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by Margaret Taylor
15 December 2023
'Orkney is unique and needs more autonomy in implementing government decisions'

'Orkney is unique and needs more autonomy in implementing government decisions'

Scottish Greens councillor Kristopher Leask, who represents the Kirkwall West and Orphir ward, on the buzz of island life and confusing people by speaking Orkney Norn.

Describe the area you represent in one sentence

Kirkwall West and Orphir is a great mix of a busy working town with great shops and cafes and a very rural area with amazing views over Scapa Flow and peatland hills.

How long have you lived there?

My whole life, apart from a few years away at university in St Andrews. I came back to do a masters at Heriot-Watt International Centre for Island Technology in the renewable energy department. At the end of university it was Covid so I came back and did my fourth year here and it worked out nicely with the masters I wanted to do. I’m now policy manager at Community Energy Scotland.

Tell us something we won’t know about your local area

The ward includes Scapa Pier and a good area of coastline near Scapa Flow, which is the largest natural harbour in Europe and the second largest in the world.

Who is the best-known person from your area?

Dr John Rae. He was born in Hall of Clestrain in Orphir and was the last Hudson’s Bay Company explorer sent to chart the northern area of Canada. He found the Northwest Passage and discovered what had happened to the Franklin Expedition [two ships led by Captain Sir John Franklin became icebound in 1846 and the entire crew was lost]. There’s a corner in the cathedral in Kirkwall with a big stone to him.

Statue of Dr John Rae in Stromness | Alamy

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?

In Orkney we’ve got a fairly unique challenge for rural islands in that we have a growing population and a growing economy and that has an impact on housing provision. That’s in part because of the success of the last 15 years in developing the energy and marine sectors as well as having a fairly strong economy compared to other parts of Scotland.

What made you stand for election?

At the core of it is a passion for the place I live in and a genuine eagerness to get stuck in. I’ve been interested in politics for a while and with my background in energy it seemed like a natural choice to stand for the Scottish Greens. I was in the SNP when I was a lot younger, around the time of the 2014 referendum, then when I was at university I decided to re-engage with politics.

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?

Genuinely being pragmatic and flexible. We’ve got quite different challenges and contexts here and that requires different decisions. A lot more autonomy and scope in how we implement government decisions would be a win-win for everyone.

What’s the best bit about living where you do?

The buzz about the place. For a place of its size, you’d be surprised how busy and international Orkney can be. We’ve got a good sense of being the seat of a community but we’re also surrounded by beautiful coastline and wildlife.

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?

We’ve got a very rich dialect called Orkney Norn, but a phrase I use a lot is ‘through by’. It describes something being in another room – ‘it’s through by’ – but it always confused my flatmates when I was at university. I didn’t even realise it was an Orkney phrase until I went there.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

I quite fancy trying life in another island community like one of the Hebrides at some point. I’ve barely visited any of them – they’re really hard to get to from Orkney – and it would be interesting to see the differences.

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