Sad day for democracy (Doug Forrest)
Following the SIC education and families special committee meeting on Friday I felt it necessary to seek a clear definition of the word “manifesto”.
According to a well-known information website it is “a written public declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer”. Now that appears straightforward enough. With such clarity and unambiguousness it would not be unreasonable to use such a document as a basis for making critical decisions such as for whom to cast one’s vote in an election.
In general elections it is much more about the party manifesto than the views of the individual candidates. However, when all the candidates are independent and the election in question is for members of a county council the whole picture changes. Under those circumstances what each candidate states in the form of a personal manifesto really matters. We, the electorate, must take the candidate at his or her word as contained in the manifesto.
Now I am sorry if all this is beginning to sound a tad pedantic but the seriousness of the situation cannot be understated.
In May when I was trying to decide how I was going to vote I did two things. I carefully read each manifesto and I attended a hustings meeting at Whiteness and Weisdale Hall. There all seven candidates answered questions posed by the audience. This same candidate spoke eloquently of his time at a rural school and of the importance of rural schools. Again the rhetoric was music to the ears of the assembly.
At the time of the election what I was looking for were people who would fight for the services on the West Side that matter to the community and to me.
One of the things in which I believe along with a very high percentage of the population on the west of Shetland is that there should be a junior high school based here. So can you imagine my delight when I read the following in one of the candidate’s manifestos:
“If re-elected I will: seek the best care for our elderly and vulnerable.
“The out-going leadership’s cuts hit the old, the young and those living in rural areas hardest. The budget must be revisited early in the new council to redress the balance.
“Resources must be directed to vital front-line services – care, education, housing, transport, etc. before vanity projects and risky loans.
“Continue to safeguard our rural education system. We must recognise and support the achievement of pupils and staff at Aith JHS who gained some of the best exam results in the Country. I stand on my track record of supporting schools in the Shetland West Ward.
“Rural areas are the key to taking Shetland’s economy forward. If re-elected I will speak up for what I believe in and I pledge to continue to listen to you and fight your corner.”
I wanted someone to fight our corner in the council chambers. This was the person I wanted to vote for because I truly believed those fine words. So as you can imagine, I was delighted when the candidate in question was declared one of those who were successful and was to be a councilor for the west side ward.
The other significant point about this same candidate is that he had been re-elected. He made it clear in his opening words that he fully understood the perilous state of the county coffers and that he would still defend the services on the west side. He specifically made mention of Aith Junior High School, its academic achievements and his track record in supporting it.
Alas, over the past few weeks I have become sadly disillusioned with this same councilor. Now that the gloves are off and the future of the secondary department at Aith Junior High School is in jeopardy the first person one would expect to be out there fighting its corner would be the author of the manifesto.
Yet when that self same councilor advocates that the secondary department should be emptied of its pupils and staff and the building be bulldozed flat, where does it leave those fine words? In fact, how credible are any of the words contained in that manifesto?
I am not alone in feeling that by his actions the councillor in question has set back local democracy on the west side of Shetland. After all, how can you tell people that their vote really matters?
Finally, I can advise Gary Robinson of one definite saving he can make. He need not bother sending me his next manifesto. I for one will not make the same mistake again.