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Letters / Two sides to every argument

During the current election campaign, LibDem candidate Alistair Carmichael once again issues misleading or inaccurate information on mainly Scottish Government issues, such as ferries, funding to Orkney & Shetland Islands Councils and health boards.

I wish to remind him that this is a Westminster election to elect MPs, not a Scottish or a council election. He did the same in 2010.

His recent outbursts, in the local papers, on BBC Radio Orkney and in election leaflets, owe more to the fact that he and his party are facing their biggest challenge for many years mainly from the SNP, locally and throughout Scotland.

Over the past five years, he has helped to prop up an unpopular Tory-LibDem coalition government. He has said many things that he probably now regrets.

The poorest and weakest members of society, the young, disabled, sick, elderly, unemployed and those on reduced benefits have paid the highest price. Meanwhile, the rich have enjoyed tax cuts while many bankers, who caused the original problems have gone, unpunished.

As Scottish Secretary of State and earlier, as a LibDem Whip, he ensured that his party’s MPs toed the coalition line, “gagging them like Stalin”, to borrow one of his more colourful phrases, from his recent leaflet, to win House of Commons votes.

Scottish finance minister John Swinney has had the difficult task of balancing the books on an overall Scottish Budget that has reduced by one billion pounds annually over the past five years. Mr Swinney’s priority has been to keep as many policemen, firemen, teachers, nurses, doctors and care workers, in jobs at the expense of administration.

The police and fire services are still delivering as good, if not a better service, in Orkney, Shetland and elsewhere, as was the case, a few years ago.

Likewise, Mr Carmichael’s attack on the funding and quality and work delivered by Orkney Health Board is totally unjustified. The employees do a great job. There are challenges, which are being dealt with, while plans for a new hospital, in Orkney, are at an advanced stage. I suspect that Shetland Health Board is also well funded and delivers a good service too.

Alistair Carmichael also continues with inaccurate and misleading information on RET and the funding of ferries. RET, Road Equivalent Tariff, is one form of delivering subsidies for ferry services, but there are others.

RET favours island ports that are nearest to the Scottish Mainland. In Orkney, fares from St Margaret’s Hope or Burwick to Gills would be lower than those from Stromness to Scrabster, because the distances are shorter.

Fares between Lerwick and Scrabster would be much lower than from Lerwick to Aberdeen. Scrabster is, like Lerwick, a deep-water, all weather port. Sailing time would be around seven hours and day returns would be possible.

However, I am not sure, he has thought through all the consequences, and discussed the implications with the people, in Shetland, when opting instead, for headlines and sound bites.

He is also aware that his LibDem MSP colleague, Tavish Scott, as Scottish transport minister, was closely involved in the design, specification, building and privately financed deal for the three NorthLink ships.

The very high running costs and inflated interest charges to the Royal Bank, use up much of the £10 million a year subsidy on the Stromness to Scrabster route and £30 plus million subsidy, on the Shetland and Aberdeen routes, leaving less money available, to reduce fares.

The subsidy, per passenger, on Calmac’s Clyde, Argyll, Inverness & Western Isles, routes are much smaller than in the northern isles.

PFI deals under the LibDem and Labour Scottish Executive, from 1999 to 2007, also provided very poor value for money when schools and hospitals were built.

There are two sides to every argument, so let us have a proper debate not inaccurate headline and sniping from the sidelines.

Streamline, along with Pentland Ferries, and John o’ Groats Ferries, in Orkney, are excluded from any subsidies and still manage to run their services at a profit.

The SNP Scottish Government cannot be expected to use even higher subsidies to put these ferry companies out of business.

John Mowat
Orkney agent for Danus Skene, SNP candidate for Orkney & Shetland