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Politics / Candidates go head-to-head at the Althing

Saturday night's Althing hustings at the tingwall hall (from left to right): Cameron Smith (Conservatives), Tavish Scott (LibDems), Althing chairman Andrew Halcrow, SNP candidate Danus Skene and Robina Barton (Labour) - Photo: ShetNews

WHILE Lerwick was lapping up the lighthearted Shetland’s Got Talent show on Saturday night, things were slightly more serious in the Tingwall Hall as the isles’ four Scottish election candidates went head-to-head in the latest Althing debate.

With around 100 folk in attendance, the hall was busy as the electorate got a chance to quiz the Holyrood hopefuls less than three weeks before they head to the polls – although followers of this year’s campaign will have felt they heard little new.

The opening straw poll saw chairman Andrew Halcrow ask who had already decided their vote, with the majority sure of where their ‘X’ will land on 5 May.

Labour’s Robina Barton used her opening speech to extol “community-minded” action and her party’s desire to see “equality and fairness”.

The Bressay based candidate, who was taking part in only her second hustings, also defended Scottish Labour’s plans to increase the income tax rate by a penny.

Tavish Scott, who has represented Shetland since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, raised the issue of employment by acknowledging the worries over the oil and gas industry.

As expected, one of the Liberal Democrat’s primary go-to topics was the Scottish Government’s failure to give farmers and crofters CAP payments on time, with Scott calling on the SNP to apologise.

“We need a landmark shift in the approach to mental health care”, he later added, saying that the issue would be at the top of his agenda over the next five years.

SNP contender Danus Skene attempted to distance himself from the apparent “no, no, no” strategy of his peers by lauding the government’s achievements in areas such as health, education and devolution.

He also downplayed the “hoo-ha” over Tavish Scott’s petition to get the price of ferry trips to the mainland reduced.

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“I’ve got an assurance from the government that we’ll get the NorthLink fares down,” he revealed.

Conservative candidate Cameron Smith talked up his experience from working as an advisor in the European Parliament while simultaneously bringing down the Scottish Government.

“The islands manifesto is purely electioneering from the SNP,” he said, adding that the government “doesn’t listen to the opposition”.

The first question from the floor attacked Shetland Islands Council’s “wasteful” spending policy. “Mareel is a tragic waste of space,” the man opined in a prolonged monologue, before asking if the candidates would intervene in the council’s fiscal planning.

Another question asked what the four possible MSPs would do to support Shetland’s fishing sector, while teacher Irvine Tait voiced support for Labour’s tax plans.

Other topics raised from the audience included the fall-out from the Scottish independence vote, the forthcoming EU referendum and recycling.

Tavish Scott was questioned if he was “embarrassed” by being endorsed by autonomy group Wir Shetland, to which he resolutely replied “No”.

Councillor Andrea Manson meanwhile pressed Danus Skene on how the Scottish Government could justify its recent cut in funding to the SIC of over four per cent.

During the summing up, Smith elicited one of the biggest sniggers of the night by saying the Tories “understand” Scotland, while Skene alluded to the “integrity” of Scott following his colleague Alistair Carmichael’s ‘memogate’ scandal.

Barton expressed her disappointment at the lack of young people in the audience ahead of a vote that is open to 16 and 17 years old for the first time.

A final show of hands revealed that at least ten people who were originally undecided had made up their minds following the debate.

But going by some of the candidates’ at times tepid contributions on the night, which party those ten will now vote for remains somewhat unclear.

 

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