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Letters / Up Helly Aa – Time for change?

It appears that some participants in the Up Helly Aa debate appear to consider that the views of people who are not ‘Shetlanders’ are of less importance than those who are.

Before briefly stating my views on the subject I would declare that I was born in Shetland 69 years ago, first guized in 1963, am the son of a Guizer Jarl, have been in five jarl squads and have guized most years since 1969.

I don’t consider this makes my opinions any more important than those of anyone else who wants to contribute to genuine debate but also don’t agree with the suggestions that those who are arguing for change are mostly ‘soothmoothers’!

The main issue is without doubt that of discrimination. A recent [social media] post by Women for Remain the Same appeared to make the case very succinctly for this in Lerwick Up Helly Aa.

“In the past 60 years UHA has seen a total of 51,776 guizers, 47,149 of those carrying torches.”

51,776 men! No women. No coincidence. For a large part of that time such things were accepted as being ‘normal’, both here and more widely afield.

Over the last 10-20 years there has been a seismic shift in such attitudes, with many former male only clubs and events ending similar discrimination. It is not an argument against there being discrimination that girls and women are “allowed” to take part in certain aspects of the festival while being denied participation in others.

The second issue is whether as a community we want to be seen to be maintaining and supporting this discrimination.

If that is the case, there is only one question to be addressed. In what form will it continue? If the decision is taken to organise Lerwick Up Helly Aa on the basis that it is a private event, it will have to find a way of continuing without funding, support or services from the local authority, or any other body supported by public money or registered as a charity.

The alternative is an inclusive community event that complies with equalities legislation. That is the choice.

Talk of some form of local referendum on inclusion, binding or otherwise, is pointless, as equality is covered by legislation. It would be equally pointless to suggest consultation on, for example, the existing laws regarding the wearing of seat belts.

I’m happy to engage further in civilised debate on what has become a very emotive topic. I hope, however, that any responses will refrain from personal attack or insults. Any further crude references to anatomical parts normally covered by underwear should also ideally be avoided!

Please also bear in mind that this correspondence will most likely be accessible online for many years. Think for a moment of the reaction of your female descendants coming across what you’ve written in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time.

Stephen Johnston


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