Orcadian Column, 21 April 2022


Parliamentary recess provides the ideal opportunity for a spot of ‘island hopping’. So it was that last week I headed first south to Flotta and then north to Westray for surgeries and meetings with local residents. Days spent in the isles are always good for the soul, although Westray was notably quieter than usual due to a spike in Covid cases that had folks understandably wary about venturing out and about.

 

As a result, I had plenty of time to find a spot at the Broughton end of Pierowall where the mobile signal was strong enough to allow me to hold a video conference with Loganair’s senior management about recent disruption to our lifeline air services. While no route has escaped entirely, my particular concern was the plight of one group of mainly NHS passengers attempting to get back to Orkney from Aberdeen the previous weekend. This trip took almost two days, including an overnight stay in Shetland, and was characterised by communications and customer service that fell well below acceptable standards.

Loganair has agreed to my request to meet those affected to discuss their experience and how lessons can be learned. They have also offered an unreserved apology and compensation, as well as assurances that steps have been taken to address the causes of the recent disruption. Given the importance of these lifeline services, and the serious impact delays can have, this is something I will be keeping a close eye on in the months ahead.

While out and about, I’ve also been bumping into candidates campaigning for the forthcoming local elections. It’s good to see contests in every Orkney ward this time round, and there is no doubt the outcome matters in terms of the future delivery of local services in the islands.  In truth, successful candidates face a real challenge; one made no easier by £250m of cuts to council budgets in the last SNP/Green coalition budget.

Across the board, however, the SNP’s track record on key services is a worry. On health, education and transport, not least the hapless procurement of new ferries, the tendency towards headline-grabbing promises with little concern for how these will then be delivered is catching up with this SNP administration.

Perhaps this explains the First Minister’s Trumpian move to exclude the press from the SNP’s local election campaign launch earlier this month. Rather than focus on the policies for which she is responsible and the precarious position in which her government has left local councils across Scotland, she has attempted instead to make it all about Boris.

While scarcely relevant, it’s not hard to see why.  Indeed, the Prime Minister’s fate should already have been sealed. The Metropolitan Police are far from finished in doling out fines relating to the illegal lockdown parties that took place in Downing Street, but already Boris Johnston finds himself in the ignominious position of being the first serving Prime Minister to be criminally charged. As constitutional historian, and frequent visitor to Orkney, Lord Hennessey put it, Mr Johnston has “broken the law, misled parliament and shredded the ministerial code” while turning his office into “an adventure playground for his narcissistic vanity”.

Mr Johnston’s supporters argue that ousting a Prime Minister in a ‘time of war’ would be reckless. Yet a change in Downing Street would leave UK policy on the Ukraine conflict unaltered. Moreover, the same Tory party happily defenestrated Margaret Thatcher while British troops were readying themselves to help eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, a conflict in which the UK and its Prime Minister were much more directly involved.

Hopefully the local election results in England and north of the border will send a message that Tory MPs, including Scottish leader, Douglas Ross, cannot ignore, prompting enough of them to rediscover some backbone to call time on this discredited Prime Minister.

In Orkney, though, the local elections are not about Boris or Nicola, whose parties are not fielding candidates, despite what some rogue leaflets might suggest. I wish all those standing well and offer my thanks to those stepping down for their service. It is not an easy job, but it is one that matters greatly. So please make sure you vote.

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