Letters / Living beyond our means

My heart sank at the appearance, and outcome, of the council’s recent ‘backroom on da phones’ process, and ultimate ill-conceived motion for more autonomy. Why now and qui bono – who benefits?

SIC to explore ways of achieving self-determination after elected members back motion

A motion of such significance, on behalf of a significantly disengaged and disinterested Shetland populace and under the cosh of a pandemic was, it seems, an act of pure political folly. Unless of course it is Lib Dem inspired?


Was it a move to detract from the complete ineffectiveness of the SIC?

Am I being a conspiracy theorist, or does it just reveal the complete absence of any political or even strategic thinking? Am I alone in thinking it was ill conceived, ill thought-out and ill timed?

Council elections are not in 2020, unless it is indeed an early salvo against the Scottish Government irrespective of it being controlled by the SNP.


Or is it attempt to prop up an almost non-existent and completely ineffectual political Liberal-Democratic party; five out of 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, four out of 59 Scottish MPs in the UK Parliament of 650. It almost begs the question, what’s the point?

Political leader Cllr Coutts’ (a Liberal Democrat? – I think we should be told) remark that councillors “were no longer content with sitting back” is starkly telling.

So what then has he, and most councillors, been doing since elected three and a half years ago? Managerialism?

Cllr Anderson seems to perhaps struggle with comprehending representative democracy as well as the political process. Do please tell me if I’ve got you wrong – feedback/debate always welcome.


He said: “It’s not about getting new powers (…) but a new system of government which controls a fairer share of revenue streams and has a much greater influence over our own affairs.”

Again correct me if I’m wrong, but that will require new powers, so it is about getting new powers. Contradicting himself in the same sentence!

If he and ‘they’ had them, do you trust them to use them wisely?

Under any new devolved powers, are Westminster and/or Holyrood still expected to pick up the extensive and expensive Shetland subsidy tab? Is Shetland owed a living?

This is a community with its extensive globally invested ‘sovereign’ wealth funds. But would these funds go very far re ferry services, fixed links, agricultural subsidy, education, social and health services, to name a few.

From the 1980s onwards Shetland Islands Council increasingly started living well beyond its means, eating into and diminishing its sovereign fund capital value to develop a quality of life unknown elsewhere in the UK, apart from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man tax havens.


Am I wrong, again? Does Shetland really export more wealth than it generates? Show me the money.

If it does, would that wealth cover NHS, fisheries protection never mind defence from the new Russian Bear threat (?), DWP, BBC, water and other central government services?

So what is being proposed? More powers without any more local fiscal responsibility at an individual, never mind community level?

All this in a global neo-liberal austerity economic model that fuels external profits for the likes of SSE, the oil and gas sector, telecoms/ broadband, financial services (banking and insurance).

And within this, Shetland continuing to make its ‘interest’ on its sovereign funds unethically and unsustainably, at the expense of impoverishing people half way round the world, to fund the things that have been cut or privatised or now rely on charity handouts since 1979.

There was of course a little national respite from 1997- 2008. New Labour’s dodgy banking pals (Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock/Virgin et al).

Trading PFIs and housing debt derivatives, in a booming, exploitative and immoral private rented housing market, completely out of control – as it still is in Shetland – the second, third and fourth (rented) home boom!

Additionally, Cllr Alistair Cooper’s comment that “Shetland has never been that comfortable with the status quo…” bears scrutiny.

What exactly is not ‘status quo’ about returning ‘status quo’ political representatives in the entire history of universal sufferage elections within Shetland? This is certainly been the case re SIC since 1978, re Westminster and now Holyrood.

Mind you Jim Wallace is a decent honourable man, a true Liberal Democrat when it was a radical party.

Political parties aside the only creative or imaginative bit of political representation seems to have been around the 1974 ZCC Act, thanks to good old Jo Grimond, again an honourable man.


There has been nothing really tangible since. The Busta House Agreement sell-out on the rental for Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was an appalling dereliction of duty to the Shetland people.

Don’t recall you being directly involved in that Alistair. Before your time? Or were you backroom then? I forget. Well your ward and community are certainly paying the price for that sell-out to the oil/ gas industry cutbacks now!

Having finally – it’s taken me seven months – got round to read the Shetland Partnership Plan (you MUST read it) I note the disturbing statistics about this unique and ‘special’ place.

If autonomy is seriously going to raise its phoenix-like head from the abject failures of the Shetland Movement and Wir Shetland, how will these new powers address the following key current local priority issues: –

  • 49 per cent of households do not earn enough money to live well;
  • one in five Shetlanders have alcohol issues;
  • 41 per cent want to be more involved local decision-making;
  • Child protection cases involving alcohol and drug misuse are several times the Scottish average;
  • 53 per cent of households are in fuel poverty;
  • 70 per cent of carbon capturing peat bog is damaged and plant and bird species are in serious decline.

Perhaps councillors could start by spelling out how, and who, will fund these, under the new arrangements, whatever they are.

Perhaps, in addition, proper decent, honourable, effective political representation at Westminster and Holyrood on these priorities, might add some real clout to how democracy should work in Shetland.

And regarding our sovereign funds, worth around £800 million, here’s an idea:

Take £60 million to fund the 1,000 unemployed here on £20k per year, for the next three years to do environmental and fuel poverty work.

But James it’s not that simple! Yes it is. Yes we can, especially with all the ‘wind factory’ bribes coming soon. (Your SSE Hydro bill will be going up – switch if you haven’t already.)

Shetland – living well (for some, not all!) off the interest and unsustainably beyond its means?

James J Paton