A Spring Day in Shetland
Waiting to board the flight to Shetland the air crew told me that there had been snow on the islands before they left. I wasn’t sure whether this was one of those tricks islanders play on unsuspecting mainlanders. As it happened it was absolutely true.
Waiting to board the flight to Shetland the air crew told me that there had been snow on the islands before they left. I wasn’t sure whether this was one of those tricks islanders play on unsuspecting mainlanders. As it happened it was absolutely true. In fact during my flying visit to the islands I had sunshine and snow, sleet and rain and a gentle wind that whistled up your trouser legs when I least expected it.
Over the years I have been a frequent visitor to Shetland; working for BP and later for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation it was part of the job. The last time I was up, oil prospects looked good, with new fields expected to open to the west, whilst the fishing was still recovering from the trials of the previous decade. What a difference a year makes. Gone now are the harbour-side ‘flotels’ that once housed hundreds of oil workers, and the exploration in the deeper waters are on hold. Fishing on the other hand is back in good health. There are still challenges of course - the Russian trade embargo, the Faroese incursions into Shetland waters and the discard ban to name a few - but there is confidence in the future.
Meeting with Sandra Laurenson of the Lerwick Port authority the challenges and the opportunities were laid out. The decommissioning of the offshore platforms is a priority now, and the plans for a deepwater harbour to accommodate the vessels bringing the platforms ashore are progressing apace. When I was up last time, the facility was still just a hole in the side of the hill. Now the berths are taking shape.
We were also spoke about my drive for a North Sea Electricity grid, with cables from Norway and Iceland, Faroe and the mainland converging on Shetland. The EU has the money. My task is to make sure the cash makes its way to Scotland and to Shetland. I’m planning to host a seminar on the North Sea Grid in the autumn and I was able to extend an invitation to Sandra and her team. Who better to explain how it could work than those who will make it work.
My meeting with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association took place on George Anderson’s boat, the Adenia. As we boarded, he apologised for the untidiness of the boat. Needless to say it was immaculate. The chat was about the discard ban and the challenges that lie ahead as the choke species - cod and hake - are added in January 2017. I repeated my request for actual evidence of the realities faced by fishermen. If I can get hard data then I can do something back in Brussels.
Of course with the Holyrood election fast approaching there was also time for campaigning The Conservative candidate is Cameron Smith, native of Sandwick and an old friend. I’ve known Cameron since he joined Scotland’s economic development agency, the Brussels-based Scotland Europa back in 2009. My office was just along the corridor. Cameron later became an advisor to the Conservative MEP group in the Parliament, so when I was elected he was my go-to guy on issues European.
The fact that Shetland is one few constituencies not in SNP hands at Westminster and Holyrood, will make for an interesting contest. If the Liberals lose in Shetland (and Orkney) then they will be wiped off the electoral map of Scotland. Cameron Smith’s great strength, aside from his understanding of the fishing and energy industries, is the fact that he would be part of Team Ruth at Holyrood, the main (some would say the only) opposition to the SNP. A serious voice from the islands, confronting the SNP and their indifference to fishermen, farmers and crofters, is certainly something worth voting for.