Labour’s newly-announced Holyrood election candidate for Shetland has backed the campaign to save the isles’ coastguard station and reaffirmed his party’s support for Viking Energy’s contentious windfarm.
Central belt lawyer Jamie Kerr, 27, was confirmed as the party’s candidate this week. He told The Shetland Times he was looking forward to taking on Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott and began by calling on the MSP to clarify his position on the 127-turbine Viking project.
Mr Scott has said he wants energy minister Jim Mather to call a local public inquiry, but he has been accused by some of fence-sitting over an issue which has split the community. Mr Kerr, a specialist in human rights law, said he expected the windfarm would form a major part of the campaign along with fishing, agriculture, jobs in rural areas and mainstream national issues.
He recognised that taking a pro stance would “obviously alienate a lot of people”, but called for Mr Scott to make his feelings plain too: “Obviously it’s a hard thing to do with an issue that divides the community, but he’s got to come out with a position.
“I’m willing to hear what people have got to say and I’m open to discussion on it. But, on the whole, when the economy is looking for alternative energy sources, wind is a major one. I think the opportunities it will bring Shetland to lead the country in this field are too good to miss.”
Mr Kerr sits on the Law Society of Scotland’s constitutional law committee and tutors human rights law to postgraduates at the University of Glasgow. He has previously been nominated as “up and coming lawyer of the year”.
He believes the campaign will inevitably hone in on the Liberal Democrats’ performance as coalition partners with the Tory party at Westminster. “I think the coastguard campaign is an interesting one,” he said. “It’s shocking how the two stations are being pitted against each other. Again, Tavish’s position on that: I can’t really see where he’s coming from, because it’s his party’s government that are cutting the funding.
“I think they’re the same party [in England and Scotland], and therefore the Liberal Democrats in Scotland cannot say ‘that’s Westminster’, because issues like coastguard cuts are the result of Liberal Democrat actions in reserved areas at Westminster.
“I think there is going to be crossover whether we like it or not, because the economic problems of the moment come down to the government at Westminster.”
Mr Kerr is planning to visit Shetland early in March, before stationing himself here for the entire campaign when it kicks off in around a month’s time. He added: “I think the campaign will be a good one, and I want to send out the message that I’m there, and I’m keen to listen to what people have got to say.”
So far, Mr Scott is the only other confirmed candidate. Tory party chairman Maurice Mullay said he “sincerely hoped” there would be a Conservative candidate, while the SNP has not responded to an enquiry. The Scottish Greens will not be contesting the constituency, instead concentrating on getting MSPs elected under the regional list vote.