“IT’S A strange election. None of the usual stuff is happening.” Like most people, Brian Nugent has spent the past year or so out of circulation, largely confined to his house other than “going to work, going to church, passing some people in the street”.
The newly formed Restore Scotland party’s candidate for Shetland in next month’s Scottish Parliament election is busy working on press releases and leaflets. He is trying – with the help of his youngest daughter – to get to grips with Twitter for the first time.
Although he played a fairly prominent role in Yes Shetland’s campaign during the 2014 independence referendum, an experience that enthused him enough to return to the SNP fold for a spell, it is fair to say his vociferously anti-EU stance has long left Nugent without an obvious political home.
After first joining the SNP in 1974, it was when he turned up to a party conference in the late 1980s that he shuddered to see the slogan “independence in Europe” being “foisted on us – from being against membership of the common market, suddenly we were in favour of the EU”.
“If you’re in a political party over a long period of time you develop friendships and it’s quite hard. The moment you decide ‘I’ve had enough, I’m leaving”, it’s really, really hard. So it took a long time.”
During his unsuccessful campaign to become a Shetland Central councillor in 2017, Nugent openly declared that while not an official party candidate he was an SNP member.
But since then he has left the party for a second time having grown uncomfortable with that same “independence in Europe” message and hearing party representatives speaking about indyref2 being a vehicle for re-joining the EU.
That led Nugent to throw his lot in with Restore Scotland, which had its inaugural party meeting last April and only launched publicly last month.
Restore Scotland is fielding four candidates – Nugent in Shetland and on the Highlands and Islands list alongside candidates in Dundee City West, Inverness & Nairn and Banffshire & Buchan – on a platform of building a Scotland independent from both the UK and EU.
Its website also speaks of defending individual liberty, “the value and integrity of the family” and “the sanctity of human life”.
Nugent believes the party could be categorised as “soft left”, favouring a sufficiently high level of taxation to ensure good quality public services, though “on social policy we might be seen as otherwise – we don’t like the hate crime bill, we would vote to bring that down or replace it”.
Restore Scotland is, of course, not the only new pro-independence party on the scene – somewhat overshadowed in the publicity stakes by the unrepentant Alex Salmond’s new vehicle Alba.
EU not a ‘nice organisation’
But it is the party’s anti-EU platform that enables it to carve out a niche in Scottish politics, and the subject is never far from Nugent’s lips.
“We have a unique selling point in that we want Scotland to be independent, and every other party that believes in that also wants to go to the European Union, and there is no logic: get all the power up from London to Edinburgh, then take it and give it away.
“It’s not a nice organisation, it’s not a benevolent club. It has a political aim to set up the United States of Europe – which is fine if you tell people that and point out all the implications. And it’s not democratic.”
Please read our other candidate profiles here:
4 May – Independent candidate Peter Tait wants ‘greater emphasis on moral values’
29 April – Independence not top of his priorities due to Covid recovery, says SNP candidate Wills
25 April – Labour offers a’genuine and fair recovery for all’, election candidate Kerr says
22 April – ‘We need to stop being backward looking’, Conservative candidate Nick Tulloch insists
17 April – ‘Punching above their weight’ – Lib Dem Wishart vows to continue speaking up for islander
He acknowledges the post-Brexit problems Northern Ireland faces under the new protocol, but sees that as an argument against Scotland re-joining. In the event of independence “we would have the same situation” of complications and a need for controls across the English border, Nugent contends.
Exporters, in particular seafood producers, have faced a high volume of additional paperwork, the loss of some markets and impediments on their ability to trade with the EU since January.
To what extent those will be “teething problems” or more permanent structural changes remains unknown, but Nugent said a local fisherman had told him everything was now “getting into place”.
“He thought the paperwork was pretty good,” he said. “There will be difficulties but part of that is down to the EU being as awkward as possible.”
The 68-year-old, who stays in the old schoolhouse at Hamnavoe, taught at Shetland College (mostly computing and IT, but also English and numeracy) until his retirement in July 2014.
As well as volunteering with the town’s foodbank, he has since been working as a relief porter at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.
The building needs replaced, he believes: “The hospital was built in the 1960s, it’s built for the equipment of the 1960s; verything is getting bigger, wider, taller, heavier. If it’s not past its sell-by date now, it will be very soon. There has to be a new hospital.”
Were he to become Shetland’s next MSP (“I’m in it to win it!”) he would seek to work with the Scottish Government where possible. “The Liberal Democrats always talk about working together with other people, but certainly the way I see it there’s a lot of sniping going backwards and forwards. Can that really help?”
Turning to how society can rebuild post-pandemic, Nugent believes government subsidies must continue for a minimum of several months: “A lot of businesses are going to be starting from a standing start with virtually no cash, and some individuals are having a bad time as well.”
Nugent cannot understand why anyone would look to holiday outwith the UK at present when “you’ve no idea what’s happening elsewhere”, and he wants to see “major encouragement for staycations” to boost tourism businesses in the absence of the regular volume of foreign visitors this summer.
He also wants greater efforts to bolster local democracy. Dealing with Shetland Islands Council as a college union rep he “just used to scream internally”, feeling there was a “cabal that runs the place – whether that’s top officials and councillors, or just councillors, I don’t know. It was always very disheartening any time you went into a meeting with the councillors.”
A member of anti-Viking Energy campaign group Sustainable Shetland, he continues to regret that a local referendum was not staged to resolve whether the wind farm went ahead when there “appeared to be a 50-50 split amongst the population”.
“As it is now people are in two camps – having a small, divided community like this is not good. Now that it’s here let’s hope that it works and doesn’t hurt external tourists, stopping them from coming in.”
Nugent adds there is no doubt renewables represents “the way forward” and he supports efforts to develop hydrogen, alongside wave and tidal power all around the coast. But that should come in tandem with efforts to improve home insulation and address the cost of electricity to help tackle fuel poverty, he adds.
The Scottish Parliament elections take place on 6 May. There are six candidates contesting the Shetland seat. They are in alphabetical order: Martin Kerr (Labour), Brian Nugent (Restore Scotland); Peter Tait (Independent), Nick Tulloch (Conservatives), Tom Wills (SNP) and Beatrice Wishart (Liberal Democrats).
To find out more about all of the candidates standing in the election, including those on the regional Highlands and Islands list, visit our Scottish Parliament election 2021 page below.
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