SNP by-election candidate Tom Wills has vowed to lobby the First Minister to back his travel policy proposals on his first day in office if elected as Shetland’s MSP.
Outlining his five-point plan to slash travel costs in the isles the Holyrood hopeful this week asked voters for 18 months to prove himself and to “show Shetlanders what can be achieved by an SNP MSP”.
However, Beatrice Wishart, the candidate for the incumbent Liberal Democrats, has called on the SNP to make good on their previous transport pledges “before they start making new promises”.
Mr Wills’ plans come a year after the SNP administration rolled-out a discount for Shetland residents travelling by ferry between Lerwick, Kirkwall and Aberdeen. But, the proposals also follow a budget in which Shetland’s internal ferries were underfunded in the view of many councillors.
In plans published today, the prospective MSP vows to push for free travel for foot passengers on inter-island ferries, a 20 per cent discount on ferry cabins and a three-year freeze on NorthLink fares.
Mr Wills also intends to “bend the ear of senior figures in the Scottish Government” to increase peak season sailings to meet freight demand and to secure a long-term extension to the air discount scheme.
He said: “The SNP has already delivered a 50 per cent discount on flights, 20 per cent discount on NorthLink fares and provided £5m this year for SIC ferries.
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard people’s concerns about the rising costs of island life and had many discussions about what we can do to address this. The plan I’ve put forward today is the first step towards securing lower travel costs for Shetlanders.”
Mr Wills added: “I can’t solve these problems overnight, but if elected as your MSP, I’ll be at Nicola Sturgeon’s door on day one to make sure the Scottish Government backs my plan to cut travel costs.
“It won’t be easy with the tories slashing the Scottish budget year on year, but by working with the Scottish Government instead of against them I am confident it can be done.
“I’m asking voters for 18 months to prove myself and show Shetlanders what can be achieved by an SNP MSP. I will stand on my record in 2021 when the choice will again be for islanders.”
Miss Wishart said: “I am delighted that the nationalists are at last taking Shetland’s travel issues seriously. But before they start making new promises on transport they may want to tell us when they will fulfil their previous ones:
“When will we see passengers on the north boats get the benefit of the cheaper fares coming from RET (a year on from the promised implementation date)?
“Will the SNP now make sure that the funding for internal ferries is confirmed and was not just a ‘one-off’ package?
“Will the SNP address the crisis in freight capacity that hinders crucial local businesses and the capacity problems in peak season?
“Will the SNP reverse the removal of reductions in air fares through the Air Discount Scheme for people travelling on business?”
• Comprehensive coverage of the by-election campaign will be included in Friday’s edition of The Shetland Times.