Letter from Westminster 15.08.08

LAST week was in Orkney was show week so the week was a gentle progress from Shapinsay to St Margaret’s Hope to Dounby and finally to Kirkwall for the County Show on Saturday.

I have to confess that I have always found the business of stock judging to be something of a mystery. Farmer’s son though I may be, the differences between the various exceptionally well turned-out beasts always escape me. With this in mind I acquired my own personal expert this year and was accompanied around the show field by George Lyon. George was previously a member of the Scottish Parliament and is now top of the Liberal Democrat list for the European elections next year. More importantly for my purposes he is a working farmer, former president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland and columnist for the Scottish Farmer.

It is some years since George was President of the NFUS but he was still recognised and warmly greeted by many local farmers and crofters. Politics, however, was not the only business of the day to be done. By the time he left Dounby show he had not just canvassed votes but had managed to strike a deal for the purchase of some sheep as well. As I often have to tell the party’s campaigns department in London, political campaigning is different in the isles. Sometimes, I think it is just as well that they don’t know just how different.

The show field successes and disappointments were, however, put into some sort of context as I saw television pictures coming from Georgia as the Russian forces attacked. This conflict is not a new one, nor is it a struggle between angels and devils. But it is difficult to see the current turn of events as being anything other than worrying. This would be worrying if it were a one-off incident but it is not. It seems to be part of an emerging and hardening attitude on the part of Russia. Whether it is the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London or the bullying of the Ukraine last winter over energy supplies, the evidence is there for all who care to see it. Now with Russian tanks on Georgian soil the policy seems to have been taken to the next level.

The thinking in recent years has been that the Cold War is a thing of the past. We may have been optimistic. There is nothing cold about the war that is being fought out in Georgia today. All the signs in recent times have been that Russia still wants to exercise substantial control over what were previously republics in the USSR and that she is less than fussy about how she does it. The west was slow to get off the mark in condemning the incursion and even now the response is muted. Some may wish to ignore this change in the hope that it will go away. The lessons of history would suggest they are unlikely to get their wish.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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