I had high hopes for this council when they were elected two years ago and in many ways, they’ve done well, notably, in the area of bringing SIC’s finances back under control which has been achieved by supporting some excellent work by finance department officials, as opposed to previous councils undermining them.
I also enthusiastically supported the council’s decision to join the Our Islands, Our Future (OIOF) initiative, aimed at gaining increased control of local affairs.
Yet followers of the “No confidence in SIC” petition may have noticed my name appearing as a signatory. Why?
For me, ultimately, confidence in the council depends on their performance in a few key areas, namely, financial prudence, long term prosperity, long-term development of the Shetland Islands as a whole and their commitment to the principles of democracy.
Competent management of the current financial crisis is a “necessary but not sufficient” condition of overall success.
As regards long-term prosperity, the golden – “once in a lifetime” – opportunity to gain control over the seas and seabed and thus over fishing and mineral rights, appears to have been squandered.
Granted, the OIOF show won’t be over until the “fat lady has sung”. However, the recent offer announced by First Minister Salmond was “underwhelming” in the extreme.
OIOF have lacked ambition and have gained next to nothing for their constituents. Witness their delight at the Scottish government rewarding their humility by giving them more than they asked for and the fact that, a couple of days later, SNP education minister Mike Russell (Argyll) publicly promised parity for the Argyll islands without them even being part of the negotiations!
OIOF’s public praise of the Scottish government’s offer suggests they believe it is final, thus rendering them incompetent to negotiate further.
Someone else must do that.
Where long term maintenance and development of the “Shetland Islands as a whole” is concerned, the SIC has been unable to see, first, the grave potential damage to currently thriving rural communities arising from its school closure plans.
And worse, despite a huge demonstration by country people in Lerwick, they have not listened and their relentless drive to centralise facilities and services in Lerwick continues apace, with management of the NAF College being next on the list.
Second, the most obvious way to breathe life into the isles would be to install fixed road links, i.e. tunnels, a move which could certainly alleviate community strains arising from moderate rationalisation of, say, junior high schools in the North Isles.
Unlike ferry cuts, road tunnels are not even on the horizon; they are barely mentioned. Even the shortest, Bressay, which could provide more land for future harbour expansion, isn’t considered.
Will road tunnels be part of the OIOF “dividend” for “not playing the oil card”?
No, because OIOF didn’t ask. They asked instead for submarine cables so they can cover the isles with useless renewable energy junk, to be paid for by the taxpayers and fuel poor of Britain while, simultaneously, destroying Shetland’s tourism industry.
Will the SIC organise a referendum on Viking Energy to ensure the public support use of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) money towards that project?
Will the SIC move to restore democratic control at SCT?
Will the SIC call for local referenda in Shetland and Orkney on the isles constitutional position following the Scottish independence referendum?
Will the SIC shrink back from further school closures following the public uprising against their plans?
Irrespective of whether the Skerries secondary school closure decision was right or wrong, the cynical, under-handed political manoeuvres deployed in the education committee made a mockery of SIC democracy.
That is why, with considerable sadness, I signed the petition of “No confidence in SIC”, available in local shops and online.
This is the nearest Shetlanders are likely to get to a local referendum on any issue and concerned individuals who haven’t already signed may like to consider doing so.