Harris and South Lochs By-Election: Candidate Annie Macdonald

Voters in the Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas Nan Loch (Harris and South Lochs) ward go the polls on Thursday, October 8, to elect a new councillor.

By Peter Urpeth, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 2nd October 2020, 10:36 am
Annie Macdonald
Annie Macdonald

There are three candiates – Annie MacDonald, Grant Fulton and Kris O’Donnell – and we’ve given each of them the chance to tell the electorate what they stand for and why they should be elected.

ANNIE MACDONALD

Laxay resident Annie MacDonald was a local councillor on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for nine years up to the local elections of 2012, and is standing this time as an independent councillor. She is currently working in the care sector in the islands.

Like the other two candidates in this election, education issues in the ward area is a priority for Annie’s campaign, and on the issue of the potential closure of Pairc Primary School, she is unequivocal in her opposition and has committed to going “all-out to save the school” if elected.

But the issue of the school closure is not one for Annie that can be seen in isolation and as a purely stand-alone issue, it affects the future of the entire local community and other communities in the ward like Pairc.

“If Covid has taught us anything it is that we are all in our own small communities,” she said. “In the years gone past each of those communities had their own community facilities. We had a medical facility that covered the Lochs area, we had our small primary school that is in the heart of the Pairc area, and it’s important to retain that facility. 

“We have an ageing population here and if you want to attract young people into an area the very first thing they are looking for is actually a school.

“If you retain the school you can attract people to that area for that school. Get rid of that and you’ve got your ageing population and the holiday home scenario, so put some services into the local area to attract people in.”

In terms of the appointment of an executive head teacher overseeing Sir E Scott School along with the Nicolson institute and Leverhulme Primary School, Annie says that she has not found anyone locally who supports the plan.

She said: “I would have liked to have seen how people were informed, whether that was through the parent council, social media or whatever, and then if they [the Comhairle] are obviously going ahead with all of this, let’s maybe pace how it is actually working out. Let’s have a meeting every month to see how it is working out for everybody, and not just the one school but all the schools.

“The biggest concern for me is what impact this is going to have on the child’s education and also on all the staff that are left there. Are they going to be under more pressure, less pressure, are they going to be off ill with stress?

“The reason you have a school is to educate your children, and it’s the best possible place of the child, and we must not forget that in all of this.”

One issue that the ward relies on in terms of its economy is tourism, but this summer, in the post lockdown tourism season, parts of the area have reported significant problems with camper vans and wild camping visits.

For Annie, a key issue is that of road safety, specifically with regard to cyclists who, she asserts, should be given their own dedicated cycle lane adjacent to the main road to increase their safety and the safety of other road users, including pedestrians and those walking the Hebridean Way. 

In terms of camper vans, Annie is critical of the move that permitted the reopening of tourism to the islands but which saw public facilities such toilets and waste-disposal remaining closed, and has called for increased runs by bin lorries to empty the bins, and for an increase in dedicated parking areas.

But, for Annie, one issue remains a central focus for her campaign – a proposal that would allow public sector workers to opt into being paid weekly rather than monthly as a way of addressing issues of in-work poverty.

She said: “I’m very aware that there are an awful lot of people working in the public sector…in the Western Isles for the council, and I would like to see all of those working people having the option of getting a weekly wage instead of a monthly wage.”

With regard to household budgeting, Annie said: “It is easy to do seven days at a time. When you’re doing that over four weeks, that’s a long time so you end up possibly in credit card debt, you end up possibly, even, getting help from family for the last week and today, as we all see, there’s food banks and baby banks out there.”

When asked what message she sends the electorate, Annie is equally clear: “I apologise for not coming around to your houses because of Covid. By now I would be out and about knocking your doors, and I would be listening to your issues and I would try my best to assist you if I possibly could. I will certainly do my best for you.”

To read about the other candidates, go to Grant Fulton and Kris O’Donnell