As far as I can see the arguments for who should represent Orkney and Shetland at Westminster can be split into two headings;
- the record of the incumbent MP and his party; and
- the possibility of change to a local candidate and her party.
Let us first examine the current record of Mr Carmichael’s party. The latest YouGov poll puts Liberal Democratic support at a pitiful 6 per cent of the electorate.
How can the people of Orkney and Shetland possibly have effective representation when there is little prospect of a Liberal Democrat MP having any power at all?
In the previous parliament at Westminster there were nine Lib Dem MPs. This catastrophic reduction in their numbers from the previous parliament was brought about by their decision to become a crutch for an ineffectual Tory party. It allowed the Tories to heal themselves and grow stronger despite introducing the most draconian of austerity measures.
Mr Carmichael is a clever man and credit where credit is due. I therefore reflect on his record with some sadness, wondering how this intellect seems not to have been tempered by the social conscience and good judgement that he displayed consistently prior to his elevation to government in 2010.
In his brief moment of power, he was complicit in delivering some of the worst Tory policies in living memory. Turning his back on the fundamental Lib Dem policy of tax and spend he was the Whip who persuaded his own MPs into voting for austerity measures which hit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the hardest.
Trickle-down economics was embraced with vim and vigour. A trickle that has all but ceased to be now the Tories have been unleashed on their own. He helped introduce the Bedroom Tax, he helped to privatise the Post Office, he introduced tuition fees in England and Wales despite the opposite being his flagship manifesto commitment. I could go on.
So, we therefore have the situation that our incumbent is powerless, but this is deemed to be a blessing. How can this be classed as good representation?
We then come to the possibility of change. The only real alternative is Miriam Brett of the SNP.
During the last Parliament, the SNP were the third largest party at Westminster and have received plaudits from all sides for their hard work and dedication to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society from the worst of the Tory austerity agenda.
Despite the arithmetic, they have been able to punch above their weight and make serious change to legislation going through the Commons. They have stood up for Scotland’s, and our, interests where previously, the Labour Party and the Lib Dems have not. In short, they are doing a good job.
There has been a tendency in this election campaign to concentrate on devolved matters despite the fact we are electing a Westminster MP.
I can understand this because they are still important issues and therefore they need to be addressed. Since the 2008 banking crisis and crash the SNP has been in government in Scotland whilst the purse strings have been with an austerity driven Tory party at Westminster.
Despite the reduced budget, and with one arm tied behind their back in terms of legislative power, they have been able to make a difference in certain key areas cushioning the effect of austerity in Scotland.
Tuition for students in Scotland is free, saving all families with a student a potential debt of £36,000 for a four-year course, prescription charges are free and will stay that way, the NHS is being protected from privatisation, the bedroom tax has been offset, and the SNP government have consistently called for the reform or scrapping of the Common Fisheries Policy (whilst highlighting we do not having direct representation at the negotiating table in Europe).
Locally the Scottish Government has bent over backwards to provide the funding for the new Anderson High School, a project which would not be happening without their support.
Miriam Brett is a breath of fresh air. She is a local woman, born and bred in Bressay, so she understands these islands implicitly. Described by Mhari Black on her recent visit as “solid gold” she is bright, articulate, informed and honest.
She is not afraid of hard work, and neither is she afraid to speak her mind when local issues do not chime with national ones.
When we look at the two possibilities, it is clear there is no contest. It is time to grasp the nettle of change and vote in a new generation of representation. It is time to vote for Miriam Brett.
Convener of the local SNP branch
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