Prime Minister David Cameron used his visit to the “farthest flung” part of Britain to claim the “broad shoulders” of the United Kingdom were a source of strength for communities across the nation.
Mr Cameron arrived in the isles on Tuesday afternoon and spent time visiting the newly-restored Sumburgh Lighthouse before attending a reception in Lerwick Town Hall where was entertained with traditional music from Haltadans, was shown a display of local produce by members of the Shetland Food Producers’ Group and met, business, community and civic leaders.
Speaking to the invited guests Mr Cameron said he was proud and honoured to be only the third serving Prime Minister – and the first in 34years – to visit the isles.
He took the opportunity to announce new measures which would spread the burden of subsidising the electricity bill for Shetlanders across the whole UK. There was not much detail revealed about that but, unsurprisingly, his speech was dominated with references to why he believes Shetland, and Scotland, would be best served by remaining as part of the United Kingdom.
He also took time to thank Shetland for its “immense contribution to our national economy” and congratulate those present on the state of the local economy with its “staggeringly low unemployment”, high levels of investment and “incredible rates of entrepreneurialism”.
In praising the isles he said: “In terms of the contribution you make through oil and gas, through fishing, through tourism, through your creative spirit Shetland punches well above its weight within the United Kingdom and I would argue that the United Kingdom as a country still punches above its weight in the world.”
That was one example, he argued, of what could be achieved together.
“Perhaps it’s odd to make a speech about the United Kingdom in the furthest flung part of that kingdom but I would argue it isn’t, because yes London is a very, very long way from where we are today in Lerwick. But actually Edinburgh and Glasgow are also a long, long way from where we are today.”
He said that Shetlanders, like others across the UK with a sense of regional pride, had an ability to think about having more than one identity – “an identity as Shetlanders, an identity as Scots and an identity as proud Brits”. That, “was far from being a source of weakness, it is an incredible source of strength.”
Mr Cameron said there were “really quite simple” arguments for staying together as a United Kingdom.
“They are arguments about being in a difficult, dangerous and competitive world and recognising that sharing what we have across these islands [of Britain] makes us stronger, makes us safer, makes us more prosperous and it means that we support each other.
“Support each other when we are having good times and support each other when we are having difficult times.”
The Prime Minister said one example of that support was the financial subsidy for electricity consumers in Shetland.
Confirming the news that the burden of footing that bill would be shared by consumers across the UK, rather than just those in northern Scotland, Mr Cameron said: “It should be consumers and tax payers in the whole of the United Kingdom that stand behind electricity consumers here in Shetland. That is just one example of why the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom can be of advantage to every part of that United Kingdom
“When a bank is challenged and goes under in one part of that United Kingdom, we don’t cut it off and say that is your problem… when we retire we retire on the basis of a pension funded by tax payers right across the United Kingdom
“When one part of country struggles we all support it. When one part of our country needs investment and needs to have the deep pockets of the United Kingdom like, for instance, the oil and gas industry to make sure it goes on succeeding and doing extraordinary things like it has here in Shetland the whole of the country stands behind it.”
For reaction to the speech from some of those present and more from the Prime Minister’s visit to Shetland see Friday’s Shetland Times.