Tavish Scott: Fiction can sell positive facts of living island life

Picture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
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IN CASE you missed it, Shetland aired on network television this week. Ann Cleeves’ crime novels feature a Lerwick police detective, Jimmy Perez, investigating a string of murders across the islands.

Shetlanders have mixed views on the BBC offering. Lovely film of the islands featuring landscapes, sea and pretty pictures of the capital have been cited as a boom for local tourism. But the Twittersphere has been full of observation. Lerwick’s legendary Lounge bar and the curtains in the local hospital were not as they are. Shetland is a drama not a documentary said those involved, with no little exasperation. All in all, however, it was a great success with renewed pressure now on the BBC to commission a series.

The crew and actors had a great time last summer during the filming. That is the attraction of making television or film in the outlying parts of Scotland. The brilliant children’s author Mairi Hedderwick is to see her character Katie Morag filmed in the Western Isles. Balamory was a regular part of the Tobermory scene for some time and the local Mull economy benefited from the attention. The outlying parts of Scotland need this focus. Not just because of the tourist spin-offs from a popular television series – more because these islands need people. They particularly need skilled people across the professions. Attracting a consultant, an oil executive or a local government expert is an increasing challenge.

Encouraging people to relocate to Shetland for work is about the lifestyle, the quality of education and the peace and quiet. If wildlife and sea cliffs are your thing, then the islands are the place for you. This pitch has stalled since the recession. The reason is simple: house prices. A successful GP working in Manchester who wants to escape the daily commute and pressure on schools considered the Scottish islands as a complete switch of location and life. With the UK housing market booming, the GP would be sure of selling the family home in Cheshire and buying a bigger and cheaper property in the islands. The housing crash has seen to that, however. People cannot sell. So, fewer are prepared to make a career switch without the certainty of a successful property switch.

That has slowed down career moves across the mainland. But it has had a devastating impact on island recruitment. This affects business, too. For example, an oil operations manager recently told me that, for various reasons, he preferred to commute to Shetland’s Sullom Voe from Edinburgh rather than move. But a decade ago that did not happen; people moved lock stock and barrel to the islands.

So, how do Scotland’s outlying communities make their case? Shows such as Shetland help as will Katie Morag, to be filmed on Lewis. But the public and private sectors need to work in harmony promoting the islands as wonderful places to live, work and play. An Edinburgh GP sick of the potholes and the trams would do very well in Shetland. She might soon also find a part-time role in a TV crime series.

• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland