Letters January 19th, 2012

Exciting times

When I first joined the Comhairle in 2003, I remember, in my acceptance speech, saying that I was joining the Comhairle at a very exciting time.

I was alluding to the prospect of significant sums of money becoming available through renewable projects. Not one penny has yet been spent on the creation of the wind farms granted consent by the Comhairle.

Indeed with the failure of both UK and Scottish parliaments to take action to deliver the interconnector, and the absurd transmission charges being suggested by OFGEM, I sometimes wonder if these bodies do believe that in the Outer Hebrides we have some of the best wind and wave resources in Europe. Also there has been no lack of effort by senior members and officers in the Comhairle in pressing the case, most recently on Friday last.

Right now when the Comhairle faces very difficult decisions, it would be good to have the community benefits to help relieve the pressure on Comhairle budgets.

There are certain budget areas which I believe must be retained: support for the elderly is key to going forward given the significant demographic pressures we face, but a new way of expending resources in conjunction with the Health Board and the Voluntary Sector must be found which enables older people to remain fit and healthy at home for as long as possible.

We must support our young people as much as possible through education and apprenticeships. I believe that convincing the Scottish Government to increase the money available for housing is key to helping our economy.

We must also encourage entrepreneurship: there are a great many young, island people with very good ideas for taking forward their own business. The Comhairle helps through Business Gateway but we need to do more and I think it would be of enormous benefit if retired business people could offer an occasional mentoring service.

Given the UK Government’s intention to slash benefits, there is a need for a concerted effort to ensure that all those entitled to benefit, receive their entitlement.

The ‘Claim It’ campaign by the Comhairle just over a year ago generated £1.5million pounds principally for elderly people. The more recent campaign sponsored by Macmillan has taken in over £200,000 to date for those going through cancer and long term illnesses.

The CAB service has generated, for people in difficulty, over £817,000. These monies ensure that people are warm and fed and that they are less likely to need access to health and support services.

Furthermore it means that this money is spent largely in the local community and so retains jobs. There are real issues around poverty and fuel poverty in the Outer Hebrides. The Community Planning Partnership is aware of these and is taking appropriate actions. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an old adage but it is very true. In all its work the CPP encourages early intervention.

Not all the signs are gloomy. Recent hard-won acquisitions of significant sums of money from various sources off island to be spent in the island economy are very welcome; the Lews Castle and the Inner Harbour projects are both two with which I have some involvement – these will benefit the islands enormously. Officers are engaged in acquiring external resources for many projects.

For example through Stornoway Regeneration it is hoped that we will build on what has been achieved over the past five years. As ever these are projects carried out very often on a partnership basis and they are the better of with this cooperative approach.

Let me finish by remarking that community wind farm projects in the Outer Hebrides should begin to show signs of completion over this coming year.

So about a year from now, the first electricity will be exported from the islands and some community benefit will begin to be generated. No interconnector is needed for that; the small windfarms already have agreed connections to the grid. Even in the most difficult times, there is hope. ANGUS MCCORMACK, Councillor Stornoway South

Horse in house

I sincerely thank the Gazette for the report about my situation.

If it is alright for a half-ton human to live in a house, and receive benefits, then it is surely only humane to shelter another animal at risk, regardless of its size, (which also happens to be about a half ton?)

As for thriving – ‘Lady’ is turned out during the day, and, as the days lengthen, ‘twill be for longer. If it is a matter of keeping any animal in a domestic situation, then let us first consider the circumstances, and also the humaneness.

Is it right to keep a fish in a bowl? Is it right to keep a bird in a cage? Is it wrong to protect both and animal and neighbours, by removing the risk that, left outside, overnight, the pony is more likely to get loose and cause, not only harm to herself, but harm to others?

If she were to loose not only could she be killed, or, worse, maimed, but she could cause a traffic accident.

She is living in my house. I am the one being inconvenienced, by my choice, I am doing the best that I can, under the most adverse conditions.

As for ‘good outside space to thrive’, none has been offered, even though there is perfectly useful shelter and grazing nearby.

Sometimes, the Rules and Regulations need to be bent. STEPHANIE ANN NOBLE, Back

More turbines threat to birds of prey

We are very privileged to have been given dominion over land, air and sea but the Eisgein Estate along with Government connivance has usurped that privilege by deviously incrementing the huge number of wind turbines on their estate, to such an extent, that the feeding territory of our precious Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles will be encroached upon with inevitable huge fatalities.

It is on record, that there have been instances on Lewis where a solitary, isolated turbine, has been responsible for chopping up birds of prey, which doesn’t bode well for the extended mass of turbines on the Eisgein Estate, which will result in an avian blood bath because of its proximity to their territory.

Recently, every single conservation initiative on Lewis, be it on land, air or sea, has been shouted down by the same people every time because they feel it will effect their earning potential, or because they have a political axe to grind. No thought whatsoever for future generations. CALUM WALLACE, Ness

Scotland’s Independence Referendum

“A recent update on fuel poverty estimates for September 2011 reveals that the Outer Hebrides now has 56.8% of households in fuel poverty. This is in comparison to a Scottish average of 35%. The Outer Hebrides remains the local authority with the highest levels of fuel poverty.”

Of more serious concern, the Outer Hebrides has the: “highest level of pensioners in fuel poverty at 83%, Scottish average 50%.”

(Quoted from Ag Obair Comhla Airson nan Eilean Siar – Working Together for the Western Isles No.19 (12/11))

Why do we need a Referendum and an Independent Scotland? The above statistic puts all the arguments in sharp focus.

Scotland’s oil has contributed £250bn to Westminster to fight illegal wars and to commit £100bn to fund Trident over the next 25 years (at the same time as decimating our conventional forces). Trident, based at Faslane, is a blot on the Scottish landscape.

The Scottish Parliament has no say over Trident being based in Scotland, as defence is a matter wholly reserved to the Westminster parliament.

Yet, we still have fuel poverty and child poverty in alarming numbers, and rising. Surely we now have to re-order our priorities, in terms of an urgent need for a greater allocation of scarce resources to meet the most basic of physical needs of our citizens here in Scotland.

We have Free Personal Care in Scotland; Free Prescriptions; Students able to study at university in Scotland without graduating with a deficit of up to £36,000 hanging around their necks.

Also, we all benefit from a continuing freeze on Council Tax. Bridge tolls abolished. And, lest we forget, Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on mainland ferries, with this discount to be extended to inter-island ferries.

What more actual evidence do we need to convince ourselves that we are uniquely different from Tories and Liberals at Westminster? And now we have the most bizarre spectacle of Labour jumping into bed with Cameron and Clegg regarding the Referendum questions on the ballot paper - shame on them.

Malcolm Chisholm and Henry McLeish are to be applauded for distancing themselves from this scenario. Labour remains all at sea, and the Liberals have shot themselves in the foot – their party have long been in favour of Home Rule/Federalism, with more powers delegated to Holyrood from Westminster.

Canon Kenyon Wright has helped to promote this debate by making a clear statement in today’s Herald (Fri 13th Jan) about the right of Alex Salmond and the SNP administration at Holyrood to decide on such important matters, and in particular the framing of the questions to be asked in the Referendum in the Autumn of 2014 (and more will be revealed in the awaited Consultation Paper, due later this month on 25th Jan). Canon Wright is in favour of a question on “devo max”, or as he prefers to call this option, “secure autonomy”.

Civic Scotland, the CBI, the Churches and Trades Unions will have an important contribution to make. This process does not need to be undertaken with indecent haste.

The “process” is as important as the outcome we strive to achieve for everyone in Scotland who will be entitled to vote. I agree that this franchise should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds.

Is Scotland different from the rest of the UK? You bet we are! Now we will have the right to actually vote to confirm our rights, and to confidently determine our own destiny. Then, and only then, will our citizens be able to have the necessary resources to keep warm in their homes! A basic human right. ANDREW WALKER, Isle of Benbecula

Bible is amazing

What does the Bible say or what does God think about homosexuals and indeed, us all? Seems to be a big debate these days!

I am male and heterosexual and if I have sex with a woman and she is not my wife, the Bible says that is wrong. If I look at a woman and lust over her, the Bible says that is wrong. If I get drunk, the Bible says that is wrong. If I steal, lie, kill, hate etc., the Bible says all these are wrong. If I practice homosexuality the Bible says that is wrong.

In Corinthians there is a list of sins and it says that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God; homosexuality is amongst this list of sins. The amazing thing about God is His love and mercy and His desire for all to come to repentance and faith.

In this section the Bible says, “And such WERE some of you.” In other words when we repent and believe there is mercy whether we are heterosexual or homosexual or liars or thieves and so on.

The issue is not our sexuality. The issue is do we have a new heart? Are we born again? Is Christ our Saviour? Have we come to Him for help and forgiveness? Have we turned away from our sins? He says He won’t turn ANYONE away that comes to Him for life, if we come whole heartedly.

The issue is we are ALL sinners. The Bible says, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This leaves no exceptions but wonderfully, Jesus died to save sinners. So if we are lost eternally, it is because we have rejected the gift of life that God offers in the Bible. If Jesus is our Saviour, then He has paid on the Cross for ALL our sins; if not then we have to pay for our own sins in hell.

The Bible is amazing. It is God’s revelation, the instruction book for life and eternity. Read it for yourself. RODDY MACLEOD, Surrey (Native of Balallan)

Take a wider view

It is to be hoped that in its proposed forthcoming public debate on independence, the SNP will enlighten the Scottish electorate as to precisely how it intends to combine principles of assimilation and integration inside and beyond this modern developed nation as it seeks to establish fresh boundaries for separatoin and self-determination across the UK as it exists at present.

It surely doesn’t plan to simply bulldoze its way through issues of division and difference by means of penal legislation each time it is faced with challenges of political or social fragmentation or non-integration - as might perhaps be said of its recent efforts in regard to football sectarianism? That kind of approach is strictly superficial, in my view, and generally embarrassingly authoritarian, failing to address and ameliorate root causes.

While, I suppose, it could be argued that certain situations arising from circumstances of division, fragmentation, marginalisation, exclusion, degeneration etc have their roots in dysfuncitonal aspects of Scotland’s political past, either recent or historic, over which the SNP had no direct, at least parliamentary, control, it may, nevertheless, find itself required to deal with their enduring effects.

At the same time, it has to provide keen awareness of, and in, situations the effects of which might not, or any longer, be totally apparent or readily construed in terms formerly applied. It seems unlikely that authoritarian-type reactions, however slickly they may slide under claims of democracy at present, will withstand fresh tests of time if permitted to be exposed and re-examined in fair, frank and reasoned discussion.

Scotland will, in my opinion, continue to mature into greater confidence and evolve more effectively as a modern nation by remaining and successfully functioning as an integral part of the UK. That’s not to suggest it should surrender aspirations of combined statehood or cease to assert its rights of constitution and contribution - only aim to do so along lines of assimilation and shared responsibility, not division.

Now that it has managed, arguably beyond reasonable doubt, to establish its own individual political identity, the SNP should be confident and competent enough to admit to the fact that Scotland’s identity can not be adequately represented or symbolised by labels, or narrow terms, of nationalism.

Time to take a wider view, Mr S. MARY MONTGOMERY, Balallan