Friday, 24 March 2006


<![CDATA[ Having looked into the procession of industries that have come and gone from these shores, I'm sitting here wondering what goes wrong all the time. Incidentally, I don't claim to possess a comprehensive knowledge on the subject. I am merely taking the broad view, and I'd like to add that those in authority could do worse than doing likewise. Let's have a look.

Until about 10 years ago, there was a flourishing industry in Lewis and Harris, in the shape of Harris Tweed. A large number of mills were operating, in Stornoway, Shawbost and Carloway. Raw wool was taken in by the mills and processed into yarn. The bobbins with yarn would be taken out to the weavers (mainly crofters), who would turn it into raw Harris Tweed. The mill lorry would go round to pick up the finished lengths, and this would be processed into a finished garment or other product. A perfect industry for the islands, according to a source within the industry. Unfortunately, a dose of competition drove the majority of the mills to bankruptcy, and there are only 3 or 4 of them left. I believe that up to 10 used to operate in the past.
The point I'd like to make is that rather than encourage competition to the point that jobs are lost and industries closed down, those in authority (Comhairle, Enterprise at the Edge, Highlands & Islands Enterprise) should have steered the industry to greater success, with the existing workforce and plant. It didn't happen, and the mills are now reduced to making pretty handbags, Nike products (shoes with bits of tweed in them) and snapping at each other over alleged breaches of quality regulations under the Orb Trademark. For reference: no tweed can be called Harris Tweed unless it conforms to certain requirements.

Another industry, which appears to be going down, is fish farming. Again, it would appear to have been a perfect industry for the islands. Competition once again seems to be its undoing, with Norway being accused of dumping salmon on the market. Norwegian salmon producers appear to be in control of the industry, and this has already led to job losses. The Stolt salmon processing factory on Scalpay (off Harris) closed down in 2005, with the loss of 60 jobs. That is a heavy blow for the area, which has a population of only a few thousand. Unfortunately, straight geography would dictate that the Outer Hebrides are at an automatic disadvantage. Anything produced here needs to be carted over the sea. Therefore, if it can be produced on the mainland or closer to the consumer, than such would cut out the costs of transportation. The problem with the Norwegian connection is that Norway is (as yet) outside the European Union, and different rules apply with regards to trade and take-over of industries. .
The problems with the salmon production in the islands have been there for some time, and I'm rather concerned that a more pro-active if not aggressive approach is not taken by those in positions of power.

It is, generally speaking, something that besets the highlands and islands of Scotland. Because the area is very sparsely populated, it lacks political clout. The Western Isles are represented by one Member of Parliament for the UK parliament in London and one for the Scottish Parliament. The Westminster MP is currently of SNP hue, which is very much a minority party on the national forum, and although pro-active, is not taken serious enough.
The Scottish Executive is in a better position to support the islands, but it seems to be very slow in taking action. Fourteen months ago, a hurricane battered the islands, leaving damage estimated at 15 million pounds. There are still arguments raging about the level of payments towards repairs of (e.g.) infrastructure. Bear in mind that upgrades in the roads here has been funded mainly out of EU funds.

The Western Isles are a very vulnerable area, with a population of just 26,000.
I wish there was more aggressive support for our area, from both Edinburgh and Westminster. Why can't the British authorities do for the Hebrides what the Norwegians did for the Lofoden islands in their far northwest? ]]>

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