An Althing debate touted by one punter as an epic “rumble in the jungle” turned out to be a rout in the Staney Hill as the opponents of the motion “the charitable trust cuts are not charitable” stilled the voices of revolution with a remarkable display of reasoning.
A straw poll before the debate, which was held for the first time at the Staney Hill Hall, showed 11 hands for the motion, with only three against, and 17 undecided. It was a healthy turnout for what promised to be a controversial motion and audience members continued to file in after the initial vote was taken.
Introduced by chairwoman Genevieve White as a “well-known dentist” Ian Tinkler, proposing the motion, is a vociferous and vitriolic terror of The Shetland Times cybercolumns. He proved more of a pussycat in the debating chamber: at times halting, he eventually ground to a complete halt.
Mr Tinkler began outlining the self-defined objectives of the Shetland Charitable Trust an its wholly owned subsidiary Shetland Leasing and Properties (Slap). None of these mission statements (published on the organisations’ own websites) gell with their present activities, he alleged, citing the sale of land that houses the engineering firm HNP to a developer.
Mr Tinkler scored some points with the audience when he brought up the controversial sale which was “destroying” the well known locally owned firm. He also cited the trust’s hiring of a PR company in times of cutbacks as a “crazy way” of addressing the perceived lack of accountability of the trust and the reticence of the Slap chairwoman to speak to the press. It is “unethical” and “commercial Rachmanism”, he said.
Next Mr Tinkler trained his sights on Viking Energy – an investment that the trust was “gambling” millions of pounds of public money on.
However opposition leader Jonathan Wills, who is vice-chairman of the charitable trust, was having none of it. Dr Wills said that he had seen some “whacky motions” in the 53 years since he first spoke at the Althing, but this one was really “off the wall.”
He asked how many people had actually attended a charitable trust meeting, and, receiving a paltry show of hands, invited people to come to trust meetings and indeed stand as trustees.He also spoke of the “serial abuse” that infested the “online version of the medieval witch trials.”
Dr Wills explained the history and status of the trust and the legal parameters within which it had to operate. Above all, he emphasised that the trust had to cut its cloth to fit the financial realities of day, and this meant cutbacks now to ensure charity in the future.
Seconding the motion, Shetland Times accountant Johan Adamson, an Althing newbie, gave her version of how she would handle the finances of a slimmed-down and streamlined trust which would operate minus the various professional fees that it is encumbered with.
Finally, SCT trustee James Smith, who introduced an element of humour to the debate, powerfully reiterated Dr Wills position that cuts were charitable if they helped guarantee the trust’s future ability to give money to good causes. The trust would be bust, he said, by 2059 at best if spending continued unabated, and as early as 2048 in a worst case scenario.
After tea and bannocks, the panel then faced interrogation from the audience, mainly directed at Wills and Smith.
Most persistent questioners were Kathy Greaves and long-term SCT critic Pete Hamilton. Chris Bunyan pointed out that for all of the heat of the debate – very little of it had focussed on the motion.
When the final show of hands was taken, it was a resounding vindication for the opponents of the motion. Only five still believed the trust’s cuts were uncharitable while 20 disagreed and 12 were still undecided. It was a clear majority.
For more on the Althing debate, see Friday’s Shetland Times.