Gazette letters 3.3.16

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UNRESPONSIVE COMHAIRLE

A number of weeks ago a letter appeared in the Stornoway Gazette in which I alluded to a catalogue of financial and technical errors, delays and general ineptitude by the Comhairle that has resulted in their abandoning plans to build a much-anticipated new Bhaltos Outdoor Centre in Uig, Lewis.

I was rather hoping that the Comhairle may have viewed my letter as an opportunity to give their version of how a project which they previously loudly assured was definitely going ahead as planned could some years later, amidst great disappointment in the local community, be quietly dropped without a murmur of publicity or explanation.

Could this possibly be the same Comhairle that prides itself on public consultation?

The lack of a Comhairle response reinforces the opinion that the negative views expressed in my previous letter were entirely factual, and that the Comhairle feels unable to defend the indefensible.

In defining the Comhairle, I include higher ranking officials and councillors of all political colours.

The alternative explanation for the continued public silence on the Bhaltos Outdoor Centre is that the Comhairle hierarchy believe their time is much too valuable to be spent in dealing with what they regard as insignificant matters brought to their attention by unworthy inferiors from amongst the common people, with whom, it would be undignified of them to be answerable to or engage with.

I guess we will now never know which of these two possible explanations is the most accurate .

Iain M Macdonald

Miavaig, Isle of Lewis

LAND REFORM

I warmly welcome the long overdue progress that is being made on the Land Reform Bill but it does not go far enough.

If we are to truly address the imbalance in the way that land in Scotland is used, owned and managed then the Scottish Government must to be bolder and more radical.

Owners of derelict and vacant land currently don’t pay any tax on it, meaning they can hang onto it for years without paying a penny.

Meanwhile the cost of land elsewhere keeps going up and up. We need to bring vacant land into taxation and use the money raised from this to build accessible, affordable and sustainable housing.

This would be a huge step towards fixing Scotland’s housing crisis.

This is not the time for timidity from the Scottish Government.

The Land Reform Bill is a golden opportunity to make Scotland fairer, and the SNP must be bold and seize it.

John Finnie MSP

REMAINING SILENT

In recent weeks, there have been several matters of exceptional importance to the people of the Western Isles, all of them fully devolved to the Scottish Government.

On the cuts forced upon Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and other Scottish local authorities by John Swinney’s austerity budget, the MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Allan, has been silent leaving councillors to face the anguish of extremely difficult decisions.

On the disastrous failure of the Scottish Government to make payments to crofters and farmers, due to a £180 million computer system which they wasted Scottish taxpayers’ money on, the MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Allan, has been silent with not a word of apology to those left in financial need.

On the imposition by the Scottish Government of Marine Protection Areas which will threaten the livelihoods of fishermen and processing businesses and have been judged unreasonable even by Scottish Natural Heritage, the MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Allan, has been silent and has failed completely to defend the constituency interest.

At this point, we are entitled to wonder if Mr Allan feels strongly enough about anything ever to express an opinion of his own, or if he is simply a political automaton mouthing the party line on everything and representing his constituents on nothing.

Then, lo and behold, we learn from the front page of last week’s Gazette that there is an issue on which Mr Allan does indeed feel strongly – the date of the European referendum which he considers “disrespectful”.

Has it occurred to Mr Allan that remaining silent on issues which actually affect the daily lives and wellbeing of his constituents, in the hope that nobody notices that he represents the party and government which have created these difficulties, might also be considered not only “disrespectful” but also neglectful of the job is he is paid to do.

Matt Bruce

Garrabost, Isle of Lewis

TESTING OF SCHOOLCHILDREN

From my own teaching experience, I know that National Testing of children does nothing to improve attainment.

Despite protests from Teachers’ Unions, it was inflicted on pupils in P4 and P7 and in S2 in the early 1990s by the controversial Thatcherite Education Minister, Michael Forsyth.

It only served to cause unnecessary anxiety to children and parents and consequently to staff. No child, regardless of educational need, was exempt.

Statistics from these annual tests were gathered by the government to supposedly inform them of a school’s performance. Thankfully the system was finally thrown out in 2003 by the Labour led Scottish Government.

Children are continually assessed in a variety of ways in schools every day. To base annual information on a child’s progress in eg numeracy from one test given on one particular day is meaningless.

Nicola Sturgeon has recently unveiled plans to reintroduce national testing in reading, writing and numeracy at P1, P4, P7 and S2.

This expansion of national testing to include 5 year olds has been rebranded by the SNP Scottish Government as a ‘progressive’ policy. Once again, Teachers’ Unions are voicing their alarm. Improving children’s attainment needs funding for many things including reducing pupil/teacher ratios and making good resources available.

Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has made it known that she is committed to improving children’s educational opportunities and is committed to narrowing the attainment gap.

She proposes to fund this with the 1p tax rise which will not adversely affect anyone earning less than £20,000.

Those earning £20,000 will contribute £2 per week and contributions will increase on a sliding scale and those on a very high salary, like the First Minister on £145,000, will contribute £1,340 per year.

Kezia has highlighted the 16% cut that the SNP are making to education budgets. Locally, one glaring result is the imminent loss of all specialist teachers in music, art and P.E.

The Scottish Government cannot waste precious tax payers’ money in funding this regressive policy. The Tories tried National Testing of young children and it failed. The SNP seem unable or unwilling to learn from past mistakes.

Christine Macsween

Point, Isle of Lewis

BREXIT

The argument by those such as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and fellow ‘Brexiters’ that our independence from the EU will see our full sovereignty restored is naïve in the extreme.

It is not a case of being sovereign or not being sovereign, as this concept is relative. If one refuses to pool sovereignty a country in fact has potentially less sovereignty as it has limited control over trading arrangements, pollution, the cleanliness of its seas, migration or terrorism.

The UK is already subject to some 700 international treaties and member of a number of international organisations.

As a member of the UN, WTO, NATO and the IMF for example, we share our sovereignty, infringing on our national self-determination. But through this approach we have influence and maximise our effectiveness.

As a member of the European Economic Area, Norway for example is the 10th largest contributor to the EU budget and is bound by the rules of the single market without any say in the decision-making process.

Many ‘Brexiters’ see the Norwegian model as one they would like to go down, but Oslo has to adhere to all the EU’s product standards, financial regulations and employment regulations, enacting 75 per cent of EU legislative acts.

A UK choosing this track would, in other words, keep paying, accept rules from Brussels without having any influence on them, and would remain committed to the four freedoms, including free movement.

For those wanting true full sovereignty there is only one nation that I can think of that is truly sovereign, and that is North Korea.

Alex Orr

Policy Adviser The European Movement in Scotland

Edinburgh EH3 7LB

REAL COST

The revelation by Unison of the real cost to the economy of the Western Isles of the Holyrood government’s continued attack on local authority finance, is both timely and damning.

The simple fact is that the economy of the Western Isles simply cannot afford or sustain the continual barrage of cuts that have come as the direct consequence of SNP decision making; SNP austerity economics and SNP centralisation.

We cannot afford stand-stills in council tax levels, and we cannot afford, both economically and morally, to refuse - as Mr Swinney has done - the opportunity to raise central taxation as a means of limiting the impact of the Tory austerity programme on Scotland.

That decision will cost many people in Scotland their jobs, and it will cost many more the services they rely on in their daily lives.

Many households in the Western Isles are already suffering as a consequence of job losses in the oil industry, and the SNP’s cuts agenda means that those job losses send men and women home from the North Sea to an island economy that is simply not generating new job opportunities for them, or anyone else in the desperate position of being unemployed in the islands in 2016.

I have no doubt that the SNP will rally to a call that Westminster is to blame for it all, but the fact is that the SNP Government in Holyrood is making decisions that hurt us all and which hit islands economies harder than any other part of Scotland.

Peter Urpeth

Back Isle of Lewis

EDITORIAL - IMPROVING AIR SERVICE PERFORMANCE

Islands’ air provider Loganair unveiled its first revamped Saab 340 aircraft this week, renaming it ‘The Spirit of Orkney’. It is the first aircraft to be overhauled as part of Loganair’s £3.5m renewal programme.

And although the comfort needs of the passengers will be significantly improved with upgrades including new lighting, new carpets and better acoustics, the reliability of the aircraft which services the Scottish Islands, is still a cause for concern.

The company has come under severe criticism over its performance from the public and politicians over the last year.

This latest renewal programme has been met with a measure of cynicism with comments from the public indicating that they would prefer to see an improvement to reliability and punctuality.

However, the company are keen to point out that the renewal process is a positive step in the right direction, stating that they have also provided a new spares hub, keep spare aircraft in Aberdeen and Glasgow and have recruited more engineers.

Yet the company are reluctant to release any figures on the number of delays or cancellations that have been caused by technical faults, such an important indicator of improvement, or lack of improvement is vital.

MSP Alasdair Allan has also highlighted this issue saying that there is a need for the company to “ensure a measurable improvement”, he added that the Government “now wants to see tangible evidence from the company that these measures are improving the punctuality of flights”.

Let’s hope Government can obtain this information which has been withheld from the public.

Our picture of the week was sent in by reader Mona Brett-Pitt of Leurbost, Lewis, who sent this image of unusual reflections taken in her home village.