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Politics / Councillors give their views on more autonomy for Shetland

What constitutional future for Shetland?

COUNCILLORS have offered their views on the idea of Shetland having more control over its own affairs – with some in favour, and others expressing some reservations.

It comes after North Isles members Ryan Thomson and Duncan Anderson recently spoke out in favour of more autonomy for the isles on social media.

Thomson said that “democracy and politics in Shetland must be in the hands of the Shetland public”, adding that the “days of having decisions thrust upon us without any say must be over”.

Meanwhile pro-autonomy group Wir Shetland remains inactive after being set up in 2015 in the aim of “winning self-governing powers for Shetland”.

Following a request from Shetland News a number of councillors have offered their thoughts on whether they are keen to see more autonomy for Shetland, and whether it is achievable.

Shetland North councillor Andrea Manson.

North mainland’s Andrea Manson said she “wholeheartedly” supports any move for further control.

“We are constantly thwarted by lack of support with our inter-island ferry running costs, are ignored in our pleas for tunnels and bridges, will be the last to get broadband connectivity and are overruled on planning issues with no thought for the effects of decisions on employment or our fragile economy,” she said.

“We are nothing like the Central Belt yet have to abide by their planning regulations. Our lifeline ferry and air links have to be affordable to all. No profit should be made on lifeline services yet very profitable companies run them both.

“We should be part of the discussions on the future of the oil industry – not fed scraps of information and disinformation from the oil companies.”

North mainland councillor Emma Macdonald. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Also representing the north mainland is depute leader Emma Macdonald.

She said “local decision making should be the way forward as local authorities know the community better than either government”.

“We have seen more and more control taken by the Scottish Government especially over situations like the current pandemic, with a poor level of engagement with local authorities who have often found out about things at the same time as the media,” Macdonald said.

“I think the Scottish Government should work more collaboratively with local authorities and allow them to make choices that suit the needs of the community rather than a one size fits all model. The question over how we go about this is more difficult and not one I have the answer for.”

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor.
Councillor Robbie McGregor.

South mainland’s Robbie McGregor, who as an SNP member is the only political party representative in the council, said “as a democrat I have no issue with further powers being devolved to Shetland as long as it is the will of the Shetland people and the ideas are feasible”.

Our Islands Our Future and the Lerwick agreement paved the way for further powers to come to Shetland our people need to decide what they want,” he added.

“The Scottish Government does not have control over all the financial levers. Scottish independence is the only way we can get control of Scotland’s money.

“Shetland complaints over funding will not be resolved in the UK situation. I firmly believe that independence for Scotland is not about bringing control from London to Edinburgh but is about more empowerment for island communities in decision making.

“One thing which must not be allowed to happen that autonomy for Shetland being used to keep Shetland in Brexit Britain in the event of Scotland becoming independent.”

Lerwick councillor and SYIS director Peter Campbell
Lerwick South councillor Peter Campbell

Peter Campbell, representing Lerwick South, said having lived in Shetland for 40 years he is “very aware” many locally view autonomy as a beneficial move.

He said people have often pointed to the positives felt from autonomy in the self-governing Faroe and Aland Islands.

“It is a question which requires research to be carried out to establish what form autonomy would take and then a willingness on the part of Scottish and UK Governments to participate in discussions,” Campbell said.

“I am in favour of research being undertaken to provide a detailed breakdown of what benefits to Shetland various autonomy options would bring when compared with the current governance arrangements, levels of economic support, health and social care provision, etc so that informed decisions can be made before embarking on such a project.”

Lerwick South member Amanda Westlake is worried about the impact a three per cent council tax rise will have on the working poor.
Lerwick South member Amanda Hawick. Photo: Shetland News

Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick, meanwhile, struck a note of caution by saying the SIC’s finances were of greater concern at this moment in time.

Councillors were told earlier this year that the local authority is “not in a financially sustainable position over the medium term and faces an anticipated cumulative budget deficit of £40.7 million by 2023/24”.

“I personally feel with the rapid increase in the council budget overspend since 2017 that it would be better for Cllrs to get their own shop in order and the SIC into a sustainable position at the moment, we are currently unsustainable,” Hawick said.

“There is nothing more I would like to see as Shetland being in charge of its future but in the current climate I feel I have much more pressing concerns to consider.”

Shetland Central councillor Ian Scott.

Ian Scott, one of three councillors who represents the Shetland Central ward, believes the notion of more autonomy for Shetland is a “deceptively attractive” one.

“More self control, more local influence, more skin in the game,” he said. “Of course the big problem with this notion is knowing what exactly it means.

“My colleagues who have been calling for more autonomy are the very same colleagues who have happily voted, time after time, to impose austerity cuts on our islands through our SIC budgets.

“So the question I would ask is this. If all we are going to get with more autonomy is more Tory/Lib Dem austerity cuts, why on earth would those who have suffered, support such a notion.

“Shetland voters though have consistently voted for austerity in recent years, so therefore this might be an attractive proposition for them. But for people of an independent mind, they look and laugh at a’ that.

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

“Self determination and effective local democracy are indeed cornerstones in any putative democratic state, but I personally fear that our ‘Wir Shetland’ friends, however well intentioned, are taking their eye off the political ball. They will need a fairly long spoon to sup with their Westminster Convention friends.”

Moraig Lyall, who has represented the central ward since being elected in November, suggested she was on the fence at this moment in time.

“This is not an issue I have given much thought to so, while I wouldn’t currently support it, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand,” she said.

“It would interesting to hear more from those promoting it as to what they envisage being the benefits and potential pitfalls of increased autonomy.”