You can tell there’s a general election on the way: another pretend newspaper has flopped onto Shetland doorsteps. The Lib Dem Gazette appears to have been written in a parallel universe, where the SNP running a well-organised by-election campaign with enthusiastic canvassers is somehow “bullying tactics”.
I was proud that we kept our campaign positive throughout and genuinely perplexed when I first heard the accusation of bullying tactics (in Beatrice Wishart’s acceptance speech). This accusation seems to stem from the fact that I had been pointing out that it would be in Shetland’s interest for Shetland’s MSP to take part in government budget discussions, which was then spun by the Liberals as a threat, when all I was attempting to suggest was that we could achieve more by working constructively than by trying to smear the government into submission.
In the Gazette, Alistair Carmichael MP (Jo Swinson’s chief whip), gravely informs us that our new MSP is going to “hold their [the SNP’s] feet to the fire”. Presumably not literally – that would be a bullying tactic!
The Gazette must have gone to press before the SNP Government announced that it would indeed be implementing the 20 per cent reduction in cabin prices on NorthLink and the three-year freeze on Islander fares that we in the local SNP branch had been pushing for (this without any “holding to account” by Ms Wishart). I would be the first to acknowledge that we need to do a lot more to make our transport affordable and sustainable, but this is progress nonetheless. Ms Wishart promises to campaign for “more investment in broadband and mobile signal, especially in our more remote communities”.
It is worth noting that this is actually a Westminster responsibility: Mr Carmichael and his Tory coalition left Shetland in the lurch on broadband. It was Shetland Islands Council and the Scottish Government who stepped in to clear up the mess left by the under-performing private sector. Holyrood has made more money available and is doing its best despite continuing Tory austerity that denies Scotland (and therefore Shetland and other local authorities) the budget that’s needed.
The brass neck continues in a paragraph where Ms Wishart says she’ll be “protecting funding for our local nurseries”. The SNP government has already massively increased funding for childcare. Decision-making on how to spend this money is also decentralised: it was the SIC that decided how to expand childcare provision in Shetland, at a time when Ms Wishart was vice-convener of the SIC.
Then there’s ferry funding: we all know it’s not yet enough (though £5.2m extra is something) but if Ms Wishart speaks to her new colleagues in Holyrood, she’ll find that every single Scottish local authority has similar financial problems, most of them a lot worse than Shetland’s. The reason for this is not that the SNP is inherently wicked but rather that Scotland does not control more than a small proportion of its own revenues and is overwhelmingly dependent on an inadequate grant from a Tory administration in Westminster.
One final point: the recent news about the Lerwick post office is disappointing. It is worth noting that the SNP has been consistently opposed to Post Office privatisation, whereas Alistair Carmichael supported it and in 2013 said “the privatisation of Royal Mail will protect the universal mail service for the people of Scotland”. Are we now to be surprised that a privatised entity takes a decision to close a local branch, which may make sense in business terms but would be a loss to our community?
If the Lib Dems are going to continue to bombard Shetland doorsteps with pretend newspapers, they should at least stick to the facts. Let’s be clear where we have some common ground though: I absolutely share Alistair Carmichael’s view that Boris Johnson has undermined our democracy and that following the Supreme Court’s judgement, he has to go. A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for the whole of the UK and I hope all of our MPs will put party differences aside to stop it. We also need to do much more to work together on tackling the climate crisis.
Shetland SNP convener