Hit the North
Orkney has been a safe Liberal and then Lib-Dem seat for as long as anyone up here has political memories. There was a time before Liberals and that was Tory or rather Conservative and Unionist… The isles are a practice zone for would-be hopefuls from other parties to sharpen their political skills, where they can fight a real live UK election, make plenty of gaffes without any hope of winning or causing too much embarrassment down the line. Nobody is really going to bother much about what goes on up North. Indeed John Goodland when he stood back in the day for the Orkney and Shetland Movement, was questioned about what he would do if he won the seat. He wittily answered that he would demand a recount.
The strategy of a shrewd party operator (and perhaps I am crediting Clegg with more than he deserves) would be to make sure that key personnel are well insulated in just such a bombproof seat as this one.
So the appointment of Alastair Carmichael to Scottish Secretary could be seen as a fairly brutal sacrificing of the few pawns left in the game with the hope that there might still be a dash to the other side of the chess board and a momentary transfer to crowner. A battle of kings and queens on an empty board may indeed be the end result. Nick Clegg knows well that his party is facing elimination UK-wide and there will be need to be someone left to turn the lights out in party HQ. He is of course counting on islanders returning Alastair Carmichael year on year until the ermine bathrobe beckons. It’s the Joe Grimmond formula.
The Lib Dems have always parachuted in their potential high –flyers to the isles seat, there was at one time a chubby cheeked youngster with the egalitarian nomiker of Jim Wallace. The only time a very able local woman was short-listed she unsurprisingly in expected token fashion failed to secure the nomination, But that’s par for the course in a constituency that sees women completely sidelined in local politics. The patriarchy dominates well and proper in the outer reaches of the colonies. The further psychology of the appointment is the reflected glory factor – look at us – we have a big important ‘bruiser’ in the real London government whose ‘gonna get that bad Alex Salmon….’ Clegg thinks that Carmichael’s incumbency is assured and the high profile will further cement his position.
I have had the opportunity to watch several election counts over the years and what has been very striking is that especially after the university fees debacle the Lib Dem vote is very definitely soft even in this seat. In the Scottish elections while the first vote went handsomely to the Lib Dems as might be expected, many of the second votes went to parties of Independence.
In a week when the Scottish government handed out 90k to Orkney Islands council as ‘relief’ to those impoverished by the bedroom tax, it was surely an obscene irony not to be missed that the very UK MP for Orkney and Shetland (as chief whip) was more than willing to sacrifice the poor and disabled of his own constituency for some ethereal party advantage of desperation. Within hours of the reshuffle the same islanders saw their mail service sold off at Poundland prices, again accelerated through by their own UK MP. And as they await their final status to be enshrined as ‘offshore’ with delivery rates to match, they now have an 8% increase in electricity bills to contend with. The parties of privatisation will not be calling for electricity to be an essential publicly owned utility that might protect the rural poor.
It is therefore pretty rich to hear said Secretary of State for Scotland intone in bleeding heart fashion to Andrew Neil (The Sunday Politics Show) that this referendum is ‘about jobs and peoples’ livelihoods’.
You don’t need to have been down and dirt poor to know that Orkney is not a good place to be homeless, cold and powerless especially when excrement is raining down on the collective nest from the Westminster elite.