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”.  

The Prime Minister refers to “teething problems” and offers some financial support but that doesn’t compensate for their lack of preparedness and long-term damage to exporters’ markets.

The impact on fish breeding grounds was included in my question to the Rural Affairs Minister last week. With an estimated 100,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions around UK shores, and Scotland ear-marked for offshore windfarm development, some of that will have to be cleared. Explosions and detonations can cause permanent hearing loss and displacement of whales, dolphins and porpoises. I was able to highlight the issue of low-order deflagration which can reduce acoustic impacts.

The First Minister confirmed schools will remain closed until at least mid-February. Some parents have been in touch about their children’s differing experiences of remote learning, while others talk about the impact on the wellbeing of their children because of the lack of social inter-action with their peers.

Parliament agreed on Tuesday to the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. It is hoped that, even with so little time left in the parliamentary calendar before elections on 6th May, it will be able to complete the legislative process. The benefits to Scotland’s children in ensuring their rights will be protected and respected is expected to be significant.

In the US the policy of separating migrant children from their families has been devastating. Quite literally children were pulled away from parents who were then deported, mostly to Central America, in a deliberate inhumane and racist policy under the Trump administration. Work continues to try to reunite families and the lesson, surely, is that immigration policies must have compassion at their heart.

President Joe Biden’s job for the next four years will be no easy task, not least in trying to heal deep divisions within his country while commentators predict that the last hasn’t been heard of his predecessor. Senator Kamala Harris, the new Vice-President, also steps into the history books. She has said that while she “may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last”. She will inspire future generations of women around the world.

Businesses are struggling with little to no footfall as people heed national calls to stay at home. There may not be a procession this year but the shops on Commercial Street are busy creating Up-Helly-A’ themed window displays. So three cheers for the businesses who are brightening up the street and trying to lift the January gloom.

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