Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Duke of Sutherland

Image courtesy Flickr-user foxypar4
Image courtesy Flickr-user foxypar4

The Duke of Sutherland is a figure of revulsion in the northern Highlands, as thousands of people were turfed off their land at his whim. A statue in his memory stands on a hilltop above Golspie, Sutherland. Today, it was announced that efforts have once again been made to topple the statue.

Having transcribed the Napier Commission’s report on Sutherland, I can see that it was not just the Duke himself who was to blame. His minions were as much at fault. Whether or not the Duke knew what went on is irrelevant. It happened under his responsibility. I have passed Golspie several times on my way to the far north, and have often looked up at the statue - and then turned to the other side of the train or bus to see Dunrobin Castle. That is as much a cause for revulsion as the statue, being as it was, a scene of offensive opulence, harshly offset by the grinding poverty of the tenants, crofters and cottars on the estate.
Whilst I totally understand the horrors, wreaked on the people of Sutherland by their landowner, I do not feel that it serves any constructive purpose to destroy the statue. I agree with the speaker on Radio Scotland’s Highland News this morning, who said that the statue serves as a reminder of the atrocities, perpetrated by and on behalf of the Duke.
I will go so far as to say that the statue in memory of Sir James Matheson, which overlooks Stornoway Harbour, can be held in equal revulsion. Many of his tenants were forcibly displaced across the island of Lewis or “encouraged” to emigrate, which happened in 1851, to name but an example. His trade in opium caused no end of misery in China.
Matheson Memorial
Matheson Memorial

Monday, 28 November 2011

Storm in November

Last Thursday, November 24th, winds gusted up to 82 mph at the Butt of Lewis as high winds strafed the north and west of Scotland. The storm had been forecast in advance and prompted extensive cancellations of ferry services.

By about 4pm, just as it started to get dark, a motorist on the A859 Tarbert to Leverburgh road in Harris, noticed a car partly submerged in the waters of Loch nan Uidhean, beside the road. The emergency services were called and they rushed to the scene. The driver of the car, a 26-year old speech therapist from Coulregrein, Stornoway, was extracted from her vehicle and taken to the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, but tragically died. An investigation is on-going into the cause of the accident, but this occurred at the height of the storm.

Severe weather is part and parcel of life in these islands, and people tend to take it in their stride. But a fatal accident, in which the weather is thought have had some part to play, still comes as a blow. Memories go back nearly seven years, when five members, three generations, of one family were lost in South Uist at the time of a severe storm.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Future of the Coastguard

I copy an email I received today regarding the future of HM Coastguard in the United Kingdom.

I am writing to let you know that following the independent review of the reponses of the second period of consultation on our proposals to modernise Her Majesty’s Coastguard the Secretary of State for Transport has today announced the Government’s decision. This can be found at http://www.dft.gov.uk/mca/mcga07-home/emergencyresponse/mcga-searchandrescue.htm
This means that we have now begun the process of moving to a national networked Coastguard operation with a Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) at its heart. We’re also able to announce today that the MOC will be located near Fareham in Hampshire at a purpose built emergency services control centre that was originally designated as a fire control centre.
In addition to this centre there will also be Coastguard centres. at Dover, Aberdeen, Shetland, Stornoway, Belfast, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Falmouth and Humber all operating 24/7. The London coordination centre will continue to be co-located with the Port of London Authority.
We are also improving the leadership of the volunteer Coastguard Rescue Service by strengthening the numbers of existing regular Coastguard officers based in these coastal communities and I’m also pleased to be able to announce that the Coastguard Rescue Service will be strengthened by an increase of 50% to the number of full time officers available to the volunteers for operational attendance, leadership and advice.
This will allow much more flexibility in the management and training of our volunteers and help to remove the current uneven distribution of Coastguard Rescue Teams between their management.
It will also give a greater presence of Coastguard officers in coastal communities and provide increased opportunity for interaction with other emergency services and coastal leisure and commercial bodies.
These officers will operate in teams with a focal point or operational hub. It is intended that these will be based in;
Existing Centres
Additional locations
Moray Firth
Northeast England,
North Devon,
Cardigan Bay,
Oban/Fort William
This structural change is about the way the regular Coastguard service coordinates search and rescue operations. It is not about the UK’s rescue capability. Although we are reducing staff numbers our new structure will give the UK a nationally networked Coastguard service that is resilient, effective and efficient.
I know that you like me will be acutely aware that whilst this announcement is the beginning of a new era for HM Coastguard it will a time of massive change for colleagues currently based in Yarmouth, Thames, Solent, Portland, Brixham, Swansea, Liverpool, Forth and Clyde whose stations will be closing before 31 March 2015.
This structural change is about the way the regular Coastguard service coordinates search and rescue operations. It is not about the UK’s rescue capability. Although we are reducing staff numbers, our new structure will give the UK a nationally networked Coastguard service that is resilient, effective and efficient. We will continue to provide a quality safety service to the mariner and coastal user and I’d like to thank you for your continued support as we move forward.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Arnistice Day

This morning, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, thousands of people in the United Kingdom and beyond fell silent. 93 years ago the guns had fallen silent, heralding the start of the Armistice, and eventually the end of the First World War. After the end of the Second World War, November 11th was maintained as a day of remembrance. I am not going to say much else in this post, but will display a number of images, showing the war memorials here in Lewis. The fact that it takes 15 war memorials to remember the war dead of an island, home to 30,000 people in 1914 says enough. 1,350 did not return from the 1914-19 war, 530 were lost in the 1939-45 war.