18 September 2020

The council’s decision last week to explore options “for achieving political and financial self-determination” resulted in some inaccurate national media stories about Shetland seeking independence. Nothing new there perhaps, and social media wasn’t immune to it either.

It is little wonder that councillors overwhelmingly supported the probing motion - and had I still been on the council I too would have voted for it. A combination of year on year reductions of central funding and the erosion of local decision-making powers isn’t working for an ambitious Shetland.

Shetland is different, partly because of our geographical position. It’s also in our DNA to do things for ourselves. In the council debate, Councillor Alistair Cooper highlighted, amongst other examples, Shetland’s response at the beginning of the oil era.

This exploration is no different.

As options are investigated, and engagement with both the Scottish and UK Governments pursued, we look north to our Faroese neighbours as a comparison of what can be achieved in a similar island group. The investment in their road and tunnel network, and communications network, must have played a part in the steady population growth to around 50,000 today.

Increasing the population, encouraging people to come here to live, work, and study, is vital for Shetland. Equally important is how to keep our young people, and to encourage them to come back after a spell away, so they too can build their future here.

Self-determination was one issue that came up during a discussion with Shetland’s MSYPs, Leighton Anderson and Jonathan Dorrat, on Monday evening. As they pointed out, their generation will be the one most affected by any future governance decisions so it’s important that they too are included in early discussions.

Our conversation naturally led to the impact of the pandemic on young people. None of us have found lockdown and the restrictions easy. For children and young people it has been especially hard without the usual interaction with their peers which is so important in their social development.

Despite the view that young folk are always on their phones – my own grandbairns included – it was heartening to hear that after six months of communicating with each other by social media, returning to the safe space of school and meeting up with friends was much preferred.  

Shetland’s Youth Services do great work with limited resources and now that government guidance has been issued they are working on re-opening youth clubs before winter comes in.

I’ve had representations from residents in Lerwick’s town centre whose tolerance levels have been severely tried at weekends with people congregating outside their homes. As well as describing “unbearable” noise well into the early hours, and other anti-social behaviour, concerns have also been expressed about the lack of adherence to public health restrictions.

Communicating what is required, and why, is key to understanding and compliance. Regardless of age, taking personal responsibility to help keep this virus under control is up to us all.

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