By-election hustings: updates as candidates clash
The first of the two by-election hustings is currently underway in Mareel’s auditorium.
Eight of the prospective candidates are in attendance at the hustings, with Ukip’s Stuart Martin still on the mainland and the Conservative’s Brydon Goodlad unable to attend due to medical reasons. He is being represented by Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston.
BBC Radio Shetland’s John Johnston is hosting the event, with all eight candidates being given a minute to introduce themselves and their policies before moving on to audience questions.
Independent candidate Ian Scott provided an impassioned speech, saying that he has “stood specifically steadfastly against the cuts, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats” before. He also reacted angrily to the news that Mr Goodlad could not be in attendance, shaking his head as Mr Halcro Johnston explained his absence.
SNP candidate Tom Wills began by saying that “Shetland is ready for a change” and asked for 18 months to show what he can achieve in Holyrood, while Lib Dem competitor Beatrice Wishart opened her speech with a defiant message: “If you want an MSP who will speak up for Shetland, I’m your woman”.
The first question of the night revolved around transport, with Ms Wishart and Mr Wills clashing immediately, interrupting each other’s answers as Mr Johnston appealed for both candidates to let the other finish.
Mr Halcro Johnston responded to Mr Wills’ five-point transport plan by saying that “Tom Wills has a load of great ideas but they won’t be delivered”, while independent candidate Ryan Thomson added that “nothing gets done” because “Shetland is the pawn” in mainland politics.
Councillor George Smith directed a question at Mr Wills, asking him how he expected the SIC to afford one of his election pledges, free foot passengers on inter-island ferries.
Mr Wills responded to say that this could be paid for “if, and when” the Scottish government provided additional funding to the council.
Mr Thomson criticised the NorthLink ferries in response to a question about increased capacity on the ferries. He focused his attack on the much-maligned sleeping pods, not for the first time, saying that we had been “lumbered” with these pods and said he was reticent to even call them pods, instead saying “it’s a chair”.
“Bigger ships” and “daytime sailings” were potential solutions that Mr Thomson suggested as alternatives.
On the subject of Brexit, only Conservative representative Mr Halcro Johnston said that he was in favour of Brexit, although he admitted that he voted to remain in the EU.
Mr Scott and Mr Wills attacked the coalition of the Tories and the Lib Dems, with Mr Scott saying that the “Tories and Liberals approved austerity and that they had “turned to the racists and the fascists” which garnered wide applause.
Mr Halcro Johnston responded to say it was “always very amusing listening to Ian but I’m afraid he’s wrong”, which was met negatively by the audience.
Mr Wills said that the SNP “could stop Brexit”, and added that if they were pulled out of the EU by Westminster then a vote for independence could put Scotland back into the European Union.
He expanded on Mr Scott’s point by saying the “reason why people voted for Brexit is because of the coalition of Lib Dems and Tories which approved austerity” to a rapturous reception. Ms Wishart responded to the issue of Brexit to say that it was “time for a peoples vote and time for people to work together across parties” to stop Brexit.
Scottish independence was the next topic up for debate, and understandably provoked perhaps the most divisive reactions of the night.
Mr Scott, Mr Wills and the Green Party’s Debra Nicolson all came out in favour of an independent Scotland, while Mr Halcro Johnston, Ms Wishart and independent Peter Tait were against it. Both independent candidates, Michael Stout and Ryan Thomson, said they would wait to see what benefit Shetland could get from Scotland becoming independent before deciding how to vote, should another referendum come up.
Mr Scott’s positive attitude towards independence was because, he said, “if nothing else we’ll get rid of these damned Tories”.
Ms Wishart wanted the audience to “imagine the chaos” if Scotland tried to break up the union, citing Brexit as an example. She said the vote was supposed to be “once in a lifetime” and that there were better priorities for funding, such as healthcare.
Mr Wills responded to this point: “which has been cut by the Tory/Liberal coalition”, to audience applause.
Conservative representative Mr Halcro Johnston said that “I think SNP talk about independence because its easier than talking about their failings”, and added that nobody would be surprised to find that he was against independence.