You know you’ve achieved a level of standing in the local community when you are invited to discharge a firearm over the heads of a crowd. It may just have been the starting pistol for the Burray Regatta and Raft Race, but that does not diminish the significance of the responsibility placed on my shoulders by the organisers of another highly successful day of sailing out on Water Sound.
With parliament now in recess, the regatta felt like the start of summer and a few weeks at home. While this is no holiday, with full days of meetings I struggle to fit in while travelling back and forth to Edinburgh, it is undoubtedly an opportunity for batteries to be re-charged. This week, for example, I have been holding surgeries in Westray, Papay, Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre and Stronsay with more planned after the ‘shows’. In decent weather, however, ‘island hopping’ is the perfect way of reminding myself how lucky I am to be doing this job.
It is also feels like a very far cry from the all-consuming madness of politics at a national and international level. A far cry, maybe, but sadly not far enough for it to be escaped entirely.
Catching occasional glimpses of the contest to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Tory Party and Prime Minister is profoundly depressing. This feels less like a choice and more like an impossible dilemma, albeit one faced only by around 150,000 Tory Party members, most of whom now appear to hold increasingly extreme views, particularly on the question of Brexit.
As a result, the two contenders, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnston, have spent weeks tacking inexorably rightward in the hope of winning the affections of their party’s grassroots. When the majority of those grassroots seem happy to entertain the break-up of the UK in return for the hardest of Brexits, it is difficult to see a way in which any of this ends well. Nationalisms north and south of the border are now busily feeding each other.
This is of little concern to Boris Johnston, of course. The naked ambition of the overwhelming favourite to win the race to 10 Downing Street has been clear to see for years, unlike his credentials for the highest political office. Further evidence of this was on display again last week, when Johnston shamefully failed to defend Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s former Ambassador to the US, who was forced to resign after classified emails outlining his less than flattering assessment of President Donald Trump and his administration were leaked to the press. Embarrassing as the leaks may have been, Johnston’s unwillingness to make plain that it is for the UK government to decide who represents the country overseas, was utterly craven and makes matters worse.
Meanwhile, President Trump has already moved on, turning his infantile fury to four Democratic Congresswomen, who dared to criticize him. While all are from ethnic minority backgrounds, three were born in the US and the other is a naturalized US citizen. Such inconvenient details did not stop Mr Trump taking to Twitter to demand all four ‘go back to their own countries’. This racist, ‘dog whistle’ politics is now the stock in trade of a President who seeks to divide, deflect and demean. The fact that Trump himself is the grandson of a German émigré and regularly boasts of his Scottish heritage just adds a layer of breathtaking hypocrisy to this latest un-presidential outrage.
Closer to home, thankfully, comes better news with confirmation that Beatrice Wishart has been selected to fight the forthcoming by-election in Shetland in behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Beatrice is currently Deputy Convener of Shetland Islands Council and her experience, over many years, working in Alistair Carmichael’s constituency office in Lerwick make her an ideal candidate to be Shetland’s next MSP.
There is a lot of hard campaigning to be done between now and polling day on 29 August, but I am confident voters in Shetland will respond positively to Beatrice, whose credentials for the job could scarcely be stronger. Given everything going on nationally and internationally, at the moment, it would be nice if all politics was indeed local.