Stornoway Gazette Letters 6.6.13

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SCHOOLS OUTCOME

Mike Russell, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education, commented that he had nothing to apologise for on hearing that his Appeal at the Court of Session against Comairle nan Eilean Siar had been completely rejected. This comment speaks volumes. Yet it was Mr Russell who accused Comhairle nan Eilean Siar of a flawed consultation process during their Review of Educational Provision.

This cast a slur on the professionalism and integrity of officers and Councillors and could not be allowed to go unchallenged. No fewer than seven High Court Judges have now completely vindicated the Comhairle’s processes.

Indeed the initial Judicial Review judgement was so clear and conclusive, ie. rejecting all the pleas from Scottish Government and upholding all of the pleas from the Comhairle – that it was impossible to find a straw for Mr Russell to clutch for his Appeal! In Lord Brailsford’s words : “In my opinion, in respect of each of the four schools, a fair reading of the various papers produced by the council in order to comply with the statutory steps set forth in sections 1-11 of the 2010 Act leads to the conclusion that they have properly and fairly considered all matters relevant to the closure proposals.”

And in the words of Lady Smith: “ I consider that, on a proper consideration of all the material which documented the consultation process, it could only be concluded that special regard was paid to the rural factors from start to finish.”

The Review became necessary in view of crumbling buildings, drastically declining school rolls, changing curriculum, as well as reduced funding from Government.

Added to this was the Scottish Government’s own directive to Scottish Local Authorities that 90% of all school buildings should be in very good condition by 2018. The aim of the Review was to ensure a sustainable education service for all children in the Western Isles in environments suitable for the 21st Century and the Comhairle are well on the way to achieving this. Now that this is finally over, I would like to pay tribute to the Chief Executive and officers in the Education, Legal and Finance Departments who ensured that legislation and guidelines were rigorously followed and that Councillors received prudent advice. I greatly appreciated the support of my Vice-Chair, the Leader and the Councillors who supported me during a difficult period.

I also recognise that this was a very difficult time for parents, pupils and staff in our schools and sympathise with them.

I hope the Comhairle, parents, pupils and staff will continue going forward providing the best quality education in the best quality buildings for our present and future pupils.

MORAG MUNRO

Former Councillor, Harris

BETTER TOGETHER?

Idealists are often the victims of their own illusions. This came to mind when reading in the Stornoway Gazette, May 30th, the statement by Alastair Darling, launching the Western Isles Better together campaign: “There are so many factors that bind us together and so much history we share.”

Presumably Mr Darling is not aware that without the Treaty of Union we would not have suffered for over a hundred years the clearances that resulted in the Highland and Islands becoming the largest man made desert in Europe.

My evicted progenitors from Uig and Harris would attest the words of MacKenzie MacBride:

“Oh!Land where the heather blooms.

And the salt spray splashes the beach,

Where only the wind and the sky above,

Are out of the landlord’s reach,

For the hill they want for the deer,

And the glen the birds enjoy,

And bad for the game the smoke of the cot,

And the song of the crofter’s boy.”

No binding together here.

Scotland is the only country in the world to lose her independence as a result of bribery, The Better Together campaign propagate that the Scots were desperate for the Union. But if this was true could Alastair Darling and fellow Unionists inform us why the English had to bribe over 30 aristocrats in the Scots Parliament to induce them to vote for it? Queen Anne put her trust in James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, to deliver Scotland. Once the Treaty of Union was signed Douglas was given £12,325 (worth probably £2,000,000 today) and a pension of £3,000 per year. Queen Anne rewarded him with land in England and the titles: Duke of Dover, Marquis of Beverley and Earl of Rippon. The entire patronage of Scotland was conferred on him by the Crown including his appointment as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Let us not forget that as Highlanders and Islanders were being evicted and banished to foreign climes, their sons were being liberally used in battles.

The Napier Commission accepted that in Skye alone at least 34,700 had been evicted between 1849 and 1883.

In this context the slogan Better Together is erroneous and illusory. Them and Us and Stress and Strife and not Better Together has been the reality for many Scots since the Act of Union was passed in 1707. The purpose of the incorporating Act of Union was not to conserve Scottish nationality but to destroy it.

DONALD JOHN MACLEOD

(A Lewis ex-pat)
Aberdeen AB22 8WY

HARBOUR

I welcome this week’s news that Stornoway harbour has been designated as one of 319 seaports around Europe as “essential” for the internal market and the European economy.

Harbours classified as such will be able to apply for European funding that they can invest in upgrades and improvements. Any project would have to provide matching funding, be it from the public or private sector.

The European Commission believes that by upgrading these harbours and making great use of them, it will save the European economy 10 billion euros a year by 2030 and develop shorter sea links.

During tough economic times, any and all forms of investment should be welcome. This potential investment should help create good well-paying jobs which will boost the local economy. At this same time, it highlights why being a member of the European Union is so important to Britain. The next step is that the legislation which includes this proposal must be approved by the European Parliament. I cannot foresee any reason why it will not pass and we can start investing in Scotland’s future.

DAVID MARTIN MEP, Midlothian EH25 9RE

EDITORIAL - Salary and expenses increase at Council

Despite a swathe of cuts to services endured by the public, Councillors at the Comhairle seem to be doing alright thank you very much, as according to our page 5 story the Local Authority’s bill for salaries and expenses has increased by more than £22,000 from last year.

In times of austerity this just doesn’t look good to the voters.

Salaries are of course set at a national level and cannot be influenced locally, but is there cause to question these salary levels, which start at £14,600, for what many would argue is a part-time job?

Yet, it is heartening to see that some of our Councillors are very mindful of the public purse with some choosing not to claim for travel expenses, even though they are entitled; as Cllr Iain Morrison, says: “As far as I’m concerned my salary covers any expenses I have.”

With the public being asked to expect less from local services due to cuts, is it not time the Comhairle also tightened their belts, and make it a firm target for 2014 to spend less not more in expenses and pay?

Tell me your thoughts on this issue by contacting me at: melinda.gillen@stornowaygazette.co.uk