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Letters / The decline of civic responsibility, neighbourliness and interest in fellow man

Vic Thomas in his recent letter is of course absolutely right about the democratic deficit (Shetland News, 10 November 2021) in relation to planned major developments in and around Shetland.

This is of course symptomatic of a much wider and deeper malaise and cultural shift, aligned to materialism, hedonism and egoism: the privatisation of common deeds and endeavours and with it the decline in democracy and personal responsibility and action.

Changed days then when an Act of Parliament was passed to give the then Zetland County Council unique, in global terms, power in relation to the mighty oil industry.

The days when a town council actually did things for the town, it’s neighbourhoods and people, practical things, personal things, unlike perhaps the toothless, and largely ‘moothless’, introspective Lerwick Community Council. What fripperies will they spend their windmill bride money on?

Of course, the real democratic deficit is the continuing culture of the ‘moothless Shetlander’, town our country, at whose hands, despite the arrival of wonderful people fae sooth and further afield who have enriched Shetland and it’s culture and political life, sit back, or worse still roll over, in the face of having to take a decision about its future and the impact thereon.

Happy, as the ‘new’ moothless Shetlander is to form a new phenomenon, that of a ’chatterati‘ in Lerwick’s wonderful cafe-culture, very much reflecting is done by the new ‘idle rich’ – living of the (oil money) interest. Is this also where most council business is transacted these days?

I’d like to be completely cynical and take the line, as many former councillors did and current business community seem to do, that it’s aa aboot da pinger – wealth at any cost.

Well as I’ve said elsewhere a very basic analysis reveals that Shetland is an entirely different place to that of the pre-oil. Despite its huge advances in material wealth and toys, it is a much worse place in so many ways than the pre-oil era.

With one or two notable exceptions (I’ll spare their blushes) neighbourliness and community are all but gone in Lerwick and the burgeoning conurbations around Scalloway and Sandwick. The majority moneyed middle-class are infinitely clubbable and cliqueable, but these are very different things to active neighbourliness and community.

The rise also of the burgeoning  ‘poverty pimp’ culture of paid ‘voluntary’ sector (contradiction in terms) and charity workers still cannot address the sickening under-belly of our ‘brave new oil wealth world’, that of  poverty – fuel or otherwise, food banks, domestic violence, abuse in many forms – alcohol and drug in particular but not exclusively – and a mental health crises reflected in all of the previous but now a rise in self-harm it seems if Radio Shetland is to be believed.

There is much, much more at work here than Covid, which we can blame for some things, a lot of things, but certainly not all. A ‘Covid excuse’ culture may be evolving which masks the malaise.

Shetland is of course unique, geographically, geologically and thus consequentially historically, but its people are not unique, perhaps once, but not as per the nonsense spouted hitherto by Sell Shetland, as paraded in quotes in the print and radio media.

Shetlanders are no different from any competing inner city tribes where wealth and homelessness live cheek by jowl, especially in Lerwick, with now over a third of Shetland’s population,and two-thirds of its population within 20 minutes of Lerwick. Think about that for five minutes.

Not so much perhaps a democratic deficit but a deficit of sensible strategic political and policy thinking, where once 26, now 22 councillors act as individuals post ‘78, not capable of joined up thinking or behaving, drunk on the spend, spend, spend culture unlike the previous Town and County Councillors pre-1974.

If anyone doubts the decline of civic responsibility, neighbourliness and interest in fellow man, or women come to that, the recent struggle to form a hall committee in Sound and the new similar struggle of the Neighbourhood Centre, tells us all we need to know about the oil rich generation from the 1980s onwards.

This decline in real and other democratic deficit is reflected in the unfilled seats on community councils and the worrying rise in uncontested community and SIC seats. Local democracy my arse.

A horrendous centralisation backed by, and encouraged by council policy on housing and transport fuels the centralisation on Lerwick, where along with a Sandwick and Scalloway areas a moratorium on house building should be brought into immediate effect.

Better and more needy things to do with the Knab and Staney Hill – sustainable ‘home grown’ food and energy production for a start.

If windmills are good enough for Weisdale and da Kames they are good enough for the Knab and Staney Hill; On a much smaller, community minded AND OWNED scale off course!

James J Paton