WATCH: Tory candidate defends Prime Minister’s foodbank comments
The Tory candidate for Orkney and Shetland in next month’s general election has dismissed claims that the campaign is a two-horse race between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.
Jamie Halcro Johnston has also backed comments made in the national media by Theresa May that there were “many complex reasons” for people using foodbanks.
It comes after figures revealed earlier this month showed Shetland had more than double the uptake of emergency food parcels per head as Scotland and the UK as a whole.
The Prime Minister came under criticism recently when she was asked about nurses having to rely on free food hand-outs.
Mr Halcro Johnston said he had not planned to visit the foodbank in Lerwick, but would be happy to do so.
He said: “I don’t think it was just Theresa May who said there were ‘many complex reasons’.
“It’s not just a question of one person’s opinion here and there, there are studies into foodbank uses and why they’ve grown.
“There are a number of different reasons why foodbank usage across Scotland and across the United Kingdom has increased.”
Mr Halcro Johnston said it was “not always the case” that people relied on foodbanks because of benefit cuts. The problem should be viewed outside the “political atmosphere”.
He said: “It could be simply that they have large bills, or large expenses that come in at a time that is difficult financially for them.
“To find a solution to foodbanks and to the problems people face we actually need to look at the real reasons behind them. I don’t think that can be done in what is essentially a political atmosphere.”
Foodbank volunteers have repeatedly highlighted benefit sanctions as one of the reasons why people come to rely on the service.
Mr Halcro Johnston agreed the imposition of sanctions for “various misdemeanours” should be re-examined.
“I do think we have to look at things like that and make sure that people who are obviously reliant on benefits are receiving money from the state to support them and support their children,” he said.
“We can’t have people being denied the money they need to survive to pay their bills simply because of one-off misdemeanours. We do have to look at that, but let’s do that from a non-political position.
“Let’s look at this as an issue, but let’s do it on a basis of ‘let’s try to find a solution,’ rather than using it as a political stick to hit the government with.”
Asked whether he felt the snap election was a simple choice between the Lib Dems and SNP, Mr Halcro Johnston replied: “Not one vote’s been cast yet, and people will be making their minds up right up to the time that they vote whether thy vote by post or by going into the polling stations.
“It suits both the SNP and the Liberal Democrats to present it as a two-horse race. I think Shetlanders and people in Orkney as well may have a different opinion of that.”
He accused the two main rival parties of ignoring the democrat decisions of voters, calling the parties’ respective plans to rerun the EU and the Scottish Independence referendums “the height of arrogance”.
“It’s time the Liberal Democrats and the SNP learnt to respect the democratic decisions of voters as reflected in the results of the EU and Scottish Independence referendums,” he said.
“Despite a clear vote against independence as recently as 2014 – and nowhere more so than here in Orkney and Shetland – the SNP want to hold yet another referendum to tear Scotland out of the UK. And, if they won that, without any mandate to do so, they would then seek to take us straight back into the EU, regardless of how damaging the terms of that entry could be.
“And the Liberal Democrats want to rerun the EU referendum, ignoring the decision UK voters made only last year and mirroring the SNP’s approach of looking to hold as many referendums as they need to get the result they want.
“We don’t get to pick and chose whether we accept the results of democratically held referendums. It’s the height of arrogance to suggest voters were misled or wrong just because the Liberal Democrats and the SNP didn’t get the results they wanted.”