Sabotaging Shetland (Jonathan Wills)
James Mackenzie, the chief spokesperson for “Sustainable Shetland”, has said that SuS is now at “war”.
Today [Thursday 7th August] SuS fired the first shot in that war, by seeking to appeal, to the UK Supreme Court, the recent Court of Session decision in favour of planning permission for the Viking windfarm.
The leaders of SuS have already led their troops to a comprehensive and very expensive defeat at the hands of Scotland’s most senior judges. Despite that, they continue to rally their dwindling platoon, throwing yet more good money after bad and leading a final push over the top.
I think the people of Shetland are weary of the relentless negativity of the SuS campaign and its repeated claims to speak for the majority. There are said to be “over 800” members of SuS. There are over 23,000 Shetland residents. SuS is a vocal minority, less than five per cent of the 17,000 or so registered electors.
SuS and its supporters keep saying the wind farm is a negation of democracy, yet at every stage of the planning process the decisions were taken by people who, unlike the SuS pressure group, were elected at the ballot box.
Shetland Charitable Trust has invested in the Viking Wind Farm project solely to earn money to create opportunities for future generations of Shetlanders. The development of renewable energy can bring significant social and financial benefits to our community. It will create public wealth, provide jobs and create prospects for young people.
To describe the trustees as motivated by “greed” and “the prospect of riches for the few”, as Rosa Steppanova did in a recent letter to the local newspaper, is an outrageous slur. Trustees are entirely unpaid and act solely for the benefit of the community in whose name they hold the trust funds.
Rosa has no excuse not to know this, as the facts and figures about the trust are publicly available.
Rosa blames the trust for cutbacks in council budgets. This is nonsense and reveals a startling ignorance about community finances. In fact, the trust indirectly subsidises council budgets through its support for old folks’ care, the Shetland Recreation Trust’s pools and leisure centres, the Shetland Amenity Trust’s many valuable activities, Shetland Arts and a wide range of local charities represented through Voluntary Action Shetland.
But there certainly will be cuts if trustees cannot find new income from somewhere, soon. Anyone who reads the trust’s published accounts can see that, like the council before it, it’s currently spending more than it’s earning from its investments. This cannot continue.
If the trust doesn’t find new money, cuts of up to a third are likely over the next five years. Viking is the only plausible source of new revenue and it is potentially the most profitable investment, by far, that trustees have ever made – unless SuS manages to sabotage it, of course. So, if folk should discover, one day in the not very distant future, that there’s no longer enough trust cash to keep their local old folk’s home open, or that the opening hours of their leisure centre are severely curtailed, they’ll know why.
The decision to drag a weary Shetland community through yet another round of court proceedings is deplorable. The chances of success for such an action appear to be virtually nil. SuS know this, of course. But they also know that if they can spin out a legal filibuster to the Supreme Court and then perhaps to Europe, for several more years, the charitable trust may have to sell its stake in Viking before construction starts. This is because trustees can justify the investment made so far, if it has a strong chance of earning large sums in the reasonably near future.
If that prospect is now indefinitely delayed by frivolous, vexatious and hopeless legal appeals, the trustees’ fiduciary duty could well oblige them to sell all or part of their shareholding and invest the money now in something else that will provide guaranteed income in the short term: BP or Shell shares, perhaps? Not exactly “sustainable”.
An SuS appeal to the Supreme Court can therefore only be regarded as a deliberate attempt to sabotage Shetland’s future. For what purpose can be served by it, other than to destroy Shetland Charitable Trust’s investment in Viking, and its ability to generate a healthy income to help sustain the future for all islanders, the beneficiaries named in the trust deed?
The enemy of SuS, in their theatrical declaration of “war”, is therefore nothing less than the public interest of Shetland. If the trust is forced to abandon or dilute its share in Viking, the sole beneficiaries would be commercial investors with no interest in these islands other than as a cash cow. Strange bedfellows for “sustainably-minded” folk, indeed.