By John Mowat
There is no doubt the new group of Orkney Islands Councillors elected for the next 5 years, on 5th May, will be substantially different from that of the past few 5 year terms.
No doubt a number of experienced Councillors will be re-elected but maybe not all of them. Being prepared to stand for Council is admirable. It involves lots of hard work speaking to as many voters as possible, being open & honest, while having a firm grasp of the main issues. In effect, a Candidate is aiming to put across reasons why Voters should place them as high up on the list as possible.
The majority of Independent Councillors are believed to support either of Orkney’s largest two Political Parties, The Libdems or SNP.
I am pleased that the 5 Green Candidates, 3 young and highly articulate, along with 2 older experienced Candidates in Helen Woodsford Dean & the articulate John Ross Scott have told voters where they stand with strategies to match.
Several of the Green Candidates can be expected to be elected. On the basis of his understanding of the main issues & his performance on the BBC Radio Orkney Hustings, young Kris Leask certainly deserves to be elected in Kirkwall West.
The recent COP 26 Conference & fossil fuel rich Russia’s brutal War against Ukraine tell us tells us than Greening our futures, along with decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels is no longer optional but is extremely urgent.
Scotland has made a good contribution to this debate over the last 20 + years & could have achieved a lot more with greater devolution of Powers along with more control of issues affecting us.
The development of hydro electric schemes during the years of austerity following two disastrous World Wars was admirable & showed considerable insight.
Over the past 20 + years, Orkney has led the generation of electricity from winds, while research into the trialling of machines to extract power from waves & tides has been admirable.
EMEC, Aqua Terra, Heriot Watt University & UHI Courses provides good jobs & good study opportunities for young Orcadians.
Some future greener projects require planning but need not be very expensive.
Denmark, a small well governed Northern European Country had a full network of cycle friendly roads, beside but separate from all main roads, 50 years ago.Norway has led Europe in the generation of electricity from green hydro electric sources. Finland, Switzerland & Scotland all have 5 or more universities in the Wold’s top 20. Academics, scientists & engineers point the way ahead towards a more sustainable future. They do have to be listened to and appropriate actions taken at Council, Scottish, UK & European levels for change to be effective.
A moderate, outward looking Social democratic to left of centre Coalition of SNP & Greens now provides mostly good Government in Scotland. It is significant that both the Greens & SNP were most were strongly opposed to inward looking Tory English led Brexit in 2016 and the subsequent related lowering of the horizons for our younger people. The fact that much of the funding of the Brexit campaign was fuelled by dodgy Russian money shows us that bad decisions eventually have to be reversed. Ideally, those responsible, need to be exposed.
One of the world’s leading naval architect, ferries & shipping designer is a guy called Stuart Ballantine. He owns a small, Australian based company called Sea Transport Solutions, STS. He was born in Clydeside, Scotland, emigrating to Australia in the 1960s.
He has worked closely with a number of Universities, including Napier University’s shipping & ferries expert, Professor Alf Baird who lives in Orkney. Stuart’s modern catamaran lower carbon footprint designed ferries operate safely & successfully in 47 Countries, worldwide.
Two of the leading shipping & ferries experts on the Advisory Committee to the Scottish Government & Cross Party Transport to the Ferries Industry are Prof Alf Baird & Inverness based Roy Pederson who has extensively studied the modern ferries industry, in Norway. Norway has their capability and expertise to rebuild & replace all its ferries every 20 years. Catamarans have been run successfully for 50 years, replacing unreliable hydrofoils.
CALMAC & CMAL were set up by the Libdem –Labour Scottish Executive with an aim to renew older ferries in the Clyde, Hebrides & Western Isles. Regrettably they along with the RMT Union have, to date thwarted the renewal of Ferries, in Scotland by building & introducing safer, higher capacity, lower carbon footprint ferries. Former SNP Transport Ministers Stuart Stevenson, Keith Brown, Derek MacKay along with SNP MSPs Rob Gibson, Mike MacKenzie, Gail Ross & Maree Todd have hitherto been ignored when trying to initiate change & challenge vested interests. Why ?
Clearly the SNP Government, newly elected SNP & Green supporting Councillors in Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, the Inverness, Argyll & Clyde Islands all need to show greater bravery in the future to challenge the inertia of the past 10 or more years. The insistence on the using old, unreliable, high carbon footprint ferries providing poor services needs to be overturned. Support from more enlightened Libdem, Labour or Independent Councillors in all these areas would be welcome too.
Orkney & Shetland Islands Councils know they are responsible for the replacement of aging 30 + year old unreliable ferries. The crews are excellent but regrettably the vessels are obsolete and from a former age. Unlike the Scottish Government whose annual budget has been cut by Westminster, partly due to Brexit related decline, the Northern Islands Councils have substantial Oil & Gas Reserve Funds.
Brexit has ensured the support of substantial European Infrastructure funding has been lost with nothing replacing it from Westminster. All Scottish Oil & Gas revenues for the past 50 years have flowed to Westminster to balance UK Westminster budget & not to Scotland or the Scottish Government.
We are where we are. It is hoped that newly elected SNP & Green supporting Councillors will have the courage to take decisions benefitting the future of Islanders. The rumour started by some anonymous person need s to be exposed as fiction that the Scottish Government will build, pay for & run Orkney & Shetland Ferries is fiction. A number of past Scottish Transport Ministers have confirmed this to the people & Councillors in the Islands.
The Scottish Government has no Reserves, no Oil Funding & No magic money tree. It should be pointed out that subsidised Calmac Ferries from Barra, the Uists, Benbecula Harris & Lewis to the Scottish Mainland are External Ferries, like the highly subsidised Calmac or Northlink. Two other external life line are run, without subsidy, by the highly efficient Pentland Ferries & Western Ferries on the Clyde. Only one small Calmac internal ferry links North Uist with Leverburgh, in Harris. This ferry started operation around 20 years ago, where previously there was no linking together of the Western Isles.
Maybe our newly elected Councillors will recognise the importance of investing some of Orkney’s money into Orkney’s future with an Orkney Ferries Replacement Programme. Any supporting funds from the Scottish or UK Governments would be welcomed with open arms. The present Scottish SNP / Green Coalition Government have provided better support than past Governments but know they will have to do more too.
Meanwhile the voting public look forward to seeing a newer greener, safer, more efficient disabled friendly fleet of internal Islands ferries. Past posturing, sloganising & old myths need to be binned.
Let’s make votes count & get things done !