Shetland Life: Editorial

A season of change

April will be a cruel month for the expectations of some Council candidates, as, to the general relief of those of us who think democracy is important – and, let’s face it, have a weakness for electioneering as a spectator sport –  there is competition for seats in every Shetland ward. Some candidates will  rise to the occasion, will triumph by their wit, intelligence, passion and commitment to serve. Others will not.

There will be  moments during the campaign when even the best will stumble, will  sound  foolish or just plain wrong, or have their picture taken  with something embarrassing in the background: a ‘no left turn’ indicator; or perhaps ‘no right turn’. As for the signs pointing to that  infamous hamlet  near Clousta, it’s probably best for all concerned to steer well clear. Photographers can be vindictive.

Given the departed council’s torrid tenure,  this election should see some fairly forthright, not to say barnstorming encounters between rivals. And members of the public.  I hope  plenty of opportunity is provided for this to happen, and not in the toxic and anonymous pages of some Shetlink forums, or just in the – generally – more polite confines of The Shetland Times . I would like to see public meetings aplenty, radio debates, leafletting and personal encounters in the street and on the hillside. Yes, by all means set up Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, websites and blogs. But candidates, we need to see you on your hind legs on platforms, knocking on our doors, speaking in the supermarkets and at the pierhead, on ferries and peat hills and sheep fanks. You don’t have to actually speak to the sheep, by the way. But if you do, be pleasant to them. Lambing can be a difficult business.

I could name the issues, but in the end it’ll all, as usual, be about money. Where do we save it, who has it, who wants it, who’s going to suffer for the lack of it, and if we don’t go wholeheartedly for renewables, including at least some form of the Viking Energy project, what hope have these islands for an economically viable future?

It should be interesting. I hope it is. Because it’s important. The future of Shetland will be decided by the people who parade their political wares over the next few weeks. We, the electorate, will choose the best. So, prospective councillors: impress us, not with your bluster or your parochial posturing, sleekit appeals to local pressure groups, or desperate attempts to appease the God-bothering. Be honest, be straightforward, and show us that you’re willing to act intelligently and practically for the good of  Shetland. And that you have the guts and gravitas to deliver.

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The death of this magazine’s founding editor, JR Nicolson, took me back to my first weeks in the isles in the late 1980s, working at the old Shetland Times office and printworks in Prince Alfred Street. Jim, as editor of both Shetland Life and Shetland Fishing News,  and a frequent contributor to the paper as well, was a constant presence, and he was extremely kind to a young and floundering news editor.

His knowledge of Shetland was incredibly deep and diverse, and he was always delighted to pass on any of that accrued wisdom. The weeks when Shetland Life was being ‘put to bed’ while the paper was heading towards deadline were often  difficult (and with scalpels being used to slice and dice paper and pictures, dangerous) but Jim was the epitome of professionalism and grace. Later, as a freelance, I raided his books for many a feature’s background. I never dreamt that one day I would find myself editing his magazine, or writing this tribute.  Mary Blance, in our Shetland ForWirds column, also remembers JR, and there is our own small look back to his founding of the magazine too. He will be much missed, and well remembered.

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This is very much a spring issue, full of love, lust, marriage, frogs and baby pigs. One local sign of the new season is the flurry of boat related activity, and I am not immune. My newly-acquired, casually anti-fouled and rather lovely Shetland Model is now safely berthed in the Brae Marina, and floating  beautifully. I gaze proudly down at her every day as I motor past on the way to work. I intend to spend much of the summer painting her cabin, and then playing at Swallows and Amazons. I’m not a serious sailor. But I adhere to Ratty’s great declamation in The Wind in the Willows:  “’There is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-’”  Seeing as I’ve given up motorbikes.


Tom Morton


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