Letter from Edinburgh

Next to the Fraser Peterson Centre at Mossbank, something new is emerging from the soil and it’s not just grass.

Alongside a long line of silage bales, and with fine views to all points of the compass, local people are growing vegetables and develop-ing gardens. The allot­ment will have more than 20 separate plots.

Looking round this week, we discussed the perennial problem of creating good growing conditions in Shetland – the wind. Considerable quantities of weather proofing are already up, and more will be needed, but it’s a great plan in this age where rising food prices will be a real issue for every household in the coming months.

The trend in food prices is demon­strated by a visit to the Shetland Marts on sale day. Lamb prices are high and that will be reflected next time you shop for meat. Good, or at least more realistic, prices for the producer are long overdue, but if lamb becomes a premium product unaffordable to many families, people will get out of the habit of eating our most natural produce.

A bit of a conundrum that one. And so is the way in which the gov­ernment in Edinburgh is proposing to penalise crofters and farmers over the area they farm.

The government provides a map, on which support for agriculture is based. It has the latest technology to assess areas to very precise levels. But in a way in which only bureau­crats could operate, the government then says it is up to the individual crofter to change these very accurate maps if they are wrong. Otherwise the government will financially clobber that crofter.

No other government department of agriculture is operating like this. Even in England the regime is considerably fairer. It’s got to be changed.

But the bit that also puzzles me is that, despite the best efforts of our local NFU here in Shetland, the national body in Edinburgh totally supports the government. If I was a full-time farmer again, I would be withholding my subscription. The NFU of years past would have fought this issue tooth and nail. Today’s leadership seems far too cosy with government.

Cosy is not a way to describe the feelings of parents, pupils and the community of Scalloway about the SIC’s proposal to close their secondary school. What’s really getting them is the lack of a vision for education. After all, the SIC first proposed just two high schools – AHS and Brae and no junior highs.

Now only Scalloway is to be closed under the current proposal. But as the Scalloway Parent Council rather persuasively argued, if the SIC started from the position of closing all junior highs then which will be next? Aith? Sandwick? The Northern Isles?

Their argument, and one which I think is entirely fair, is that the SIC has to set out what it wants for Shetland education, and then we all can at least agree or disagree.

Tavish Scott MSP


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