22nd September 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Past Life: A right to work?

From Shetland Life, June 1986, No.68

(Extract from) Points of View

by Basil Wishart

It is not surprising that the consequences of what is in effect a new industrial revolution are ignored, even by some of its immediate victims. The rank and file still talk (and sometimes shout) of their “right to work” while those who pose as captains of industry seem to think that if the troops were less mutinous the cars and other consumer durables would be spewed out of British factories at a speed and price which would beat the little slant-eyed fellows from East of Suez. They are wrong – yesterday’s men in yesterday’s markets. The evidence is that Britain leads in the export business where she has quality to offer – Jaguar and Range Rover, for instance. And Shetland fish unless it’s “whaddock”. We are also innovative and, indeed, inventive and need to ensure that research and development is followed by adequate long-term investment in production and marketing. But still there will be millions displaced by automation and electronics. What will happen to them? Ask your clever political chums, not me. I can only suggest what some of the effects of this revolution may be on our own patch – Shetland.

First I must tell you that I have learned two words of Welsh, for I am writing this in North Wales after touring the Llyn Peninsula where these words are to be seen outside houses, cottages and shops. “AR WERTH” means “For Sale” and if you buy a cottage, remember that the nationalists may burn it down although it was a Welshman who sold it to you because he wanted to clear out. There’s no work – just like Shetland in the 40’s and 50’s. And our main endeavour must be to ensure that such a situation does not recur here. It could if, when the oil terminal closes and the oil-related income ends, there is nothing in the kitty for future investment. There’s one way to guard against that, however: stop frittering the money away now. Stop foolish hand-outs to every group that asks for them. Stop giving grants to jack up unprofitable business. Stop giving anything at all to business other than loans on commercial terms but, if necessary, for long periods. Create a revolving loan fund that will still be spinning merrily when Sullom Voe is a scrap yard and we are in the kirk yard.

Anyone listening in the council chamber? Indeed there are councillors who see quite clearly what is going to happen. They have been warning the unconverted, but whether they will press for the action I recommend is doubtful.