November Comment by Vaila Wishart

We are different from other parts of Scotland. There are aspects of our culture which are distinctive and we’re fortunate that people are passionate about keeping them.

Take knitting, for example. When it stopped being taught in our schools an army of (mainly) grannies took over to make sure the knowledge is passed on to the next generation. Dialect and fiddle are still taught in schools, and are also alive and thriving in our homes.

Our weather, an acquired taste if ever there was one, combined with wildlife, geography, geology, archaeology and history, gives this little archipelago a character of its own and we celebrate these differences with festivals and other events throughout the year.

Other areas have singular traditions too. Our next-door neighbour to the south, for example, has a completely different dialect and culture as well as landscape.

There are not many political differences with other parts of Scotland, but there have been attempts in the past to make it so. The Shetland Movement’s desire for more autonomy was all well and good, but some of us recollect that the lovers of all things Scandinavian over Scottish reduced the council’s reserves to almost nothing with rash investments and uncontrolled spending. Yet there are still folk around who quote the shining example of Faroe, conveniently forgetting that when it went bankrupt it had to be bailed out by Denmark.

Some use the Falklands as a good example of what could be achieved if we had more control over our own affairs. The Overseas Territory of the Falklands (population less than 3,000) does have millions in reserves from fishing rights yet pupils have to go to England to do their A levels and stay there if they want further or higher education. That’s a wee bit further than a trip from the Ness or the West Side into Lerwick.

If press reports are correct, the recently-launched Wir Shetland group believes we would be millions better off if we left the EU and became a British Overseas Territory, taking control not only of fishing rights and oil and gas, but the entire economy. Who exactly is going to relinquish those rights?

Overseas territories are often islands where people stash their cash to avoid paying tax or are strategic military bases. Neither of those options appeal. The mini-nationalists of Wir Shetland, one of whom thinks so much of the place that he doesn’t even live here, appear to be mainly of the Tory variety.

The kind of policies Tories pursue are currently apparent in Westminster: look after the wealthy and kick the poor. That’s not the kind of Shetland I want to live in.

Sharing knowledge and discussing mutual concerns with folk in other parts of the country is a good way of finding solutions to our current problems. We’re not so different from other areas in wanting more local control. Those involved in Our Islands Our Future are working on aspects of it, but it takes time and needs a good case to be made in a reasoned way with those who do hold power in order to make progress.

Playing Stop The World We Want To Get Off is not likely to hold much sway with the politicians in either Westminster, Holyrood or Brussels. Perhaps a better title for Wir Shetland would be Wir Fantasists.

Razor clams – spoots to thee and me – were once an occasional treat for us coastal dwellers. They have now become a delicacy prized by gourmets and fashionistas in posh city restaurants. A recent Sunday Herald article spelled out the consequences. Down the West Coast of Scotland spoots are threatened by overfishing; in some cases by electro-fishing, which is not permitted in Scottish waters.

Furthermore, illegal fishing, if done in waters which have not been classified as fit for consumption, can lead to food poisoning, but with shedloads of money to be made, that is not something that bothers illegal fishers.

There are calls for better policing of this lucrative trade. While there have been a few prosecutions, fisheries minister Richard Lochhead is quoted as saying the government is determined to enforce the law. And so it should.

Fashion is hard to avoid in any aspects of “lifestyle” (dreadful word) and food is one of the casualties of this fickle industry. Over the decades changing fashions can leave us bemused.
We have been urged, for the good of our health of course, 
to go to work on an egg, to 
drink milk, then semi-skimmed, then skimmed, to avoid dairy products and eat margarine, eat cereal for breakfast, eat a Mediterranean diet (in this climate!), eat raw vegetables, avoid red meat, eat berries because they are superfoods, drink more red wine, avoid alcohol – it’s all fashion mixed with pseudo-science.

Best to ignore it and just stick to a balanced diet. You won’t catch me falling for any of that nonsense. Now where did I put 
my yuzu juice and the chia seeds…

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