Letters April 26th

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A Better Comhairle

Having benefited from unprecedented levels of funding for new schools, the Comhairle’s SNP group expresses sadness that Morag finds it difficult to respect that the administration which provided that funding has strong views against closing rural schools.

The SNP group strongly argued that the schools building programme should have been staged, in order that local firms were in a position benefit from the construction. I am pleased that Morag confirms that, despite the vehement denials to the contrary emanating from elements of the Comhairle in recent weeks.

It is puzzling indeed to see criticism of bring forward amendments; a practice that Morag herself has engaged in on occasion. It is the constitutional method, to present proposals to the elected chamber where, they should be debated and amended in public. It is the lack of that which the Audit Commission so severely criticised. It is a matter of concern that Morag appears to suggest that the “freezing of care charges” might have been accepted, had approval been secured differently. If true, that is a shocking indictment of current practice.

The Comhairle decided that a massive level of school closures was to be undertaken and as Chairperson of the Committee, Morag was charged with taking forward that unpleasant task. Morag took forward her work with the single minded determination for which she is known and respected. There is another strongly held view that rural schools should not be closed. The communities of Carloway, Seilibost, Lochmaddy, Eriskay and Eoligarry are but some facing real uncertainty and their view must also be respected and represented.

My very best wishes to Morag in all her future endeavours. DONALD MANFORD Isle of Barra

‘Indpendents’

I would like to thank the Stornoway Gazette for undertaking the poll to determine whether independent Council candidates should declare a party political membership. The 95% of Gazette readers who responded ‘yes’ is matched by the response candidates are receiving on the doorstep.

Most people have had enough of independent candidates acting like surrogate Labour members and picking fights with the Scottish Government and almost everyone else, at will. This behaviour is detrimental to the Comhairle and does a disservice to the true independent council members. BILL HOUSTON Lochs

Smaller Comhairle

I am writing to ask all the candidates and voters for the upcoming Council elections in the Western Isles to join me in pledging to agree to reduce the number of councillors sitting in the Comhairle to a maximum of 18 by the next local elections.

This is in accordance with the wishes of the people of the Western Isles after a consultation which called for a reduction but led to an increase in councillors.

If the decrease had happened then, we would have had an extra £200,000 a year to work into the budgets, or an MS nurse three years earlier and extra services for the elderly and dementia sufferers and more to invest in aids and adaptations to allow elderly people to stay in their own home.

In the five years of this council we would have had an extra £1,000,000 to spend on services, this does not include the savings that would have been made on administrative support for a smaller Comhairle.

You can join me by pledging at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BCBPLDS

When the candidates come to your door ask them if they are prepared to pledge. SMALLER COMHAIRLE. KEVIN PATERSON, Leurbost

Not Dying

I am sorry to see the Gazette found the candidates’s responses to its query about the economy lacking pizzaz.

The truth is that our liberal capitalist system has fundamental flaws and we usually only tinker away while losing track of what is important to people in small communities: well-being, contentment, a clean environment, safe neighbourhoods, respect, and a host of other elements that make us ‘prosperous’ if not conventionally wealthy.

Yes, we need fair deals vis a vis RET, fuel and perhaps ADS, but they are dependent on an ‘external’ action.

We may be forever moaning -- and then blaming forces we cannot control. Let’s reduce our dependency, live within our means, and capitalise on the skills that are here now.

We know we can produce electricity and we have plentiful water: we can be at the new cutting edge of hydrogen fuel. How about affordable, frequent, and un-polluting public transport across our isles.

I believe I am the only candidate in last week’s edition who even mentions crofting. Diverse croft activities can produce much of what these islands need.

Crofting links island heritage to our future, whether it be food security or lifestyles or the rural idyll that visitors and tourists come to see.

Finally: how unfortunate for the Gazette’s leader to announce that ‘our islands are slowly dying.’ They are not. Some are discouraged: I have found that on my canvassing. But to paraphrase Mark Twain’s quip: talk of our demise is premature. BARRY SHELBY, Earshader

Independent Comhairle

The Western Isles Conservative Association welcomes the interest being shown in the Council elections to be held on the 3rd of May as evidenced in the large number of candidates challenging in each ward.

It is healthy for our democracy to see a good number of candidates contesting in each ward.

What we do not welcome though, is the increasing encroachment of party politics into the islands elections.

We believe this is detrimental to the work of the Council because of the divisiveness this will inevitably introduce at a time when the very difficult issues facing the Islands require a measure of unity of purpose.

The Western Isles Conservative Association urge electors to consider carefully the policies being put forward by the candidates and where they get the opportunity to speak to the candidates find out what are their priorities should they be elected.

The Western Isles Conservatives will support candidates who are genuinely Independent and are not pursuing a hidden politcal agenda as we feel that this will make for a stronger executive. MURDO MACLEOD, Newmarket

Working sgoths

As the current secretary of Falmadair, the North Lewis Maritime Society, I am writing to correct some details in your front page report, published on April 12th.

In fact an Sulaire is not “the islands’ only working sgoth Niseach”.

There are at least two surviving examples of a sgoth which was used for commercial and subsistence fishing.

One is the 1935 sgoth Jubilee, which was the last sailing sgoth to make the crossing to Sula Sgeir, over 40 miles of open water from Port of Ness.

This voyage was recreated in 2010 when the restored Jubilee celebrated her 75th birthday. The sgoth Niseach varied in length according to the purpose. Jubilee, at 27ft overall, represents the intermediate scale of this type of craft.

She went on to sail from Ness to Stromness, Orkney, direct, where she took part in several events to forge links with Orkney traditional boat enthusiasts.

She was first restored in the late 1970s by John Murdo Macleod who is a son of the original builder.

A very similar vessel the Oigh Niseach was built by John Murdo at the same time as the first Jubilee renovation. She is now in full commission at the Raasay Outdoor Centre and has visited Stornoway twice to take part in the annual maritime festival.

Her use has always been sail-training, rather than fishing but in that sense she is very much a working vessel and a very fine example of a sgoth Niseach.

There are very few surviving original examples of that smaller class, known as the “half sgoth”. Norman Macleod’s elegant Bluebird, at 17ft, has also been re-rigged as a sailing sgoth with a new dipping-lug, provided by Falmadair in return for her use as a training vessel.

However, an Sulaire is the only present example of the largest class of sgoth, at 33ft overall.

I’m sure I can speak for everyone with an interest in our maritime heritage in wishing an Sulaire trust well in bringing that powerful vessel back into commission. Last year Jubilee also underwent major surgery (including dismantling of her entire stern section). The work was carried out by Mark and his apprentice, ably assisted by a keen team of volunteers.

The maritime festival (now Sail Stornoway) helped generously as did Duncan Mackay and Co. But she would not be sailing on now if it were not for the efforts of so many volunteers who provide help in different ways. Some move greased elbows like greased lightning while others have given cash donations or administrative or fund-raising support. IAN STEPHEN, Stornoway

Loss of sheep

I was saddened to learn of the distressing fate the St Kildan sheep are currently suffering. Reports suggest up to 700 of the 2000 resident population may have already died or will yet succumb to hunger and weakness, before any chance of replenishing their strength on the newly growing grass. Even sadder to realise these unfortunate animals will be at their lowest ebb when giving birth and suckling their lambs. Surely this is an animal welfare issue, practically on our Western Isles doorstep. But apparently not!

The generously funded joint St Kildan custodians of the National Trust of Scotland (NTS) and SNH are unconcerned about this situation which they had already anticipated. They adopt a non-intervention policy and regard the St Kildan sheep not as suffering living creatures, but as an experimental scientific resource to be studied at leisure. A philosophy with which many sheep breeders and those with an interest in animal welfare would profoundly disagree.

St Kilda must be one of Europe’s most designated, monitored and researched natural environments. I’m certainly not against scientific research, but as a non-scientist would it be presumptuous of me to suggest that a fraction of the brain power expended on this rocky archipelago could be used to calculate how many sheep the sparse vegetation could sustain over a typical winter to allow the flock members a fighting chance of survival? IAIN M MACDONALD, Uig