THE SNP’s Northern Isles election hopeful Miriam Brett has pledged to push for new deals to be struck for funding Shetland’s internal ferries and to reduce fares on the NorthLink route to the Scottish mainland if she is elected next month.
Twenty five year old Brett is seeking to unseat Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael on 8 June – and she told Shetland News she would not be seeking to exploit her opponent having lied about sanctioning the leak of a private government memo relating to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the 2015 campaign.
Carmichael won two years ago with a much-reduced majority of 817 votes over the SNP’s Danus Skene as Scotland’s political landscape shifted in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. That resulted in the election outcome being unsuccessfully challenged in the Court of Session.
But Brett said she wanted to run a “positive” campaign to highlight how Shetland and Orkney could benefit from a “fresh start” and “make history” by electing the constituency’s first ever SNP MP.
Her party has faced strong criticism over the lack of deals on ferry fares to and from Aberdeen, while many within Shetland Islands Council were led to believe a new funding deal for inter-island ferries would be forthcoming prior to local government elections.
Much of the discontent stems from the fact that a deal has not been forthcoming despite communities in the Western Isles receiving fare reductions almost two years ago.
Brett said: “Throughout the process, the Scottish Government are determined not to take lessons from other parties who, when in coalition both at a UK and Scottish Government level, did not make the same commitments to reduce ferry fares.
“The next opportunity to reduce the fares would be January 2018, after this year’s fares freeze. If elected, I will work with my colleagues at the Scottish Government to push for a fare reduction as soon as possible.”
Brett, a prominent figure in the Yes campaign during the September 2014 independence referendum campaign, has been working as a senior economic adviser to the SNP’s Westminster group.
She is expected to form the strongest challenge to the Liberal Democrats and feels the time is right for change in the Northern Isles, which have been represented by Carmichael since 2001 and by liberal MPs since the 1950s.
“I want this to be a positive and engaging election,” she said. “We have a vision to offer, and that is where the focus will be. Alistair is, however, accountable to the people of Orkney and Shetland, and his conduct and voting record should most definitely be scrutinised.
“The decisions made by Alistair during his time as chief whip in the Tory coalition had drastic impacts on the Scottish budget and our islands.
“In contrast, I offer a fresh start to the representation of Orkney and Shetland at Westminster – an anti-austerity voice with local issues at the heart of my agenda. For our isles to vote for the SNP would make history.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brett disagrees with Carmichael’s recent comments in the local media relating to the 2015 election, which he said was “seriously unpleasant” at times across Scotland.
“For me, the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign played a role in changing what politics meant, and the impressive voter turnout in Scotland in the 2015 election was a reflection of this,” she said.
“Groups like Women for Independence and National Collective, the artists and creatives for independence, attracted a groundswell of activism and challenged the conventional notion of what politics is and who should participate in it.”
Brett said one of the main focuses for her election campaign is Brexit and looking at the “adverse consequences it could have on our economy and our society”.
“In terms of the SNP’s stance on things, clearly Scotland did vote overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Brexit, and the harshness of a hard Tory Brexit too, poses a threat to us and I think in terms of our role in Westminster, it’s going to be looking at how we can ensure that Scotland has a strong voice.”
Fishing is one industry particularly relevant to Shetland in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and concerns have been repeatedly expressed that it could be used as a bargaining chip in discussions with the EU.
Brett said the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the source of so much frustration in the industry, needs to be “substantially” altered or removed altogether.
“The Tories shamefully described our fishing fleets as ‘expendable’, and more recently, the UK Government listed the fishing industry as ‘low priority’ in Brexit talks,” she said.
“The SNP’s longstanding position is that the Common Fisheries Policy has been damaging to Scotland’s fishing industry.
“I will continue to argue that it is not fit for purpose and should be substantially reformed or scrapped. If elected, I will send a warning to the Tories that they will not get away with selling out Scotland’s fishing communities for a second time.”
Questioned about criticism the SNP has attracted for centralising aspects of police and fire services, Brett said the party had made strides in focusing more on island communities – including the long-mooted Islands Bill.
“The SNP Scottish Government has made significant progress on the focusing on Orkney and Shetland, and the islands more broadly,” Brett said.
“The introduction of an islands minister is a meaningful and positive step towards further empowering the islands, giving Orkney and Shetland a stronger voice at a national level when policies are being developed.
“I will push for consideration of policy-making on our islands in Westminster. Furthermore, the city deals that have been brought forward offer progress for the areas that have been selected – a similar deal for island communities could enhance prosperity and offer opportunities.”
A crowdfunding effort to support Brett’s campaign has raised £3,775 so far, exceeding its initial £3,000 target.
Along with Brett and Carmichael, the other Northern Isles constituency candidates to have been announced are Robina Barton for Labour, Jamie Halcro Johnston for the Conservatives, Robert Smith for UKIP and maverick campaigner Stuart Hill under the Shetland and Orkney Sovereignty banner.
The deadline for candidates to submit their nomination papers is 4pm this Thursday (11 May), and forms must be lodged with the returning officer at the offices of Orkney Islands Council.
· Follow Shetland News for more coverage of the upcoming election in the days and weeks ahead.