LIBERAL Democrat leader Jo Swinson was in Shetland yesterday (Friday) along with Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael to boost the campaign of Scottish Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart for the forthcoming parliamentary by-election.
Swinson, who was elected leader of the Lib Dems last month, said that Wishart was a “brilliant” and “fantastic” candidate whose local roots and popularity had been evident as the trio went walkabout during Boat Week.
She said the Liberal Democrats were a “positive, progressive force making real ground across the UK” that could “offer a clear vision of Scotland’s future at the heart of the UK and the EU”.
She added: “Our party has a long history of standing up for the Northern Isles. Beatrice is a brilliant local candidate with a clear determination to fiercely defend Shetland’s interests in Holyrood.
“The SNP’s blinkered focus on independence above all else puts Scottish jobs, trade and the stability of our public services at risk. It’s important voters use this election to firmly reject their inward-looking calls to break away from our closest neighbours.”
Swinson said that travel links had emerged as one of the main issues raised by the public during her tour of the harbour.
She said: “Transport is a really key issue in the local area and the challenges of accommodation on the ferries and indeed the air links [were raised].”
She said that one company had been concerned about the deletion of business travel from the Air Discount Scheme that had been included in the days of the Lib-Lab coalition at Holyrood, introduced by ex-Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, whose constituency shoes the by-election is intended to fill.
Swinson added: “These are the things that really impact peoples’ lives and that Beatrice will be campaigning on and will be that voice for Shetland if she is the MSP. Let’s face it, the Scottish government does need to hear from an advocate for Shetland who will stand up to them and Beatrice will do that and of course the SNP will not.”
Swinson emphatically ruled out the prospect of a coalition with the Conservatives in the next UK general election.
She said: “I have said really clearly there are no circumstances we would go into coalition with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. They are pursuing a policy of Brexit and and catastrophic no-deal Brexit is their current trajectory. Obviously that is something that we as Liberal Democrats cannot support. It is contrary to our values and there is just no way that can be countenanced.”
The Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives from 2011 to 2015 and Swinson said that she was “proud” of their record during that period.
She said: “Of course we did not get everything right and you have to learn from your mistakes and I think it is important in politics to do that.
“We got a lot of good things done and we got a lot of stuff right, whether that was taking people out of low pay out of income tax. Or the extra money that we invested in schools for the poorest pupils, money which Willie Rennie fought hard in the Scottish Parliament to have invested in Scottish schools, but it took six years for him to actually persuade the SNP that they should start to do the same and Scotland is playing catch-up on that, because the SNP government would not listen.”
Wishart is nonetheless undaunted by the prospect of being an opposition MSP.
“Well, we have a good team in Holyrood, so it would be a team effort. I don’t see that I would be an outside voice at all. I would be a voice for Shetland,” she said.
A champion of WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality, Wishart also said that she would “continue to fight for it”.
She said: “It is a UK parliament issue but still one I would raise where appropriate.”
Speaking about a future Westminster election, Wishart added: “Voters shouldn’t be faced with the gruesome choice between Boris and Corbyn. The Liberal Democrats want to get on with improving public services and tackling the issues that matter – transport, education and health.”
Swinson was strongly against handing a decision about another independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament, as floated last week by UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
She said: “I think it just shows how the Labour leadership have given up on Scotland frankly. The last thing we need is more constitutional upheaval, the last thing we need is indy ref two. Right across Scotland the damage it would cause – here in Shetland obviously, where there was such a strong vote to stay in the United Kingdom, as there was in my own patch of East Dumbartonshire.
“The thought that Labour are now turning round to the SNP and are saying ‘yeah why not’ just fills people with horror, that they seem so relaxed about the potential break – up of the UK. Many people in Scottish Labour are particularly angry at those comments by John McDonnell, understandably so.
“I think the last thing that we need is to pour more chaos onto what are currently already difficult times. We have seen the economic figures out today [the first quarterly recession since 2012], we have seen what has happened to the value of the pound. People going on their holidays have felt the impact of that. The lesson you take from that, is that breaking up is hard to do.
“It is difficult in the context of Brexit, we have had a union of a few decades, but if you think how difficult that would be in the context of a union of more than 300 years, the complexity of that would make Brexit pale in comparison.
“In Scotland now, basically since 2011, we have been focused on constitutional upheaval, in terms of the Scottish Government and the UK government in the same boat, and people are turning around and saying ‘what’s going to happen to opportunities for my children’s future? What’s happening to jobs and the economy? What’s happening to issues around transport, health’ – and these things are getting so little political oxygen, because all the focus is on the constitution, and I think, actually, people would like governments to do a better job at governing, whether that’s in Holyrood or Westminster, neither is particularly focused on the issues that matter.”
Carmichael, meanwhile, said that the debate on the Viking Energy wind farm had taken on a new twist given the recent change in its ownership structure.
He said: “Onshore wind as a general proposition is very different from every single, individual, planning application or proposal that you get. Just because you are in favour of onshore wind does not make you in favour of every single development that you have got, that is why you have got a planning process which is always independent of politics.
“This is something [the Viking wind farm] I have always said that I have got no objection to in principle, but you have got to get it right if it is going to happen, and crucially, there has got to be the benefit to the community.
“There is absolutely no point in building a wind farm if the money that is generated, as well as the electricity, just flows out of Shetland. That’s the debate we have been having here now for almost two decades.
“That’s where the debate still has to be had within the community. That is not a party policy issue, that’s a debate within the community.
“Nothing is ever unstoppable. It is the decision of the Scottish ministers in Edinburgh.”
Read more about all ten candidates at our special Shetland by-election page at: https://www.shetnews.co.uk/category/features/election-2019/