Election candidates battled it out last night in Shetland Museum and Archives as they bid to become the next northern isles MP.
Four out of the five candidates faced a packed audience of voters at BBC Radio Shetland’s hustings.
Ukip candidate Robert Smith was invited by the BBC but did not attend, instead questions were posed to Conservative candidate Donald Cameron, Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, the SNP’s Danus Skene and Labour candidate Gerry McGarvey.
Each of the candidates set out their stalls in the opening speeches with Cameron stating: “This is one of the most important elections we as a country have ever faced”.
Voters, he said were faced with a simple choice as only David Cameron or Ed Miliband were going to be Prime
Minister and next week voters should back the Conservatives because of the party’s record in government over the past five years.
The party had restored economic credibility and there were more people in work than ever before. The alternative was a Labour government “propped up by the SNP”.
Mr Carmichael said it had been a privilege to be the northern isles MP since 2001 and thanked the local people for their support, something, he did not take for granted.
He spoke about the importance of taking local issues “to the heart of government” and his role as a government minister.
He cited his involvement in the saving of the coastguard station, his involvement in emergency tug cover, and the SIC housing debt – taking the case from the town hall to treasury.
The decision to go into a coalition was not an easy one, said Mr Carmichael, but the result was that the deficit had reduced to half of what it was, unemployment was down and inflation was at a historic low.
“Borrowing costs are lower than they have ever been,” he said.
“We have a strong growing economy and as a result of that in the next parliament we are now able to look at putting more money into services like health and education.”
Mr McGarvey said he was standing on a radical programme, which if Labour was to get into government would mean a redistribution of wealth.
He said the wealthy would begin to pay their share,“in addressing austerity measures which the poor and vulnerable have been burdened with over the last five years.”
Mr Skene spoke about prosperity, fairness and good governance and how to govern “efficiently and accountably”.
The SNP stood for a “systematic reduction” in the level of deficit, but “in doing so we have to reinvest in the economy as we go”, he said “you stop digging when you’re in a hole but you also leave yourself the means to get out of it”.
George Osborne was still borrowing £90 billion a year. Inequalities went back to previous Labour and Conservative governments, said Mr Skene and had then been accelerated.
“The poor and those on low incomes must not pay for the failures of the rich,” and “foodbank Britain is not acceptable.”
Questions then went to the floor and candidates were asked where their party would make the cuts.
Mr Carmichael said his party had identified a number of areas in welfare spending. Universal benefits could be means tested.
“It’s not just about the spending cuts,” he added and noted the Lib Dem version of a mansion tax, closing down tax loopholes and “ensuring tax avoidance is minimised”
Mr McGarvey said he was not “talking cuts at all” because the promises his party were committed to “have been fully costed and don’t include any additional borrowing.”
He said Labour would be “taxing big business”, implementing a mansion tax and targeting top earners.
But Mr McGarvey was challenged about Labour’s plans to cut some front line services.
Cuts would be hard, but they would be fairer, he said. He agreed there was a commitment by Labour to cap the welfare budget.
Asked if Labour could raise £7.5 billion through targeting tax avoidance, he said “the devil is in the detail” but “we are exploring something that has been avoided for so long.”
He noted the party targeting non-doms and their tax contributions.
“We are grabbing the bull by the horns in areas that have not been addressed until now.”
Mr Skene said “to some extent” the issue was about the redistribution of income rather than cuts.
He noted the problems of indirect taxation and VAT – where the less well off were paying more as proportion of what they spend on tax than the better off.
But the SNP was not looking for significant per-capita cuts.
“We are looking for a reorganisation of how money is made and how it is taxed,” he said.
However one major cut consideration was Trident, he said.
Full fiscal autonomy “would make the management of the Scottish budget much more manageable and much more accountable to the people of Scotland. So major cuts no.”
“I rather like the leader of my party’s phrase that ‘we go to London to try to provide the backbone of a Labour government which may not have one’.”
However, Mr Skene accepted that the period of austerity would be longer under the SNP.
He was challenged by Mr Carmichael who said: “Is that a concession that under the SNP that austerity will last longer and cuts will go deeper in the five years?”
“I would resist the word ‘austerity’,” said Mr Skene.
“But the process of bringing the deficit under control, to getting it down to a manageable proportion of the national revenue will take a number of years, yes.”
The Conservatives would have to make further cuts, said Mr Cameron – with £13 billion from departmental savings, £12 billion in welfare savings and £9 billion from tax evasion savings.
But he could not give specifics as to where cuts could be made in welfare.
In 2018 they hoped to move into a surplus, he said.
“We say deficit reduction has to continue. We have to entrench the progress we have made towards economic recovery. Tough decisions will have to be made.”
More from the hustings in Friday’s Shetland Times.