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Council / Exploring self-determination remains on the agenda for new SIC convener

Council convener Andrea Manson. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE NEW convener of Shetland Islands Council says continuing to explore options for self-determination is something that elected members should “certainly” be looking at.

Andrea Manson, who was a supporter of dormant autonomy group Wir Shetland, said the issue is “something we are going to have to grab by the tail and give it a shake”.

Back in September 2020 councillors, frustrated with a lack of local decision making powers, overwhelmingly voted for exploring ways to achieve financial and political self-determination.

While there was some initial correspondence with governments, including with prime minster Boris Johnson – as well as some public engagement – things have gone quiet publicly on the self-determination front.

But Manson said the decision being made in the Covid pandemic did not help with the council’s ability to push the issue.

“Doors there were opened, which are still open and it’s just a case of getting on with it,” she said.

“I think it’s something we certainly have to look at. I’m hoping fresh eyes in this council will look at it. There’s so many things we have no control over – for example planning, finances.”

Manson also raised concern over issues like fishing and the protection of the sea around Shetland, with foreign gill netter boats often regarded as polluters.

The Shetland North councillor, who has been an elected member for more than 20 years over two stints, said she has “really enjoyed” her time as convener so far after being appointed almost two weeks ago.

She said she did not actually do any canvassing for votes among colleagues, before narrowly beating Cecil Smith by 11 votes to 10.

Manson became the SIC’s first female convener, and at the same meeting Emma Macdonald – who also represents the north – was appointed the council’s first female leader.

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“I never even told the family or anybody here,” Manson said. “I thought if I get it, I’ll come back and tell them, and if I don’t, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

It was her choice to nominate new Shetland South councillor Bryan Peterson as depute convener.

“I wanted somebody new, somebody that I knew a bit, somebody that was used to public speaking, and he just seemed perfect.”

Another topic on Manson’s mind for the next five years is making the council more inclusive.

There was criticism in the last term from some that councillors did not have much influence or were sometimes kept in the dark over parts of the decision making process.

“I felt last time that there weren’t enough people being included – so even myself, as the chair of the harbour board, there were things going on that I didn’t know about,” Manson said.

“There were lots of things that were a surprise when it hit the committee agendas.”

She stressed the importance of hearing feedback from all. The councillor for instance is also keen for members to be informed of planning applications which have been submitted in their wards.

“[I want to to] try and make it a bit different, which is one of the reasons why I was so incredibly pleased when they did elect me,” Manson said. “I think that was a good first step to making the council different.”

Something that will be different, meanwhile, will be Manson being the first women to give the convener’s speech at Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa civic reception at the town hall in January.

She joked that she was “not going to grow a beard” for the event.

“I would hope that I will be allowed to make a speech given that I am female,” Manson continued. “I would be absolutely delighted to give them the freedom of the town, and you’ll just have to wait and see [about the speech].”

Manson said she been involved in the Brae Up Helly Aa for decades, where women are involved in squads.

Speaking about Lerwick, Manson reiterated that the issue of gender participation is a matter for the Up Helly Aa committee.

“Personally, I’m not a bra burner and I don’t really see why it should change, if it is something that has traditionally been a male bastion, then why not,” Manson added.

“But by having a female leader and a female convener anything is possible and you never know what might happen in Up Helly Aa in the future.”

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