Letter from Westminster

There is a thing called chaos theory which says that everything is interconnected and that nothing happens in isolation. It goes along the lines that a butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico can eventually trigger an earthquake in China. Personally I have never really understood it and like most things that I do not properly understand I am sceptical of it.It was, however, something which came to my mind last week as I watched with growing horror the pictures of the unfolding horror in Japan as it struggled to cope with first earthquake and then tsunami.

I visited Japan for a very brief few days in 2009 on a campaign visit for Amnesty International. I remember being struck as my plane came in to land at Tokyo how different the sky­line was from what you would see from a plane landing in a UK city, let alone the approach to Orkney.

A couple of days later looking out a window in the Japanese Ministry of Justice I calculated that the entire population of Lerwick could be fitted into the twin skyscrapers across the park – with quite a few floors left over. That is just a small illustration of how densely populated cities in Japan are. The human cost when the force of nature strikes can only be enormous.

As events have unfolded and as natural disaster has spawned nuclear catastrophe it is worth reflecting on how in a globalised economy we are all inter-connected and how we may yet feel some of the effects of events in the Far East. The impact of the earthquake on Japan’s economy is yet to emerge and what effect, if any, that may have on other economies across the globe is likewise not yet clear. Econ­omies in the west are struggling to sustain a fragile econo­mic recovery and with commodity prices rising rapidly the impact of natural disaster in the east and civil unrest in North Africa and the Middle East tough times lie ahead.

Closer to home, Tuesday night saw me in Kirkwall Town Hall for the consultation meeting run by the Maritime Coastguard Agency on its proposal to close the Shetland coast­guard station. Having already been at the equivalent event in Shetland I knew what to expect but it still left as many questions in my mind as it provided answers. One of the questioners in the hall asked if control of the coastguard should be devolved to Edinburgh. This might seem tempting at first sight but how many coastguard sta­tions you have and where is a ques­tion of policy – where you make that decision is a question of governance.

You should never decide a question of governance just because you do not like the policy. Let us not forget that this time last year we had a Scottish transport minister in Edinburgh who thought he could take away our lifeline ferry service in order to make a grand gesture to “rescue” people “stranded” in Norway as a result of the ash cloud. Just because a decision is made in Edinburgh is no guarantee that it will be the right one.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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