Regrettably, Humza Yousaf has once again chosen to play politics and attack MSPs who have stood up for the interests of Orkney and Shetland at Holyrood (Sniping from the sidelines; SN, 01/02/2018) while he and his SNP colleagues were trying for months to pretend that their long-standing commitment to fair funding did not exist.
There is little doubt that, without this issue being raised up the political agenda, the SNP would have dropped their pledge to the people of the islands like a stone.
So it is a shame that Mr Yousaf continues to play the same tired old games, even after the commendable efforts of councillors and MSPs of all parties secured at least some action towards correcting this patently unfair situation.
The transport minister is right in congratulating the island councils for their tenacity in pursuing this issue. It’s just a shame it was the actions – or inactions – of his SNP Government which forced them to be so tenacious.
And what is now abundantly clear is that, in spite of the SNP’s protests, the money was always available to address this issue. The SNP managed to magic up an extra £170m yesterday which, apparently, they didn’t have when the budget was first presented.
So the question many in the Northern Isles should be asking Humza Yousaf is why didn’t the SNP include fair funding in their draft budget in the first place?
When SNP ministers were trying to dismiss fair funding, I was regularly questioning them in the Scottish Parliament on their commitment. I was meeting with representatives from the island councils – in Lerwick, in Kirkwall and in Edinburgh.
I put forward the amendment which, accepted by the entire Scottish Parliament (including Humza Yousaf and the SNP), recognised the lifeline nature of our internal ferries. And I wrote to Humza Yousaf and to his boss, Nicola Sturgeon, on the issue.
So I suppose it is flattering that, of all the opposition MSPs who voted against the SNP budget, Humza Yousaf has chosen to single me out in this way for his faux outrage. I would suggest it’s an indication of the effectiveness of my consistent and vocal opposition to the SNP’s attempt to sweep its own fair funding pledge under the carpet.
And in relation to the vote itself, Mr Yousaf seems intent on misleading Shetlanders. The truth is that MSPs do not vote on individual parts of the budget, but rather on the budget as a whole.
So, even with the late U-turn on additional ferry funding, this budget remains, overall, a disappointing budget for people and businesses in Shetland.
It will mean that many of my constituents – in fact, anyone earning over £26,000 per year – will pay more tax. It will hit the incomes of local people and businesses, something numerous business organisations have warned will harm Scotland’s already sluggish economic growth.
And it leaves our local councils across the region still having to make tough spending decisions. So it is for those local and regional MSPs who supported the SNP’s budget to defend their decision. I simply wasn’t prepared to back a budget which will leave too many local people out of pocket.
And an inconvenient fact Humza Yousaf, too busy patting himself on the back for belatedly delivering something even the SNP in Orkney accept was always an SNP commitment, choses to ignore is that this is only a deal for this year and not a long term solution.
So the real risk is that we will have to go through this process all over again for next year’s budget.
I hope next year, the SNP will deliver a long-term settlement on fair funding, not another one off. That a long-term solution will be found that will meet the needs of the local communities so reliant on these lifeline links. And that Humza Yousaf, Derek Mackay and the SNP will avoid the political theatrics that have dominated this year’s budget process.
Jamie Halcro Johnston
Conservative MSP for the Highland and Islands