Friday, 26 March 2010

Castlebay School row

The row between parents and students on the one side, and the management of Castlebay School and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on the other, continues to escalate. Today, about 20 pupils walked out in protest against the failing education standards. They only went back into class after a schooltrip to Barcelona, due to take place later this year, was threatened to be cancelled.

Last week, the parents passed a vote of no confidence in CnES as an education authority, following talks with the head of schools of said authority. The island's councillor has declared his own council to be unfit for purpose. Parents have called on the Scottish education minister, Mike Russell, to step in and sort out the mess. Reading the reports on Hebrides News, it appears that the Chair of the Education Committee and the Parent Council of Castlebay School reside on different planets.

I sincerely do hope that all parties concerned, rather than rolling about the streets of Castlebay in an unseemly brawl, stick their heads together to sort out this mess. It is the pupils' future that is at stake, which should supersede all other considerations.


The company responsible for maintaining the electricity transmission infrastructure in Scotland, SHETL, has unveiled its plans for linking the so-called interconnector to the island grid. This will involve a high-voltage (132 kilovolt) powerline from the Creed River substation to the Arnish Fabrication Yard, thence by subsea cable to a large electricity substation, to be built at Gravir in South Lochs. That is the point where electricity, generated by landbased renewable energy projects in Lewis (e.g. the Eishken Windfarm, the Shader Tidal Barrage and various community windfarms) will be transmitted to the mainland using the interconnector. This subsea cable will link from Little Loch Broom to Beauly (near Inverness), and onwards to Denny in Stirlingshire using the upgraded high-voltage link across the Highlands.

This is all subject to approval by the Scottish Government of the Interconnector and the Arnish to Gravir subsea cable. The project is cited as necessary to pipe all the power, generated by renewable projects, away to the mainland.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that a weather pattern was in place one day which created flat calm conditions across Scotland. All the windfarms in the country, from the Borders to the Northern Isles, only managed to generate enough power that day to boil 1,000 kettles. That would have left an awful lot of folk with cold cups of tea. And we're supposed to rely on that for all our power? Just as well a new tranche of renewable energy project was released this week, related to tidal and wave power in the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and Caithness.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Red coat memorial

With reference to the Battle at Culloden, April 1746, a military historian has called for a memorial to be erected in memory of the soldiers who fought on the side of the Duke of Cumberland, in opposition to the Jacobite forces, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Not much is being made of the Red Coats, as all the attention is focused on BPC. I have previously made clear that I feel that the Jacobite prince was a royal fool and incompetent to a catastrophic degree. Whilst the clan system was already on the way out in the mid 18th century, Charlie's actions served to give the Hannoverian forces the pretext they needed to go on the rampage in the Highlands and Islands.

Culloden is often marked as the occasion which marked the end of the Scotland of old. Well, in 1707, Scotland had already ceased to be an independent nation, by virtue of the merger of the Scottish Parliament into the Westminster one in London. The rebellions by the Old Pretender in 1715 and his son, the Young Pretender, in 1746, served no purpose. To this day, the people in the Highlands and Islands can be claimed to feel the effects of the disaster that was Culloden, without a doubt.

Comparing Scotland to Norway, as some politicians like to do, throws up some unpleasant home truths. The remote areas in Norway are supported, if necessary subsidised, by the government in Oslo. The remote areas of Scotland are not supported to any degree like that of the Norwegians. The fish farming industry is a case in point, where plants and companies have been taken over by foreign parties - to be closed down and asset stripped. The Norwegians would never allow that to happen in e.g. the Lofoten Islands. So, why does the Scottish Government or indeed the British Government permit it?

No, I'm not a Scottish nationalist. Far from it. This post is merely highlighting one of my pet hates, the elevation of Prince Charles Edward to the status of near-sainthood in Scottish history. The man was an unmitigated disaster for Scotland.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Castlebay School

A ferocious row is going on in the Isle of Barra, 120 miles south of Stornoway. The school in the main town, Castlebay, has been receiving less than favourable reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education, now for 3 years in a row. Parents are concerned and so are the pupils. A local internet blog highlighting the issue received 100 comments, whereas commonly the number of comments on its entries is around a dozen or so. More remarkable is that the Council blocked access to the blog from computers at the school in Castlebay.

In spite of a visitation by a senior education official, parents' and students' fears are by no means allayed, and a move could be afoot to wrench control of the school from the council to the community. This would require the consent of the Scottish Government.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Eishken Windfarm

With reference to Victor Meldrew's (of One Foot in the Grave fame) favourite exclamation in mind, I clapped eyes on this article on Hebrides News. I find this unbelieveable. But it's coming from a reasonable reliable source, so I assume it to be true.

Eishken Estate owner Nicholas Oppenheim proposes to sell the sites for the Muaitheabhal windfarm to a company which will construct the windfarm. Whether Mr Oppenheim will retain part ownership is not clear. I cannot make head nor tail of this saga.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Visit to Ness

Went to Ness on Tuesday afternoon, with the dual purpose of visiting the Heritage Centre in Habost (where the Comunn Eachdraidh has its base) and checking the cemetery, which is about a mile down the road towards the sea.

The Heritage Centre is open for only a few hours a day in winter, so was lucky to have timed for an afternoon call. Started off by asking for information from the Comunn Eachdraidh, who were happy to help where possible. As is the case with all the historical societies in Lewis, they are run by volunteers and therefore have hardly time and/or resources to work through queries - I came with a list of about 30. I encountered the same problems in Shawbost, with the West Side CE in a lovely new building by the bridge, but nobody to man it for any length of time. CE Uig is by far the most active, with a volunteer doing a great one-person job on the website and social networking presences. However, upon request, all the historical societies in the island have been more than pleased to help.

The exhibition in the Ness Heritage Centre is worthy of a visit, with an interesting section on the now defunct Decca Station near Eoropie. There were some lovely items on display, but I dread to think what the environmental conditions in the exhibition space must do to the exhibits. A hygrometer was stuck firmly at 90%, and a thermometer would have struggled to reach much above 7C - the same temperature as could be found outside. Better go there on a sunny spring or summer's day.

I cannot show pictures of the exhibition, as there was a notice asking not to take photographs.

I had visited the Habost Cemetery before, but needed to revisit in order to register the private, family gravestones that refer to casualties of war. I found about 25. I'll close my report with a few outside pics. It was perishing cold on Tuesday.

Eoropie from the Habost Machair

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="The mainland hills, seen from the Habost machair"]The mainland hills, seen from the Habost machair[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Looking south, down the coast towards Dell"]Looking south, down the coast towards Dell[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Don't think these are very welcome"]Dont think these are very welcome[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Habost village"]Habost village[/caption]

Friday, 5 March 2010

St Kilda Centre

Spoke to someone from the St Kilda Centre Development Group earlier this week. The website for the centre has gone live, which (as Lewis based blogger) I would like to highlight. The centre is to be constructed on cliffs overlooking Mangurstadh, on the road just north of Islibhig.

It has also come to my attention that the locations that lost out in the bidding process are still not accepting defeat. Whilst recognising that the link with St Kilda is not as strong from Mangurstadh as it was in relation to Leverburgh; and that the view of the archipelago is most prominent from North Uist, I would like to appeal for some common sense in this saga. The Western Isles are an archipelago of only 25,000 people, and continuing the unseemly squabble over the St Kilda Centre will benefit nobody. In fact, it will only serve to put the island group as a whole in a bad light.

Rather than rolling in the streets like fighting tomcats in March, isn't it an idea to work together to make this a success story that all of the islands involved could benefit from? How about a satellite centre in Leverburgh and one at Cleitreabhal (North Uist), referred to from Uig. I'm probably naive...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Lewis Chessmen

I attended a meeting at the Uig Community Centre in Erista this afternoon. Two academics from Edinburgh were explaining their new theories on an alternative location for the initial find of the Lewis Chessmen, Mealista. There was also information on the 93 pieces that currently reside in the British Museum in London. A number of them will come to Scotland in 2010 and to Lewis in 2011. Whether they will actually come back to Ardroil or nearby Erista (site of the Uig Museum) is not at all certain.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Lewis chessman replica at Ardroil"]Lewis chessman replica at Ardroil[/caption]