Im­por­tant that peo­ple speak out

The Oban Times - - News - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­

‘POWER to the peo­ple’ is an ex­pres­sion we have heard a lot since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ral speech on Jan­uary 20 and again dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter May’s re­cent visit to Wash­ing­ton.

Ex­cuse me, but peo­ple power is not new. It’s been around since the 5th cen­tury BC. It’s called democ­racy and, when it fails, it is usu­ally the peo­ple them­selves who are to blame.

Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than in the High­lands and Is­lands where there is a ten­dency to sit back, crit­i­cise and think it is some­one else’s duty to speak up. For ex­am­ple, never in the recorded so­cial his­tory of this area has there been such a lack of in­ter­est in the way we are gov­erned.

As a re­sult, coun­cils are be­ing led, not by elected mem­bers, but by salaried of­fi­cials who don’t have to go near a bal­lot box. Worse still, many elec­tors won’t even bother to vote.

Lit­tle won­der there is now a cul­ture, un­known a gen­er­a­tion ago, that doesn’t en­cour­age peo­ple to put their heads above the bat­tle­ments or even ask ques­tions for fear of be­ing la­belled trou­ble­mak­ers.

The Ro­man gov­ern­ment of old kept the pop­u­lace happy by dis­tribut­ing free food and stag­ing huge spec­ta­cles known as ‘bread and cir­cuses’. To­day we might call it ‘dumb­ing- down’.

There are ex­cep­tions, par­tic­u­larly in some parts of the In­ner and Outer He­brides, where the mar­tial spirit hasn’t quite fled yet.

John Lorne Camp­bell of Canna used a three­p­ronged process to good ef­fect when he was deal­ing with of­fi­cial­dom. Firstly, state the prob­lem; se­condly, pro­vide the so­lu­tion; and, thirdly, say what you will do if it isn’t reme­died.

Nearer home there is a bat­tle to keep a quarry out of Glen Cr­eran. Whether you ap­prove of the quar­ry­ing in­dus­try or not, it has been re­fresh­ing to watch such a highly- or­gan­ised cam­paign un­fold through a se­ries of in­for­ma­tive ad­ver­tise­ments in the pages of

The Oban Times. It is a pity more lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties with gen­uine griev­ances don’t fol­low suit in­stead of sit­ting on their hands.

Ev­ery parish has its prob­lems and frus­tra­tions. In Ap­pin there is out­rage about cat­tle ram­pag­ing through a new wood­land scheme caus­ing un­told dam­age to one of Ar­gyll’s most im­por­tant me­dieval church sites.

It should have been pro­tected by For­est En­ter­prise and His­toric Scot­land dur­ing the plan­ning process but it wasn’t and not a hand is be­ing raised against it lo­cally.

A few weeks be­fore Christ­mas a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from NHS High­land vis­ited Locha­line to tell us that for the first time in 150 years, we should no longer ex­pect to have the ser­vices of a full-time doc­tor.

We were in­formed there was no money to pay for locums and out- of- of­fice hour cover, no ded­i­cated ac­com­mo­da­tion for a new doc­tor and that the 350-pa­tient prac­tice would prove too stress­ful for any fu­ture sin­gle-handed GP.

We were as­sured our needs would be cov­ered by vol­un­tary first re­spon­ders and that NHS 24 would han­dle emer­gen­cies. As the staff in NHS 24’s dis­tant con­trol cen­tre of­ten mis­di­rect ca­su­al­ties to Oban or Camp­bel­town hos­pi­tals be­cause they think their ac­ci­dent and emer­gency wards are the near­est to Morvern and not Fort Wil­liam, we were as un­con­vinced as we were puz­zled why the health board had re­cently sold their GPs’ houses in Locha­line and Salen, Su­nart.

De­spite the mag­ni­tude of the pro­pos­als they were ac­cepted with hu­mour and with­out de­mur by the few who both­ered to turn up – although rather less so when it had sunk in.

Other Morvern griev­ances which would be helped with a bit of pub­lic lob­by­ing in­clude lack of progress in up­grad­ing BT’s broad­band sys­tem; ur­gent re­pairs to sec­tions of the only pub­lic road into Locha­line which has been dam­aged dur­ing the con­struc­tion of sev­eral pri­vate hy­dro schemes; free ve­hi­cle cross­ings on the Cor­ran ferry for res­i­dents and coun­cil tax pay­ers on the penin­sula; a more re­li­able and con­stant mail de­liv­ery ser­vice routed through Fort Wil­liam in­stead of Oban; and, more ur­gently, a mas­sive and un­prece­dented cull of an an­cient strain of wild red deer in favour of a pro­posed rewil­d­ing scheme. There are many more.

It is re­fresh­ing to read that Scot­land is to be ex­empt from Sec­tion 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 con­tained in the Leve­son En­quiry that is be­ing pro­posed south of the bor­der.

Press reg­u­la­tion is de­volved to Scot­land and Cul­ture Sec­re­tary Fiona Hys­lop has con­firmed the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has no plans to in­tro­duce statu­tory mea­sures to per­suade Scot­tish print me­dia to sign up to a state-ap­proved reg­u­la­tor.

If Sec­tion 40 is voted through by West­min­ster and even­tu­ally finds its way into Scot­land, it will threaten in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and free­dom of the in­de­pen­dent press with lo­cal news­pa­pers, such as The

Oban Times, hav­ing to bear the costs of a court case whether they are in the wrong or not.

In the words of Martin Luther King Ju­nior: ‘His­tory will have to record that the great­est tragedy of this pe­riod of so­cial tran­si­tion was not the stri­dent clam­our of the bad peo­ple, but the ap­palling si­lence of the good peo­ple.’

Pho­to­graph Jes­sica Creighton.

Wild deer should not be de­stroyed for mav­er­ick rewil­d­ing schemes.

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