The Western Isles needs a champion familiar with the unique challenges of island living, according to Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary, leaving Stornoway this afternoon (Friday 25 August) after a whistle-stop tour.
Ian Murray MP has spent two days being introduced to key issues and industries by Labour’s selected UK parliamentary candidate, Torcuil Crichton, and says that a General Election will hold the key to unlocking proper representation and community benefit for the islands.
He said he was astonished at how much he was learning that was not being talked about in the UK Parliament by the man elected to represent the islands, the former SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, now sitting as an independent.
He said: “We’ve been learning so much, but I just haven’t heard about it in Westminster. The islands need a champion. The current encumbent hasn’t been championing them or being a walking advert for the islands, as Torcuil is.”
After visiting Bakkafrost Scotland’s Loch Roag salmon farm yesterday, today was spent visiting Harris Tweed Hebrides at Shawbost, with Stornoway Port Authority and in talks with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about the potential of renewable energy.
Last night, a public meeting held in Stornoway was, according to both men, a chance to hear about the issues that really concern islanders.
They include investment in the deepwater terminal in Stornoway harbour, the significant contribution of Harris Tweed and the salmon industry to the island economy and the potential of renewable energy.
Mr Crichton said: “Everyone we have met talks of needing a change. That is why we need representation, because the islands are at a crossroads.
“We can continue with the benign neglect of the Tories, with its associated decline, or we can grasp the future in the shape of a massive renewables revolution.”
Renewable energy is, according to Mr Crichton, the key to future community and consumer benefit for islanders.
He said: “Growth is the key and we’re lucky that the energy developments happening here come at the same time as will the advent of a Labour government committed to investing in that revolution.
“A Labour government will bring community benefit, in the form of a public mechanism or arms-length vehicle by which a share of funding generated by renewable energy from here will be put back into the community.
“That means investing in skills, visitor infrastructure and port development. In the islands we’re using our wind and renewable resources, but what’s in it for us?
“And there’s consumer benefit in using regulatory powers to make sure the massive companies that come in to invest in renewable energy give something back in terms of consumer discount.”
The potential of the islands to contribute to the renewable energy revolution chimes with the Labour party’s ‘5 Missions for a Better Britain’ campaign, which promises to make Britain a clean energy superpower, with energy cheap and secure, boosting jobs and investment in every region.
Pressed on whether either man expected Labour to take the island constituency, or to be in government following the next election, Mr Murray said: “Nothing is taken for granted. We are desperate for a General Election because the public is desperate for a General Election and it’s really important that the prime minister reflects on that.”
But Mr Crichton said that Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency needed to be won ‘one vote at a time.’ He said: “I look at the polls and any seat won is going to be won by small margins. We can’t take anything for granted.
“People are open for change, but we still have to get them to trust me, and the rest of the party, enough for us to win.”
Mr Murray, described by Mr Crichton as a future cabinet member in a Labour government, said he had learnt a huge amount on a short time about island life and hoped to be back whenever needed.
He said: “What a fantastic place to live and work, with challenges but with tremendous opportunities. With government backing and good representation the future for the islands can be bright.”
And Mr Crichton said that he had enjoyed hosting the shadow Scottish secretary and relished the future fight to take the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency for a Labour government.
He said: “I hope the visit has opened his eyes, and that of the future UK government, to the potential of the islands.
“It’s easy to complain, more difficult to provide solutions, but you can see in these islands the growth that can come from renewable energy. It’s a great future – I can’t wait.”
Torcuil Crichton (left) and Ian Murray MP are pictured during their whistle-stop tour of Lewis today.