MP to address town hall audience on independence

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil will argue in favour of Scottish independence during a meeting in Lerwick’s town hall tonight.

The SNP member has been in the isles gathering support for a yes vote.

He met with representatives from Citizens Advice service to discuss the ongoing issues of fuel poverty and the lack of housing accommodation.

Speaking ahead of the meeting Mr MacNeil said the “eyes of the world” were on Scotland, which he said is currently limited by having a government reliant on “pocket money”.

“What’s taken me here is the referendum. As an islands MP I’m always interested to see how people live in other island groups, whether it is Orkney, Shetland, the Faroe Islands or wherever.

“I know the Faroese and Icelanders are looking at Scotland and wondering why we’re even having a debate. They’re saying, ‘should this not be self evident?'”

During a visit to the isles earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Scotland would be better off with the “broad shoulders” offered from being part of the union.

However, Mr MacNeil said there was scant evidence that those broader shoulders were of any benefit to Scotland.

“We’ve seen falling living standards for the last six years. We find the alleged ‘broad shoulders’ of the United Kingdom are leaving people in Scottish islands in fuel poverty. The Hebrides and Shetland have the highest fuel poverty in the UK.”

Mr MacNeil spoke of the Our Islands Our Future movement between Shetland and the other island groups, insisting it showed a “direction of travel” towards a “new” Scotland “that’s hopefully going to come”.

He referred to the Scottish government’s pledge to devolve seabed profits to isles communities in the event of independence, and was challenged over why the SNP authority had not used powers it had in seven years of government.

“The answer has to be you can’t devolve the Crown Estate revenues when you don’t control the Crown Estate revenues.

“We have to remember that 90 per cent of the taxation is controlled at Westminster and they showed no sign at all of giving any to us. They give a little away to the Scottish government, but then take with the other hand in the budget cuts that will come.”

He said support for a yes vote in the isles was growing, adding he had seen a number of people come in to the local Yes campaign’s recently-opened Lerwick office.

“When you look back to 1979, Shetland was sceptical about an assembly. But by the time 1997 came, Shetlanders were enthusiastic for a Scottish parliament. All we’re doing now is completing the parliament – moving the rest of the powers from Westminster.

“The other side of that is scaremongering, which has become shrill and nonsensical.”

Some may suggest – given speculation over a possible Conservative victory in the next General Election and the growing prominence of UKIP – that any possible scaremongering runs two ways.

But Mr MacNeil was adamant cuts would inevitably follow a no vote.

He pointed to an anticipated 11 per cent reduction in public expenditure forecast by Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the London School of Economics.

“We are fortunate at the moment that our young people going to university don’t pay tuition fees. If we vote no I’d say, straight away, we are going to have 11 per cent of cuts, and how sustainable can tuition fees be in that climate?”

During her recent visit to the isles Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted hearing concerns about the way the NorthLink contract was handled with insufficient input from the isles representatives.

Mr MacNeil said it was clear island communities would rather have their own say over things that mattered to to them. But he said such matters could be written into the Scottish constitution.

He cited Nelson Mandela as an example to look up to in deciding how to vote in the referendum.

“If we say no, what have we got? We’ve got exactly what we’re complaining about at the moment. We’re going to keep going with our pocket-money government that is going to have its budget further squeezed. The world is watching us to see if we can step up to the mark.

“Imagine if you vote no, and the country votes yes. It’s not much of a boast to say George Osborne scared me. I’d tell people, don’t be scared by George Osborne. Nelson Mandela said, ‘let your actions be chosen by your hopes, and not your fears’.”


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