Former councillor JAMES J PATON, who now lives in North Yorkshire, fears for the future of his beloved isles with particular regard to the Conservative-Liberal coalition government, the fight against Tesco and the continued failure of the local authority.
Having spent a week back home recently to attend the most marvellous wedding which included families from Denmark and Norway, but also experience the passing of people I had known, however fleetingly, I am moved, with some hesitancy to write, as an exile, to express some observations.
Before accentuating the positive, I must first comment on the general political and economic environment in which Shetland currently exists. My initial drive to write was provoked by Tavish Scott’s recent ridiculous, vacuous nonsense on BBC Radio Scotland.
Mr Scott, like Alistair Carmichael (as the Conservative government’s – this is no coalition – deputy chief whip), are sadly intoxicated at thinking they hold some reins of national power. They have so easily been indoctrinated in their power mad stupor by Tory spin and titles, blaming all the evils of the world and our society on the previous Labour government, particularly the economic mess.
You can both say it as often and as loudly as you like, but most of us know better. The greed of a few operating within the guise of the banking industry and the “free” market cause the mess. I make this critique, not as personal attack on our democratically-elected representatives, but in response to their poor political judgment, but a current member of the Liberal Democrat Party, having campaigned for them on their values of fairness and a fairer voting and economic system. Poor fool and shame on me?
Gentlemen, you have through your words, action and inaction, particularly Mr Scott, who has previously pretended to wield power in the Labour-Liberal coalition at Holyrood, singularly failed to make any headway on a fairer society, never mind fair transport costs, for Shetland.
Between you, you have undermined 100 odd years of Liberal tradition in Shetland by your illiberal behaviour in supporting the Conservative reactionary, greed-inspired agenda. The unfettered “market” is not, and never has been, “free”. It will cost the earth, literally, and has always, and particularly under your new watch, cost the poorest dearest, and your wholehearted support for such unfettered monetarist/capitalist economics demonstrates that you, at heart, do not care, except for your own power and egos.
You blindly and stupidly follow the leader, Nick Clegg, every time he smiles and pats David Cameron on the back and nods in agreement with him at the dispatch box. So much for new politics.
Compromise and pragmatism, like mutuality, are always welcome in good politics, as they are in good society and community, to achieve the best for all. However, there are limits and boundaries when those approaches undermine or prevent simply doing the right thing.
You have both crossed the boundaries of decency, and the Orkney and Shetland electorates know you have and will rightly chastise you. Up to and including the next respective elections where your woolly (with no offence to the laird son’s sheep) and meaningless words, defending the indefensible, will be revealed to be vacuous, pathetic and worse – hurtful – when they both fail to deliver fairness for the poorest and most vulnerable in Shetland and beyond.
You both have sold any liberal conscience you may have had, when you chose to become the pimps for the Tory monetarist racketeers sillar. Shame on you. Like Blair, your game and time is up, for example, like Obahma, in continuing to support the unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Blood on your hands now, not Blair’s or Brown’s. Shame on you and your lack of moral courage.
Local economics prompts observation also. Graft, insider trading, and cabal like protection rackets of largely historic family financial-vested interests or new (oil) money empires, have and continue to exploit and plague the majority of ordinary hard-working Shetlanders, through the denial of decent wages and sharing profit with the community from local shops and businesses.
The recent superficial and false war of words on Tesco’s versus local “in-ower” peerie shops has amused me, but also poses serious concern and questions. (I personally boycott Tesco which is one minute’s walk from where I now live.) At least Clive Munro in his letter comes closer to exposing the truth of the matter and is to be applauded, if not rewarded, as a shopkeeper. However, he needs reminding that those who live by the sword (free market) may die by it. The “market”, as well as not being free, is never fair, unless owned by those it deems to serve.
The issue for the local economy is not Tesco versus local shops, rather where does readers’ hard-earned cash, ultimately go? Oot da sooth mooth to shareholder institutions and excessive boardroom and executive bonuses? Sooth via Laurence Smith’s own pocketed profit?
Does Mr Smith do his weekly shop at Lochside Stores or the Staneyhill Shop? The truth is there is always an alternative for our cash and it is always possible for us to be more discerning, ethical, caring and community-minded by shopping and where possible buying local and/or in outlets owned by its members and workers, to keep the money local, be it through co-operative or social enterprises, such as the COPE – working for the benefit of all Shetland and some of its most vulnerable people. It’s up to you.
Mareel, soon to come on stream, provides an interesting potential example, and could potentially provide fantastic opportunity for new and additional co-operative entrepreneurial creative industry and business in Shetland, to create jobs and income. But surely through the production of creative content to be marketed through the diaspora – exiles and hamefarers – to a global audience, and not the false business prospectus of its long-term survival on the skewed economics of a subsidised (?) restaurant and another opportunity to get pissed-up in its bar, fuelling Shetland’s already horrendous cultural relationship and problem with alcohol?
The behaviour of one young drunk, and very loud, Whalsay purser boy in The Lounge one Saturday lunch-time, where single handedly he drove out three tourists, leaving their drinks half finished, said it all. Too much money and not enough sense and/or partenal guidance? I forgive him, as I try to forgive myself for not speaking out. This sad spectacle serves as a counterpoint to my final observation about what we are and how we care, or not.
Finally, comment on community and leadership. Having spent time catching up with family and friends, old and new, I have been struck by the excesses and hedonism of modern Shetland, continuing unabashed since the 1980s (I was there).
Some of the witnessed behaviours then, and it seems more so now (and I know I am not without sin against self and others) reminds me of the fall of empires. Excessively competitive individualism and the pain of materliastic want, and unchallenged and often highly exploitative forms of individual pleasure and exploitation, undermine and destroy caring communities.
Shetland is full of the most remarkably caring, generous, talented and giving people, who work, paid or unpaid, to make Shetland a better place and maintain caring community values, good neighbourliness and genuine friendship.
It strikes me that these wonderful, yet often disparate voices and often the meekest, lowest-paid workers, like shop workers and carers, are working very often unrecognised and unsung, day-in day-out, on improving isles people’s economic, mental and physical well-being, education, culture and creativity, where local business and political leadership are clearly not only not matching that effort, but spectacularly failing to even meet it, through ego and greed and wallowing in self-pity and defensiveness.
On this last point, it would be great if these often sole voices and actors came together in the Shetland community to replace the ethical and moral bankruptcy and vacuum created by many of the current councillors and business community – you know who you are – steeped in the mire of ego and greed, when they finally and hopefully develop some moral courage and resign, with Sandy Cluness leading the way (you can’t right it in two years when you are part of the problem and not the solution).
If I had it in me I would come home and oust Sandy myself, if only to prove, again, that it can be done. But I’ve been there and have the Smirk cartoons and scars to prove it, and have another life to lead, despite my cultural dislocation and duality.
For those Shetlanders who believe themselves to perceive themselves as “moothless” or vent , like me through letters to the Times, the time for word has passed and action is required. I intend to heed my own words in the local elections in my new community next year and hope and pray fellow travellers still in Shetland do the same. Be silent no more and look to yourselves and those unsung community heroes to replace the hedonistic rabble. Come on, you really really can’t do any worse.