Posted: Wednesday, 01 March 2006
In my linklist features a webcam, which looks out over the Outer Harbour at Stornoway. It's not that good, but it shows what the weather is like, which ferries go in and out (if at all). At night, you just see the lights in the Coastguard Station as well as the regular blinks of the beacon in the channel off Arnish Point and Arnish Lighthouse (sic). The beacon carries a red light, and as this features in the description for the cam, anyone looking for a red light will be directed to an innocuous buoy outside Stornoway Harbour.
Associated with the cam comes a list of all the people that are watching it. This does not give names or addresses, but a rough indication of location and their ISP is included. It shows that the Stornoway webcam is well frequented, people from all over the world watch it. Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, USA, South Africa, Egypt, Palestinian Occupied Territory, Vietnam - to name but a few. The list stretches to 105 countries, the majority are not listed. What never ceases to amaze and amuse me is the question why people would want to watch a Stornoway webcam? At the moment, the weather is the leading reason. Since advertising on Metcheck that snow is falling here, the number of watchers has jumped to over 200 a day, from an average of about 70. Having in interest in weather is perfectly valid. But sometimes, people look at it through their boss's Internet connection. There are some odd names in there, have a look:
National Institute for Biological Standards and Control
Orkney Islands Council (as if they don't have enough of their own snow)
London International Financial Futures Exchange
Kingston Council, Kingston upon Thames
and those just from the last 2 hours or so. We're REALLY busy at work there.
Anyway, any sort of publicity for the islands welcome, I assume.
Posted: Friday, 03 March 2006
Second to that, the question is justified: HOW OLD AM I???
Hebridean Celtic Festival
Posted: Sunday, 05 March 2006
Received an update by email from the guys at the Heb Celt Fest last week, giving me the line-up at this year's festival. I'm seriously questioning my credentials after recognising only a few names on the list. Oh dear. Last year's festival was a great occasion, with 16,000 people in Stornoway (trebling the town's population in the process). There were dire warnings of people having to sleep in sheds on account of the lack of accommodation, but it would appear that everybody had a roof over their head at the time. I went to see Runrig (big name), and had a whale of a time, no voice left at the end of proceedings. Peat Bog Faeries was quite appropriate, in an island not un-endowed with peatbogs. Why they included a brass-section with their act is beyond me. Anyway, ceilidhs followed the various performances, Van the Man did not have any tantrums, and we all went to bed at 4.30 a.m.. Roll on the next occasion in July. Even if I only know the Blazing Fiddles.
Have a look on the Festival website. The Festival takes place from July 12th to 15th in Stornoway. Ticket sales don't start until May 1st, but I'd suggest booking accommodation NOW. Please don't forget that there is plenty of accommodation outside Stornoway, and you can reach the town on public transport before the concerts start. How you get back requires a bit of organisation, as bus services are sketchy after 6pm.
Posted: Tuesday, 07 March 2006
The local NHS Board has run up a deficit of £3m over a period of 4 years. This is nothing new within the NHS nationally, but quite a sum bearing in mind the small population of the Western Isles. Mismanagement is said to lie at the root of the problem; there are quite serious allegations of bullying and harassment, which require investigation. Trades unions are in on that act, having expressed disquiet to the Chairman of the Board.
At the end of the day, the Chairman is accountable to the Health Minister, in Holyrood (Scottish Executive). If it turns out that he is not doing his job properly, the Health Minister should call him to account. Alternatively, the local Member of the Scottish Parliament should press the Minister. It was rather strange to find an MSP for a different constituency asking the questions which the Western Isles MSP should have asked. It was very strange to find the Highlands & Islands MSP sitting in on a forum not related to his constituency. It was very strange hearing the Western Isles MSP calling for the Health Minister to be left alone. It should be his job to ask questions of the Minsiter about the NHS Board here in the Western Isles - not one of a neighbouring MSP.
Leaving that to one side, I have always felt that it was the staff that keeps the creaking old NHS going. Once you lose the staff, everything is lost. This point was actually made at a recent meeting of the Health Board, and one that the management of the Health Board seems to have lost sight of. In spite of several board members raising concerns about staff morale, and the fact that the staff appear to be withdrawing from involvement in implementing necessary changes. Because any opposition, criticism, feedback is met by bullying and harassment.
I'll continue to follow developments.
Posted: Wednesday, 08 March 2006
The calendar shows March, the last of the snow is practically gone and the sheep are nice and fat. Ready to pop. Went out for a walk this afternoon, and after the rain had gone, the sun was pleasantly warm. This all being the case, the tourist season is about to spring upon us. Enquiries for accommodation are beginning to flood in, by all accounts. The Hebridean Celtic Festival which I mentioned in a previous entry manages to draw in thousands each year. Easter this year is on April 16th, fairly late. Nonetheless, a number of folk are planning their trips in advance. It's the same every year. Harking back to 2005, the following categories come to mind.
The hardy cyclists doing B2B (Butt to Barra). I'll never forget the group of four who turned up, squirting water out of their wee cycling shoes on every step. They had just ridden 55 miles from Carloway to Ness and back to Stornoway in pouring rain. Others who were not so unlucky in terms of rain, but were foxed by the prevailing wind being a northeasterly last spring, rather than a southwesterly. So, they were heading north and had a headwind all of the 150 miles. The visitors from across the pond, coming to investigate their ancestors. Whenever I visit the library, irrespective of the time of year, there is bound to be somebody in there digging up old copy of the Stornoway Gazette or ancient records.
On the curiosa front, the poor gent who was sent down the B887 Ardhasaig to Huisinis road (by all accounts the worst road in the Western Isles) and nearly suffered a heartattack at Amhuinnsuidhe. For non-locals, this is a 14 mile long road which takes the service bus 40 minutes to drive down. Full of tight corners, switchbacks and blind summits. A note of warning to those who find themselves peckish but without food on a beach: eating of limpets off rocks is not generally recommended. But then, I'm on record on this blog with bare feet in a freezing cold river in Glen Langadale...
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Posted: Thursday, 09 March 2006
Carbon monoxide cannot be detected using your normal senses. It has no smell. Low concentrations of the gas cause headache and nausea. High concentrations cause loss of consciousness after only a few moments. It can KILL.
Carbon monoxide is formed when fuel is burned with inadequate oxygen supply.
This can happen under the following circumstances:
- poorly maintained appliances
- with any type of carbon-based fuel (coal, gas, oil, wood).
- in appliances installed without adequate ventilation
- chimneys or flues blocked or poorly maintained
- certain weather conditions, which do not allow the ventilation of exhaust-fumes from the burning process
An example of the latter is very cold weather, where the chimney is so cold that the fumes cool down during their rise up the chimney. As a result, they fall back down and choke off the oxygen supply to the appliance. Normally, if there is insufficient oxygen, modern boilers switch themselves off.
* Please ensure your boilers and other appliances burning fossil fuels are properly maintained by a qualified and certified engineer (in the UK: CORGI)
* Ensure your appliance is freely ventilated, and any ventilation holes are not unnecessarily blocked off
* Ensure your chimney is swept annually, and the exit inaccessible to birds who may want to nest in there
A tragedy happened recently as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Please do not become another statistic.
Right of passage
Posted: Friday, 10 March 2006
IRISH: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South, to avoid a collision.
BRITISH: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North, to avoid a collision.
IRISH: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
BRITISH: This is the Captain of a British navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
IRISH: Negative. I say again. You will have to divert YOUR course.
BRITISH: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS BRITANNIA THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE BRITISH ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS, AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, I SAY AGAIN, THAT IS 15 DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
IRISH: We are a lighthouse. Your call.
Posted: Saturday, 11 March 2006
In the 1960s, a boat left Stornoway bound for Marvig, 10 miles further south in the Lochs area of Lewis. It was carrying a large amount of timber. A young couple were going down to the village to build themselves a new home, and the young woman's uncle went along to steer the boat. Barely out of port, the engine failed and a storm blew up. It was some storm. They were unable to turn round, and gradually the boat was blown onto the reef of Sgeir Mhor, between Newton and Lower Sandwick. The uncle decided that he should jump overboard with a line, as this had been the way in which 75 people were saved on the Iolaire, in 1919. The other passengers thought the better of following him. Screams for help from the terrified woman could be heard in houses in Lower Sandwick. Finally, the lifeboat managed to come in and saved the couple by breecher's buoy.
The storm blew itself out, and the next morning the sea blinked innocently in the sunlight. The boat was sitting high and dry on the Sgeir Mhor. The body of the uncle was found on the shingle of the beach, in amongst all the timber. In the afternoon, people could walk out to the vessel as it sat on the reef. It was unbelievable that just 12 hours before a raging storm had made it impossible for any but the lifeboat to come near.
Forty years before, people from Marvig were involved in another tragedy, this time to the south of their village. Again, a young couple were taking the contents of their house and some timber around to Steimreway. This village was vacated in the Clearances of the 1830s, but they wanted to rebuild the houses. It is located along the coast, about 3 miles west of Lemreway, on the shore of Loch Shell. The boat was caught in a storm and foundered, drowning all on board. Although Steimreway was reoccupied between 1921 and 1945, this tragedy did little to inspire confidence. When central government refused to provide amenities like a school and a road, the villagers abandoned Steimreway for a final time at the end of the Second World War. You can still visit the site of the settlement by walking 2 miles across rough moorland from Orinsay. It is a very pretty location, but my attempts to reach it foundered in bad weather.
The story of Steimreway is told in an article on the Lochs Community website.
One other story associated with Marvig is contained in the comments section of my last entry regarding the Iolaire disaster.
Boats - 2
Posted: Monday, 13 March 2006
My previous post on this subject had a tragic undertone, which was required following the Right of Passage thing. However, similar stories abound in the Western Isles and one came to mind that happened 14 years ago elsewhere in the archipelago.
It was in the era of flitboats, and those in the island concerned will recognise this. For those unfamiliar with the situation: some islands had piers that could not be reached by the large Calmac ferries. In days gone by therefore, a little boat would come out to ferry passengers from the large ferry to the island. Changing boats was an interesting exercise, particularly in a force 6 wind. Passengers being chucked over like sacks is an abiding memory.
One day, I was the only passenger leaving the island. The wee boat was put-putting up the channel as the big ferry loomed up from the general direction of the mainland. Suddenly, with the main ferry still some distance off, the engine of the flitboat fell silent. The skipper of the wee boat started faffing about with his controls, only to end up cussing the previous user of the boat. He then went on the VHF: "Hello [boatname withheld], this is the [island name withheld] ferry. We've run out of diesel. Can you please back up and meet us, rather than we meet you?" This being on the radio was heard for miles in the distance, and all at sea were falling about laughing. As the big ferry pulled alongside, there were some red faces on board the little boat, which was not helped by the mate's leering comment: "Now, let us discuss terrms for this diesel".
Posted: Tuesday, 14 March 2006
These things are a darn sight less intrusive than those 234 windturbines they have been threatening us with, out here in Lewis. They just float in the water, and the movement of the joints between the elements generates electricity. Now, I have a local advocate of the windfarms on record as saying that they should have gone for wave and tidal energy when the various causeways were put in. I assume he is referring to the dams linking Eriskay to South Uist and Berneray to North Uist. That's all fine and dandy, but where is the electricity going to go?
The entire idea behind turning the Western and Northern Isles into a breeding ground for renewable energy contraptions is to generate power for the Scottish Central Belt and other industrial areas within the UK. In order to do so we need an interconnector. That is a heavy-duty powercable, for the un-initiated in gobbledegook. This is supposed to go from Lewis to Ullapool, from where an overhead powerline will traverse the 200 miles to Stirling. All to the detriment of the countryside. There was also talk of an interconnector all the way down to Hunterston in Ayrshire. If we're talking un-intrusive energy supplies, why don't we tap into AMEC's colossal profits and let them cough up the £1bn required for the cable to Hunterston? Give or take a few hundred million.
I think it would be a lot better if we just scrap the entire windfarm idea as it stands (209 turbines on the West Side + 133 turbines in Eishken), and go for wave and tidal power. Oh, the blessings of simplicity...
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Posted: Wednesday, 15 March 2006
The inscription reads: HRH Prince Charles Edward with three attendants landed in Loch Seaforth 4 May 1746 and walking all night reached Arnish Loch at noon 5 May. In the evening he was received at Kildun House, Arnish, by the Lady Kildun (MacKenzie). Early in 6 May, he left Kildun in a boat and landed in Eilean Iubhard (Loch Shell) and remained there until 10 May and sailed thence to South Uist and Skye. [inscription obliterated] "Deoch Slainte an Righ" [inscription obliterated].
A few geographical and historical notes about the inscription. Kildun House no longer exists. By my information, it was destroyed by fire in 1975, prior to the construction of the present Arnish Yard. The hill on which it stood was bulldozed to make way for buildings for the yard. Eilean Iubhard can be seen from Lemreway, South Lochs, about 30 miles south of Stornoway (by road). I do not know what the inscriptions used to read that were rendered illegible.
I should make it perfectly clear that I have very little time for Prince Charles Edward, otherwise known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie. His hare-brained idea to "raise the clans" in 1745 for a march on London was ill-thought through, and by no means received full backing from all the clans in Western Scotland. Because those with brains saw him for what he was. A fool, being used as a figurehead. He was no creditable tactician on the field of battle, allowing his advance to outrun his supply-train on the daring march on Derby. The rout all the way back to Culloden, near Inverness, was a disgrace. And at the end of the day, it was this silly enterprise that gave Scotland's enemies the pretext they needed to subjugate the country fully, after the 1707 Union. To try to destroy the culture and language, and impose their own values on the Highlands and Islands. Far from being the prosaic saviour of the West, I rate Bonnie Prince Charlie as the fool that brought on the destruction of the West of Scotland.
His flight through the islands, dressed as a woman for goodness' sakes, says it all. Poor old Flora MacDonald, she gave him succour and shelter, and got clapped in jail for all her bother. The stay at Kildun tells us that although the Stornoway worthies were not prepared to turn Charlie in (he had a prize on his head), they were not prepared to put him up either, being a liability. At the end of the day, Charles was a coward, used more to the comforts of the drawingroom and the bottle. He will have been happy when he finally boarded the French vessel L'Heureux (sic), bound for France.
Oh, I forgot. Many readers will be familiar with the statue at Glenfinnan, 15 miles west of Fort William. The figure on the pillar at the head of Loch Shiel. It's not Bonnie Prince Charlie. It's "a Highlander". Because it was there that Charles landed to "raise the firey cross" which started the whole campaign.
Please forget the mystique around BPC. He has done Scotland no favours at all.
Posted: Thursday, 16 March 2006
I reported on the wavepower machine which is being exported from Arnish this week. As I'm writing this, on a sunny Thursday evening, the ship is about to set sail for Portugal. Taking with it not just the machine, but possibly the industry as well. The wavepower machine is a Scottish design, tried in Scottish waters and manufactured in a Scottish factory. The very first in the world.
Is there any interested in the machine from within Scotland?
So, what will the next stage in this project be? The Portuguese want to have another 30 of these things. It stands to reason that they don't want to have to cough up for a 1,500 mile transport down the Atlantic, and it is therefore more than likely that the manufacture of the machines be transferred to Portugal. That is, unless there is an interest from Scotland, or indeed the UK, which there is not. Why?
It would appear that it is government policy to phase out oil and gas and replace those energy sources with nuclear and windpower. I am dumbstruck that the Westminster government even contemplates nuclear energy. Leaving the inherent risks of a nuclear plant to one side, the waste problems have not yet been resolved. Nuclear waste remains radio-active for thousands of years.
Proposals for two huge windfarms on Lewis are currently before the Scottish Executive, and I have made my position on these quite clear. There are whole forests of turbines springing up all over the Highlands, but other sources of renewable energy are not at all considered. Here in Lewis, two villages (Cromore and Ranish) have streetlighting that is provided courtesy of solar power.
The wavepower project was rejected by the British Government, because it was still at an experimental stage. So why are the Portuguese going for them in such a big way? Another Scottish industry about to leave these shores, thanks to short-sightedness by government.
Stowaway at Stornoway
Posted: Friday, 17 March 2006
Another boaty week out here. Today's excitement centres on the large bulk carrier Alexandr Newski, a Russian registered bulk-carrier. She contacted Clyde Coastguard last night to report a stowaway. The Newski was on her way from Newport to Murmansk when the stowaway was discovered off the Mull of Kintyre. On contacting the coastguard, the captain was put in touch with police, who recommended that the stowaway be put ashore at Stornoway.
Our harbour cannot easily accommodate vessels that size, so it was agreed that the bulk carrier wait outside port where she would be met by police. A navy vessel (whose name I could not discern against this afternoon's bright sky) went out just after 2pm. An hour later, after much toing and froing off Arnish Point, she came back in, presumably with the stowaway in the brig.
Quite a serious situation, having a stowaway on board. You cannot know what their intentions are, and the captain was quite right to contact police for advice.
As I'm typing this (3.30 pm), the Russian ship is slowly getting underway again, heading for Murmansk. This city is situated at the top of Scandinavia, a few hundred miles to the east of the North Cape, on the Kola Peninsula.
NHS Western Isles
Posted: Saturday, 18 March 2006
I'm beginning to think that the management of the Health Board have lost sight of the realities of this situation. The unions have issued this statement of no-confidence at the behest of their members. It's not something the unions have done alone, without consulting their membership. They have gone out of their way to consult with members. Ten days ago, a public meeting was held in the Town Hall here in Stornoway, in which a similar declaration was agreed.
I'm staggered that the managers are pressing ahead with their program of change, without having their staff on board. How on earth will they be able to do that?
It is even more serious that one of the medical directors has been issued with a red card, something that has been brewing for a number of months now.
I cannot imagine that this will not affect patient care. If reports are true that patient care is compromised, then the vote of no confidence in the medical director is justified. It would appear that he doesn't have patient care as the top of his list of priorities.
The unions will present their vote of no-confidence to the Health Minister in Edinburgh, who will hopefully take action. Will he?
Posted: Monday, 20 March 2006
Posted: Monday, 20 March 2006
Over the past 6 months, it has been brought to his attention on numerous occasions that the problems here in the islands' NHS had grown too severe to be dealt with locally. Now, Mr Kerr, has expressed disappointment that difficulties have not been dealt with through the appropriate channels. I am absolutely dumbfounded at this expression.
People who have expressed dissatisfaction within the organisation have been subjected to bullying and harassment, directly and demonstrably coming from the highest tier of management. This means that the normal channels for expressing grievances are effectively closed. As a result, the grievances have indeed been aired outside the organisation, like (e.g.) in the meetings in Stornoway Town Hall on November 30th, 2005 and March 6th, 2006.
Mr Kerr is obviously unwilling to intervene in the situation, in spite of the fact that intervention is absolutely necessary, for the reasons I have outlined in the previous paragraph. Bearing in mind that the Health Board Chairman is accountable to the Health Minister, one could draw the conclusion that the Minister is condoning the bullying and harassment tactics used by management. As the crisis between staff and management has been shown to affect patient care, it isn't just the Medical Director who doesn't care about the patients. It is also a Health Minister who can't be bothered. And should therefore not be in the post he is holding.
Is the Western Isles MSP going to hold the Minister to account? Methinks not, he is on record as wiping the Minister's nose.
Is this a deliberate wrecking tactic? Are we to expect three Health Boards to cover the whole of Scotland? Why can't we have an overt policy to this effect, if that's the case?
In my opinion, the Health Minister to the Scottish Executive is incompetent and should resign.
Posted: Tuesday, 21 March 2006
I also asked folk to keep an eye open for anyone coming from Orkney and Shetland, but my description must have been a bit stereotypical. This came back from Bogha Glas just across the Harris border.
I gather that the Shetlanders may be carrying a bathtub, so I won't be bringing my green bathroom suite. From my vantage point here overlooking Stornoway harbour, I can see the various boats coming, provided visibility isn't impeded like it was today.
I'll keep readers posted on arrivals as they come into port.
Posted: Wednesday, 22 March 2006
It was very cold overnight, -4C / 25F. The snow melted during the morning, but at lunchtime a new fall started gradually. Visibility is severely restricted (only about 200 yards just after 3pm) and the snow drifts in the wind, plastering everything it encounters. Cars, pavements, bins, you name it. There is talk of a blizzard, but the force 4 wind at the moment does not constitute a gale. It may yet increase. Temperature is zero celsius, 32F, which feels very cold in the wind. Not nice at all. A severe weather warning is out, and a rumour is doing the rounds that the schools could be closed early. It's just after 3 now, and have not heard anything yet.
Arrivals for the fank
Posted: Thursday, 23 March 2006
I think the first arrivals for the Fank are here. This morning at 11 o'clock, the good old Isle of Arran could be seen sneaking into port at an unexpected hour. She trailed vapours of Toilet Duck and Savlon shandies, so I think the Northerners must have hailed her from the shores of Loch Seaforth.
Now, as in all fanks, blond is best, so the local chemist shops have been stocking up on hydrogen peroxide for bleaching. Toilet Duck won't have a quack of an effect on your hair colour, you need the strong stuff for that. The beads that Calumannabel advised me to get for US contestants have turned up in the Ness emporium, probably for use at the fank.
I went down to the pier to assist with the circular conveyor belt that is coming from Unst, to be used in the caber tossing contest. Whether it's actually cabers that are going to be tossed or rejects at the fank, I dread to think. I'll have to get on to Galson Tractors to advise them to park well away from the fank. I'd hate one of their smart vehicles to get hit by a blond bombshell.
Posted: Friday, 24 March 2006
There is a nursery in Stornoway, named Little Teddies, which was set up for the benefit of Council and NHS staff. Staff could leave their youngsters there between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., paying up to £30 a day, depending on the length of stay during the day. A hot meal would be provided for the children.
Recently, NHS Western Isles, who run the nursery, have announced that the hot meals are to be withdrawn for reasons of costs. A rearrangement of the pricing structure is also in the offing. When a meeting was called to discuss concerns of users on both issues, nobody from the senior management of the NHS bothered to turn up to listen. Those who did attend, were (in the words of one attendee) clearly set up to take the flak for the management.
Draw your own conclusions.
Posted: Friday, 24 March 2006
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?
Posted: Sunday, 26 March 2006
Tonight (Sunday 26th March), BBC1 showed an edition of the Panorama programme about problems in the NHS nationally. Those with broadband access can see the program again from the link on the page.
There is also an opportunity to leave comments about your local NHS, whether as a patient or a worker. Anyone in the catchment area for Island Blogging will have stories to tell - not just here in Lewis!
I would like to encourage anyone that works in the NHS, or those that have used the service, to leave comments on the Panorama page. It is particularly important if you have experiences related to the issues discussed on Panorama tonight.
With reference to the local situation (which I have been blogging about for the duration of Island Blogging for this area), it would appear that the financial problems faced by NHS Western Isles have some of their roots in Westminster government policies. By agreeing to big increases in pay for consultants, GP's, as well as an extra layer (NHS Direct, also known as NHS 24) of access to the service, costs were mounting. The Panorama story focused heavily on the situation in England. Whether this can be transposed letter for letter into the Scottish situation I cannot judge. It would appear to have a heavy impact on it, at the very least.
Next week's program (April 2nd) is likely to focus on the postcode lottery that is used in allocating expensive treatments. Putting it crudely, if you have the wrong postcode, you're denied treatment for certain cancers.
Posted: Monday, 27 March 2006
So the clocks have gone forward, and summer should be on its way. Well, not in a meteorological sense. Temperatures this morning are an abysmal 7C, and its drizzling heavily. A month ago, I was happily snapping away at spring pictures, and last week Stornoway looked more like a town near the Arctic circle.
That was during the worst of the blizzards, which caused travel chaos in Harris.
And this crocus was out a month ago. Oh well, everything in its own time. It's such a shame to see everything blasted by the wintery winds after this promise of an early spring. The most magical aspect of summer is the very, very long evenings. It's even more prominent in Shetland (hugging the 60th parallel, Stornoway is on the 58th), but this image of the town at midnight in June is special.
Posted: Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Today is the day trustees are elected to the Stornoway Trust. This body was set up in 1923 to manage the Stornoway Estate. After Lord Leverhulme decided to part with Lewis and Harris, he offered the lands to its people as a gift. Only those in Stornoway decided to take him up on the offer. The people in the parishes of Barvas, Uig and Lochs by all accounts did not trust his motives, so got landed with absentee landlords, which was worse than Leverhulme. At least he had ideas to enhance the island's economy. The people living on the estate elect their trustees by secret ballot.
The Stornoway Trust estate stretches from Arnish in the south to Tolsta in the north, a distance of 15 miles. It also reaches from Tiumpan Head in Point [the Eye Peninsula] in the east to the moors in the centre of the island where nobody lives permanently.
The Stornoway Trust is currently involved with the first stirrings of windfarms in Lewis. They are involved with leasing land to windpower developers. A site near Arnish has been earmarked, and there was talk of a windfarm along the Pentland Road, which stretches from Stornoway to Breasclete near Callanish. The pre-requisite for any major developments in terms of windpower, the electricity transmission line from Ullapool to Beauly, and on to Denny (near Stirling) is very controversial. If that is not in place, then there is no point having a windpower development. The current electricity link (through Skye) has got nowhere near sufficient capacity to take all the power to the Central Belt.
Posted: Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Posted: Thursday, 30 March 2006
It's all over the news today that Caledonian MacBrayne's have decided to institute sailings between Leverburgh and Berneray on Sundays. Two Harris councillors went on air this morning, spitting fire at the ferry company for going round the backs of local opinion. One councillor stated that 2 out of 3 local people were opposed, as put down in a petition which was presented to Calmac. Nonetheless, the company weighed up pros and cons of a Sunday service. Pros include social and economic benefits, such as the possibility for Uisteachs to visit relatives in hospital in Stornoway. It would also enable Leodhsachs and Hearachs to attend events in the Uists on Saturday, making it possible to return on Sunday and return to work as normal on Monday.
North Uist, to which Berneray is linked, already has a Sunday sailing across the Minch to Skye. Although there is opposition in North Uist to a ferry on Sundays to Harris, it is nothing as compared to the ferocity of opposition across the water in Harris. The reason is that, if the Sound of Harris ferry does start to sail on Sundays, it will lead to a Sunday service on the Stornoway to Ullapool link. This would end the Lewis / Harris sabbath as we know it. Listening to a phone poll on local radio this morning, the majority (from Lewis) were opposed to Sunday sailings.
Calmac has been accused of treating the local population with contempt by ignoring the above mentioned petition. Nonetheless, the company can actually implement timetables within its remit of providing lifeline services, at frequencies that it decides on the basis of need and the physical practicalities of the waters it has to ply. It consults with the local councils on timetables as a matter of course. I should point out that Calmac decided on the Sound of Harris Sunday service following a request to do so from a North Uist councillor.
There is an unfortunate coincidence, in that the decision by Calmac appears to have been made 24 hours before Comhairle nan Eilean Siar were due to debate their policy stance on Sunday working and sailings. Oops.
Posted: Friday, 31 March 2006
Last night (Thursday) I attended a concert at the Nicolson Institute which was unlike any other I have been to. As the title of the post indicates, it was billed as a Kaleidoscope concert. Music of all ages and genres was performed by secondary school age pupils, obviously with a good helping of Scottish and Gaelic culture thrown in as well. I have never been to a concert where a hardrock band rubbed shoulders with a Chopin nocturne, a ceilidh band and a jazz ensemble.
Starting off with the junior piping champion for Scotland (who hails from Lewis), there followed jazz, hard rock, a Chopin nocturne, a movement from a Haydn trumpet concierto, a Gaelic song and a junior big band. After the break, there was a similar set of pieces. The concert was put up to raise funds for new instruments for the Nicolson institute, which it will have done. Attendance was about 150.
I was heartened to see teenagers take an interest in all sorts of music, not just the usual Radio 1 type things. It reinforces my perception that culture ranks very high on the Hebrides' list of priorities, and it's important to start young. It is even more important to have a diverse interest. I noticed one young lady who played the piano as well as the clarinet. Two players were leading instrumentalists in the Scottish Youth Orchestra.
It is not my intention to turn this into a promotion for the local secondary school, although the Nicolson is doing an exceptionally good job in this field. I would rather flag this up as an example to be followed up elsewhere. Not just in Scotland or the UK - but anywhere.
After all, music is universal and transcends borders of countries, language and culture.
Posted: Friday, 31 March 2006
Here in the Western isles, as I keep flagging up, gross mismanagement does not help things along. The latest concern was raised by the consultants group at the local hospital where it would appear that patients are discharged under the direction of a manager, not a clinician. At the end of the day, it is a doctor's decision whether a patient is medically fit for discharge. It is not relevant whether the hospital is running short of beds (which may well be the case after one ward was recently shut). According to the report from the consultants' group, the hospital manager (a nurse) makes decisions to discharge patients. That is cause for extreme concern all round.
As I already mentioned, the doctor will decide, upon examining the patient, whether he or she is fit to leave hospital. I don't know what goes on in the hospital wards, but if the manager exerts pressure on a junior doctor to sign the discharge form against his professional judgment, then this person is acting unprofessionally. Their own professional registration could be placed in jeopardy as a result.
Secondly, patients who are not fit to be discharged will turn up back at the hospital in short order. It is known in the trade as the revolving door syndrome. It doesn't solve anything, the patient is back in hospital, the bed is still occupied and it could possibly worsen a patient's condition.
I am relieved to hear that the consultants group has called on this practice to stop, and am actually horrified that it has been allowed to continue in the first place.
In another report out today, 23 members of staff in the Health Board (preselected by senior management) said that poor communication lay at the root of the problems currently besetting the Health Board. I think it is high time that the Health Minister took action on this matter.