Shetland Times Column 28th January 2022

The First Minister’s Covid statement on Tuesday saw some restrictions lifted and people who have been able to work from home will be able to make a phased return to their workplace. It’s encouraging but the virus is still around and appears prevalent in schools.

Young people sitting their prelims is another sign of a slow return to “normality”. I’ve heard from teachers who are frustrated that the wearing of face coverings is still required in school, and they cite it as a barrier to teaching, making communication difficult for both them and their pupils (or ‘learners’ as they are now called).  Perhaps we didn’t realise before just how much we rely on looking at a person’s mouth and facial expression when we communicate.

Trying to get an NHS dental appointment is nigh on impossible. It’s bad enough that adults can’t get treatment but neglecting children’s oral health now is short-sighted and only storing up problems for the future. The backlog of health treatment across the country is going to take years to clear. But the temporary mobile surgical unit at Gilbert Bain is welcome and demonstrates innovation.

Last week the Scottish Government published its draft Strategic Transport Project Review 2 (STPR2) Report which includes short-term priorities with longer-term recommendations for transport investment for the next 20 years. Fixed links for the Northern Isles was not mentioned.

Alistair Carmichael and I will be leading a community discussion next Saturday on this subject. While fixed links or tunnels could be transformative for Shetland, the varying needs, aspirations and challenges for each island community is important in this infrastructure debate. We had originally hoped to have face to face meeting but moved it online because of the ongoing situation with Covid. That, of course, presents problems for those who cannot access broadband or get a good mobile signal but anyone with questions can contact the local office and submit them.

While 25th January is celebrated the world over as Burns’ Night, this week it was also ‘Not Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ Day’. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me how much they are missing all the fiery events from Unst to Sumburgh.

Making my way home last Friday morning, I met a friend at the airport who now lives on the Mainland. She was making use of the ticket she’d bought months before to return home for Up-Helly-A’ but despite no event she decided to make the journey anyway. She pointed out that if it was normal times and it being Up-Helly-A’ weekend the plane would have been full. As it was there was only six passengers heading north for Sumburgh.

But it’s not just Loganair or Northlink that will have noticed the difference in business. Accommodation providers are usually fully booked months in advance. Then there’s the hairdressers, clothes and shoe shops that are missing that trade too. Not forgetting the jarls and their families who are patiently waiting for their special day. Fingers crossed for next year!

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