NEWLY elected SIC councillor Tom Morton says he is “pleased and proud” to represent Shetland North– but concedes it is a “strange one” to have been elected without a contest after only three names were put forward for the ward.
The experienced broadcaster, journalist and writer will join returning councillors Emma Macdonald and Andrea Manson on the 23-strong local authority after 5 May, in effect replacing the retiring Alastair Cooper.
The North Isles ward will also be uncontested, with only two candidates standing in the three-seat ward, meaning a by-election must be held by August.
With Duncan Anderson and Ryan Thomson also returning to the council chamber, Morton is the only newcomer among the five councillors elected by default at the close of nominations on Wednesday.
He had been planning to spend the month of April canvassing voters, but the man who has become Labour’s first elected politician of the twenty first century in Shetland will still be putting forward his ideas and his party’s values.
“I was getting geared up for a campaign which would be four weeks, and while it would all be fought in a civilised and polite and friendly fashion, it was important to put forward those Labour values,” he told Shetland News on Thursday.
“But here we are, and I’m obviously delighted to be looking forward to being a councillor. I’ll try and present some of the ideas that are in the webpage and update social media – basically carry out a local campaign so that people know what to expect.”
Morton said the world was going through “really difficult and dangerous times”, and it was important for local people to “feel they are represented at the local level”.
He said that until the last minute all of the candidates “were under the impression that it would be a contested election”, and were surprised that both Shetland North and the North Isles will go uncontested: “It doesn’t hold up a great mirror to local democracy.”
That said, however, he feels Macdonald and Manson “have done a fine job, and I’m sure we’ll be able to work together”.
All three candidates are “unified for a need for a new school in Brae and all the associated playing fields and infrastructure”.
Morton also believes that the presence of the Northmavine Community Development Company (NCDC) and Nesting Development Company makes the constituency “one of the models for the rest of Shetland”.
He highlights NCDC’s involvement with small-scale renewables and its ability to self-fund through a community Polycrub.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causing global energy prices to spiral upwards, Morton says the cost of living crisis emphasises the importance of launching a renewed drive to insulate houses – the “most straightforward and biggest step that we can take” to bring energy bills down.
“[We really need to get] proper insulation into the council housing – although there have been efforts in that field, there’s a lot more to do and a lot more that can be done – and to encourage the insulation of private housing.”
Morton, whose wife Susan Bowie is a GP in Hillswick, has also spent time as an NHS Shetland board member and says he would “certainly hope to see a lot more integration and cooperation” between the health board and the council as the integration of social care and healthcare progresses.
“We’re not finished with Covid,” he continued. “I think it would be daft to abandon all precautions, and I certainly hope that the council and NHS can work very closely together.
“If any of my experience can be brought to bear on that I hope it will be.”
Morton vowed to make himself as accessible as possible to constituents through phone, email and social media, and will maintain his own councillor’s website for the duration of the council term.
He added: “I’m really pleased and proud to be able to represent Shetland North, it’s a commitment I’m going to make for five years and I’m really looking forward to it.”
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