The Orkney News along with over 40 other people turned out last night, 6th June, to listen to Miriam Brett the Shetlander now hoping to oust Alistair Carmichael from his Westminster seat. Brett works as an economics advisor to the SNP parliamentary group at Westminster and appears to be a very capable, confident and clear spoken candidate.
Miriam explained that in her view, Alistair Carmichael as Secretary of State for Scotland in the coalition LibDem/Conservative Government had done nothing to raise the profile of Orkney and Shetland which he could have done in such a prominent position .
She noted how Foodbanks had grown in use during the coalition Government and that Carmichael’s backing of the Conservative austerity agenda was the reason for the stagnation in the UK economy. Explaining that you cannot cut your way to growth. She said:
“The reasons for Foodbanks are not complex – it is because people are hungry. Poverty is not an accident. It has been created through legislation”
Asked about a Labour/SNP Coalition in a hung parliament she felt that a progressive pact would be a possibility as there was cross over between SNP policies and those of Jeremy Corbyn. She also highlighted the impact SNP MPs had in Westminster by working with progressives in Labour, the Greens and Plaid.
Questioned on her leaflet stating she would ban exploitative zero hours contracts (when Orkney Islands Council has 1000 out of 1800 employees on them) she stated that she would enter into discussions with the OIC. She also felt that not all zero hours contracts were exploitative.
She was very positive about Islands Proofing, a central part of the Islands Bill making its slow progress through the Scottish Parliament and felt that the establishment of an Islands Minister was a step forward. She explained her experience of Westminster and Holyrood demonstrated that many in the South do not understand the diversity in the islands, even the diverse needs within Orkney and Shetland.
To address this ‘centralisation’ of decision making she would push for an Islands Deal similar to the City Deals that Stirling and Aberdeen have. The Islands Deal would be infrastructure based and be a huge boost to the Northern Isles.
Miriam Brett felt that the SNP had been a powerful force in Westminster as the third party. She said that:
“there is a reckless quality to the Tory Government and a lack of logic to their decisions”
and was bemused by Theresa May’s reluctance to engage with the public.
“politics should be in halls, in communities and talking to people.”
Asked about why the SNP was not mentioning Independence she explained that this election is not about that:
“We have a job to do in Westminster” and “ that issue is for the end of the Brexit negotiations”
She again attacked the Conservatives for their dark quality in what they have done with austerity.
On fishing and farming she said the Conservatives have never been on the side of the fishermen and that it was not a priority for the Tories. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) needed to be reformed – scrapped. And that there was no guarantee that funding for fishing communities currently coming from the EU would be maintained by Westminster.
She felt that there needed to be a statutory commitment from Westminster for Common Agricultural Payments (CAP) and feared that they would be linked to the Barnett formula which would result in a huge financial cut to farmers.
She was impressed at the work done in renewables with particular mention to that of EMEC but that there will be a 95% drop in investment in the sector under Conservative plans.
The contest in Orkney and Shetland is between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, between Miriam Brett and Alistair Carmichael. It has been an extremely short campaign and difficult for all candidates to get about such a geographically diverse constituency. Carmichael hung onto the seat by just 817 votes in 2015 having been a prominent player in the LibDem/Conservative Coalition Government. He then admitted to have lied about his involvement in a smear campaign against the First Minister of Scotland in order to affect his election.
Carmichael has the advantage of being known and relying on islanders who have voted Liberal or Liberal/Democrat in an unbroken line since 1950. Brett has the disadvantage of a short campaign and the large number of people in Orkney & Shetland who have already voted by postal ballot. The decision rests in the hands of the people of Orkney & Shetland and they are keeping their views to themselves.
Reporter :Fiona Grahame
Photo of Miriam Brett courtesy of Steven Charlton
The candidates standing in Orkney & Shetland 2017
Labour: Robina Barton
SNP: Miriam Brett
Liberal Democrats: Alistair Carmichael
Independent: Stuart Hill
Conservative: Jamie Halcro Johnston
UKIP: Robert Smith