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Letters / Voters must think carefully

Thank you for Jonathan Wills’ latest epistle (“Dear meal and greedy ministers”).

SNP loyalties shining out, he scolds a resentful SIC leadership for wrongfully and spitefully mis-maligning the poor, benign, hog-tied Scottish Government.

Interestingly, he makes the same complaint about Westminster that the SIC makes about Holyrood i.e. centralisation of control:

The Scottish Government never has enough money …because the Scottish Parliament does not control all the public revenues of Scotland, only the fraction granted …(by Westminster)… which …doesn’t always reflect the extra costs of providing public services north of the Border”

In fact, the SIC’s biggest bone of contention is well-documented, namely, the unfair withholding of full internal ferry funding (£5.5 million per year), promised to then SIC leader Gary Robinson in 2013 and again, to transport chairman, Michael Stout, in 2016.

Interestingly, this long-running grievance was magically resolved in 2021, after the SIC decided to seek increased local powers, up to Faroese-style autonomy.

Arguably, its most important decision, it immediately stood the SIC in greatly improved negotiating stead. Jonathan has, perhaps unwittingly, reinforced the wisdom of that decision:

  1. Whether we like it or not, other local authorities envy our ‘oil money’. So do some MSPs. In the current financial year 26 per cent of SIC spending is budgeted to come from the council’s investment. (JT emphasis). No other member of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) can do anything like that, so the unsympathetic attitude of other councils isn’t going to change any time soon.”

 Exactly.

The SIC’s oil and gas income was intended as compensation for the disturbance caused, on and off-shore, by the oil industry. Not to subsidise vital services that should be paid for by Holyrood.

The reason why the SIC is able to afford 26 per cent of its spending from its reserves is precisely because it has invested its oil and gas income sensibly and used it, on the whole, sustainably. If it were not so, this feat would be impossible, the money would be gone.

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The “envy of our oil money” referred to by Jonathan, coupled with irritation at the non-election of SNP candidates to political office, undoubtedly contributes to Shetland’s perennial lowly position in council funding rounds.

Clearly, continued dependence on the Central Belt-dominated Holyrood, threatens the longevity of Shetland’s ‘golden goose’. To preserve it, increased local powers are needed, similar to those enjoyed in e.g. Faroe and the Isle of Man.

Progress need not be dramatic. Absent the opportunity of another independence referendum, patient, incremental steps are called for, in areas where greater local control can bring clear, significant benefits, e.g. finance, planning, external transport links, etc.

Candidates should, therefore, declare their positions on increased local powers, enabling voters to register their support for the policy and ensure it is sustained and importantly, steadily built upon.

Effective leadership of the incoming council can be the key that unlocks the door. Voters must think carefully and use their votes wisely.

John Tulloch
Aberdeen

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