I am grateful to Debra Nicolson for raising the issue of my remarks during a recent radio interview and referencing comments I made during the 2012 election campaign regarding the Viking project (Genuine questions; SN, 23 September 2020).
I’m afraid I see no contradiction. My position has been consistent: I was and am broadly in favour of the Viking development and wish Shetland and Shetlanders to benefit as much as possible. Of course there will be disbenefits, there always are but I will never be guilty of talking down my community.
Ms Nicolson is correct: since Shetland Charitable Trust decided to cease investment the financial benefits accruing to the community as a major shareholder are now, sadly, diminished. However, I cannot be held responsible for the delays in the project that were, no doubt at least partially, responsible for their decision.
I was not elected to try to stop or frustrate Viking. Nowhere in my election material, either in 2012 or 2017, will you find any suggestion that I would. On the other hand, in both those elections, there was ample opportunity for groups opposed to Viking to stand candidates. That they didn’t stand in numbers or weren’t elected is not my fault. In 2012 I did promise to do my best to ensure that all the very strict conditions imposed on the already consented development were upheld. Again, I have done so.
As Ms Nicolson points out, I said in 2012 that I sincerely regretted the bitterness and division surrounding this issue: I still do. The invective, directed against anybody who dares question the anti-windfarm lobby, is truly appalling. However, I do not believe those who choose to engage in this manner are representative of the majority or anywhere near it.
For decades, Shetland residents and by extension the Shetland economy have benefited from well paid jobs in or connected to the oil industry. Many are now comfortably retired on their resultant pensions: yet we seek to deny the same opportunities to our future generations, really? Just as those in my generation benefited directly or indirectly from the oil era, I want to see future generations of young Shetlanders remain in Shetland and benefit from our necessary transition to the green energy era.
Shetland has the potential to be an energy powerhouse all over again if we are prepared to embrace the opportunity. We must make the most of it.
Cllr Malcolm Bell
Convener, Shetland Islands Council
Town Hall, Lerwick