FIRST minister Nicola Sturgeon flew into Shetland on Saturday to help launch her party’s fight to win one of the last remaining non-SNP constituency seats in the country.
The party is said to be throwing everything at the Shetland by-election which was triggered by the resignation of Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott who has held the seat since the Scottish parliament’s inception in 1999.
The SNP’s candidate Tom Wills, who works the offshore renewables company Nova Innovation, is up against a record number of nine other candidates, including the Lib Dems’ Beatrice Wishart who has been running the offices of both Tavish Scott and isles MP Alistair Carmichael for many years.
Campaigning with the candidate in Lerwick’s Commercial Street on Saturday afternoon, Sturgeon’s message regarding Brexit and the newly elected government at Westminster was clear.
“I think Brexit is a disaster for the UK and a disaster for Scotland, but a no deal Brexit in particular will be a catastrophe. We can’t allow ourselves to be on a conveyer belt to an inevitable no deal,” she told supporters outside the SNP campaign office.
“My worry is that that is what Boris Johnson is engineering right now. Boris Johnson is not the kind of person I want to see as prime minister, and that is probably what most people in Scotland also think.
“The government that he has just appointed is probably the most right wing government that the UK has ever had. Scotland feels as though it is taken down a path that it don’t want to go down and therefore it is all the more important that we can get ourselves in a position where we can chose our own path.”
She said that she expected the law for another independence referendum to pass by the end of this year, adding “yes it is my intention to have the referendum during this parliament”.
Asked if she thought that Johnson would allow Scotland to have a second independence referendum, she said: “We will cross that bridge when and if we come to that.
“I think it is a completely undemocratic position to try to block the right of people to chose; it is perfectly legitimate to be against Scotland being an independent country.”
Tom Wills, who is the son of former journalist Jonathan Wills, who stood for Labour in the 1999 Scottish election, said it had been impossible for him not to be immersed in Shetland politics.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” he said. There is so much going on in the world at the moment that is worrying, and I think the SNP is making all the right noises from climate change to the rise of Trump and Boris Johnson.
“I also got a young child who is a year and a half old and with climate change upon us you think what will the future be like for him, and do you want look back and say ‘you had an opportunity to make a difference and you didn’t take it’?”
Turning to local issues, Wills said he could understand why some people think the SNP has failed Shetland on a number of transport related issues.
He accepted that more needed to be done, and pledged that should he be elected he would work to deliver on these.
“There is more to do but the SNP has been making progress. We have cut fares on the ferries by 20 per cent, we still need to do more on the cabins, and I will be certainly be making that case.
“The situation that we have with the Aberdeen boats is something that the SNP inherited, the boats that we now use were procured with the Lib Dems in charge, they are not ideal as they are basically Baltic cattle trucks that have been converted to do this route.
“The SNP has increased the air discount scheme from 40 to 50 per cent which helps, but yes I agree that there is more to do and the Scottish Government is working with the SIC to see what we can do to improve that.”
Responding to the large SNP gathering on Commercial Street, just opposite of the Lib Dems’ campaign office, the party’s candidate Beatrice Wishart said:
“The Scottish Government made loud promises to introduce the road equivalent tariff but now we’re a year down the line from the promised implementation date and our lifeline services are still costing far too much.
“The first minister is deaf to the islands when she’s in Edinburgh. Perhaps making the journey to Shetland herself will make her realise just what a problem expensive and under-resourced transport links are. Shetland’s not just for elections.”