Rewriting history can be a political art form. It is amazing how often and quickly it happens, and how effective it can be, particularly if you have the ‘megaphone’ and muscle of government office at your disposal.
No-one should be surprised that political parties and campaign groups want to ‘frame’ the debate in ways that best suit their purposes. Moreover, different people quite legitimately view events and circumstances in different ways. However, when this process stands facts on their head, it deserves to be called out for the fabrication and low politics it is.
Over recent weeks, I have watched with mounting anger as a succession of SNP Ministers have sought to trash the reputation of my former colleague, Tavish Scott and what he achieved over 20 years of representing the people of Shetland. All is fair in love and by-elections, but SNP assertions that Tavish was not effective in standing up for his community beggars belief.
As a government minister, party leader and assiduous constituency MSP, over the past two decades Tavish has made absolutely certain that Shetland’s interests and voice were heard loudly and clearly in Edinburgh. From being the Minister who first introduced the Air Discount Scheme to fighting hard for a fair deal on ferry funding and fares, Tavish more than anyone understood the importance of affordable and accessible lifeline transport links. As a passionate and articulate advocate for Shetland’s key sectors, including fishing, seafood, agriculture and oil and gas, Tavish was someone whose views commanded respect across the Chamber.
Yet the First Minister and her colleagues now assert that Tavish somehow let down his constituents by not ‘cosying up’ to the SNP. What utter nonsense. Tavish was always happy to work collaboratively where there was a will, but would not be silenced just because what he was saying might be inconvenient or uncomfortable for government, even ones of which his party colleagues were members! Most islanders, I suspect, would not have it any other way.
In contrast, since coming to power in 2007, the SNP has consistently demonstrated an intolerance of criticism from any quarter. Indeed, their own MSPs and MPs are required to sign up to toing the line. It speaks volumes that not once in the last 12 years at Holyrood has there been a meaningful rebellion by any backbench SNP MSP.
This fact alone should give voters in Shetland pause for thought, particularly given the number of broken promises by Ministers on the issue of ferries alone over recent years. They may also wish to reflect on how their next MSP is likely to vote on the forthcoming bill paving the way for a second independence referendum.
Meantime, SNP deputy leader, Keith Brown, has been sinisterly suggesting that a vote for the SNP on Thursday will see Shetlanders getting a better deal from government. The implication of this Orwellian threat is that SNP Ministers routinely and deliberately go around punishing people and communities that fail to vote for their party. It can only be hoped that this sort of belligerent threat is treated by voters in Shetland with the contempt it so richly deserves.
The truth is that, as with Orcadians, Shetlanders expect their representatives to stand up for their interests and be seen to do so. What they want is someone who will make Shetland’s voice heard in Edinburgh, not act as a government envoy to the islands. Tavish knew that and I am absolutely certain that it is the approach that Beatrice Wishart, the Liberal Democrat candidate, will take if elected this week.
Beatrice has the experience and understanding of the issues; a steely determination to get things done; and the ability to work with others to achieve the best outcomes for her community. Spending the last few days in Shetland, I get the feeling that this is the impression that most Shetlanders have formed of Beatrice as well.
It perhaps also reflects an anger locally at the rewriting of history and heavy-handed approach to this by-election by the SNP high command. As anyone who spends time in the islands (not just at elections) knows, things are done differently in island communities.