Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 3rd February 2017


As the ashes settle on another Lerwick Up Helly A', this week's festivities gave me a badly needed reality check.

The constant danger of politics is being stuck in the Parliamentary bubble. All of life revolves around the ups and downs of politics, policy changes and whether a government minister is up to the job or not.

There is nothing like a night on a squad bus to provide a healthy degree of reality about local or national issues.

Obviously Squad 42 operates to the, "what's said on the bus stays on the bus" rule. But suffice to say that Up Helly A' is a highly therapeutic experience.

Politics is way down the list of priorities and fun is poked at the ruling elite whether in Edinburgh, London or Lerwick. That is as it should be.

This week the Faroese Prime Minister was in Lerwick. As Malcolm Bell observed this must be the first Prime Minister to be present for the fire festival. I remember Margaret Thatcher coming to Lerwick when I was at the Anderson High School. David Cameron visited before the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But none have yet come to witness the spectacle that is the Hillhead light up and subsequent departure of the longship to Valhalla.

My office team from Edinburgh combined some work tasks with Tuesday's events. They also braved a hall which for south folk can be a tall order. But on Wednesday they declared a determination to come again having throughly enjoyed their night at the Anderson High, especially as Lyall Gair's magnificent jarl squad chose the AHS as their last hall.

Lyall spoke very impressively at the Convenor's reception and the squad shield is particularly impressive. A very good Up Helly A'.

The Faroese Prime Minister gave a brief speech on Tuesday to a gathering of councillors, staff and others hosted by Malcolm Bell. He was fascinating on Brexit and how Faroe trades internationally without being a member of the EU.

Faroe is now working very closely with Greenland and Iceland to market and sell fish. They see the advantages of these country to country trade links. And there must be some truth in that.

The Faroese economy is growing at 8% every year. That is Chinese levels of economic performance. It is strongly based on salmon exports and of course whitefish, herring and mackerel sales.

There are major issues about how Faroe was given a share of the international mackerel quota. But they have it now. All this will be up for re-negotiation after the UK leaves the EU. Faroe also wants to invest in Shetland's mobile phone coverage. The Prime Minister explained that with 8 months work, the installation of masts and the technical back up, the whole of Shetland would have 4G coverage.

That would allow everyone to watch Up Helly A' online through Promote Shetland's excellent coverage hosted by Tom Morton. Now that would be progress!


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