A year on since I wrote this letter in regards to the disappointing decision by the SIC not to invest in the Whalsay harbour proposal has happened to coincide with another extremely concerning announcement for the isles (‘New ferries deal in 2018 vital to protect services’, SN 22/2/17).
In the letter, I asked; “What is their (the SIC’s) plan to stop depopulation of the isles? Do they even have one?”
Well, it appears they had a plan, of sorts, which was to get the Scottish Government to pick up the tab for the inter-island ferries.
I first heard of this potential deal almost a year ago and I am led to believe negotiations have been going on for significantly longer than that.
Now it appears there will be no funds for the ferries in 2017/18, with our political leader saying there will be a “serious question” over the sustainability of inter-island ferry services if a new deal with the Scottish Government is not struck in time for the 2018/19 financial year.
Even IF such a deal can be struck it is unclear for the affected communities what this will mean for issues such as the level of service, ferry/terminal replacement strategy or ferry workers terms and conditions to name a few.
At a Whalsay Community Council meeting a few months ago, a member of the public asked SIC head of transport planning Michael Craigie what was the Plan B if the Scottish Government would not pay for our ferries.
The bleak reply was there is no plan B. Vague mentions of fixed links being pushed at a national level were mentioned but as usual nothing could be guaranteed.
The North Isles are in dire need of investment. Terminals are crumbling and some of the ferries are obsolete, under capacity and in contravention of regulations, allowed to run by dispensation from the MCA.
Jobs on the isles are scarce and people (especially the young) are leaving. A lack of confidence in the future of our transport links being the main reason given.
To many this may seem like a problem for the North Isles that doesn’t directly affect them. As shown in a recent study the economy of Shetland is hugely dependent on the seafood sector, the North Isles containing a massive percentage of this industry through fish catching and aquaculture.
What next you may ask? Well obviously, the current and next council will have to continue to fight for more funding from central government, although care should be taken in regards to relinquishing control or assets.
However, I would also argue that we should be actively pursuing other options. With the wealth of resources around these isles our reserves should not be under threat of being depleted simply to fund essential services. We are lucky that we do have other options.
I believe fundamental change is needed. Whether you believe in keeping the status quo and hoping for the best or more radical change such as Shetland independence, an autonomy deal with the UK, an autonomy deal with Scotland or even a return to Norway, these are options which needs to be seriously explored.
If not, we face the agonizing choice between huge cuts to services across the board or rapidly depleting our reserves to forestall the inevitable.
Many of our communities now face an existential threat. Centralisation and cuts loom over integral parts of our society with no end in sight. If elected I will do everything I possibly can to prevent further damage to our fragile islands and Shetland as a whole.
Shetland Islands Council election candidate 2017 (North Isles)
Wir Shetland membership secretary
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