Letter from Edinburgh

We debated aircraft carriers being built on the Clyde and Firth of Forth, the Nimrod base at RAF Kinloss in Morayshire and the merits of the Tornado strike aircraft in the Bressay Shop on Tuesday.

Parliament in Edinburgh is on the October school break, so I’ve taken in the enormous decisions being made in Westminster from home. There is a great advantage to watching these announcements on television and then getting reactions, not from other politicians or journalists, but from people running their own business and doing real jobs in the real world. And Bryan Law at the Bressay Shop certainly falls into that category.

You have to feel for the people who have become dependent on a Ministry of Defence base. The eco­nomic consequences, the impact on local schools and the changes to many families’ circumstances will be life changing.

And so it was with Unst when the MoD started the closure of RAF Saxa Vord in the same week as the Tall Ships arrived in Shetland in 1999. Then, the government of the day made no offer to put some other part of the military establish­ment in the Northern Isles. They washed their hands and walked away.

This time in Morayshire there is some hope that, as the British Army returns from Germany, some will be garrisoned at Kinloss. At least that option is being explored and I hope it can happen.

The spending changes announ­ced on Wednesday are huge. Spending will return to the level it was in 2005. And then I don’t remember the world coming to an end. So the impact in Scotland, and therefore on public spending in Shetland, has to be sensibly managed.

Any cut is difficult. But money has undoubtedly gone into lots of things which are great to do in times of plenty but aren’t essential.

Careful government, both local and national, is about securing the essential and necessary services we need. I was worried to hear that Shetland schools are facing a cut to their budgets for the basics such as books. That strikes me as cutting the basics – which we should be providing.

This was the other topic of discussion at the Men’s Night at the Bressay Hall last weekend.

The first was of course the price of lambs.

But on public spending, as opposed to spending the marts cheque on a new Ifor Williams trailer, there’s a lot of people puzzling over this. The windfarm is being sold to the community as a money spinner. It will, we are told, bring in £23 million a year to Shetland’s coffers. Yet schools are being threatened with closure, and the AHS books budget is being cut by £30,000. The general view was that this is a gap which needs some explanation from the Town Hall.

Tavish Scott MSP


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