Hit the North

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The Scottish Secretary and Teddy

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.

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  1. Ken MacColl says:

    Noticeable too that in two separate interviews on the BBC Politics Show today the new SoS claimed that he was always at the forefront of “fighting Scotland’s corner” when it was clear that he was silent on the Bedroom Tax, complicit in supporting the privatisation of the Post Office and comfortable in sharing office with the Tories. Presumably those are areas where he does not feel the need to be combative.

  2. Crubag says:

    “The parties of privatisation will not be calling for electricity to be an essential publicly owned utility that might protect the rural poor.”

    I don’t think even the Green Party is proposing nationalisation of the energy companies. A paper from the Jimmy Reid foundation seems to float the idea of public ownership but with no suggestion of how we get there (either a seizure of private assets likely to be ruled illegal by EU and ECHR or buying out private owners – either route has its costs).

    The writers of the Jimmy Reid Foundation paper don’t fully understand what can be meant by “community” ownership of energy assets in Germany and Denmark – these are very often private, middle-class investors backed by private banks investing in local schemes. Direct private ownership through a company is however more local than a shareholding in a multinational through a pension fund – but both are private, not public. Citizen ownership, rather than community ownership, would be more accurate.

    On Orkney and Shetland, it’s interesting to see the rise in local candidates – in 2011 the local independent candidate was second in both Orkney and Shetland. In Orkney, Stockan (councillor and businessman) was only fractionally ahead of the SNP but Fox in Shetland (Sustainable Shetland member and anti-Viking wind farm campaigner) was the main challenger to Scott.

    1. Hi Crubag,

      The Green Party in England and Wales have been campaigning for public ownership of Utilities, and Scottish Green Party policy is expected to be clarified at the next conference in line with this.

      Meanwhile SGP policy is to bring national water, gas and electricity networks (the grid) under public control. (Policy Ref Doc: 3.9.2)

      Cheers, Justin

  3. Brian Powell says:

    There was irony in the famous quote from Jo Grimmond, that he didn’t want decisions made by Edinburgh lawyers or Glasgow trade unionists.
    I can’t speak fro the lawyers, but concerning trade unions: he objected to them but he didn’t object to his huge family fortune being made in the jute mills of Dundee. A work place that ruined the health of thousands of workers, and a work process that destroyed the wages and trade of the individual loom owners and their families, eventually forcing them to work in the mills and take lower wages.
    During a action by millworkers to try to raise wages in 1905, the Dundee mill owners were looking into buying automatic pistols that could fire 30 shots, without reloading, just in case they needed to ‘deal’ with the workers. (Dundee University Archive)
    Still, the air was fresh and no pesky, bolshie workers in the North.

  4. Wullie says:

    The Northern Isles suffered from eviction & clearance along with much of the north. Liberalism was an anti-laird vote and the habit has stuck. Northern voters however have this depressing tendancy nowadays to vote for lairdlings & non-entities. Beats me!

  5. Abulhaq says:

    Orkney and Hjatland suffered from predatory mainland Scots incomers even before the islands became part of Scotland. There is a rather nasty colonial history here.The people deserve much better than they have had so far from “southerners”. A change in the reactionary ruling clique, as in Scotland, would be a start.

    1. Brian Powell says:

      The Orkney and Shetlands have a shared history with the rest of what is modern Scotland, going back 5 0r 6 thousand years. Same peoples and groups.
      The colonists were from Norway, which in turn was colonised along the west coast by Germans and Dutch.

  6. Tearlach MacDaid says:

    Fiona – I think you are giving the Lib Dems a little to much credit here for their staying power in the Northern Isles. Even a brief review of the past few elections show that “Zetland” is just following the trend of the rest of the Highlands and Islands, and moving pretty decisively from Lib Dem to SNP. In 2011 the was only the intervention of two independents that split the anti Lib Dem vote – James Stockan in Orkney, a well kent Stromness man – and Fox, the anti wind farm mannie in Shetland. Without them, both Holyrood seats would have been SNP. The SNP won the list vote in Orkney, and was only a few hundred votes away from winning the list in Shetland. Hardly signs of a solid Lib Dem seat.

    A further twist is that the current Convenor in Orkney is Stephen Heddle, husband of Donna Heddle, SNP candidate in the past three elections. Stephen stands on an independent ticket, as do all the OIC councillors, but he captured the Convenorship in a wee bit of coup over the Lib Dem old guard aster the 2012 elections. Now a man and wide might have different political views, but I’d be hard pressed to find a successful partnership of two people who disagree on a point as basic as Scottish Independence.

    Orkney and Shetland are moving away from the Lib Dems, as have the rest of the H&I, they are just an election behind the fact because of a couple of local factors.

  7. Clydebuilt says:

    I’ve often pondered why Places like Orkney and the Highlands return Liberals. You’d think that Liberal politicians would be pleasant easy going individuals. Instead I’ve often found they are the exact opposite. With the exception of Charles Kennedy. Mind you they kicked him out. I’ve ended up of the opinion that people who live in these remote but beautiful places are cut of from the lifes that too many of their fellow Scots live. They are cut off from the political struggles going on in the more populous areas. They end up voting for some dreamy utopian view that they think the Liberal party stand for. My message for my fellow Scots living in remote areas is “The Dreamer Must Awaken”

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