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Politics / Yousaf up for tunnel talks if he becomes first minister

Health and social care secretary Humza Yousaf pictured in Lerwick in August 2022. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

ONE of the candidates in the running to become Scotland’s next first minister said he would “certainly be up for a discussion around fixed links” within Shetland.

Humza Yousaf, who is one of three MSPs aiming to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP, told Shetland News that connectivity for islands is “hugely important”.

He is competing against Kate Forbes and Ash Regan to become first minister. They were also approached by Shetland News for an interview but did not respond.

The SNP’s only elected representative in Shetland, councillor Robbie McGregor, has publicly backed Yousaf, while Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Emma Roddick has also publicly stated that she supports Yousaf.

Fixed links have been a hot topic locally in recent months and years, with Shetland Islands Council (SIC) recently committing to producing business cases exploring the future of transport in the isles – not just ferry replacements but also tunnels.

The cost of this process stands at around £700,000, and the council is exploring whether the Scottish or UK governments could provide financial support for this.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison and leader Emma Macdonald recently met outgoing deputy first minister John Swinney to talk ferry replacements and fixed links.

Yousaf – a former transport and islands minister, and the current health secretary – acknowledged that ferries are “ageing”.

While he did not commit to tunnels, he said: “Let’s have the discussion about fixed links for some of these routes.”

Forbes, meanwhile, previously told the BBC that “we need to look to more fixed links” in Scotland.

Tunnels have been viewed as a solution for tackling depopulation in Shetland’s inhabited islands.

Yousaf, who represents the constituency of Glasgow Pollok, also said in his view housing is a key factor in rural depopulation.

“One of the first announcements I made was giving local authorities the money – £25 million overall – to be able to purchase empty homes and bring them into the social rented sector,” he said.

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“But also building affordable homes – we’ve got a significant commitment to do that by 2032.

“We have to make sure there are more job opportunities to keep particularly young people in our islands.

“That’s got to include for example when I think about the health service more training places, because we know if we train people on our islands, if we train people in Shetland, they’re more likely to stay there.

“I think housing, the job opportunities and infrastructure are really key.”

More devolution

When it comes to councils, Yousaf has vowed to “negotiate a Bute House type agreement” with local government.

The Bute House agreement was a power-sharing deal between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens in 2021.

Back in 2020 Shetland councillors overwhelmingly voted to explore ways of achieving political and financial self-determination, but there appears to be no concrete progress.

Yousaf said “we need more local empowerment”. “But also going beyond Shetland Islands Council – I don’t want to the devolution of power or indeed the flow of funding to stop at Shetland, I want it to go further than Lerwick,” the MSP said.

“I want it to get out to the communities across Shetland. I’m very up for that, including looking at the loosening of ring-fencing as an example.”

Yousaf also appeared to support calls from the Scottish Liberal Democrats to make onshore wind farm developers pay more to local communities.

“I’m very keen whenever anybody is making profit off our land, that a portion of that profit goes back into our communities,” he said.

The leadership candidate also said he believes future offshore wind projects delivered through the ScotWind process should involve a public equity stake, “so a portion of the profit also comes back into the communities” to help with for example fuel and energy costs.

Voting in the leadership campaign amongst SNP members has already begun, and the result is due to be announced on Monday (27 March).

But during the course of the process the SNP has seen its chief executive Peter Murrell and media officer Murray Foote resign after misleading statements were given to the press about the party’s membership numbers.

During the campaign both Forbes and Regan have spoken up for more housing in Scotland.

Meanwhile Regan also said that “no government which I lead will ever again sell out North Sea [oil and gas] workers”.

She said: “Instead of freezing developing the North Sea we will support new offshore developments on the basis that they have a carbon capture proposal as a licence condition.”

For candidates’ views on the controversial highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) see:

Fishing federation welcomes Forbes’ stance on highly protected marine areas

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