Althing forum attempts to unpick Brexit
Casting off the traditional debate format in favour of a forum Saturday’s Althing attempted to unpick Brexit and its potential impact on Shetland.
Offering insights from their respective fields and discussing their “ideal Brexit” were farmer Aimee Budge, MP Alistair Carmichael, chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Simon Collins, Visit Scotland’s Steve Mathieson, Irene Hambleton of accountants RSM and health board chairman and former SIC leader Gary Robinson.
Opening proceedings host Jonathan Wills said: “We’ve been hearing a lot of debate for the last two years. What we haven’t heard is what exactly it will mean for Shetland.”
But clarity remained out of reach over the next two and a half hours with a pivotal vote in the House of Commons scheduled for Tuesday.
Presenting a view from Westminster Mr Carmichael said: “Every time you think we’ve got to peak madness in the House of Commons something else happens.”
He added that Tuesday will likely to be on “another level” and said that he hesitates to “predict anything beyond the next hour at the moment”.
Miss Budge said that farmers were particularly worried about the future of subsidy payments in the aftermath of leaving the EU.
“The big concern is where the Scottish government or UK government will find that kind of money to put into farming.”
The tourism industry was most concerned about maintaining visa free travel for citizens of the EU, said Mr Mathieson, while Mrs Hambleton said that businesses had to scenario plan in order to offset any potential negative side effects from Britain’s departure.
Perhaps the bleakest view came from Mr Robinson who referred to a story in Saturday’s Times which had highlighted government analysis which warned of potential delays of up to six months for pharmaceuticals.
“Project fear is now project reality”, he said.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest optimism came from Mr Collins, who viewed Brexit as an opportunity for fishermen. He noted that British fishermen caught less than half of fish in UK waters, compared with Norway catching around 85 per cent in theirs.
He later criticised the EU as undemocratic but said he was a committed European and that he and his partner had four EU passports between them. His ideal scenario would involve dismantling the EU and for the project to be rebuilt with more accountability and less bureaucracy.
Indeed the EU came in for criticism throughout the night. Mr Carmichael said that his view was not “massively different” from that of Mr Collins. But where the fishermen’s chief was keen to depart Mr Carmichael favoured remaining and reforming.
A straw poll at the close of proceedings found an overwhelming support for this view. One person favoured Theresa May’s deal, two opted for leaving with no deal and 20 said their preference was to stay in the bloc.
• Full coverage in Friday’s Shetland Times