Letter from Westminster

The pictures coming from the Gulf of Mexico showing the aftermath of the BP rig Deep Horizon oil spill have not been off our television screens for long over the last few weeks and I am sure that for many local people it will have brought back memories of the grounding of the Braer.

I am no expert but I do feel some sympathy for the engineers and technicians who have been trying to come up with some inventive and creative solutions to an enormous and devastating problem. I have less sympathy for the company’s chief executive and his wish to “get his life back”. As the surviving relative of one of those who died on the rig told Congress, his voice cracking with emotion, he wished he could have his brother back.

When I was first elected in 2001 there were still some outstanding compensation cases from the Braer, and in particular those whose asbes­tos roofs had been damaged were coming to terms with the loss of their claim in the Court of Session.

It still rankles with me as an out­standing injustice. They were vic­tims of a system where a compen­sation fund financed by the oil industry had reached its limit so no more claims could be paid voluntar­ily. It was and remains a deficient system in my view. Once you put a price on safety or the environment then someone somewhere will cal­culate that that is a price worth paying. I remember the then shipping minister telling me during a visit to Shetland that the value of the com­pen­sation fund having been raised it was unthinkable that it would be fully used in the future in the way that it was for the Braer claim.

A few months later another oil tanker went down and that new limit was exceeded again. I suspect that if the oil pollution compensation fund is involved in the Gulf of Mexico disaster then it again will be ex­ceeded. It is undoubtedly the case that when it comes to oil spills, prevention is better than cure.

Meanwhile, closer to home I had a great morning last week with the pupils of Cullivoe Primary School, hearing about their school election which ran parallel with the recent general election.

Most schools do exercises of this sort but the Cullivoe one had seen the pupils go the whole nine yards with not just campaigns for each of the parties but a polling station with polling cards the works. Their tele­vision debate was just awesome. I eventually left the school with one of their election posters bearing the slogan “A vote for Nick Clegg is a vote for a smile” and a feeling of optimism for the future of politics. The engagement of young people in the recent election campaign was one of the most positive things I have experienced for some years.

If the Cullivoe pupils are anything to go by then there should be more of the same to come.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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