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Election / Housing and cost of living high on SNP candidates’ agenda

Zara Pennington (left) and Robbie McGregor (right).

THE SNP’s two candidates for the upcoming elections to Shetland Islands Council are putting tackling the housing shortage, the cost-of-living crisis and local ward issues at the heart of their campaign.

Robbie McGregor, who is seeking election in Shetland South having won a seat without a contest five years ago, and Zara Pennington, who is standing in Shetland West, both welcomed the presence of candidates from other political parties on the ballot paper.

Pennington, who has lived on the West Side on and off since 1990, said her focus was “very much” on greater availability of affordable housing in her ward: “If elected I will be working hard to see that there is reuse of existing building stock that’s become derelict, and we are focusing on achieving more housing – in rural Shetland in particular it is very difficult to find housing,” she said.

She also wants to see greater insulating and improvements to heating systems to tackle the cost of living crisis “particularly in light of the situation in Ukraine – it’s now political as well as ecological”.

Local priorities include involving the community in bolstering the public transport system and “how services can be accessed if you do not have a car or are unable to drive”.

Pennington says there is a pressing need for the reopening of a shop in Skeld and she is “actively supporting” the campaign for improvements to the A971 road between Walls and the West Burrafirth junction.

She is also vowing to work to address digital exclusion, to improve connectivity for residents and businesses, and will specifically press for the Reawick exchange to be upgraded to fibre broadband.

The constituency has been one of the focal points for opposition to the Viking Energy windfarm, with many of those against the project accusing the SNP government of imposing the project against the will of many in the community.

Pennington’s view is that “whatever you felt at the time, it is now happening and what we have to focus on is making sure that everyone benefits from it now that it’s coming.”

Seven candidates are vying for only two Shetland West seats following electoral reform – a competitive field in stark contrast to Shetland North, where there will be no contest, and the North Isles where there is one fewer candidate than there are seats.

Pennington welcomes the contest as a good thing for democracy: “It’s a chance to make the case [for] why the SNP can bring something different to the council, and I welcome the Greens standing by their convictions and standing too.”

Likewise, McGregor – the only member of the last council who stood on a party ticket – said he was “delighted” to see the Greens and Labour “having the courage to get behind their party banner”.

He said it had been a “huge privilege” to represent Shetland South for the last five years, and vowed in his campaign leaflet to put the community first: “I’m SNP but I’m also my own man,” McGregor said.

“I’m not afraid to advocate for what’s best for Shetland.”

He is pledging to lobby both the UK and Scottish governments for more support to tackle the cost-of-living crisis: “Shetland will feel the effects… more than anywhere else in the UK because we are already an expensive place to live with high fuel poverty.”

McGregor also cites his support for local air traffic control – which HIAL had sought to centralise to Inverness – and highlights his work to initiate a safe otter crossing at Henry’s Loch.

Housing is a key focus for his campaign: “I’m mad keen on housing because there’s a chronic shortage of affordable, energy-saving, efficient housing.

“This is having a particularly bad effect on our younger people, making it difficult to recruit in health, social care and planning,” McGregor said.

He is also “big on road safety” and is keen to see a reduction in respective speed limits of 60mph and 50mph going through Quarff and Cunningsburgh.

McGregor said he would continue to give “full support” to fellow ward member and candidate Allison Duncan to deliver safety improvements to the Levenwick road too.

The full list of candidates standing in the council elections can be found here.