6th December 2019
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By-election hustings: updates from Brae High School debate

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Candidates in the Shetland by-election are set to face questions from pupils and young voters at the Brae High School. Follow live updates below.

Brae High School history teacher Irvine Tait opens proceedings by introducing the nine candidates who have attended the hustings. UKIP’s Stuart Martin has not made the trip. List MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston is standing in for Conservative candidate Brydon Goodlad.

The first question comes from secondary five pupil Scott Moncrieff who asks whether, after 70 years, the time has come for Shetland to back a party other than the Liberals.

Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart is the first to answer. She reflects on the party’s 70-year record in the isles.

SNP hopeful Tom Wills says that it’s “not healthy” for a constituency to be represented by the same party for seven decades.

Independent Ian Scott, standing on an anti-austerity ticket, is straight on the offensive. He says the Lib Dems have a “hugely checkered career” and references the party’s decision to go into coalition with the Tories under Nick Clegg.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson tells the room that “the status quo is not working” and agrees with the questioner and other candidates that the time has come for change.

The next question comes from Drew Manson, who asks why the SNP should be trusted. He says they “say one thing then do another” and accuses the party of broken promises over ferry funding.

Mr Wills replies that the nationalists have increased funding by £5 million one year, followed by $5.2 million the next. He argues that this is a “good news story that is getting better”.

The candidates are now debating whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson is a “statesman or a bad comedian”.

Green candidate Debra Nicolson believes he “is very dangerous” and states that the £350 million a week for the NHS pledge, made during the Brexit referendum campaign, was a lie.

Labour’s Johan Adamson says Mr Johnson is guilty of “complete fabrications” and says that he has charted a “reckless path” for the UK as he drags the country towards a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Wills compares the Prime Minister to US President Donald Trump. He says the personality is a “distraction from what’s going on behind the scenes which is right-wing populism”.

Brexit was won “on a pack of lies” he adds. The SNP candidate draws the first applause of the hustings for saying that the Lib Dem and Tory coalition made the poorest in society suffer for the “errors of the bankers” following the 2008 financial crisis.

It’s difficult to hear Ms Wishart from the back of the room here. It sounds like she says she is “not impressed” with Mr Johnson.

Independent Ryan Thomson, meanwhile, goes in hard, calling the PM a “racist, liar and a xenophobe” and says that the fact he rose the highest office in the land shows “exactly what’s wrong with politics in this country”.

Mr Scott says Mr Johnson is a “loathsome creature who leads a loathsome party”.

“They have no respect for us. They have no interest in how we live.”

He adds Tory austerity drove people into the arms of “fascists” like Nigel Farage and says the Lib Dem and Tory coalition has a lot to answer for. A smattering of applause follows Mr Scott’s assertion that the Lib Dems would happily get back into bed with the Tories if “Boris comes knocking”.

Groans after Mr Halcro Johnston attempts to defend Mr Johnson’s comments on Muslim women and black people with “watermelon smiles”.

Almost universal applause for Mr Thomson as he takes down Mr Halcro Johnston’s argument and adds that Mr Johnson was sacked as a journalist for lying.

The candidates are now discussing Scottish independence.

Mr Wills says “nobody will be surprised” to learn that he thinks the time has come for another referendum on the issue. This comes after MP Alistair Carmichael accused the SNP of avoiding mentions of independence during the by-election campaign.

Ms Wishart says voters were told in 2014 that the referendum was called a “once in a lifetime” vote.

Chair Irvine Tait says voters were told independence would mean an exit from the EU. He asks whether that entitles people in Scotland, faced with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, to another chance to vote. Ms Wishart’s response is difficult to hear.

Independent Michael Stout, meanwhile, says that he backed independence in 2014.

Mr Scott says “self-determination is an essential tenet” of a democracy. He says there is a difference between independence and nationalism. “You belief the politicians at your peril”, he adds, drawing a few chuckles.

Mrs Adamson says that Scotland should stay in the UK to “make it better”. “It’s an international world, why are we being so selfish?”

Mr Wills has taken notes on several anti-SNP points made by spectators. Responding to concerns over an independent Scotland’s wealth he argues that Scotland’s GDP is the same, per capita, as the rest of the UK without even factoring in oil wealth.

Mr Thomson says that it is not the right time for a second independence referendum. “The SNP is basing it’s new push for independence on Brexit but Brexit hasn’t happened yet”, he says.

Final question – should pupils go on strike to protest climate change?

Ms Nicolson, unsurprisingly, says “absolutely”. “It’s your future”, she tells the room, adding that the Scottish Greens are “right behind you”.

Mr Halco Johnston says “yes and no”. If people are Passionate they should take action” but he has a couple of concerns, including the “impact on young people’s education”.

Ms Adamson says yes. She understands young people’s frustrations and says her generation “have taken a lot” from those younger than them.

“There’s things we enjoyed that are no longer there.”

Mr Scott says climate change will not be “solved by a wealthy young Swedish woman [Greta Thunberg]” going on a sailing trip. The problem isn’t one defined by people’s personal choices, he says, but rather “vast multi-national companies that don’t give a toss about climate change”.

“The only solution is a political move”, he adds.

Mr Scott has arguably performed the best, drawing strong applause on several occasions and a few laughs too. Mr Wills and Mr Thomson also enjoyed strong support in the room and were applauded on more than one occasion.

Mrs Adamson and Ms Nicolson have both spoken with passion and conviction and may have converted a few young voters. Candidates remarked on a couple of occasions “I agree with Beatrice”, but unfortunately from the back it was dificult for the press to make out what she was saying. Definitely the softest spoken candidate in the race.

Mr Halcro Johnston, standing in for Mr Goodlad, arguably had the toughest time and was on the recieving end of the only loud groan of the afternoon.

About Keegan Murray

Reporter for The Shetland Times. Interested in politics, literature and music. Born and bred Shetlander. Long suffering Newcastle United supporter.

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