Gazette Letters 3.12.15

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Cultural vandalism

As often with budgetary matters such as the Autumn Statement spending review, the devil is ultimately in the detail and its repercussions only become clearer later.

Tucked away in the small print is the scrapping of £1m in funding from the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport for BBC Alba, the Gaelic television channel.

This means that BBC Alba will become entirely reliant on its two other sources of financial support - the BBC and Scottish Government.

The decision to remove all funding from Gaelic broadcasting is nothing short of cultural vandalism.

This fantastic TV station serves an audience of 700,000 people across the country, far outstripping the number of Gaelic speakers north of the border. And its output includes a wide mixture of news, current affairs, drama, entertainment and children’s programming. It has also provided a great boost to Scottish rugby and football through the televising of matches.

This decision further illustrates how under-served Scotland currently is when it comes to public service broadcasting. TV licence payers, for example, currently pay in £335m every year – but just £35m is spent on Scottish TV production.

These misguided plans, which will be detrimental to the development of the language and the Scottish creative sector, should be abandoned and the decision reversed.

Alex Orr


Christian stance

With Christianity under sustained attack your readers may recall the decision made against the McArthur family in Northern Ireland, when their bakery business was taken to court for declining a request to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.

The McArthurs declined the request on the grounds that to produce such a cake would conflict with their belief that marriage was a union between a man and a woman. The bakery had previously declined requests to produce pornographic cakes, or cakes bearing offensive language.

In this instance the pro-gay rights customer complained, and the publicly-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland took his case and launched legal action against the bakery.

The case was called at Belfast’s county court where a judge found the McArthurs guilty of breaching political, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination regulations, and ordered the bakery to pay the customer £500 for his hurt feelings.

This despite the fact that the McArthurs decision was based on the message they were being asked to promote, not the sexual orientation of the customer.

So where’s the justice in this, and where’s the justice for Christianity? Have we reached a stage where Christian business owners must be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it - or as the ECNI suggested - close down their business?

The encouraging news is that with legal backing from the Christian Institute, the McArthur family are appealing the judge’s decision.

Keith Fernie


Wide range of voices

There was interesting content in K Fernie’s letter in last week’s (November 26) Stornoway Gazette, particularly in relation to the doubt that, ‘extremism of this kind can be contained’.

And yet it seems that this is the same as ‘given up on extremism’, rather than an opportunity to understand and look for conditions in our own communities that contribute to the isolation that builds extreme viewpoints which justify extreme actions, and so, to find ways to resolve these issues and build-in resilience and shared futures.

While it is obvious and easy to see the end results of extremism, such as the recent unspeakable events in Paris, these tell us what to look for. There are building blocks that add up to people taking extreme actions, we can look at our own communities for results of slowly built environments that increase the fragility of individuals and groups and therefore of the whole community, so that we understand more about reducing things that add to extremism.

Local government have reported, in their 2007 Migration Study, that women are affected by island conditions that cause depopulation more so than men, and leave at faster rate, taking Gaelic-medium opportunities with them; this is significantly connected to conditions in low gender equality for jobs, over burden in caring, domestic violence, etc.

Meanwhile there are few women candidates for local leadership roles, and no recognisable contributions to change this ‘extreme’ gender polarity from any local opportunities, government funds, religious leaders, etc.

This is extreme in the terms that, our local council has the worst gender ratio in the whole of Europe, (population 500 million).

Surely all extremism can be contained, and solutions found, by the simple expedient of inclusion thus reducing isolation, so that there are a wide range of voices adding to core data thus gaining effective wide based inputs and information.

H Mansfield

Tong, Stornoway

Pension costs

I write to advise business owners in the Western Isles to be careful when choosing which company to go to for pension auto-enrolment.

My staging date was the 1st of October, and, being as busy as ever, I left it a little late to organise. However, I felt safe asking one of the major players, a business that I have used before, for a quote. They came back with a figure of £11,400 plus VAT to set it up for all of our staff, and a further £2,850 plus VAT annually to cover ongoing consultancy – a time-charged fee open to review.

These figures shook me to the core so I did what I should have done in the first place and contacted FSB Pension Services. A very pleasant member of staff immediately came back to me, quoting £1,100 plus VAT to set the scheme up and no annual consultancy fees thereafter. That’s a saving of £38,800 over 10 years!

The message is clear – shop around – and if you’re a member of the FSB, check FSB Customer Services out first!

Andrew Mackay

Caithness Collection Hotel Group & FSB Caithness & Sutherland

Winter heating

The Chancellor’s announcement that he will no longer cut tax credits is welcome news for the many thousands of families worried about how they would cope with such a dramatic cut in income.

It is clear that the stark analysis of these cuts from the public, media and charities such as ourselves, has made a difference.

It has shown that charities continue to play a crucial role as an independent voice, fighting to protect the most vulnerable people in society.

The impact of the proposed reduction to tax credits would have been dire to those on the lowest incomes.

We’ve already heard from a number of people who were desperately worried about how they would afford the basics such as heating and food. The announcement will ease those concerns for many.

However, whilst the news is positive, there is still an urgent need to let those struggling know what support is available.

We recently found that over half of low income workers are struggling to afford their energy costs, with a third skipping meals as a result.

Yet only 12% have told their energy supplier about their situation and only 5% have turned to an advice organisation.

I would urge anyone worried about how they, or a friend or relative, are going to cope with the cost of heating their home this winter to visit to see what help could be available.

Simon Hopkins

Chief Executive


Saltire Society

Nominations are now open for the Saltire Society’s ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’ 2016 campaign. A partnership between the Saltire Society and the Glasgow Women’s Library, the awards provide a brilliant opportunity to celebrate everything Scotland’s women have achieved and to recognise their huge contribution to culture and society.

Now in its second year, the campaign will be open for nominations for three months leading up to next year’s International Women’s day on the 8th March 2016, when a shortlist will be announced.

From this list, ten women will be chosen in July next year to be inducted into the ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’ community, joining last years’ inductees such as Scotland’s Makar Liz Lochhead, novelist Jackie Kay, and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Nominations can be made via Twitter using the hashtag #saltirewomen or by completing an online form at the Saltire Society website. Women from any background can be nominated, but they must be living, and contemporary examples of Scottish women who have made an exceptional contribution to culture and society.

Sarah Mason

The Saltire Society

EDITORIAL - Funding cut for BBC ALBA short sighted

The cut to Gaelic broadcasting, was at first under the radar, but finally when the details of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement were picked through, the fact was revealed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will no longer provide £1m a year to BBC ALBA.

In financial terms the contribution to the broadcaster was relatively small – 95% of all Gaelic broadcasting funding comes from the Scottish Government and the BBC.

But in fact the funding cut of £1m represents all of UK Government’s funding of Gaelic TV. It wasn’t that long ago that everything Scottish was very important to Westminster, with their campaign to persuade voters to remain within the UK family, a great success.

However it is very obvious now that they no longer feel that Gaelic is an important aspect of Scottish culture to be nurtured.

In financially pressured times many would argue that culture is number one on the chopping block when you are looking to make a few savings, however as Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has highlighted the Tories are quite happy to give £150m to London’s museums.

A million pounds is a drop in the ocean and this short-sighted decision on the part of the Conservatives simply plays into the hands of those who feel Scotland is short changed.

If you would like to comment, or write a letter on this topic or any other please contact me at:

Pictured is our Picture of the Week by reader Phil Rowe who snapped the Lews Castle Grounds tree monster during a walk towards the Creed mouth.