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Viewpoint / Election: ‘Improving the way we are governed’

The SNP's prospective parliamentary candidate Danus Skene.

In the second part of our election campaign coverage the SNP’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Orkney and Shetland seat, Danus Skene, sets out his vision for better decision-making and more democracy for the islands.

SHETLAND needs a new politics. Politics is a process of decision making through which public resources are managed and allocated. And the experience of the past 40 and more years is that Shetland doesn’t “do politics” very well.

Money gets wasted – just how much was spent on settling conflict about investigating a fixed link to Bressay that doesn’t exist?

There is dither over decisions – just how long has it taken to decide to build a new Anderson High School, and spend money on planning to build it in the wrong places?

Vital decisions slip by, made by people who cannot be held accountable to a political programme they never published – on what basis did councillors take their decision to push ahead with approval for Viking Energy?

Public assets are spent on huge decisions in which the public has no way of engaging – how much Shetland Charitable Trust money did you put into Viking?

Or there’s plain bad judgement – what Faeroese ferry did you say you put millions into?

Not all of us disagree with all of Shetland’s public decisions. Most of us have, for example, spent a good deal of time arguing a case one way or the other about the Viking Energy planning and investment decisions. My point is that the decision-making processes themselves have been flawed, and the division and bitterness surrounding the Viking wind farm decisions would have been avoided if there had been properly conducted public debate in the first place, whatever decision that debate led to.

Another whole block of political decisions affecting Shetland in specific ways are not taken in Shetland at all. Political decisions on a range of issues from fisheries regulation to ferry contracts are ‘done to us’ from outside when the matters could and should be decided here.

The coming General Election is about a whole range of policies and issues that affect people’s daily lives. The SNP has very positive things to say about Prosperity.

We argue that the Coalition’s austerity policies follow a Tory agenda of shrinking the state, boosting the incomes of the already wealthy and so increasing inequality.

The community as whole needs new investment in training and infrastructure that will enable Scotland to compete prosperously.

We are also saying positive things about Fairness. The NHS must continue in public ownership to meet need where it occurs. The poor, including the ‘working poor’, should not pay for the bankers’ mistakes and greed. Greater inequality is unacceptable. Housing commitments must be made. And so on.

But none of this makes sense without a focus on how we are governed. It is stating the obvious that the SNP believes that independence will itself reinvigorate Scotland. But we also argue that national independence is not just an end in itself. It enables other things to happen, including the implementation of economic and social policies that bring a prosperous and fair society more effectively than is conceivable through Westminster rule.

National independence also can and must lead to a new politics within Scotland. Certainly this involves risk taking. I meet plenty people who shudder at the thought of Shetland politicians being given more responsibility – I list above some of the problems that have arisen.

But it is only by giving local communities more responsibility for themselves that public involvement in local decisions will be galvanised. And with decentralisation of Scottish decision-making must go responsibility for the money involved.

Local decision-makers should be responsible. That should mean local councillors being elected on the basis of programmes to which they can be held accountable.

Right now, even our Scottish national government cannot be held fully to account. It works with pocket money from the London Treasury within constraints that inhibit what it can do while it is not responsible for raising its own income.

In Scotland, neither our national government nor our local government system – nor indeed our party system – are fit for purpose.

The SNP does not just support the Our Islands Our Future process. It has encouraged and enabled it. On behalf of the SNP, I wish that OIOF was asking for more, but it is a start.

An ‘Islands Minister’ has been appointed to take the agenda forward. The 2013 Lerwick Declaration and the Scottish Government document Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities underwrite the SNP’s determination to transform Shetland from being an under-empowered local authority to being an island community that has repatriated decision-making and resources to exercise significant autonomy.

In seeking to be SNP MP for the Isles, my biggest single ambition is to play my part in enhancing Shetland self-government, leading to locking ‘home rule’ for Shetland into a written Scottish constitution.

All Shetlanders should help to make that process effective by debating the degree and pattern of autonomy that we want, and by taking the opportunity to develop island democracy so that we take decisions with more discussion, transparency and accountability.

The SNP is holding the route to a more open future wide open.

Danus Skene’s campaign can be followed on Facebook and on Twitter. The other candidates are Donald Cameron (Conservatives), Alistair Carmichael (LibDems), Gerry McGarvey (Labour) and Robert Smith (UKIP).

 

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