The Liberal Democrats have lost their way and no longer deserve to represent the isles, Shetland’s SNP candidate has warned.
Miriam Brett says she has been left disappointed with the party which – she insists – has gone adrift after almost 70 years of representation in Shetland.
Her comments came during a Q&A session held at the Shetland Museum on Tuesday night, which was also attended by Mhairi Black, who became Westminster’s youngest MP at the age of 22 in the 2015 general election since 1832.
Such was the draw for the party faithful, the session had to be held twice, with the 122-capacity room filling up on both occasions.
Ms Brett, who was speaking a day before her 26th birthday, told the packed audience there would be “no greater honour” than to represent the people of Shetland as their MP. She is standing for the SNP after being left disillusioned by the Lib Dems.
“We’ve had Liberal Democrat representation for nearly 70 years. The historic connection between the Northern Isles and the Liberal Democrats is hugely tight. But I just don’t feel that they are the party they used to be. I don’t feel they represent us in the way they once did.”
She said she did not see what the Liberal Democrats stood for, and what their values were.
She pointed to the previous decision to go into coalition with the Tories as a “fundamental betrayal”.
“One of the arguments put forward by the Liberal Democrats is they offered ‘Tory light’. Some of the things the Lib Dems voted for are not Tory light. The bedroom tax is not Tory light.”
But she said the SNP’s opposition to austerity was “consistent and unified”.
“What we have achieved at Westminster is significant as well. There is a huge list of things we have achieved, even with having third party status. I offer a fresh voice. I offer a change. And I think it’s time for change.”
However, Ms Black was less sympathetic towards the Lib Dem’s past record in the isles. She said the Liberals were complicit in the austerity agenda driven by the Tories, which was now having a severe impact on communities across the country.
“I don’t have the same historic ties to the Liberal Democrats whatsoever,” she said. “They’ve always been a non-entity to me.
“What the Tories are doing now is nothing more than continuing with what the Liberal Democrats signed up for and propped them up to do.”
She said the country had suffered “exactly the kind of Conservative government David Cameron wanted”, even with the Lib Dems at the table. And she had harsh words to say about Alistair Carmichael, too.
“The representative for this area is a proven liar. I don’t use that word lighly, and I don’t know the guy personally, but in terms of his politics that was a representative who deliberately and knowingly lied to the electorate, lied to his constituents. I don’t want somebody like that representing me in parliament.”
As well as the bedroom tax, much of the discussion during the evening focused on welfare cuts, the infamous “rape clause”, food banks, the replacement of the Trident nuclear defence system, trade union legislation and the scrapping of human rights legislation – something which had Ms Black shaking her head in incredulity.
Lerwick North councillor John Fraser was keen to know why the nationalists had so far failed to plug the £7 million funding gap in its inter-island ferry service.
Ms Brett replied: “As far as I’m aware there are discussions that have been going on with the likes of Humza Yousaf, the local authority and Transport Scotland. I wholeheartedly support a reduction in cost for ferries.”
But Ms Black said it pointed to a bigger issue, with the Scottish government having to spend its resources to mitigate against the problems created by the Tories at Westminster, most notably with the bedroom tax.
The so-called “rape clause” was another thing Holyrood was being encouraged by Westminster to sort out itself.
“I know we’ve had Ruth Davidson saying in her answer to the ‘rape clause’ question that the Scottish government could create a new benefit. I say, ‘no, have a word with your boss’.”
Former SIC member Iris Hawkins wondered whether Ms Brett supported large-scale renewable projects like the Viking Energy windfarm.
There is a huge list of things we have achieved, even with having third party status. I offer a fresh voice. I offer a change. And I think it’s time for change. MIRIAM BRETT
Ms Brett said communities needed to be kept in the loop at all times.
“My take on this is there should be as much consultation at community level as possible.”
On the day that Labour officially launched its election manifesto, party supporter Irvine Tait said Jeremy Corbyn’s proposals were contained in “probably the most pro trade-union manifesto”.
He wanted assurances that the SNP would seek to scrap anti trade-union legislation being brought by the Conservatives – something Ms Black described as “one of the most terrifying pieces of legislation”.
But Mr Tait wanted further assurance, namely that Thatcher-era legislation would be scrapped as well.
“Yes,” was Ms Black’s succinct reply. Ms Brett decided to dwell on comments made by Theresa May, namely that the Conservatives were the party of the “working people”.
“I couldn’t believe that she’d have the audacity to say that.”
Vaila Robertson questioned the women on SNP support for the fishing industry, which has come under scrutiny in recent weeks with nationalist politicians appearing to hold opposing views over the Common Fisheries Policy.
Ms Brett said that was one of the issues she felt most passionately about. She added SNP policy was to “radically reform” CFP.
“And if we can’t reform it, it should be scrapped”.
Foodbanks are never far away from any political discussion these days. Ms Black pointed to the Edinburgh-based Poverty Alliance which had taken a stand against foodbanks.
“These things don’t just happen. People don’t just go hungry. People are driven to foodbanks by policy agendas that are fundamentally cruel.”
Both Ms Black and Ms Brett are in favour of lowering the voting age to allow 16 and 17 year-olds the chance to vote. Ms Black said there was a time during the independence referendum campaign when Scotland must have been the most politically engaged country imaginable.