Crofting chief tries to form political grouping to contest council election
Crofter and former councillor Drew Ratter is attempting to form a grouping of like-minded people to stand together in May’s elections.
He has held “semi-formal discussions with a considerable number of folk” on a “team approach” and policies for Shetland which he believes can be agreed. He said a number intended to stand but he declined to name any of them, insisting they themselves would announce their own candidacies.
The Shetland Times revealed last month that Mr Ratter, who is standing down from his post as chairman of the Crofters Commission in March, would be putting himself forward. He’ll stand for the north ward.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox will also stand, as will seven of the current 22 councillors – Gussie Angus, Allison Duncan, Caroline Miller, Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson, David Sandison and Jonathan Wills. Six – Josie Simpson, Sandy Cluness, Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Andrew Hughson and Rick Nickerson – will stand down, while the remaining eight are undecided or unlikely to stand.
Mr Ratter said: “In taking part I want, prior to the election, to promote a team approach. By this I mean that candidates from different parts of Shetland should let it be known in advance what they are willing to do for their constituents, where they stand on the big issues that Shetland will face in the coming five years and that they are committed to working together.
“This team approach is about providing folk in Shetland with the opportunity to elect individuals who, in advance of the election, have declared a willingness to co-operate to get things done. Continuing to construct teams from a pool of 22 players after the elections is like choosing your football team after the whistle has gone.
“A few months ago I began a conversation with a considerable number of folk, some of whom intend to stand in the local elections, and some of whom don’t. The substance has centred on policies for Shetland which can be agreed, and which a group of councillors will take forward by committing themselves to working together.
“I think there will be quite a few of those people who will be declaring their candidacy for the SIC quite soon. I am confident other people will be making their intentions known.”
Mr Ratter highlighted the state of Shetland’s finances as key among the factors ripe for discussion.
“That’s within the context of decline after a long up-swing. We now have a long down-swing and the impact is enormous.”
Developing ways of coping with an ageing population and the future of education in the isles are other topics that are “essential for people,” said Mr Ratter.
The topic arguably bigger than the rest is Shetland’s constitutional future and its relationship with the rest of the UK, or indeed, the rest of Scotland. It is likely to feature in the election as the SNP has said it will contest at least two seats, possibly more.
Mr Ratter said he had been left unimpressed by the level of debate nationally on the prospect of separating from the UK, describing it as “a war of slogans”.
“My own views are pretty simple. So far I haven’t heard a convincing argument be made for us in Shetland being better off in an independent Scotland. But I also haven’t heard a convincing argument for us being better off in the UK.”
He added Shetland could put forward a “strong argument” to lay claim to nearby oil reserves, given their close geographical proximity to the isles.
But he was wary of the tendency towards centralisation, which has been exemplified by ongoing plans for a single police force. He warned there could soon be fewer health boards or local authorities as a result.
He criticised the outgoing council for its failure to provide “good community leadership”.
“During the past five years, I have often thanked my lucky stars I was not a council member, because of the frustration I would inevitably have felt.
“The main reason for frustration over this term appears to me to be the failure of the council, as a body, to provide the community leadership for which it is elected.
“Plus the failure of the members to find a way of working together, for the good of the islands, in an atmosphere of trust to get things done.”
Mr Ratter has already served three terms with the SIC over 13 years. Within that time he served as chairman of economic development, European spokesman and vice-chairman of Shetland Development Trust during the authority’s Lib-Dem era. He was also chairman of Shetland College for a term.
In 2007 he stood down from the SIC to take up his post with the Crofters Commission. He has also served on the board of Shetland NHS.