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Election / ‘It’s young people’s futures we’re fighting for’ – on the campaign trail with Green candidate Alex Armitage

Alex Armitage out canvassing in Sandveien in Lerwick on Thursday. Photo: Shetland News

“EVERY time I see an empty lamppost, it feels like a wasted opportunity,” Green election candidate Alex Armitage quips as we drive through Lerwick.

He seems eager to get his party’s message out far and wide, and the Greens’ lamppost signs in the town and elsewhere such as Scalloway have become one of the more visible elements of the general election campaign in Shetland, covering topics from drug policy to community ownership – as well as encouraging folk to “tell granny and daa” to vote Green.

We’re with Armitage as part of a series of features ahead of the 4 July general election with candidates actively out on the campaign trail for the seat which has been held by the liberals since 1950.

The election hopeful and SIC councillor is gazing up to the empty lampposts out of the car window as we set off from a quick visit to UHI Shetland’s Lerwick college on Friday morning, where Armitage showed up to support striking lecturers, to head to the Sandveien housing estate in the pouring rain to knock on doors.

But lampposts aren’t the only thing he is eyeing up – also in the candidate’s sights are votes from people who may have become “disillusioned” with certain politics and parties, and he reckons the party is in prime position to snap up support from people who may have backed the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in the past.

Despite being fuelled up on dates from Scoop and black coffee from Fjara, and buoyed by what he feels is growing momentum for the Greens in Shetland, Armitage doesn’t get off to the best of starts when the first person to answer their door says they are not going to vote on Thursday before adding a quick goodbye.

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But the four other people who answer during our time on the campaign trail all showed varying degrees of sympathy for the Greens – with Armitage, who also works as a paediatrician, appearing to persuade two undecided folk to vote for him.

One person, meanwhile, says they support much of the Greens’ work but disagree with them on their support for Scottish independence.

Election policies such as a ‘wealth tax’ on billionaires appears to be going down well with the Sandveien electorate, as is greater support for the NHS.

Armitage – who previously stood in council and general elections in London – believes a wealth tax could be a way to increase funds for the NHS and support the cost of living. “I think people can see that the main parties aren’t really proposing a significant change in the economic system, and they can see that we are offering that,” he says.

But one policy which has been more divisive locally is decriminalising all drugs and bringing in regulation, leading to concern over the possible impacts this could have.

Armitage reiterates his belief that regulating drugs would help to keep people who do use them safe. “People are dying because of drug overdose and because the market in drugs is controlled by profiteering organised criminal gangs,” he says.

“Unless we take the market out of that criminal trade, we’re not going to be able to control it and keep people safe.”

Despite some concern over the proposal, Armitage says he will be sticking to his guns – as he will, for instance, over his opposition to the planned Rosebank oil and gas development west of Shetland.

“I’m not going to stop talking about it [Rosebank] because I think I might lose a few votes,” the candidate says. “It’s my principle, and we need to keep oil and gas in the ground.”

Green candidate Alex Armitage (second from left) at an EIS strike in Lerwick on Thursday morning. Photo: Shetland News

Some of the other topics which crop up during discussions with people in Sandveien include energy efficiency, the cost of living and transport.

The Greens have been absent in Westminster elections for the Northern Isles in recent memory but in the regional list section of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election for Shetland, the party secured 9.7 per cent to contribute towards gaining one MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

Meanwhile a news story from the Sun also resurfaced recently about how he took a video of himself promoting an Extinction Rebellion climate protest whilst in uniform in a hospital in England a number of years ago.

Responding to criticism about filming the video at his place of work, he says he “stands by everything I have said and done”.

“As a person that cares deeply about our bairns’ future, I think it’s right to do everything we can, both within and outwith electoral politics, to make a change.”

It feels like Armitage is one of the more visible candidates locally, and he says his green gansey has become something of a “brand identity” and is here to stay during the campaign; a look which is perfect for Smirk cartoons too.

The Green hopeful is also often posting clips on social media and appears to be the only Orkney and Shetland candidate publicly on video platform TikTok, for instance, as he looks to engage with the younger generation.

Although he has concerns over the impact social media can have on young people’s mental health, the candidate says it is a useful tool in spreading the message.

“As a politician you have to be able to communicate, and the reality is that a big part of that is in social media, so especially with young people TikTok is the thing that people use,” Armitage says.

“We have to get young people engaged – it’s their future we’re all fighting for.”

The other candidates standing in this election are in alphabetical order: Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrats), Robert Leslie (SNP), Shane Painter (Conservatives), Conor Savage (Labour) and Robert Smith (Reform UK).

Shetland News has already published stories from the campaign trail with Carmichael, Leslie and Savage.

Follow our general election coverage here:

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