MSP stops short of calling for Up-Helly-A’ reform

Interim Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw (left) with Lerwick Port Authority chief executive Callum Grains and MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Dave Donaldson

An MSP has refused to enter the Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ sexism debate, but insisted traditions should change.

Highlands and Islands Tory member Jamie Halcro Johnston was speaking while visiting the isles with the Scottish Conservatives’ interim leader Jackson Carlaw.

It comes after SNP colleague Maree Todd insisted it was “indefensible” to bar women from the fire festival’s procession.

“I’m from the Northern Isles and I recognise that our communities have a huge amount of tradition,” Mr Halcro Johnston said.

“It’s important, looking forward, that some of these traditions do change – but I think that’s a decision for communities to make rather than politicians.

“I totally recognise a need for change and I would hope that there opportunities for women to increasingly get more and more involved in it if they want to do that.

“But I don’t want to visit Shetland and make a pronouncement. I think it’s for local communities to do make those decisions.

“I’m certainly not indifferent to the cause. I think there are some really good points on both sides.”

Mr Carlaw, who is standing in as Tory leader while Ruth Davidson is on maternity leave, was at the Dales Voe decommissioning site in Lerwick as part of an effort to visit as many different parts of Scotland as possible.

This week Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott argued politicians should not get involved in the gender debate on Up-Helly-A’, while council convener Malcolm Bell said the festival would change if that was what the community wanted – although he argued it was not for the council to take a stand on it.

• See today’s Shetland Times for coverage on the Up-Helly-A’ debate, including an exclusive story on a former committee member who has spoken in favour of women in squads.


Add Your Comment
  • Doris Van Natta

    • April 8th, 2019 19:42

    Here in the USA, in Philadelphia, we experienced the same debate concerning
    our New Year’s Day tradition of Mummers, squads of folks in costume, making
    music, parading in the center of the city, for over a century now. In the sixties,
    the push to allow women into traditionally male squads began and ultimately
    was successful. No harm was done, but the traditionalists were and still are
    a bit bummed by the idea of women taking part. As it has fallen out, women
    are in the minority other than being support (costuming, makeup, etc.) folks.
    It might be worthwhile for those interested in the debate to look at the history
    of the Philadelphia Mummers.

  • Gareth Blance

    • April 10th, 2019 15:54

    In my opinion the people who run Up Helly Aa are now completely away with the fairy’s , Any thought about an Up Helly Aa Event requires careful consideration , It are highly unlikely that there were a female Viking who were a Viking Chief , That Is miss representative so why would anyone want to have a female Viking Chief , The role model would be a Viking Princess or Viking Queen , If any thought were to be put In to Up Helly Aa then only the role models will work , Besides that Up Helly Aa has been much took over by the Introduction of people from further afield than the Shetland Isles, It would have been much easier for the community to get Involved In Up Helly Aa at one time , Now It would be twenty fold as difficult to get In a squad , As well as that It had nothing much to do Viking Ships , It were any ships at the beginning & were just a day out acting out , Its all gone absolutely Viking Ship over the years & strictly the Viking Jarl Squad , When before It were only a plain sailing act out .

    • Shuard Manson

      • April 11th, 2019 22:27

      Gareth, I, look, forward, to, your, opinion,on, the, full-stop?

  • John Oakes

    • April 11th, 2019 16:18

    Are they saying the “WOMEN” are missing out on the fun, as their menfolk go off into battle with us lonely Anglo-Saxons in the south. Are Shetland maidens sitting forlorn at the artist impression or tapestry knitwork of their Berserk drink fuelled Boyfriends, Husbands, Significant other(Nod Wink no tail) as they tend the field and flocks of sheep. Will the songs reach Eurovision Qualifying section of Shetland Ponies herding with Shetty dogs by Unst band Nail in Foot Stompers. Somehow if the Shetland WOMEN want to pretend to invade us Anglo-Saxons on Dragon boats feel free, as we will welcome with open arms and enjoy a few tankards of mead and ale.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • April 12th, 2019 11:02

    Come on Vikings, get real, how could “Transvestite Tuesday” have girls? It would have to have a name change. I hope I am not being misogynistic here. I come from the Kingdom of Mercia where a lady Æthelflæd, Queen of the Mercians crapped all over the Vikings. Now there we have a lady with real balls!!!

  • Andrew Holt

    • April 14th, 2019 20:39

    I am interested in why any politician should insist, as in the case of Up Helly A, that it is up to the local community to decide on the issue of gender equality. I’ve not noticed them being so reluctant when it comes to most other areas of public behaviour. They knee-jerk legislate at the drop of an order paper. I don’t suppose this unusual behaviour could possibly be connected to parliamentary elections could it?


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