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General Election 2017 / Election: candidates gather for third hustings

THE VAST majority of those attending Thursday night’s hustings at the Tingwall hall had already made up their minds who to vote for at next week’s general election.

The ensuing two-hour long debate thus didn’t reveal much new as most of the questions asked followed well-rehearsed party political battle lines.

Just four of the six candidates standing in the Orkney and Shetland constituency had followed up the invitation by the Althing debating society.

There was little surprise that UKIP man Robert Smith hadn’t turned up, but independent candidate Stuart Hill failed to show up despite previously confirming that he would participate.

Following hustings at Brae High School and one hosted by the BBC at Shetland Museum and Archives earlier this week, Thursday’s debate was the third Shetland hustings in three days.

After introductory statements from all four candidates, chairman Andrew Halcrow threw open the debate and invited questions from the 70 strong audience.

First was Burra man Geordie Pottinger who wanted to know whether fisheries management would be automatically be devolved to Edinburgh or be controlled from London.

Other issues raised were austerity, food banks, the role of trade unions, Brexit, of course, and – backed by the latest opinion polls which seem to suggest that the Tories may not be heading for an outright majority – the question of possible coalitions.

Lib Dem candidate Alistair Carmichael, a former Scottish secretary in the 2010 to 2015 Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, categorically ruled out that his party would strike a coalition deal with any other party. He didn’t rule out working with other parties on an ‘issue by issue’ basis though.

The debate became a little heated over the devolved issue of why Shetland and Orkney were still suffering from high ferry fares when the islands to the west of Scotland were all enjoying much reduced fares.

While SNP candidate Miriam Brett reiterated Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf’s assurances that ferry fares will come down, possibly next year, Carmichael and Conservative candidate Jamie Halcro Johnston said there was no reason why this could not have been done years ago.

Carmichael said: “Can you imagine what it would have been like if Tavish Scott as transport minister had said the air discount scheme was only to come to Orkney and Shetland and wouldn’t come to the Western Isles?

“There would have been uproar and rightly so. It is not the question of cutting fares that matters, it is the fact that for the last ten years you have cut fares in the Western Isles and you haven’t cut them here.”

Labour candidate Robina Barton received one of the largest rounds of applause when she passionately spoke in favour of trade unions and their achievements.

“I think it is something we should be immensely proud of and I am very heartened to see in our manifesto that we are supporting our unions, that we are working with our unions,” she said.

“I think we should celebrate our unions; they have done a heck of a lot for us workers.”

Following the debate, two or three of those who had previously indicated they hadn’t made up their minds yet raised their hands in response to chairman Halcrow’s question as to whether they now had a better idea who to vote for.

Shetland News will be reporting live from the election count in Kirkwall overnight from Thursday to Friday. The declaration for the Orkney and Shetland seat is expected at around 6am.