Campaigners against proposals to close the coastguard station in either Shetland or the Outer Hebrides and reduce the other to daylight operations handed in petitions with more than 29,000 signatures to Downing Street today.
Some 13,860 people signed the Shetland petition while 15,170 signed the Outer Hebrides petition. Representatives of Shetland Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and coastguard campaigners joined Scottish MPs to present them for the Prime Minister.
SIC political leader Josie Simpson said: “We have support across the Highlands and Islands because everybody recognises the threat to public safety and to those whose livelihoods depend on the sea.”
Angus Campbell, leader of Comhairle nan EIlean Siar, said: “The people of Shetland and the Outer Hebrides have made their views quite clear. To get just over 29,000 people putting their names to a petition out of a total population of 48,000 is quite remarkable. The people are opposed to the MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] proposals for the coastguard service. We have today passed on these views to the Prime Minister and we would hope that he is listening. These proposals will risk lives.
“We have put forward a positive alternative plan which will allow savings to be made but will retain the 24-hour coastguard stations at both Shetland and in Stornoway. We urge the government and the MCA to ditch their proposals.”
The MPs who accompanied the campaigners were Alistair Carmichael, government deputy chief whip, shadow secretary of state for Scotland Ann McKechin, Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster and Angus Macneil, who represents the Outer Hebrides.
Mr Carmichael said: “As everyone in government from the Prime Minister down has made it clear, the MCA would have to make the case for their plans to close coastguard stations in order for these reforms to go ahead. After the public meetings I attended in both Orkney and Shetland it was obvious that many people remained unconvinced by the arguments that the MCA have been making.
“The petition that has been presented at Downing Street this morning illustrates clearly the strength of opposition in the Northern Isles to the original proposals that were put forward for consultation.
“It is the needs of people in places like Shetland and the Western Isles that should be driving these changes and I know that ministers have listened closely to the range of views that have been put forward as part of the consultation process. This has been a genuine consultation and as the shipping minister has suggested on a number of occasions, it is likely that the final package of reforms will differ significantly from the changes that were announced at the start of this process.”