Shetland Times Column - 22 January 2021

A picture paints a thousand words. The sight of seafood lorries circling Westminster was a stark demonstration of the anger and frustration companies face in exporting fish products to the EU. New border controls and the enormous increase in the volume of paperwork required ultimately takes its toll on fresh and perishable produce.

Meanwhile, fishing boats land their catch in Denmark to avoid red tape and ensure their product reaches market in time, and some seafood companies say they are close to being “finished”.  

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Shetland Times Column - 24 December 2020

It didn’t take much working out that something serious was afoot when both the Prime Minister and the First Minister were holding press conferences late on a Saturday afternoon. The new Covid-19 variant with up to a 70% higher transmission rate required immediate action.

It’s a fast-changing situation and messages in my inbox are mainly about the impact on Christmas travel plans.  With reduced options and limited flights people have struggled to return home or to carry out the planned caring responsibilities for family members on the Mainland. People seek a safe travel route, trying to make sure they don’t break the law travelling to Mainland airports or Aberdeen Northlink terminal.

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Shetland Times Column - 11th December 2020

After cancelling the National 5 exam diet for 2021, it really was only a matter of time before the Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled. While no-one doubts that students can be put into rooms in socially-distant exam conditions, it is simply not possible is for there to be a level-playing field for all.

The pandemic has meant that many young people have missed school to self-isolate for days, sometimes multiple times, as have some teachers. And it’s this inequity that means that not all learners would be able to have the same shot at exams as their classmates.

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27th November 2020

History was made at Holyrood on Tuesday when The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by MSPs. It was the culmination of a campaign led by Monica Lennon MSP, who had support across the parties and she is to be congratulated for her tireless campaign for period dignity for all.

It is estimated that period products cost around £8 a month but when girls and young women, or their families, can’t afford this monthly hit they don’t go to school. Missing out on education because sanitary products aren’t affordable is an inequity that will no longer exist, thanks to Monica’s bill. It should also mean that no-one will be left in the upsetting situation of not having the period products they need.

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13 November 2020

That was quite a week but when the result came it was worth the wait. I think there was a collective sigh of relief around the world when CNN forecast that Joe Biden had won the US election. 

As President Trump continues to claim electoral fraud, the contrast with speeches from President-elect Biden and his Vice-president Kamala Harris couldn’t have been greater. They offered hope for the future but have a mountain to climb to heal a divided country where 70 million people voted for four more years of President Trump.

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30 October 2020

The publication last week of the Scottish Government of Scotland’s Strategic Framework containing five levels of restrictions meant that the question everyone was asking at the weekend was, “what tier are we in?”

We didn’t need to wait long for the answer. In a leaked letter sent to COSLA from the government at the beginning of this week, hopes of returning to some kind of normality were dashed when we discovered that Shetland, along with Orkney, Moray, Highland and the Western Isles, would be in Level 1. At the time of writing that tier has not been formally confirmed by government.

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16 October 2020

The trip down to Edinburgh was uneventful. All the Covid safety precautions are in place at Sumburgh and on Loganair, hand sanitiser everywhere, and with only a handful of passengers on board physical distancing was easy.

The city centre was a bit busier following the return of students, but the signs of the impact of Covid on the economy is there to see with the doors of many businesses, predominantly in the hospitality sector, remaining closed. Some of the shops on the Royal Mile weren’t open either, a direct consequence of the lack of tourists.

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2 October 2020

Students have had a raw deal. It was entirely predictable that a mass movement of people across the country and coming together in “new households” would lead to further cases of Covid-19.

Those going to university or college for the first time, including some 17-year olds, have been hit especially hard with their last year at school undermined by the SQA grades uncertainty and debacle, now their first experience of higher education began with a two-week lockdown.

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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.

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4 September 2020

It goes without saying that the last twelve months have not unfolded as predicted. Equally, it was no surprise that Covid-19, and recovery from it, was the main feature in the Programme for Government which was delivered in Holyrood on Tuesday. This set out the legislative programme and bills to be introduced in the parliamentary session ahead of next May’s elections.

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