When he joined the coalition government in May, Shetland and Orkney MP Alistair Carmichael defended his position, not unreasonably, by stating that it would be an improvement for his constituents because he and his colleagues would now have power to change things for the better. Without using the rough and ready language of Lyndon B Johnson about J Edgar Hoover, he was effectively saying that it was better to be inside the tent p*****g out than outside the tent p*****g in.
It was and is clear enough that Mr Carmichael has little regard for many of his Tory colleagues, but in continuing to support his party’s Faustian pact with them he is hopeful of a dividend for the country and for his own political fortunes.
The downside of this sort of approach is that it depends on results. The list that might be marked “sea of troubles” is growing long. Of course, Mr Carmichael is not personally responsible for the ridiculous plans to dispose of Shetland’s coastguard tug or shut the Lerwick coastguard station (now being “consulted” on). Indeed, if it hadn’t been for his intervention the Lerwick station would not have made it to the consultation stage – the government had planned to announce its closure. But one wonders how much appetite he will have to continue serving should that be the outcome in any case.
Mr Carmichael’s position on tax is also distinctly odd. He is now trying to justify the VAT rise, which he formerly opposed, on the grounds that there are no other tax rises available to the government and there is no appetite for further cuts. The whole bias of the government’s economic gamble is towards (deep and painful) cuts rather than tax rises, to try to minimise any direct effect on consumer demand. The impact of the VAT rise nationally and locally will be wholly negative, not least in cancelling out the effect of any fuel duty reduction that may arise from a pilot rebate scheme for the isles, something he has campaigned on for years.