Shetland Times Column 24th September 2021

I write this on World Car Free Day 2021, a day to promote alternatives to car use. That’s good if there are alternatives to promote, like bus or rail links, if it’s not possible to walk. In communities like ours, where public transport does not meet everyone’s needs, then it is not unreasonable to consider a car an essential, and Shetland’s geography and inclement weather play a part in that car use.

There will be a debate later today on Scotland’s railways in the future, with the Scottish Government committing to an “affordable, clean, green, reliable and modern railway”. Part of the motion to be debated is around building back levels of rail travel to pre-pandemic use. From my limited experience of rail travel, unless more is done to make it more affordable then it will be difficult to attract people out of the convenience of their cars and onto trains.

Energy security and prices are in the headlines with the perfect storm and looming crisis just as winter hits. The impact of the removal of the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit coincides with increasing energy costs and will literally make the difference for families choosing between heating or eating.

Alistair Carmichael and I have frequently raised the issue of high electricity costs in Shetland with energy suppliers, notably SSE, and Ofgem. They agreed to look into some of the issues highlighted on behalf of constituents. With winter closing in I expect people may find they have complaints about misinformation and high costs from energy companies. Alistair and I are always willing to try and help with any energy cost concerns.

Shetland’s Citizens Advice Bureau are also able to try and assist. They have a dedicated energy adviser and can provide a holistic look at an individual’s energy needs. They can also provide welfare benefits checks to ensure people are receiving all entitlements which may also lead to eligibility for other measures that they had previously been unable to access.  

Last weekend, the virtual Liberal Democrats federal conference included a debate on Ending Violence against women and girls. Speakers highlighted the effects of sexual violence, sexual harassment and domestic abuse. Shetland is no different from other communities as evidenced by the work of Shetland Women’s Aid and Shetland Rape Crisis.

What was deemed hard core porn 20 years ago is now easily accessed by 11-year olds on their smartphones. Age-appropriate sex and relationship education would go some way to preventing a misogynist attitude instilled early on in boys and young men. Girls, meanwhile, are told from a young age to “keep themselves safe” and “dress appropriately” as though they are a problem.

Scottish Liberal Democrats proposed a commission to prevent violence against women and girls but disappointingly the Scottish Government decided not to pursue the proposal.

Everyone, regardless of identity, has the right to live a life free of fear and violence, but too often women and girls are failed. It is a global problem.

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