Islands MSP gives us his take on life, the weather, Covid and island history in his monthly column for the Gazette.

Islands MSP gives us his take on life, the weather, Covid and island history in his monthly column for the Gazette.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 4:51 pm
Cluny Castle in Aberdeenshire, once home to Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, father-in-law to Lady Gordon Cathcart

As I write this, the house is creaking in a 60mph gust. Readers in Uist will scorn that sentence – they have just had a gust of 95 mph, I hear. It is clearly still winter.

The first lockdown began in pretty good spring weather. People were outside. Like many, I got my peats done in record time, before Zoom quickly caught up with me.

But lockdown in the winter is another prospect, I accept. I have never been busier, and I know that there are people who are really struggling now with the demands of childcare or the difficulties of not being able to visit family. Some people have asked me recently when lockdown will end. I have no inside knowledge. Lockdown has been the only option that countries around the world have had, and it continues to work. But I also recognise everyone’s weariness.

I do believe that there are good grounds for optimism. With invites now going out to people in their sixties, island vaccinators are turning their minds to people’s second doses.

One group in the islands who the NHS is asking to come forward is unpaid carers who look after older or disabled relatives and friends. We need this army of people to stay healthy, so if you are not yet registered as an unpaid carer, contact your GP to do so. The people who rely on you need you to be vaccinated, whatever your age.

This week brought more news about the Arnish Fabrication Yard. We finally have information on the new owners – Harland and Wolff. I spoke to their parent company this week to try to get a clearer idea of what the future may hold.

While it is too early to say how many jobs are coming to the island, the yard and its workforce both deserve better prospects after many hopes long deferred.

I am encouraged to hear the company talk about a diversity of fabrication work at the yard, and efforts to create a steadier flow of work, even if those begin on a small scale. I will be pressing the company for more information as time goes on, but I hope that this news can open a happier chapter for the yard based here in the Western Isles.

The names of Lady Gordon Cathcart and her father-in-law are still well remembered in both Uist and Barra, where they were responsible for forcibly evicting thousands of their tenants, as well as for pursuing the Vatersay land raiders to jail.

Less widely known is that the family made most of their money from a vast government bailout which rewarded those who had formerly been slave owners in the Caribbean. The Gordons, like many other families who owned estates in the Highlands and Islands would only agree to the abolition of this evil trade if they received monumental compensation from the taxpayer when slavery was abolished. The slaves of course received none of this money. I managed to secure time recently for a brief parliamentary debate to commemorate the sufferings during this period and the financial reward that was the sorry connection between the two.