Crofting chief tries to form political grouping to contest council election

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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.

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About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor is a reporter at The Shetland Times

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20 comments

  1. Billy Fox, Quarff

    It goes without saying that candidates should let folk know where they stand on all the issues and how they will commit to working together for the good of Shetland as a whole.

    Having declared my candidacy at an earlier date I would like to point out that Mr Ratter has not contacted me. Quite where that leaves his intentions of working together as a council I am not sure.

    I can only imagine he considers our respective views may not entirely gel. The group he proposes could therefore be more of a selected cabal rather than a forum designed to incorporate the views of the full council.

    Having said that, should we both be successful in our intentions, I would look forward to working with Mr Ratter on issues where we share common ground.

    Reply
  2. Brian Smith

    So whit is da plan, Drew?

    Reply
  3. D. Thomson

    I hope the new Shetland camarilla is as successful as Shetland Bottled Waal Water and Air-Shetland.

    Reply
  4. P. Fraser

    A proposal for next council to be run by an elite grouping after the May election – no change there then. The Shetland Islands Camarilla would indeed be an appropriate name for such a group – I wonder if the Economic Development Unit give grants to start new political groups?

    Reply
  5. Brian Smith

    The reason I ask is that there has been plenty happening concerning local government and local services in Shetland over the past year, and to the best of my knowledge Drew has commented on none of it.

    Reply
  6. phili smith

    Surely this wouldn’t be a ploy by Drew Ratter to pull together all his Viking Energy cronies, would it ??

    Reply
  7. M Inkster

    Great idea … essentially a political party in all but name. Any ideas for an unofficial name? Ratter and Cro maybe? Is that how things were done at the Commission?

    Reply
  8. Jonathan Wills

    I’m glad to see my old friend Drew Ratter encouraging people to stand at the SIC elections . I hope we may both be returned on 3rd May. But when the new council meets, whoever is on it, surely it would make sense to weigh up the abilities and experience of all 22 members, and to allocate portfolios on that basis, rather than on personal and political allegiances?

    I’m sure Drew will be giving details of his manifesto in due course, as will the rest of the candidates. There’ll be plenty of time to pick over his policies then.

    For anyone else who’s thinking of putting their name forward, the outgoing council is holding a special Election Event in the Town Hall from 3pm to 8pm on 13th March. Prospective candidates will be able to find out what’s involved in being a councillor, hear about our new constitution (which I think will work very well if we can attract some new folk with new ideas), meet council officials, and hear from the mouths of us broken down old nags about the joys and sorrows of holding public office.

    Everyone is welcome, even if you’re just thinking about it.

    Cllr. Jonathan Wills
    Independent (and staying that way)
    Lerwick South ward

    Reply
  9. Clive Munro

    “continuing to construct teams from a pool of 22 players after the elections is like choosing your football team after the whistle has gone”. Actually Drew I don’t know if you played much football but what happens is a squad of 22 players is chosen, they spend some time training together while the manager assesses their strengths and weaknesses and then there’s a decision on what the best team would be. Managers don’t tend to pick teams before they pick squads and neither should the SIC. To continue with the football analogies though, and why not, I’ve always thought a good council would be like a good referee-if they were doing their job properly you’d hardly even notice they were there. Sadly the outgoing council has been more like one of those second rate refs. who want to hog the limelight and in the process ruin the game.

    Reply
  10. ian tinkler

    A bit difficult to pick the team of Councilors when you do not know who the players are until after the game starts. Unless Drew somehow knows the results before the new council elections in May. Drew himself may not even be elected (heaven forbid)! I thought only God could know that result at this time, maybe II have underestimated, it’s Drew almighty!!!

    Reply
  11. Brian Smith

    I associate Drew and Jonathan with Lewis Smith’s council of 1994. That was when things began to go badly wrong.

    Reply
  12. Jonathan Wills

    …and your plan, Brian?

    Reply
  13. Brian Smith

    I and others have been urging the Council to take another route for months (Shetland Times, passim); however, I fear that discussion of alternatives (as opposed to glaeping of budget reports unexamined) is not what our councillors are inclined to do.

    Reply
  14. Jonathan Wills

    But, Brian, some of us have spent many hours, both inside and outside the council chamber, examining the budget reports in minute detail and arguing for different priorities when cuts were being made. We managed to prevent or delay some of the worst suggestions. We have tried to protect the most vulnerable. We have made suggestions for other economies that would be less socially divisive and damaging. .
    Are we to get no credit at all from you for these efforts? Perhaps you prefer to clart everyone with the same mud and label us all as implacable opponents. I suppose these blanket condemnations make it easier for you to attribute bad decisions to inherent wickedness and folly rather than to the faulty logic, duff arithmetic and lack of political will that really lie behind the council leadership’s attacks on pensioners, and their refusal to countenance deeper economies in the central administration.
    Perhaps, if you paid more attention to what councillor critics of the administration actually say and write, you would get a clearer picture of what’s going on.

    Reply
  15. Gordon Harmer

    Jonathan maybe now is the time to challenge Brian and other mud slinger’s to put their money where their mouths are and stand for election to the council and see if they could do any better.
    Instead of standing on the sidelines condemning one and all, give them a chance to do a bit of doing instead of urging, as Brian puts it.
    Let Drew join the fray he is a bigger man than his hecklers will ever be, unless of course they want to prove me wrong ( which I doubt ).

    Reply
  16. Brian Smith

    I have indeed noticed a change in Jonathan’s rhetoric about cuts, as May approaches. But it is very recent. I met him in the street a month ago, and he told me that the Council wasn’t cutting enough …

    Reply
  17. Jonathan Wills

    As Brian Smith has resorted to publicising his imperfect recollection of a private conversation, here’s what he actually said when I happened to meet him outside the amenity trust offices at Garthspool (not “in the street”) just before 2pm on 18th January: I greeted him in what I intended as a friendly manner and, after the customary pleasantries, I ventured to suggest that it might be useful for us to have an informal chat about the council’s financial problems, explaining that I didn’t think the public yet appreciated the scale of the budget crisis.

    He replied, in an aggressive and condescending tone: “There’s no point in discussing this with you. You’re so right wing. You enjoy making cuts.”

    There is, indeed, little point in trying to have a civilised discussion with someone who appears determined to distort what one says, who self-righteously demonises anyone who differs from him, and whose greatest pleasure in life seems to be insulting people who once counted him as a friend and who’re still on the same side, trying to protect the services that his union’s members provide for the most vulnerable in our community.

    Happily for Brian, there may be a way to guage the extent of public support for his shilpit attitudes: he could stand in the forthcoming council election, to which he makes a typically snide reference. I look forward to seeing him trot into the ring as a candidate for the Fourth International.

    Reply
  18. Brian Smith

    The suggestion by Jonathan and his acolytes that I stand for the Council is below the belt. At a time when councils are dismantling (not ‘protecting’) public services, I and others prefer to oppose or at least mitigate that process from our trade unions. The public will ‘guage’ [sic] which stance is more honourable.

    Reply
  19. ian tinkler

    Brian what a cowardly response. As a councilor you have influence, as a union man you may posture only, or strike. A great help to public services that is

    Reply
  20. Gordon Harmer

    You show no strength of conviction Brian, you would sooner play with fire even when you don’t know that fire is hot. It is below the belt to direct sarcastic comments at anyone who dares disagree with your left wing ideology. You should man up and put your ideology to the public test instead of standing in the background throwing left wing spanners into the works.
    Brian I am no ones acolyte I have a mind of my own and unlike you I stood by my convictions and stood for the council in the past. I succeeded in my aim to keep a lefty out of the Sound ward in a council by election.

    Reply

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