Brexit motion defeated at first Althing debate of the season

The first of this season’s Althing debates drew a considerable crowd. It’s hard to say whether this was due to its central location (Isleburgh) or the motion: “Brexit is best for Shetland”.

Either way, the evening was a thought-provoking one, with four informative and engaging speakers, who were followed by a lively question and answer session in the second half.

Speaking for the motion were Yes Shetland founder Brian Nugent and Fjara Cafe Bar owner Dennis Leask, while speaking against were councillor Gary Robinson and businesswoman Helen Erwood.

Chairman Andrew Halcrow welcomed the speakers and the audience, and conducted an initial show of hands. Nine were in favour of the motion, 31 against. 18 were undecided.

Brian Nugent
Brian Nugent

Mr Nugent, who was first to speak, began by assuring his listeners that this would be “the first and only time” he would speak on the side of the Union Jack. He described the EU referendum campaign as “appalling” in its negativity.

Mr Nugent, who campaigned locally, was keen to stress that “at no point” was immigration any part of his message, adding that without European migrants the local health service and hotel trade would suffer, not to mention his 5-a-side football team.

Mr Nugent argued that the EU was an anti-democratic organisation which interfered with democratically elected governments (he gave the example of Greece), adding: “If you enter the EU, you give away your sovereignty”.

In contrast, UK life post-Brexit, while uncertain, seemed to offer groups “of all interests” the opportunity to “make their cases” and “take action”.

The first speaker to oppose the motion was Mr Robinson.

Mr Robinson spoke of all the good things which Shetland has enjoyed thanks to the European Union, listing piers, roads and Mareel as benefits which we might not have were it not for EU funding. He went on to speak about a range of European funds which had been of direct benefit to Shetlanders, including the agricultural support.

Councillor Gary Robinson. Click on image to enlarge.
Councillor Gary Robinson. Click on image to enlarge.

Mr Robinson was also concerned that young people’s ability to work and travel in Europe will be severely curtailed.

Mr Leask was next to speak for the motion, although he did commence by wondering just how marketing-savvy his stance was, given the large number of Fjara regulars he had spotted in the audience.

He began by saying that he felt that the referendum had bridged, rather than created divides, as he would never have dreamed “of sharing a stage with one of these terrible nationalists” before.

Mr Leask gave a number of examples of why he thought Shetland would be better off without the EU. In his view, the “concept of fiscal responsibility” did not exist for the EU – 20 million euros were recently spent on a social media tribute for the organisation.

For Mr Leask, that sat uncomfortably in an era of widespread poverty and unemployment.

Mr Leask made several references to things he had witnessed himself, both at home and abroad. Of his travels around the Mediterranean he remarked: “People in the Med are more relaxed. They’re not as materialistic as us. You can’t put all of these different types of people in the same socioeconomic straitjacket.”

Ms Erwood, speaking against the motion, introduced herself as a “migrant”, who had travelled around the country before making her home in Shetland. She admitted that Brexit hadn’t been at all good for her or her business.

The day after the vote, she had been forced to reregister her company (a consultancy serving the pharmaceutical industry) in Ireland: a procedure which generated a great deal of additional expense and time. She added that the UK pharmaceutical industry had been “devastated” by the referendum result.

Ms Erwood laid the blame firmly at the feet of the Westminster government, to which Shetland is altogether “off the radar”. She added: “We will never be considered for extra subsidies when the chips are down”.

The prospects for young people were, in Ms Erwood’s opinion, pretty grim. She outlined a bleak future in which a failing economy would result in poor roads, less frequent ferries. school closures and the depopulation of smaller islands. Local facilities, such as Mareel, the library and the museum would be under severe strain.

After a break for bannocks, tea and traybakes the debate opened up to receive comments and questions from the floor.

Pia Duernberger, who described herself as a European who has lived in Shetland for 32 years, remarked that recent months had left her feeling “uncomfortable” in this country for the first time.

Ms Duernberger added that she cared less about a strong economy, and more about an inclusive society.

I could not vote in this referendum – so much for your democracy – PIA DUERNBERGER

She said: “I could not vote in this referendum – so much for your democracy.”

This was followed by a lengthy comment on the Common Fisheries Policy by Jonathan Wills. Dr Wills concluded his speech by saying that in his view, “we do not have to do what an ignorant ill-informed majority tells us to do”.

The last question of the evening was from Lindsey Sim who asked: “What will Brexit mean for young people?”

Mr Leask assured her that Brexit would result in a stronger economy, which underpins everything. His positive view was not reflected in the final poll: 12 voted for the motion, 35 against, while 6 were still undecided.

Genevieve White


Add Your Comment
  • Brian Smith

    • October 30th, 2016 11:58

    Mr Nugent’s central argument was that Shetland fisheries are doing very well – but that he didn’t know what the prospects would be for them pro-Brexit. That position didn’t help him win a debate that Brexit is good for Shetland.

  • Robert sandison

    • October 30th, 2016 14:36

    A debate about Brexit and Shetland and no mention of fishing ?. Membership of the EU has had a very negative effect on Shetlands Fishing industry and most fishermen are delighted about Brexit.

  • John Tulloch

    • October 30th, 2016 16:00

    Fisherman Gary Smith posted this on Facebook, today:

    “I am fishing 50 miles east of Lerwick and this morning alone 7 very large Norwegian Mackerel trawlers have passed me, 4 going home full up and 3 returning to the grounds 20 miles east of fair isle.
    There are currently 7 pelagic trawlers owned in Shetland so what has passed me today is equal to Shetlands entire fleet.
    The vessels fishing south of sumburgh and east fair isle are from Scotland, Norway and Denmark.
    The vast majority of the fish being caught in Shetland waters being taken by foreign vessels, this is nothing new and has gone on for centuries, but why do we allow this to happen?
    The CFP (common fisheries policy) introduced the quota system and the historical track record system which prevents new entrants into most fisheries.
    That is good for anyone already established and has quota but it has closed the door for future entrants unless they have family connections and inherit the quota to get a start.
    It is such a shame to think that fishing in Shetland will quite possibly die out, being purchased by foreign nations thanks to the dreadful rules created in Brussels.”

  • David Spence

    • October 30th, 2016 22:30

    It does not surprise me that those people who voted for Brexit, obviously did not have a plan B, in place if, much to their surprise, indeed things went their way.

    Now that the people, a small minority of only 4%, have spoken and want to break away from the EU, they have not got a clue what to do next.

    As for Brexit being better for Shetland and Scottish Fishing, this very much remains to be seen. In fact, I would go as far as to say it will more than likely be more damaging than good……….spending years and years at the negotiating table of every country in and out of the EU before some half-baked agreement is settled……………Remember Brexit lot…….you cannot go back to the way things were before 1974.

    Looking on the bright side of things, this Government can now give all control of the country to USA Companies via the TTIP Agreement……..where the UK will become the ‘ slave nation of Europe ‘ and workers will have zero rights……….working or human.

    But we may still be allowed to keep our currency……….if it is not changed to the US Dollar by then ?

    • Robert Sandison

      • October 31st, 2016 15:23

      Regarding TTIP Trump says he will dump it if he wins . Hillary is all for it .

      • David Spence

        • October 31st, 2016 16:07

        Hi Robert, Trump may dump the idea of TTIP with the EU, but I doubt he will forego it via the support of a Conservative Government in the UK. It is almost a certainty TTIP will be a none starter in Europe, despite the recent events between the EU and Canada……….which, I believe, is still a contentious issue with many in the EU……….so it is not, as yet, a 100% deal, I believe?

        However, when it comes to believing what Trump says, I would take it with an exceedingly large amount of salt. lol

  • Robert Sandison

    • October 31st, 2016 15:34

    Sanctions imposed by the EU on the Russian federation has had a very serious negative effects on Shetland fish producers like Shetland catch . Norway ,Iceland and the Faroes are not effected as they are not in the EU .

    • Davie Sandison

      • November 1st, 2016 13:05

      It is incorrect to state that Norway ‘is not affected as they are not in the EU’. Norway is also excluded by the Russian trade embargo and therefore a huge market for pelagic fish and farmed salmon is disrupted for them too. This has led to displacement to other markets, which is the biggest issue for this country

  • David Spence

    • October 31st, 2016 18:12

    There is no question about the consequences of Brexit, and the projected gloom this may cause to the UK economy in the near future. It is certainly a situation many people were not expecting, and it has left the Brexit lot in a limbo situation of ‘ What will we do next? ‘.

    People may say the economy and the UK will prosper better from breaking their links from the EU, but those same people, just like the fishing, have not given any evidence or substance as to how they can backup their opinion based on………what??? I have still yet to hear the positive aspects of Brexit.

    Those same people also go on about the EU being a 500 million people market for free trade etc etc. but do not say how this will be achieved and will such trade deals be cheaper for British Industry/Exports than what was before.?

    It seems that Brexit has been a situation of counting our chickens before they have hatched, and getting it seriously wrong.

  • David Spence

    • November 1st, 2016 3:58

    I am intrigued as to what exactly gives the right of Scotland/UK to claim fishing grounds (greater than 12 miles out from the coast) as theirs when, as far as I can see, there is no agreement who has the right to fish where after Brexit?

    In fact, do the Brexit lot even have a plan for anything?

    I would be interested to know from those people who voted to leave, their input into such an arrangement or agreement regarding Shetland, Scotland and UK Fishing Rights.

    I would also like to know what the Brexiteers think of how they are going to treat EU countries which have bought (or UK fishermen have sold to) the fishing rights and license of a British license to fish the sea’s and land their catch in their own country rather than the UK?

    I suppose Brexit can, literally, wipe the slate clean……………….and leave blank for some time until they get over the shock they actually won, and any plan thereafter was regarded as a secondary but meaningless thought.

    • Ali Inkster

      • November 1st, 2016 14:20

      Not “intrigued enough to look up UNCLOS though!


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