Shetland Times Column 27th August

Scottish Liberal Democrats have a new leader. Alex Cole-Hamilton took over the reins last Friday following Willie Rennie’s 10 years as leader. Alex is hard-working and liberal to his core. Since his first election Alex has held the Scottish Government to account at every turn, stood up for his constituents and championed young people.

In 2019 Alex helped campaign in the Shetland by-election and his enthusiasm and commitment to the liberal cause was clear. I look forward to continuing to work with him on the many issues affecting Scotland including the recovery from the pandemic, campaigning for improved mental health treatment and tackling the environmental crisis plaguing our air, land and seas.

The confirmation of the long-talked about SNP-Green alliance in the Scottish Government was unsurprising. At a time when we need to recover from a pandemic with a virus that is still very much present, with education demanding full attention after the last two years of qualifications shambles, and a swamped NHS, a focus on these matters and many more, is what is needed.

“A shambles and embarrassing on a national level” is how one constituent described the lack of a NHS app for Scottish residents to prove their vaccination status for travel abroad. Waiting for a new app to be developed for Scotland, rather than use technology already available in England and Wales, has created problems for some people going about their legitimate business. Travel abroad is not all about holidaymakers seeking sunshine.

Transport Scotland and Scottish Government ministers have repeatedly heard concerns that freight capacity on the Northern Isles route is insufficient, and the livestock sales which started last week are more than “pinch points”. On the one hand the Scottish Government promotes Scotland’s food and drink sector, which is good as Shetland has excellent food produce to export. On the other hand, the sector in Shetland cannot grow if there’s not enough freight capacity to get produce to Aberdeen and on to market.

Similarly, the SNP government does not appear to see the contradiction with its Islands Bond proposal, which offers a £50k payment to encourage young people to live and work in the islands, while HIAL’s remote towers project will see highly skilled jobs and people taken out of the islands.

Last Friday I met with CITB Scotland and apprentices on site at the new homes DITT Construction is building in Gulberwick for Hjaltland Housing Association. The young people are at different stages of their apprenticeships and it is good to see the new workforce learning lifelong and essential skills like joinery and plumbing. The gender balance, or rather imbalance, is noticeable in industries like construction and aquaculture. This presents opportunities for schools and career advice to highlight to all young people the value and prospects of a career in those sectors, whether it’s practical skills or ‘behind the scenes’ work.

Summer recess is nearly over and it will be back to Holyrood next week.

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