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Election / Lib Dems leader denies party is making ‘false claims’

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie with lShetland MSP Beatrice Wishart during her election campaign in August 2019. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

THE LEADER of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has dismissed suggestions that the party has been spreading “false claims” in its Shetland by-election leaflets.

Willie Rennie insisted that the Lib Dems’ ex-MSP Tavish Scott was “absolutely central” to bringing change in areas like taking eye treatments back to Shetland from the mainland and increasing access to video health consultations.

Shetland SNP convener Iain Malcolmson took aim at the Lib Dems’ leaflets in a letter published by Shetland News on Wednesday, saying the party was taking the credit for changes they did not actually make.

“Take their statement about health care for example: the Lib Dems say they brought eye treatments back from the mainland,” Malcolmson wrote.

“But of course in reality it was NHS Shetland, funded by the SNP Government, in response to a local campaign.”

He added that the Lib Dems also claimed credit for “improving patient facilities at Aberdeen Airport”.

Speaking in Lerwick on Wednesday while on the campaign trail, Rennie said Shetland MSP Scott – whose departure from parliament has trigged the late August by-election – “championed” all of those changes.

He said it was “bizarre” for the local SNP branch not to take Scott’s involvement into account.

“All of those things Tavish has been absolutely central to,” Rennie said.

“Has he written the cheque? No. Has he championed it? Yes.

“I’m grateful for the fact that they’ve highlighted them because Tavish has been a champion for Shetland. And when I’m going round, people know Tavish. He’s been everywhere, he’s seen lots and he’s raised those issues.

“That’s what a good parliamentarian should do. You don’t have to be in government to make change.”

Sitting in the Liberal Democrat’s campaign office on Lerwick’s Commercial Street – located just a stone’s throw from the SNP headquarters – Rennie said candidate Beatrice Wishart will be campaigning on issues like transport, connectivity, childcare and mental health.

He said the party is keen to see Shetland Islands Council receive its full ask for funding its internal ferries, while they also want to see freight capacity on the Northern Isles ferries increased.

Scott had been elected as MSP for Shetland at every election since the Scottish Parliament was launched in 1999, with the Lib Dems enjoying dominance at the polls.

With the former MSP now out of the picture, the SNP are sensing an opportunity – although with a record ten candidates in the running, it remains to be seen where votes will land.

“We never take anything for granted,” Rennie said.

“I’m hopeful, but not complacent because I know any sign of complacency, people will immediately squash you.”

Rennie added that Wishart, who has worked for Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and has been a councillor for the last two years, would be an “excellent MSP”.

“She understands the issues in detail and has got a steely determination to make things happen,” he said.

There are ten candidates contesting the Shetland by-election on 29 August. The other nine are in alphabetical order: Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour), Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservatives), Stuart Martin (UKIP), Debra Nicolson (Scottish Greens), Ian Scott (independent), Michael Stout (independent), Peter Tait (independent), Ryan Thomson (independent) and Tom Wills (SNP).