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Viewpoint / Editorial: chance for Tavish to make an impact

The SNP's Danus Skene conceding defeat to Tavish Scott at the Clickimin Bowls Hall on Thursday night.

AMID some brash predictions from SNP supporters, not many people – Tavish Scott himself included – could have envisaged the Liberal Democrats gaining over 3,000 voters in Shetland since the previous Scottish election.

Scott represents a party that took just 7.8 per cent of the constituency vote, slumping to fifth behind the Greens nationally, yet he and Orkney’s Liam McArthur each won nearly ten times that proportion in the Northern Isles.

What are we to make of the 67 per cent share of the vote he won, crushing the challenge of the SNP’s Danus Skene?

Firstly, Scott’s experience as a visible, hardworking local MSP who has spent 17 years building up relationships with key industries, community groups and individuals cannot be understated.

Much more so than in larger city constituencies, getting out and about is vital for a politician, and Scott expands considerable energy ensuring his face is seen at countless festivals, Up-Helly-Aas, coffee mornings and Sunday teas.

People’s letterboxes have been subjected to an avalanche of leaflets, mocked-up newspapers and postcards in the past 12 months, while the respect he enjoys locally as an individual has shielded the MSP from any would-be fallout as a result of the Alistair Carmichael debacle.

Secondly, the SNP government still doesn’t quite ‘get’ Shetland. It’s all very well making a vague, belated promise to do something about the extortionate cost of ferry travel during an election campaign, but they’ve been in power for nine years without acting.

The Police Scotland merger, too, has been a disaster for the local force, whose chief inspector seems genuinely keen on visible, locally accountable policing.

On these issues, and on the confusion over school closures and changes to the secondary education curriculum, these islands deserve much better.

Thirdly, Skene winning under a quarter of the votes cast suggests a fair chunk of the 36 per cent who voted yes in 2014’s independence referendum either didn’t turn out this time, or were pretty soft supporters of Scotland going it alone to begin with.

There also appears to have been an element of Labour and Tory voters rallying behind Scott to keep the SNP out – tactical voting which, given the scale of his victory, proved completely unnecessary.

Islanders may have been voting Lib Dem in their droves for nearly everyone’s living memory. But it has increasingly felt as if those votes owe more to the candidates’ individual diligence and reputation than the colour of their party rosettes.

That said, while anyone scoring such a handsome victory over their political nemesis on their fiftieth birthday can be forgiven for feeling gleeful, it is worth noting that a section of Scott’s acceptance speech was lacking in grace.

As Shetland News has consistently argued, there are several causes for disappointment among islanders over aspects of the SNP’s governance.

But launching a somewhat facile attack on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for “taking voters for granted” – besides being a bizarre line to take given the SNP won 59 out of 73 constituencies and nearly half the popular vote – doesn’t bode terribly well for the next five years.

Islanders must hope that Scott uses his strong mandate effectively, fighting Shetland’s corner while taking a more pragmatic, constructively critical approach towards the government.

The SNP being a handful of seats shy of a parliamentary majority presents a real opportunity for the handful of Lib Dem MSPs to demonstrate their party has not become a political irrelevance in Scotland.

So, while congratulating our MSP on his resounding victory, we would urge him to tone the chest-beating rhetoric down a little and start building better working relations with ministers as he strives to deliver real policy results for Shetland.

Shetland News

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