Nicola Sturgeon is convinced that Thursday’s Scottish Parliament election is ‘in the bag’ for the SNP. At the weekend, she confirmed that her attention has already turned to preparations for a second independence referendum.
As well as showing remarkable disdain for voters and the democratic outcome of the referendum less than two years ago, this declaration of intent reveals the SNP’s priorities.
I remain firmly of the view that Scotland’s interests are best served by being part of the UK. But I also believe that our parliament now has the powers to make a real difference in improving the lives of those we are elected to serve. That should be the priority over the next five years for every MSP, including whoever is elected here in Orkney.
We need urgent attention on ensuring that our lifeline ferry and air services are reliable and affordable. That includes new internal ferries and an end to Orkney’s shameful exclusion from the SNP government’s cheaper ferry fares scheme.
It means a commitment to good quality broadband and mobile phone coverage right across our islands. Without it, local businesses are losing out and accessing services becomes increasingly difficult for islanders.
We need investment in education, where we have seen literacy and numeracy rates falter, an ill-judged return to national testing in primary schools and cut to college places.
In health too, investment is required, in part to address a crisis in GP recruitment but also to enable long-overdue treatment of mental health on a par with physical health. In Orkney, spending per head on mental health is the lowest in the country.
We need to repair the damage done by the SNP government’s farm payments shambles, find means to enable Orkney to realise our renewables potential and tackle the scourge of fuel poverty. Key sectors, such as tourism and fishing, also require support.
In all these areas, though, a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer. Our circumstances are different. They require tailored solutions as well as an end to the remorseless centralisation we have seen over recent years.
In this election, there is a clear choice. Orkney’s next MSP will either be me or it will be Donna Heddle.
Over the last nine years, I have had the privilege to represent the islands in which I grew up. During that time, I have always sought to be accessible, approachable and accountable; to work with others locally and nationally to get things done on behalf of constituents and our community.
Orkney needs a strong voice in parliament: someone who will work constructively with others where possible, but speak out and challenge government where necessary. That is what I have done since 2007 and that is my commitment again at this election.
On the basis of my track record, my approach to serving our community and my priorities for the next five years, I hope voters in Orkney will again put their trust in me to represent their interests in the next Scottish Parliament.