The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrived in Shetland this morning off the North Boat and immediately faced criticism over the SNP government’s record on ferry services and council funding.
Campaign group Wir Shetland has opted to boycott today’s visit which is part of Ms Sturgeon’s election campaign tour of the country.
While here she will open the local SNP election office and address members of the public with a question and answer session tonight at the Shetland Museum.
Wir Shetland, the multi-party group demanding Shetland autonomy, says notable examples of the SNP administration’s “unfair” treatment of the isles are:
• Since 2013-14, Shetland and Orkney ferry subsidies have been cut;
• A massive, systematic underfunding of SIC services;
• This year’s £5 million cash cut in SIC annual funding while Holyrood received a cash increase from Westminster.
However, Ms Sturgeon plans to use the visit to Shetland and Orkney to stress her party’s commitment to giving greater powers to Scottish islands.
She said: “Our island communities are part of the fabric of Scotland, and after years of neglect by the previous Labour/Lib Dem Executive, the SNP government has done everything we can to support them.
“I’ll be setting out key commitments for Scotland’s islands during my visit as well as learning more about what islanders want from their government.”
Islands minister Derek Mackay is accompanying the First Minister on her visit.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem candidate Tavish Scott, who is being backed by Wir Shetland, has challenged Ms Sturgeon to cut ferry fares on Shetland’s sea links to and from Aberdeen.
He has pointed to figures claiming that the Scottish government last year cut ferry fares by 55 per cent on the west coast of Scotland routes run by the state-owned Calmac shipping company.
He claims that, over the last nine years of the SNP government, Shetland ferry fares have steadily risen.
Mr Scott said, “The ferry service we need serves very aspect of island life. Affordable and reliable transport is an essential investment in Shetland’s future. In the middle of the school holidays hundreds of Shetland families use the boat south to the Scottish mainland. But a family of four plus the car costs more than £400.
“I want the SNP to be fair to Shetland. They have cut ferry fares on the west coast by 55 per cent. That is great news for those islands. Why have they not done that for us? What have we done wrong? As I knock on doors all across Shetland this issue comes up time and time again.
“After nine years of an SNP government Nicola Sturgeon now says she wants to ask islanders what they want. It’s easy Nicola. Cut our ferry fares by 50 per cent as you’ve done on Scotland’s west coast. Pay crofters when you promise, not months and months late. Start being flexible on fishing regulations rather than tying our boats to the pier in government red tape. And reverse your cuts to our schools that hit the education of Shetland’s next generation.”
• More to follow