21.01.21


Spoiler alert: neither Robbie Fraser nor I have made it into Orkney’s Sporting Hall of Fame.

A bitter blow, no question, but like the true professionals we are, we put aside our personal disappointment on Monday and got on with helping record the Orkney Sports Awards 2020, ready for broadcast on Friday evening.

The Hall of Fame idea has been around for a while, but with so little sport over the past year, now seemed the perfect opportunity finally to make it happen. Predictably, the response from the Orkney public has been overwhelming, leaving the judges with the unenviable task of selecting half a dozen initial ‘inductees’.

It promises to be an emotional evening with the only regret, other than me and Robbie being scandalously overlooked, the fact that it has to take place in virtual form. All a far cry from 12 months ago, when a packed Orkney Theatre enjoyed another wonderful celebration of local sporting achievement at all levels.

In truth, little at the moment is recognisable from a year ago. Just ask anyone connected with our fishing industry. January 2020 saw many celebrating what they saw as a blessed release from the Common Fisheries Policy, courtesy of Brexit. With a transition period to agree the fine detail, it was surely only a matter of time before the fleet would be sailing into a promised ‘sea of opportunity’.

Ultimately, those hopes turned to ashes with a deal described by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation as the “worst of both worlds”. Having been used by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to lever Britain out of the EU, our fishermen are now left counting the cost, as exports are tied up in red tape, prices plummet and fish are sold directly into European markets.

Assurances from UK Conservative Ministers that these are just ‘teething problems’ ring hollow with a sector that feels, with ample justification, that it has been sold out - again.

In many respects, the promises made were never likely to be delivered. At the same time, however, it has shown the arrogant folly of trying to conduct such complex, multi-faceted negotiations in the midst of a global pandemic.

That certainly has been the argument made repeatedly, and rightly, by the First Minister over recent months. Indeed, so strongly did Nicola Sturgeon feel about the need for a needle-sharp focus on responding to Covid that she committed last summer to halting all activity related to pursuing another independence referendum.

At that point, the hope may still have been that the pandemic could be brought under control by the end of the year. Like those of UK fishermen, such hopes have been cruelly dashed.

Yet with infections, hospitalisations and deaths back up at record levels, the First Minister insists plans to bring forward a bill paving the way for a second referendum continue apace. Her Constitution Secretary, Michael Russell is adamant the vote must be held in 2021. And this week, SNP Deputy Leader, Keith Brown announced the creation of an Independence Taskforce.

It appears that Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘race’ between the virus and the vaccine has been joined by a vote on separation. Picking a winner in that race just got harder.

As is so often the case, the arguments used to condemn Brexit undermine those used to defend the pursuit of independence. Buoyed by recent polls, however, the First Minister seems unable to resist the temptation to press ahead. Those same polls, though, convey a warning that more constitutional upheaval is not top of the priority list for most people right now.

With the country still in the grip of covid and staring down the barrel of a deep and potentially long-lasting recession, the public desperately want to see politicians, parliament and government put the recovery first. Rather than a taskforce on independence, how about taskforces on jobs, health and education?

Who knows where we will be by the time Orkney’s Sporting Hall of Fame welcomes its next cohort of inductees. My hope is well along the road to rebuilding our economy, public services and a more sustainable future, not deeply divided after yet another referendum that splits our country down the middle. A spot in the Hall of Fame would be nice, too.


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