Letter from Westminster

There can be few places in the world like Shetland in the sunshine. That was the thought that lodged itself in my mind as I walked along the beach towards my lunch on Tuesday in Papa Stour. To say it was peaceful would have been an understatement – I felt like I could have been the last person alive on this earth.

The summer recess allows me the opportunity to get out and round the smaller communities of the Northern Isles and while it is sometimes not the most efficient use of time these days remain some of the most important of my working year.

The sustainability of some of our smaller communities is sometimes questioned – especially when econo­mic­ally times are tough. For me, however, the issue is a no-brainer. No community is dispensable. Give up on supporting the community in Papa Stour today and in five or 10 years’ time there will be another island at risk and so the process will continue and before you know it the Shetland that we know will be chan­ged forever. The cost of sustaining our smaller communities may be significant but the value is greater still. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask Geordie Peterson, Papa Stour’s ambassador to the world, and in whose kitchen I passed one of the most entertaining hours I have enjoyed for a long time.

Landing back again at Tingwall and turning on the car radio I was brought back to events in Libya. The uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East this year were always going to be dramatic and traumatic for the peoples involved. By the same token Libya was always going to be different from all the others. Many of the regimes were repressive and corrupt but none of them could match Muammar Gad­dafi for sheer despotism.

Once Gaddafi had spoken about slaughtering his opponents the world was faced with a real challenge. You knew that this would be no idle threat. Without United Nations sanc­tion, however, it was difficult to see what could be done to intervene. Fortunately that sanction was forth­coming and action was taken to prevent him from carrying out his threat.

As I write this it seems that Gad­dafi has been removed from power although the fighting still continues around his own home city. I say “it seems” because I am inc­lined to think that nothing is certain with the likes of Gaddafi until the very end.

This should be a new beginning for the people of Libya but for the western world it cannot be the end of the story. The lessons of our involvement in Iraq must be learned after the conflict is ended, just as they were before it started. Any new government is going to require ongoing support for some time to come. Stability without dictatorship will be a novelty for most Libyans which will take some time in getting used to. Remember the Lockerbie bomb­­­ing and the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher and you realise that there is a value to us all in achieving it.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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