Arriving “on spec” in Shetland in June 1980, with our first child due that September, my wife and I quickly realised that we had landed on our feet – we were now members of a friendly and welcoming community in which people were valued for what they were, and for what they could contribute. I think that the Shetland of 2011 is still like that, with economic migrants (as I was) arriving almost daily and finding their place here.
However, today, our entire way of life is under threat, due to the draconian measures being imposed on us from Westminster and, it has to be said, from Holyrood. The Scottish government, Cosla and all of the elected councillors throughout Scotland, appear to be incapable of organising any concerted action against the financial cuts that are destined to cripple our public services. Shetland is at particular risk from this due to its unique geographical position. Our local councillors, while galvanised by issues like plastic litter and a campaign against an arts venue that could bring huge benefits to all of us, seem to be as dumb, powerless and speechless as a row of haddocks on a fishmonger’s slab when it comes to speaking out against the budgetary axe that is now being wielded by a bunch of ruthless politicians, bureaucrats and accountants.
Little thought have they for the dire effect their actions will have on the communities that will pay the price for a bungling incompetence that is disguised as prudent management of the economy. And the Conservative government, backed by their feckless Lib Dem stooges, are laughing up their sleeves as they gleefully arrange for more and more public services to be dismantled and given over to the private sector.
As a grandparent, what worries me most is the threat to our schools in Shetland. The education authority is under extreme pressure to make savings. Teacher posts are being axed; everything is up for grabs when it comes to applying the cuts. How will teaching staff be attracted to come and work here in the future if the promoted post structure is degraded?
Teachers are currently being asked to implement a new and radical curriculum. How can they find the time to do this when they are expected to work to the very maximum of their contractual hours and with their classes filled towards the very maximum number of pupils? It is getting to the point where there is no slack left. And moreover, how can the new curriculum go forward when there is unlikely to be money available for textbooks and all the other resources required? That is why I am so concerned for my grand-daughter as she nears the end of her nursery education and looks forward to starting school.
But it is more than that – our health services, care for the elderly and our sporting facilities are all under serious threat.
It is time that we all started to fight back with determination against the cuts, by writing to, and lobbying, councillors, MSPs and MPs, by organising ourselves through our trade unions, and by any other means possible.
Councillors, please note that Shetland’s oil fund was intended for a rainy day. Well, the deluge is bloody well full upon us right now!