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Council / ‘Councillors should respect each other’s views’, Morton says after calls to resign

Tom Morton.

A SHETLAND councillor has claimed he has faced calls from two senior colleagues to resign from his position – but he says he has no intention of doing so.

Tom Morton, a Labour councillor for the Shetland North ward, said it was “what happens when you make your opinions public in a forthright way”.

It comes after he aired his views on the replacement Fair Isle ferry project in the media.

Morton, who has been an elected member since last year, added: “Councillors should respect each other’s views and their right to express them loudly and consistently.”

Meanwhile a councillor for the Shetland South ward has called on Morton to apologise to the people of Fair Isle.

The island, located between Shetland and Orkney, has a population of around 50.

Alex Armitage said it was “incredibly threatening” for the community to hear a councillor call the replacement Fair Isle ferry programme a “vanity project”.

In an opinion piece published by Shetland News this week, Morton expressed concern that the project to replace the ageing Fair Isle ferry Good Shepherd IV and upgrade two harbours – backed by nearly £27 million of UK Government Levelling Up funding – “could all go horribly wrong”.

Referring to the government deadline for March 2026 for the project to be completed, he said there “isn’t a seal pup’s chance in an Orca pod of that happening”.

He wrote: “The weather and wildlife (birds, after all, are what Fair Isle is about, along with gansies) restrictions mean that annual time-windows for actually building ferry terminals are small.

“One big storm, or two, and a whole year’s work could be suspended. Suddenly we could be talking not about 2026, but 2027, or 2028. Then there’s the politics of it all. Not that politics is something anyone at Shetland Islands Council appears to understand.”

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The council stands to contribute around ten per cent of the overall estimated £29.73 million project cost, which would be funded by borrowing.

Morton has expressed concern this is happening at a time when the SIC is looking at ways of reducing its spend.

He received criticism from North Isles member Duncan Anderson for adding in a Facebook comment that the project is an “unnecessarily ornate vanity project” that could “ruin” the council fiscally and reputationally.

Anderson responded that he was “amazed that any Shetlander would refer to lifeline ferry as a vanity project, let alone a fellow councillor”.

It is understood that not all of the concern from colleagues stems from his views, however – with some dissatisfied with his attendance and participation at meetings.

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison – who chairs the education and families committee – also had an exchange with Morton in the Facebook comments, objecting to a statement he made about the SIC’s additional support needs provision.

After Morton said two unnamed senior councillors had “urged” him to resign, leader Emma Macdonald and her depute Gary Robinson both tweeted to clarify that they were not involved.

Macdonald said: “We might not always agree, but I would hope we can do it in a respectful and reasonable manner.”

Robinson tweeted: “As one who might be termed a ‘senior councillor’, I’d just like to disassociate myself with any attempt to seek your resignation. We may not always agree, but at least we can disagree agreeably. Stand firm.”

The Viewpoint piece also garnered a less than positive reaction from some Fair Isle residents, with one saying it was “out of touch with the reality” on the island.

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage.

Armitage, who said he had visited Fair Isle recently on the Good Shepherd, put his own concerns in writing to Morton.

“He replied to me confirming that he believes a replacement ferry is needed, but his concerns lie with this particular project,” the Green councillor said.

Armitage added that Fair Isle is an “integral part of the body of Shetland”.

Regarding the move to replace the ferry and improve the harbours in Fair Isle and Grutness in Shetland’s South Mainland, he said it cannot be in the “same category of debate” as reducing swimming lesson provision in schools to save money – something which Morton had strongly condemned.

“As a council we are well aware of the risks in delivering this project,” Armitage added.

“Though I share Tom’s wider critique of the Levelling Up fund, this is an important opportunity to deliver a key piece of infrastructure for an island community that, though small in terms of population, has huge importance for who we are as Shetlanders.”

In addition to challenging Morton to apologise to Fair Isle residents, Armitage said he wanted the councillor to confirm publicly that he supports the replacement of the Good Shepherd IV and states how he believes this is best done given the current circumstances.

He also called on Morton to promise that, in the event of a Labour-led government being elected in Westminster at the next general election, to use his influence to defend the funding that has been allocated to the project – including if there are any weather related delays.

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