AN EXPERIENCED Orcadian councillor has put himself forward as an independent candidate for the Highlands and Islands list vote in next month’s Holyrood election.
Stromness man James Stockan, who has served as an independent member of Orkney Islands Council since 2003, said he felt the whole region shared many of the same problems that were not always best served by nationwide party manifestos.
He said that if the SNP was successful in Orkney and Shetland – where they are seeking to unseat Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, neither of whom features on the Liberal Democrat list – it would be important for the Northern Isles to have independent voices challenging them in parliament.
On a visit to Shetland on Monday, Stockan pointed out there were many independent councillors across the Highlands and Islands but they had no representation at Holyrood.
Describing himself as fairly centrist politically, he takes “every issue as it comes” and would be free of any party whip.
Stockan comes from a business background and wants society to allow people to “benefit from their ideas and the effort they put in”, but says he is also committed to social justice.
In his capacity as a councillor, Stockan has an intimate knowledge of negotiations aimed at securing a better deal on inter-island ferries for Shetland and Orkney.
He told Shetland News it was wrong for the Northern Isles’ local authorities to be paying the deficit (around £6.5 million a year in the SIC’s case) in ferry running costs, and also feels the national government should pick up the tab for the capital cost of replacements and upgrades
Stockan wants to see the “anomaly” of funding going through local government rather than Transport Scotland (as happens on Western Isles routes) corrected. He argues against putting such ferry contracts out to tender, saying it is better that “any slack in the system is spent within the local community”.
Other issues he is intent on highlighting during the campaign include high delivery charges. He foresees an innovative solution whereby a depot with a UK mainland postcode is put in place, with the job of taking parcels and packages on to Highlands and Islands households then contracted out to a courier.
He also believes the scourge of fuel poverty could be tackled better in remote areas by offering local solutions rather than “central belt procurement”.
Rather than outside contractors, a specific body based within communities could provide the “biggest bang for buck for residents and the biggest benefit for those in fuel poverty”.
While welcoming the increase in the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) from 40 to 50 per cent last year, he also wants to ensure the discount is reinstated for business travel.
Stockan also wants to ensure the islands are at the forefront of future projects to improve broadband speeds, having been at the “fag end” of the latest BT superfast project. “We don’t want to be six or eight years behind the curve,” he said.
Economic development is another of his passions, and with the downturn in oil and gas, he says it will be important for communities like Shetland and Orkney to ensure they grab a piece of North Sea decommissioning amid challenges not just from the Scottish mainland but also Norway and ports further south in England and Europe.
Stockan also argues that more decision-making powers should be vested locally, and points out that cutting council budgets in percentage terms hits the islands harder because of the proportion of people employed in the public sector.
“Public sector people who value their jobs would do well to support some of the stuff I’m doing,” he added.