Lee Coutts, the ferryman who kicked off the Save Shetland Coastguard campaign, says his impulse decision to stand up and become involved has been a life-changing experience. Seven months down the line and with victory now in the bag the 28-year-old marine engineer was feeling “fairly ecstatic” about today’s announcement.
Shortly before Christmas he started a simple Facebook page to register his disgust at the closure proposal, expecting to get a couple of hundred “likes” from people over a few weeks. Instead he got 1,000 on the first day.
The phenomenal response saw him sucked into a campaign that, for months, consumed all his free time ashore from the Yell super-ferry Dagalien.
He was asked to set up and run a proper Save Shetland Coastguard website and got involved with other coastguard supporters in a steering group which was able to campaign and comment more freely than the civil servants employed in the service.
“I was able to be another outspoken voice for them,” he said. “They invited me to meetings and I was able to have an alternative input.”
Lee helped submit written evidence from the public to the parliamentary inquiry into coastguard cuts and he eventually found himself travelling down to London last month to help hand over the 13,860-signature petition from Shetland at 10 Downing Street.
At home in Lerwick today he was trying to catch up on events in the House of Commons on his computer. Speaking to The Shetland Times, he said: “It shows that the campaign that has been going on around the country, and our own one as well, is paying dividends and has made the MCA realise that they can’t just do what they want. And the way in which they went about it was not the best way.
“It’s good that they’ve listened to the sense that has been spoken by all the different coastguard stations and by our campaign.”
He was pleased to have played a part in the high-profile political drama. “For me it’s been a very worthwhile experience. I’ve met a lot of good folk out of it, a lot of good experiences.”
It was the first time he had become involved in a big campaign and he admits the experience has politicised him. “Like probably everybody else I have an opinion on everything but this is probably the first time I’ve stood up and voiced what I’ve thought and it does give you a taste for it.
“Beforehand I wasn’t really such an outspoken person. I was more reserved, maybe even shy sometimes. I’ve gained a lot of confidence and gained a lot of different experiences throughout the process.
“It’s certainly helped me in my personal wellbeing. I took on something that was completely outwith the realms of what my normal comfort zone would be.”
Now his attentions can turn closer to home, to his young family and his intention to study at home for an HNC in marine engineering.
But he doesn’t rule out further forays into the political world. “I don’t really know. It’s been such an experience, getting my head around a lot of stuff. It’s opened up different avenues that I had never considered before, seeing things from a different perspective. I wouldn’t say I would maybe just go and stand for council next time. But you never know!”