Letter from Edinburgh

I occasionally stare at a blank computer screen and am lost for something to write. This week in Shetland, it’s not being lost for something to write. It’s how to convey the sadness, frustration and, yes, anger at seeing the islands’ reputation trashed by what’s happened. The emails, phone calls and face to face discussions with people across Shetland reflect the same concerns. Tomorrow, another demonstration will further amplify matters.

SIC elected members were told they had no choice but to pay a large amount of Shetland tax­pay­ers’ money to the chief executive so that he leaves after just eight months. But there are always other legal options. One was to terminate the contract and allow for the possibility of legal action.

A huge number of Shetlanders would have rather seen this in court, accepting the possible cost, than for Shetland to voluntarily cough up hundreds of thousands of pounds. We haven’t been told what the cost is – but it will be publicised at some point. The legal contention that we shouldn’t be told is rather ridiculous given that RBS boss Stephen Hester has his full pay and conditions plastered across the papers. As are the bonuses paid to bosses working for quangos in Scotland. Full disclosure is neces­sary and desirable.

I’ve been helping a young Shet­lander with a housing problem. Happily it’s now sorted and thank you to the council officials who were helpful. But that individual, who has two part-time jobs and is working long hours, asked me the other day why her council house rent should be used to pay someone off. “I wouldn’t get that kind of pay off from my place of work after eight months”, she said. Local joiners have lost jobs with Shetland building firms in recent weeks. The islands’ econ­omic outlook is tough.

The SIC wants to charge for music tuition, it wants to close schools – which will certainly mean job losses. People are already losing public sector work – look at the cuts to Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Yet the biggest econo­mic upside in Shetland is Total’s Laggan gas field and what it can secure for the Delting area and wider afield. But that is not a done deal yet and the SIC has a crucial role in those negotiations – led by whom?

This is just too serious a time for Shetland. There are issues about Shetland’s future getting no attention. Council officials tell me everyone just keeps their head down. The council has been, and always will be, a big player in Shetland life – in the economy, with jobs and in securing the islands’ prosperity and future. This last period has been the bleakest time imaginable.

One part has come to an end but at what price to Shetland?

Tavish Scott MSP


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