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Election letters 2019 / Not the right time for a protest vote

For the last ten years I have maintained a keen interest in Shetland politics and have written about many issues. Criticism of the SNP’s many damaging policies and actions in Shetland has been unavoidable.

SNP Shetland leaders and supporters, taking exception to my effrontery, invariably point out that I don’t currently live in Shetland, as if that somehow invalidates my arguments and disqualifies me from expressing an opinion.

Jonathan Wills, their self-styled political guru, who masterminded Miriam Brett’s disastrous 2017 campaign against Alistair Carmichael, recently responded on Facebook to a letter I wrote referring to me, ungraciously, as the “member for Arrochar”.

He offered no argument, only a personal insult and a jab at my non-residence.

Ironically, a few months later, SNP Shetland presents Jonathan’s son, Tom Wills as their candidate. Like me, he doesn’t live in Shetland. Unlike me, he has expressed little, if any, interest in either Shetland or its politics, until now.

Nevertheless, unabashed, ‘Young Mr Wills’ has called upon the SIC to “declare a climate emergency”, something the UN’s expert panel, the IPCC, has not done. Perhaps, he, Nicola Sturgeon and the anarchists Extinction Rebellion know something the IPCC doesn’t?

He is, after all, a “renewable energy expert” who manages a tidal power plant in Bluemull Sound that, alone, could comfortably power the Cullivoe Hall on Up Helly-Aa night, while charging half a dozen electric car batteries.

The campaign kicked off with ritual denunciations of Tavish Scott with whom I had the pleasure of working during his 2016 election campaign. He was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Shetland issues, listened well and unlike the SNP Scottish government, did everything he said he would do, to the letter.

The SNP’s avoidance of their defining issue, independence, especially, in the context of last year’s £12.6 billion shortfall in tax revenue versus money received from Westminster, is an admission of the weakness of their case.

As a result the campaign has focused mainly on transport; notably, the still expensive and inadequate NorthLink ferry service; the summary implementation of parking charges at Sumburgh; and the SNP’s renege on its 2014 pledge to fund fully the inter-island ferries.

The SIC, meanwhile, has fared badly in the Scottish government’s annual funding round ever since the SNP came to power.

These and many other issues e.g. fixed transport links, would be eminently resolvable with local autonomy, facilitating the use of Shetland’s handsome Exchequer Balance (£80 million p.a. at the last reckoning) to improve local services, which can then be designed locally, to fit local needs.

We need only look north to Faroe. I’m in my mid-sixties now and they were installing their first road tunnel before I matured into short breeks.

Autonomy will most likely happen if and when Scotland votes Yes in an independence referendum and Shetland votes No, enabling the SIC to seek negotiations.  An attempt, fronted by Jo Grimond in 1978, ended when the devolution referendum failed to attract sufficient support.

Such exciting possibilities depend entirely on who controls the levers of local power. The council and parliamentarians must, like Dickens’ Barkis, be “willing” to play ball.

Which leads to the bizarre, unprecedented ‘Conga’ line dance of SNP ministers and MSPs from Holyrood to Lerwick. Its circle closed, early. Sturgeon is now on her third visit and still they come trouping in. A third of SNP MSPs had reportedly visited by the end of last week!

Why the sudden overwhelming, gushing courtship when none of them has been seen since the last election?

The SNP is desperate, yes, “desperate”, to win the power to block autonomy. The loss of maritime resources would torpedo their independence plan, already holed below the water line.

Ultimately, it is a two-horse race. Voters must decide whether to back form over substance, youth over experience, a flash in the pan over an established track record in Shetland politics.

This is not the time for a protest vote. At least, not for any who care about Faroe-style autonomy for Shetland.

John Tulloch