Labour should be less reticent in “blowing its own trumpet” to remind the electorate of the party’s “fantastic record of delivery” for the Western Isles.
This was the message from the former UK Government Minister, Brian Wilson, when he officially opened the new Labour MSPs’ office in Church Street, Stornoway, on Wednesday.
Mr Wilson said: “Whether it is in the distant or near past, Labour has a proud record of delivery for these islands. But if we don’t remind people occasionally, it tends to get forgotten while others will always turn up for the opening ceremonies.”
He said that no part of the country had gained more from the great Labour reforms of the 20th century – the National Health Service, the Welfare State, the HIDB and the National Minimum Wage to mention but a few.
But the recent record of delivery by Labour representatives was equally honourable, he said: “The massive programme of public expenditure in the years after 1997 did not happen by accident but because these islands had representatives and friends who worked effectively to secure it.
“We now take for granted the programme of roads, bridges and causeways which have transformed communications within the islands. The Air Discount Scheme was a great innovation which has now been heavily diluted to the detriment of local businesses.
“Sixty per cent of school pupils in the Western Isles are in new or refurbished schools thanks to a decision taken by a Labour education minister at Holyrood, Peter Peacock, and later delayed and obstructed by his successors.
“Labour delivered the programme of land reform which has contributed to more than half of the Western Isles coming under community ownership. We supported Gaelic-medium education, which has since plateaued, and established BBC Alba. The list is extremely long and the question is obvious - what has there been to compare since?”
Mr Wilson quoted the example of the Harris Tweed Act, passed at Westminster in 1993. He said: “That is perhaps the most precious piece of legislation specific to the Western Isles. It now seems incredible that it was steered through Parliament, unopposed, by Calum MacDonald working hand in glove with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
“Compare that with the absence of leadership or influence of recent years on the development of renewable energy in which the Comhairle has fought a lone hand. I say without hesitation that if that campaign had been supported by Parliamentarians we would not still be waiting for a decision on a sub-sea cable, far less the cable itself.
“These islands are too small to accommodate big political egos. We need representatives who work with the local authority rather than sniping at it from afar. And we need Parliamentarians who are prepared to fight the corner of a very distinctive constituency rather than always parroting the party line”.
Mr Wilson paid tribute to the two Labour MSPs, Rhoda Grant and David Stewart, for their attention to island issues. “For example, they are the only Parliamentarians representing the Western Isles who have given consistent and vocal support to the campaign for a ferry service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale”.
He said that Labour should develop a coherent campaign against the centralisation strategy which is being imposed by Edinburgh. “We have seen HIE’s budget slashed, the Crofters Commission stripped of powers and the Highlands and Islands Partnership Programme abolished. Yet, more than ever, the economy of the Western Isles cries out for investment rather than cuts.”