Stornoway Gazette letters 15.8.13

Jenny Morrison captured the beauty of Traigh Mhor, Tolsta with this picture in which she asks: "Who is the lady in red?"
Jenny Morrison captured the beauty of Traigh Mhor, Tolsta with this picture in which she asks: "Who is the lady in red?"
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POLITICAL TWITTERING

The Labour Party of the Western Isles would like to offer full and generous congratulations to the Western Isles MP, Angus B MacNeil MP – for achieving national recognition in the pages of the Sunday Times for being one of Westminster’s top twitterers.

Apparently, he has issued over 29,000 twitters since he was elected to represent this constituency, placing him in the silver medal position among all MPs. Well done, Angus!

Unfortunately, however, those who follow such tweets have been less impressed by the standard of his communications on football and the other important matters that seem to move and influence his behaviour. Instead, he has achieved the grand total of 0.18 followers on average for his unique insights and observations – the lowest number of any Westminster representative.

It is clear that, even as a twitterer, there is a great deal of work still to be done. This is even truer about the more important aspects of being an MP. Some of them even wash up close to his doorstep.

His fellow Barra native, Angus Macleod of the group, SHAMED has pointed out that the selection of the Sound of Barra as a marine European Special Area of Conservation will clearly have a negative effect on the livelihood of those among Mr MacNeil’s neighbours who are employed as crofters and fishermen. Despite this, the MP has decided to support the Scottish Government in their recent decision.

This is despite the fact that, contrary to earlier claims, this matter is a devolved issue, one where Scottish Government could easily have rejected SNH’s advice and protected local jobs.

There are many ironies in this. Much of this occurred in the week when the First Minister, Alex Salmond has claimed in his Lerwick Declaration, that power will be devolved from Edinburgh to the Scottish islands when the nation is on the other side of the rainbow and independence finally arrives.

At the same time too the Scottish Government – represented in this area by both Mr MacNeil and Dr Allan – has announced plans to create yet more Marine Protected areas off the Hebrides, including one off the Monach Isles.

What effect is this going to have on the future development of these islands? Is this really in our long or short-term interests?

One can only hope that Mr MacNeil – in a tweet to his neighbours, perhaps – will answer this question and tell us, too, when this miraculous change in the attitudes of the Scottish Government to the islands is set to occur.

From the abolition of the Highlands and Islands Partnership to the slashing of the HIE budget, the stripping away of the powers of the Crofting Commission to this latest example in the Sound of Barra and the waters of the Western Isles as a whole, there hasn’t been the slightest chirp of it yet.

Matt Bruce

Chair, Western Isles Labour Party


BHALTOS CENTRE

In a recent radio interview my local councillor, Norman ‘ Dokus’ Macdonald,waxed lyrical about our wonderful Western Isles Council ( Comhairle) and the need for more powers to be given to this “visionary” organisation of which he is currently Convener.

I would suggest that Convener Macdonald use the powers already at his disposal, and devotes his verbal energies to matters of more immediate concern to those who originally elected him as a humble councillor . High on their priority list is the proposed redevelopment of the former Bhaltos Outdoor Centre.

Hard to believe looking at its present dilapidated condition that the Bhaltos Outdoor Centre was until relatively recently a very popular venue for groups of all ages taking part in a variety of outdoor activities. But latterly, its very spartan facilities were allowed to fall into disrepair through lack of investment.

The latest proposals, through welcome, have all the hallmarks of a cobbled together back-of -the-envelope plan.

Convener Macdonald, who is normally an excellent communicator, is unusually silent when it comes to discussing details of the proposed Bhaltos redevelopment,and reluctant to publicly give his full backing and commitment to the project. This has aroused suspicions that all is not what it seems.

I believe Convener Macdonald’s non-committal silence mirrors the Comhairle’s intention of finding an excuse to ditch the project. That claim is not made lightly, the facts speak for themselves.

Even without the added cost of demolishing the existing building, the figures produced by the Comhairle just don’t add up when comparing construction costs of buildings designed to comfortably accommodate and cater for the numbers envisaged for Bhaltos.

Additionally, an unrealistically tight time frame has been imposed on the project.

We can already predict the consequences: time will run out before funding, designing and planning are in place, or the tenders will come in way over allocated budget.

Either way the Comhairle will have their ready made excuse to abandon the project, and Convener Macdonald’s deliberate public silence ensures he won’t be embarrassed by unfulfilled promises.

I fully realise that my claims, if disproved, have left me dangerously exposed in ‘hat eating’ territory.

My claims can easily be rebutted by the Comhairle/Convener Macdonald giving a written assurance they have sufficient time and funding to construct a spacious and durable new Bhaltos Outdoor Centre fit for the 21st century, together with the dates they envisage tenders being issued and construction work starting.

While we await a response, I have taken the sensible precaution of thoroughly cleaning my most readily digestible hat.

Iain M Macdonald, Uig

ILLEGAL NETS

Your report ‘Poacher’s illegal net kills porpoise’ on July 31st, highlights the significant problem of illegal gill netting for salmon and the wider damage to cetaceans and indeed sea birds that can occur.

The extent of this serious wildlife crime is demonstrated by the fact that in 2012 water bailiffs employed by Scotland’s District Salmon Fishery Boards seized 129 illegal gill nets.

It is illegal to sell rod caught salmon and sea trout in Scotland and therefore the only fish that can legally reach the market are those caught in legally operated commercial nets.

However, in Scotland, as opposed to the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, we do not currently require such legally caught fish to be tagged, thereby allowing consumers to identify them as being legally taken.

Until this situation is remedied, it is nearly impossible to prevent illegally taken fish reaching the market.

The Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013 now gives Scottish Ministers the powers to introduce such a system in Scotland.

However, unless such a system uses individually numbered and recorded tags, the wider impacts of illegal and indiscriminate netting will not be reduced.

It is also worth noting that retailers of such nets in Scotland also bear some responsibility for this situation. We have reported at least one retailer to Wildlife Crime Officers who specifically markets such nets for the capture of salmon.

Dr Alan Wells

Policy & Planning Director
Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, Edinburgh

EDITORIAL - Let’s talk about ferry services in the Islands

The future of Island ferry services - has been highlighted in our front page story this week.

The information discussed by the ‘Expert Ferries Group’ set up by Transport Scotland to provide Government Ministers with advice will not be made public and local groups have not been asked to join.

Transport Minister Keith Brown explained the group’s remit was “to provide advice based on issues raised by local ferry user groups”, but exactly how they are going to gather information is puzzling if people don’t know what they are talking about and therefore cannot engage in the process, and if local groups are not part of the discussions.

An efficient, affordable and practical ferry service is vital to island dwellers, this group may well help achieve these aims, but not if local input is ignored.

Without transparency the Government will leave themselves open to claims that the only decisions being taken are the ones they would like to make.

If you would like to comment, or write a letter on this subject, or any other please email at: news@stornowaygazette.co.uk