What do candidates think about the trust? (Jonathan Wills)
The charity regulator OSCR’s decision to ignore the views of the people of Shetland is entirely unsurprising: the changes to Shetland Charitable Trust proposed by the “undemocrat” majority were not illegal. No-one ever said this backward step was against trust law.
That is not the point. Establishing a permanent majority of self-selecting worthies is legal but it is not wise, democratic or in the interests of the 23,000 people whose £250 million oil fund the trust controls.
What is interesting is that the remaining trustees have just acquired the power to change the trust deed again, without asking OSCR. This means that, legally, they are now the only people who can restore the trust to democratic control, by deciding to hold direct elections for future trustees.
It is ironic that I have just been giving a lecture at a university in California about the origins of the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group. This involved explaining how the oil revenues of the council came about, as well as the reasons for setting up the charitable trust, 41 years ago, to ensure that the money remained under democratic local control.
I am relieved that news of OSCR’s lamentable decision did not reach me before my talk at the Soka University of America. It would have been embarrassing and rather hard to explain to the students who, not surprisingly in view of current events on this side of the world, are taking a keen interest in issues concerning democratic principles.
I hope the voters of Shetland will now ask all candidates in the forthcoming council election to say whether they wish to see a self-perpetuating clique on the trust or a directly elected majority of trustees.
I understand that all three of the unopposed candidates in Shetland South ward want a democratic trust. If a majority of the councillors to be elected on 4th May hold the same opinion, then perhaps the “undemocrats” at the trust can be persuaded to do what is just, fair and reasonable. I hope so.