Monday, 26 April 2010

Community buy-outs

Over the past 15 years or so, I have supported various community buy-outs, most noteable the Isle of Eigg, but also South Uist and other places. The Pairc buy-out is mired down in legalistics, non-cooperation and acrimony.

Yesterday, the Times published an article in which the Assynt crofters bemoan the fact that they cannot make the land pay. That is a fact of crofting life, and I'm seriously disappointed in the forerunners of the community buy-out movement. Back in 1992, the Assynt Trust were the first to take over their land. Judging by the article in the Times, they have taken to squabbling amongst themselves rather than getting on with the job.

Any crofter, and anyone who knows about crofting will be aware that you have to diversify in order to make the land pay. it won't pay itself by sitting on committees and riding hobby horses through the meeting room. It takes hard graft and inventiveness to make a croft pay.

A good example of a successful community buy-out is the Isle of Eigg. In the 13 years since they bought their island, the Eiggach have worked extremely hard to pay their way. Having the land is only the start. It gives you the opportunity to do what you want and when. But you have to do it yourself, and you have to do it together.

Stop talking and start working, folks.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

NHS Western Isles

There are moves afoot to close an island nursery, Little Teddies, a facility provided by NHS Western Isles for its staff, but also utilised by other workers with young children.

Yesterday (Thursday) a meeting was held to discuss this issue with all interested parties, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, parents and NHS Western Isles. In a move strangely reminiscent of a previous crisis, no formal representative of the Health Board attended.

NHS Western Isles was left £3m in the red after a forced change in management in 2006/7. Although new managers were appointed, the Isles NHS is still £3m in the red, meaning cuts are having to be made. It is deplorable that the NHS here is reverting to old tactics in dodging discussion and burying its head in the sand. I sincerely hope we are not going back to the bad old days of Manson & co.

Secondly, it appears that the cuts may be applied to frontline staff (nurses, doctors &c). I personally feel that if cuts have to be made they'd better be made by reducing overheads.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Porkies in Pairc

Allegations have surfaced this weekend that Pairc Estate owner Barry Lomas has sought to disseminate misinformation about the Pairc Trust. I have clapped eyes on said allegations, and caught myself wondering whether I was staring down a particularly black South Lochs peatbog. There are three conclusions I can draw.

1. Pairc Estate is telling the truth, meaning that the Pairc Trust is asymptotically close to being unfit for purpose.

2. Pairc Trust is telling the truth, meaning that Pairc Estate is doing everything it can to thwart the community buy-out.

3. Neither are entirely right, neither are entirely wrong and we're looking at a complete breakdown in relations between parties concerned.

I am not prepared to become a conduit for the war of words that currently rages between Loch Erisort and Loch Shell, but as I have posted on this issue before, I feel I have to relay what is going on. Please do not ask for details.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Qualified qualification

It was with very mixed feelings that I read on Hebrides News that as of 2011 all Harris Tweed weavers will require a formal qualification before they are issued with tweeds by the Harris Tweed mills. Whilst it is a good thing that people's skills are recognised, I am just wondering whether this is not one more nail in the coffin of the Harris Tweed industry.

In the past, weavers learned their skills informally and did not have to gain a formal qualification for the Harris Tweed mills to send them materials to turn into tweeds. They would have been only too happy for any weavers to do work for them, as their order books were bulging and could hardly keep up with demand. And I do not recall that there were major problems with the quality of the work.

I am fully aware that in this day and age, you can only do most jobs if you hold the requisite paperwork (diploma, certificate, whatever) issued by a recognised college. I do not fault anyone for going down this path in the case of Harris Tweed weavers - but only for the reasons given in this paragraph alone.

The Harris Tweed industry has been decimated, with dozens of weavers giving up their looms for lack of work. The closure of the Stornoway mill due to the (lack of) activities on the part of its owner, Brian Haggas of Keighley, exacerbated the situation further. To place a further impediment in the way for people to rejoin the industry is not very wise at all. It shows in a painful manner how skills are being lost that used to be passed down the generations, and commend those in charge of the course for endeavouring to keep them alive.

In my opinion, it would have been much better to have built up a substantial workforce first, and maintain it in later stages using the system of qualifications.

However, there is a final point which is NOT being addressed - the lack of industrial capacity. The mills at Shawbost and Carloway have nowhere near the capacity that used to exist in this island and I am very cynical indeed when I read of all the promotional activity that is going on for Harris Tweed. What is the point of doing all that, including training people to be weavers, if you don't have the capacity to process the tweeds in the volumes that you need to make it a viable industry that will make a substantial contribution towards the economy of these islands.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The 19th Hole

The Golf Club is applying for a license to serve alcohol on Sundays. The Club says this is separate from the vexed issue of playing golf on the Sabbath. Actually, it runs a nice parallel to the current controversy over opening the Stornoway Sports Centre on Sundays. At the moment, it is closed - but you can drink yourself legless in any of the town's hostelries. So, we can look forward to having a fantastic booze-up at the Nineteenth Hole at the Golf Club after lunch on Sundays, without having to tire ourselves out chopping our way around the 18 holes first.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Keeper's Cottage

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Keeper's Cottage, Arnish Lighthouse"]Keepers Cottage, Arnish Lighthouse[/caption]

Blogger "Direcleit" has recently been trawling the census records of these islands in search of the demographics of the 19th century. In one of his blogposts, he lists the Keepers of the Arnish Lighthouse from 1861 to 1901. The other entries are also very interesting.


And now I'm really in an impossible position. The Pairc Trust, which seeks to launch a hostile buy-out bid to oust sitting landlord Barry Lomas, is hoping to fund said buy-out bid by getting the community benefit from the giant windfarm, proposed for the Pairc Estate (see this article on Heb News).

I have supported the Scottish community buy-out movement for 14 years, starting with the Isle of Eigg and continuing with Pairc.

I have also voiced my strong opposition to the 500 ft turbines proposed for the Pairc Estate as environmental vandalism.

So, Arnish Lighthouse is now caught between Scylla and Charibdes.