Carmichael absence leaves just Labour and SNP candidates at hustings

The late withdrawal of Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Carmichael through illness meant last night’s Althing hustings debate consisted of just two candidates.

Danus Skene (SNP) and Gerry McGarvey (Labour) were left to slug it out, or as someone later put it, to indulge in a “love in”, with neither of the Tory and Ukip candidates present because of prior commitments.

Chairman Andrew Halcrow briefly introduced the pair, in “one of the most interesting General Elections in recent years”, and asked them each to tell the audience why they deserved to be returned to Westminster.

Labour candidate Gerry McGarvey.
Labour candidate Gerry McGarvey.

Mr McGarvey went first, immediately saying he did not want this hustings evening to be a “traditional one of bickering. He wanted to hear what the people wanted.

“It’s important that you see the man who you may decide to vote for, or the man who you would consider voting for,” he said.

Mr McGarvey explained a little about his background, and how he got interested in politics, initially when working in Liverpool.

Not surprisingly he had a go at former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the “way she destroyed communities”, something he witnessed first-hand when he worked in Sunderland.

“Politics is not sexy, and not glamorous,” he said. “It’s primarily about sitting around tables and trying to sort out problems, [explaining] why you want to make a difference, and help people. That’s what I want to do.

Mr Skene began his speech by quoting Jonathan Wills, once a former Labour candidate himself, who has changed his colours somewhat over the years.

“Jonathan Wills said on a previous occasion, when a candidate didn’t turn up, it was like having a fox hunt without a fox.”

But there would be three further occasions to have a go at the fox, he added.

“I hesitate to speak about myself,” Mr Skene said. “It’s a brave thing to do. I prefer to go into the aspects of what this election is all about … austerity, fairness and good government.”

SNP candidate Danus Skene.
SNP candidate Danus Skene.

Any thoughts of prosperity under the coalition Tory/Lib Dem government received a stark message, and an attack on former Chancellor George Osborne.

“If you are in a hole it’s a good idea to stop digging, but also a good idea not to throw away the ladder that will get you out of the hole.”

Austerity was not a good way of recovery from the recession, Mr Skene said. It was better to invest in infrastructure and jobs and not retreat further.

On fairness, Mr Skene said he was “going to have a little dig at you Gerry”.

One of the great shames in the last 30 years was the “move towards Thatcherism”, which continued and mildly accelerated under the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years.

He got on to the subject of “food bank Britain”, which a million people were dependent on, including a “significant number” here in Shetland.

“That’s the world that the coalition goverment have led us into. It’s not acceptable!

“We hope to go in strength to London [and] hope to provide a backbone for a Labour party.

“There are real signs that British politics is changing, because of a massive disillusionment about what’s going on in Westminster.”

Mr Halcrow explained there would be 10 minutes for questions from the floor, then the traditional cup of tea and then more questions.

First to have a go was local Labour activist Susan Bowie, who asked Mr Skene about full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, and what would the SNP do to fill the “black hole” of £7.6 billion.

The money would be borrowed, came the reply, but Irvine Tait countered by saying that borrowing would be “very, very difficult”. He added that the deficit was a “UK hole” and there were “problems right across the UK” and that was what the Labour party was about.

Robert Sim wanted to know why the SNP was growing so rapidly as a party. “Why do you think that’s happened?” he asked the candidates.

“It’s exciting times,” replied Mr McGarvey. “It has forced the Labour party to rethink itself and make itself more appealing. I personally welcome that. It was a humdrum situation and my party found itself in a moribund place.

“The landscape has fundamentally changed and I would argue changed for the better. That’s why we have 80 people in here tonight.”

Mr Skene said the “genuinely very healthy process of the referendum” involved a lot of people.

“I don’t think anybody foresaw this explosion of membership. [But] the reaction to the referendum was a mixture of guilt, anger and frustration.”

Some people had told him they only switched to voting no after the Brown intervention, he said.

“The tectonic plates have moved,” Mr Skene said, a statement which caused Mr McGarvey’s eyebrows to raise somewhat. “People have had enough of it being done to us. They want control of their own actions.”

Andrew Harmsworth, described by someone sitting nearby as “the only Tory in the village”, lightheartedly drew people’s attention to the drinking utensils being used by the two candidates. Both were pink, which maybe suggested something, while Mr Halcrow’s was blue. Was he a secret Tory, perhaps?

The country was on the road to recovery under the coalition, Mr Harmsworth said, which contrasted sharply with the Labour party which had “bankrupted” the country.

“Getting rid of the Tories seems to be the most positive thing coming out of the SNP. But if you have a growing economy everybody benefits.”

Wealth did not necessarily come from the top down, Mr Skene replied, adding that he grew up in a Tory household but had never voted Tory in his life.

Perhaps with a hint of his former life as a Labour candidate, Mr Skene said he didn’t particularly blame Gordon Brown for the financial crisis. The situation was not a Labour concoction. It would also have happened under a Tory government.

Mr McGarvey obviously agreed with that sentiments. “This mantra that we are picking up the mess left by Labour is a myth,” he added.

Someone needed to comment on how close the two candidates were getting, and Ouaine Bain was just the person. Leaving aside the love-in, she asked, what was Mr McGarvey’s view on the presence of Trident in Scotland.

Mr McGarvey said there was a place for a nuclear deterrent as a “necessary evil”, given the circumstances the country found itself in as a member of Nato. It was “an integral part of our membership”, he said, and “these are the strings that come attached to it”.

Would Labour consider a coalition with the SNP, asked Steve Davidson, reflecting on a hot current topic.

Mr McGarvey said if the situation were to arise it would be very difficult to form a coalition with a party which “had spent a lot of effort trying to dismiss the Labour party.

“Vote SNP to get Labour. I can’t understand the logic of that,” he said. “If you want Labour you vote Labour. If you want SNP you vote SNP. If you want to vote for anybody else Hell mend you!”

One of the last points was made by one of the youngest members of the audience, 14-year-old Kieran Thomson.

He said: “In a world where terrorists are killing people, is there any need for Trident. Surely that will do more damage than any terrorists.”

Mr Skene said Trident was irrational, unusable and not of any military advantage.

“There’s no point in going around the world complaining about other countries getting one when you have one yourself. No Trident! End of story!”


Add Your Comment
  • Robin Stevenson

    • April 19th, 2015 13:12

    Well done to both candidates that bothered to show up, and well done the 80 people that had taken enough of an interest to attend too.
    I wonder if Ali Carmichael bothered to send a “memo” to explain why he couldn’t attend? Perhaps he doesn’t “Do” memos anymore?

  • John Tulloch

    • April 19th, 2015 18:13

    Alas, this is why some historians re-frame history to suit their own perspective:

    “Perhaps with a hint of his former life as a Labour candidate, Mr Skene said he didn’t particularly blame Gordon Brown for the financial crisis. The situation was not a Labour concoction. It would also have happened under a Tory government.”

    Gordon Brown didn’t create the financial crisis which arose from banks lending money to people who were subsequently unable to pay it back, however, his actions certainly made it worse than it need have been:

    1. He took overall responsibity for bank regulation away from the Bank of England who were the only ones who actually knew what they were doing and split it three ways so that nobody had their eye on the ball and there was no ‘goalkeeper’.

    2. He failed to stick to his own ‘Golden Rule’ for prudent government spending during the unregulated ‘good times’ when he should have been paying back debt, instead of expanding it.

    These two actions, undoubtedly, worsened the impact of the crisis on Britain, almost, to the point of financial collapse.

    • Gareth Fair

      • April 21st, 2015 7:18

      The Gordon Brown version of the ‘Golden rule’ was a complete farce.
      Gordon Brown’s just manipulated the terms of it when the figures didn’t match. It also led to the wide spread use of the Public Finance Initiative (PFI) which is a great way of transferring money to rich people while saddling the taxpayer with debt for the next 30 years.
      After the banking crisis Mr Brown even had to lend the private companies the money to finance PFI transferring the risk back to the taxpayer.
      His rationale for this was the public sector is bad at running things. In reality it was a good way of hiding reckless government spending as it would be paid back over the next 30 years to private companies with large profits for those companies.

      His legacy will continue to damage the UK economy for some time yet unfortunately.

  • Gary Scott

    • April 19th, 2015 18:14

    This is disappointing. I realise he is a busy man but this just shouldn’t happen.

    In one of the most unpredictable elections in memory he has failed to turn out to speak to his own constituents.

    I know that the Conservative and UKIP candidates weren’t there either but, to be fair, they are much less likely to be elected and don’t have a duty to constituents.

  • Robert Sim

    • April 19th, 2015 23:04

    I understand that Alistair Carmichael was ill. Having said that, Danus Skene was in my opinion infinitely the more impressive speaker on the night, very much in command of the facts and the arguments.

  • Dorothy Harcus

    • April 19th, 2015 23:40

    The absence of three of the five prospective candidates, including the present incumbent was deeply regretable. Perhaps this makes it more understandable that so many peole I come across here, particularly women of my age do not vote.

    • Robin Stevenson

      • April 20th, 2015 15:28

      Such a shame Dorothy, I’m not too sure if the suffragettes would be too happy about that? there is only really one way to make any sort of difference in the society in which you live and work, and that is simply, to use your vote, whether it’s protest, or your belief in the individual candidate or party?…good luck 🙂

  • Jonathan wills

    • April 19th, 2015 23:40

    To be fair, I understand that Mr Carmichael was taken ill and that was why he had to pull out of the hustings.
    I voted for him last time because I thought he was the best candidate and I because admired his record as a champion of human rights. I am sorry that I cannot vote for him again, because of his role in creating and propping up the worst Tory government in my lifetime.
    As a former Labour candidate, I take no pleasure in the present state of the party that I supported for 35 years. I would like, one day, to be able to vote Labour again, but I do not think that day will come until the SNP has forced Westminster to deliver the Home Rule it promised us during the referendum, and which, of course, was a central plank of the Labour Party’s platform when it was founded over a century ago.
    So this time I will be voting for the candidate whose party seems most likely to achieve that. I think Danus Skene (who, like me, might be described as a refugee from the wreckage of New Labour) would make an excellent MP for the Northern Isles. I wish him success.

    • Johan Adamson

      • April 20th, 2015 9:01

      I absolutely agree. And I find it so strange to watch TV where at least 3 other parties are to the left of Labour and they find themselves defending the middle ground with the Tories. It is also sad that the Labour leader in Scotland had to resign due to pressure from the Westminster Labour party, from which Jim Murphy has been parachuted in.

      It is so sad the Liberals did not make more of the power they undoubtedly had as part of the government and the power they now fear the SNP will have.

    • John Tulloch

      • April 20th, 2015 9:46


      The Tories may well have aspired to be the “worst Tory government in your lifetime”, however, the Liberals, give them their due, and despite their renewable energy nonsense, have ensured that the coalition has nowhere near reached your description.

      Danus Skene may well make an excellent MP as a personality, however, his party is one whose track record in Shetland is utterly lamentable – centralisation, exclusion from RET, housing support grant seizure and who ‘with a little help from COSLA’ – “GARY!” – is presiding over under-funding of Shetland’s education system by 25 percent, even after cuts of 20 percent of spend.

      I am astonished to hear this recommendation from a senior Shetland Islands Councillor.

      • Johan Adamson

        • April 20th, 2015 11:34

        I think we can give them a chance to get these things right now

        You forgot VE

      • Derick Tulloch

        • April 20th, 2015 12:01

        How many times does this RET nonsense have to be corrected?
        The distance involved means RET would result in a fare increase for Shetland.

      • John Tulloch

        • April 20th, 2015 12:54

        They’ve had eight years in which to “get these things right” and you’re wanting to give them a chance to build on their appalling track record?

        Do you think they’ll reverse their VE decision if Danus Skene is elected?

        Do you think they’ll reverse their centralisation of the fire and police services if Danus Skene is elected?

        Do you think they’ll reistate SIC’s housing support grant if Danus Skene is elected?

        Do you think they’ll stump up the £10 Mpa education under-funding if Danus Skene is elected?

        Do you think…… need I say more?

      • Ali Inkster

        • April 20th, 2015 14:00

        What part needs correcting Derick, the bit where it would of given us a reduction or the bit where the SSnp changed the way it was worked out to make sure it didn’t give us a reduction? And who gives a toss what the reduction is called as long as there is one, they could call it the “King Salmond of Scotland fair fares for all” for all I care just so long as it means you don’t need a second mortgage to travel south.

      • John Tulloch

        • April 20th, 2015 14:28

        Precisely, Derick Tulloch, as I said, they fiddled the calculation so they could say that and not have to pay it for Shetland where, incidentally, it costs islanders the biggest ‘arm and a leg’ to travel.

        SNP internet trolls tell me I’m “playing a broken record” but it’s their own track record that I’m playing and they don’t like to hear it played loudly.

        RET is a scam. People don’t buy, license and insure cars in order to take them to Aberdeen on the boat. Those are what accountants call ‘sunk costs’ (no pun intended!), costs which cannot be recovered and are irrelevant to any decision on whether or to ‘drive to Aberdeen’ or take the boat.

        No business would take decisions like that because doing so could lose them a lot of money, very quickly, indeed.

        If I decide to take my car and three passengers on a 360-mile round trip, the only costs which are relevant to that decision are ones directly related to the mileage travelled, namely fuel and consumables, maintenance and a small amount for mileage related depreciation.

        So my 360-mile (180 miles x 2) drive will cost me about £100, not the £600 quoted by a recent contributor relating to travel for a family of four plus car on the ferry.

        As it stands RET is a con and Shetlanders, as usual, are the victims.

        Where is this formula that’s used for calculating RET? Llet’s see it, now please, BEFORE THE ELECTION!

      • Johan Adamson

        • April 20th, 2015 14:55

        They’ve had 8 years in the Scottish parl not at Westminster

        I dont agree with their renewables policy, I think that we need to develop a better energy policy in both parliaments, looking at the risks of all the energy types including nuclear, I dont think Danus should just rubber stamp VE cos its too big. I think they will get their allocations for education right in Scotland next time. And I also think that we pay way over the odds, more than we used to and more than other Scots for our transport. But I am sure Danus will sort this out along with whomever our MSP is.

      • Robert Sim

        • April 20th, 2015 17:49

        John, I need to point out that all of the points to which you refer are devolved matters. This election is not for Holyrood. We are voting here for the best candidate and party to represent Shetland at UK level.

      • John Tulloch

        • April 20th, 2015 21:43

        Aye, Robert, they are, indeed, devolved matters and this is, indeed, a UK parliamentary election.

        As the SNP has never had any power in the UK, we have nothing on which to judge their likely performance, bar what they have done while they have been in charge of “devolved matters”.

        Their track record in Shetland is lamentable.

      • Ali Inkster

        • April 20th, 2015 21:49

        Johan and Robert you seem to forget that we have SSnp representing us at hollyrood and to date they have done nothing to sort out any of the above mentioned problems. So why should we vote for them for Westminster?

      • Johan Adamson

        • April 21st, 2015 9:14

        Well Ali, we dont have a credible alternative, but then I do support home rule as well. I cant vote Labour. Their stock answers are driving me insane, more than stage- managed, they are puppets. When asked will you ally with SNP they say they are not going to lose. If you are in the least pragmatic you really need an answer to this. And Labour all say the same (this is Balls, Ed) they are not allowed an ounce of thought or judgement, so controlled is the environment. This is why we are not believing any of them. Liberals are ineffectual, sold out, turncoats, and they have also lost the ground they used to stand on, as someone else commentated above. I think I can persuade the SNP on the things I dont quite agree with. I noticed a few SNP members at their recent do who I know are also opposed to VE.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • April 21st, 2015 9:35

        Perhaps you could give us a list of all the wonderful things that the [absentee] Ali Carmichael has achieved while being in power on a UK level, and as Secretary of State for Scotland Ian? Please share with us the benefits of this “once in a lifetime” opportunity?

      • Johan Adamson

        • April 21st, 2015 10:00

        Basically there are SNP supporters here who also oppose VE because the majority of Shetlanders oppose VE

  • Ian Sinclair

    • April 20th, 2015 0:27

    Orcadians & Shetlanders Wake up. For many years the Liberals, like Jo Grimond & to a lesser degree Jim Wallace, have served us well. However the present incumbent is a Charletont A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
    He stands as a Lib-Dem but his actions portray him as an out & out Tory. I think it is time to vote in somebody more worthy of our trust. He didn’t even bother to turn up at the Hustings.

  • Peter Dodge

    • April 20th, 2015 10:15

    It seems such a long time ago that there was a federalist, central ground party in Scotland called the Scottish Liberal Party.
    To all intents and purposes it was very much a Scottish (small c) conservative party with a big social conscience. Its supporters represented a wide kirk, ranging from those thirled to the land (and much closer to poverty than riches), to the educated, well-to-do professionals with a strong representation from every trade in between.
    So Mr Carmichael, take a good look at your voting record if not your conscience and see where you and your colleagues have placed that party today.
    Surely you must be coming to the realisation that until such time as you and your so called liberal party has disappeared into oblivion there can be no opportunity to create a new “Scottish” Liberal Party which exhibits decency and morality.
    It may provide you with a small consolation that the North British Labour Party with three generations of exploitation of the poor and disadvantaged have also been found out and despite the bellicose rantings of their self-serving, millionaire leaders face a similar, long overdue self-destruction.
    At least in voting for Danus Skene we have the opportunity to return to the values of decency, fairness and integrity whilst joining with the young folk in their proclamation of hope over fear.
    Peter Dodge

  • Fiona Campbell

    • April 20th, 2015 10:37

    Very interesting article, thanks. I live in another part of Scotland but am watching with great interest to see how Carmichael does in the GE. As someone sitting in, what is widely regarded as, a seat for life, I wonder if he is perhaps the tiniest bit worried about the future. His part in “Frenchgate” can’t have done him any favours or his vote to silence whistleblowers over “historical” child sex abuse. How very “liberal” of him.

    • John Tulloch

      • April 20th, 2015 22:01

      On the other hand, Fiona, Alistair Carmichael has seen to it that Westminster now, officially, recognises the significantly higher cost of living and providing services in remote, rural areas, notably, those forming the Our Islands, Our Future campaign group, as well as the shocking levels of ‘fuel poverty’ and ‘extreme fuel poverty’ experienced in those areas.

      Contrast this with the SNP’s track record of centralisation of essential services, stopping the SIC’s housing support grant, under-funding education (with help from COSLA) in OIOF island groups by 25 percent or more, and playing ducks and drakes with RET on ferry fares.

      Not exactly ‘a pretty picture’, is it, Fiona?

      • Fiona Campbell

        • April 23rd, 2015 14:27

        You appear to have found something pro snp in my comments. My interest is mainly to see justice for victims of establishment depravity and Carmichael has failed to show even a half sense of morality.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • April 23rd, 2015 21:31

        Fiona, I have no idea what your political preferences are, however if you even so much as hint at having any sort of empathy towards the SNP then I’m afraid you’ll be subjected to varying degrees of misinformation, antiquated statistics, and downright hatred from the “Usual suspects”, [you’ll soon realize who they are] Could I possibly suggest that, even if you quite like what the SNP stand for, that you keep it quiet?…It’s just that I can’t bare to hear all the same old arguments from the same old people, talking the same old guff? …Don’t get me wrong, I quite like constructive debate, but when the “usual suspects”, get going, it’s really quite pointless correcting them, as they’re all incapable of ever being wrong. Unless of course you don’t mind hitting your head off a brick wall?…In which case, be my guest and I’ll have a few days off?…thankx in advance 🙂

  • Charlie Gallagher

    • April 20th, 2015 12:53

    I think this is a case where we need a Doctor’s Certificate instead of ‘Self Certification’. Given, if opinion polls are to be believed and Alistair looks like being the ‘Last Man Standing’ he should have crawled out of his sick bed and got to the Althing, he should then have explained to the audience his condition along with a short address and then ask that he be excused. Even us so called nasty ‘Nats’ would have applauded him and have wished him well and a speedy recovery. Instead we are left with more questions than answers given that Tavish was allegedly too busy playing darts to stand-in. Talk about taking your Electorate for granted.

  • Robert Smith

    • April 20th, 2015 16:07

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the debate but as the only candidate funding their campaign entirely out of his own pocket, I couldn’t afford the time and after a winter of continuous gales, I had to be out fishing.
    Mr McGarvey says it wasn’t Labour that ruined the economy and the banks.
    Does he not know that Gordon Brown took control of the banks out of the hands of The Bank of England and gave it to the FSA which he set up, and installed as its initial head, his ex flat mate?
    Does he not know that the FSA relaxed bank lending criteria to an insane extent which led to 125% mortgages, self certification mortgages, multiple store and credit cards and huge unsecured personal loans?
    Does he not know that Brown’s FSA allowed the banks to lend hundreds or even thousands of times what they held in reserve.
    Does he not know that previous to Brown’s interference, they could only lend up to 10 times what they held in reserve?
    Does he not know that the FSA signed off on all the mental deals and credit default swaps and bank takeovers even AFTER the crisis broke?
    Does he not know that the resultant credit bubble created by Brown’s interference led to huge rises in the cost of housing and cost of living?
    Does he not know that Brown overspent and borrowed to a huge extent at the height of his illusionary boom – quite at odds to Keynesian theory to which his party continuously refer?
    Is Mr McGarvey ignorant of the facts or is he being dishonest?
    Not a good look either way.


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