in a coalition,” he said.
“A lot of what the government had to do has been very difficult and has been unpopular – there is no getting away from that.
“The fact of the matter is, having always preached coalition working, that it is now up to us to demonstrate that it can be made to work.”
He said he had managed to get an “isles’ perspective” into the heart of government thinking, and pointed at the fuel duty discount and the retention of the Shetland Coastguard station as proof of that influence.
Cable and Carmichael insisted that LibDem policies were distinctively visible within the UK government, and gave the new threshold for income tax at £10,000 and the linking of the state pension to inflation as examples of policies delivered as part of the coalition.
“These are things that we have always spoken about in opposition, but we are now able to deliver in government.
“The more Liberal Democrat MPs we have the more of these things we can deliver,” the northern isles MP said.
Carmichael added that he fully supported the Our Islands – Our Future campaign for more devolution to the three Scottish island councils.
He said the UK government’s formal response to the initiative would be coming out fairly soon and hinted: “What I think is very much in tune with the rest of the government.”
“Regardless of whether there is a Yes or a No vote, we should still be looking at ways of meeting the islands’ aspirations post September 2014.
“What you have had from the Scottish government is public engagement on the one hand, while systematically withdrawing control over essential services on the other,” he said.
Cable added that many of the remoteness issues affecting island communities would have been overcome once high speed broadband has been delivered.
“Then you can feed directly into advanced communication systems, and I would think that the combination of that and the push for the economy that is coming from the oil and gas sector will give Shetland in particular a real boost for the long term,” he said.
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