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Letters / Not so disastrous

So, Boris Johnson thinks devolution has been “a disaster”, does he?

He forgets, or maybe never knew, that if a Labour government had not reconvened the Scottish Parliament in 1999 the Tory party would certainly have faced electoral disaster in Scotland, where it has not won a UK general election since 1955.

Thanks to the proportional representation system agreed for Holyrood by Labour and the Liberals, the Tories have been able to retain a parliamentary voice and some influence in Scotland.

When they were almost wiped out in first-past-the-post contests for Westminster seats, and for most geographical constituencies in Scotland’s devolved parliament, they managed to keep a toehold in Holyrood’s additional member seats, roughly in proportion to their party’s electoral support.

If Johnson bothered to check his facts (which would be out of character, I realise) he would see that devolution has actually been a boon for his party, saving it from well-deserved oblivion north of the border.

For Shetland, devolution has certainly not been ‘a disaster’. One of the first things the post-1999 government in Holyrood did was to arrange a new ferry contract for the Northern Isles.

NorthLink, unlike its predecessor P&O Ferries, now provides a nightly passenger service to and from Aberdeen with greater comfort and punctuality than before.  Full credit to Tavish Scott for seeing to that, when he was transport minister in the Lib-Lab coalition at Holyrood.

NorthLink is not perfect and it costs a fortune, but the Scottish Government provides a very large subsidy to keep our lifeline shipping link going. Some of that money gives pensioners free passage on two returns trips a year to Aberdeen, something we never had before devolution.

Likewise, with the two dedicated freighters on the route. There are criticisms that freight capacity is less than shippers would like but it’s a great deal better than what we had before devolution.  So, still some problems, yes, but “a disaster”? I don’t think so.

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Devolution has brought many other improvements that help make Shetland a healthier, safer and more civilised place, many of them passed into law since the SNP first formed a minority government with Green Party support in 2007.

Examples include free NHS prescriptions, free personal care for elderly citizens and the abolition of tuition fees for students (both measures described by Mr Johnson as “monstrous”), as well as free bus travel for pensioners, the smoking ban, minimum unit prices for alcohol, the baby box scheme, the Scottish Child Payment, cash to mitigate the effects of the Tories’ evil policies on the bedroom tax and the rape clause and, most recently, the ban on smacking – which gives children the same protection from assault as adults enjoy.

Very few Shetland folk would describe these measures as ‘disastrous’. Very many of our families and friends south of the border envy us and compare favourably the public spirit and effectiveness of successive Scottish governments with the runaway corruption and incompetence they see in Westminster.

Jonathan Wills

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