Friday, 3 February 2017

Cuimhneachadh air Iain D Caimbeul

A mhòr-chuid airson aonta

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

‘S iomadh sgaradh tha sinn air fhaicinn bho chionn ghoirid.

Alba, Brexit, Trump – tha an saoghal searbh sgìth de sgaraidhean. 

Ach tha dealbh beag agam air an fhòn-làimhe de dh’ àireamhan sgrìobhte air cùl cèise a bhios a’ toirt thugam toileachas agus dòchas. 

‘S iad na h-àireamhan den mhòr-chuid ann an dà choitheanal na h-Eaglaise Saoire san Rubha a bhòt an-uiridh airson a thighinn còmhla a-rithist as dèidh sgaradh a lean leth cheud bliadhna. 

Chan e an Fhìrinn ach fèin-fhìreantachd mhic an duine a dh’ adhbhraich an leòin domhain.

Chan e ach aon duine a shlànaich iad.

Nis, tha an sgìre agus an saoghal farsaing a’ caoidh an Urramaich Iain D Caimbeul.

Bha sinn an ìre mhath nar co-aoisean.  Mar dhuine òg bha mi teagmhach mu dheidhinn, gus an cuala mi e a’ searmonachadh air aon Shàbaid sneachdail na Nollaige.

Na toir breith an leasan a dh’ ionnsaich mise.  Bha e air leth sònraichte. 

Ann an dùthaich far a bheil barrachd eaglaisean falamh na tha ann de chreideamh bheòthail, bha Iain D mar shàr eisimpleir de dh’ aonachd Chrìostail. 

Tha an dearbhadh sin sgrìobhte  agam-sa air cùl cèise.

Sìth agus beannachd leat, Iain D.


We’ve seen plenty divisions in recent times. Scotland, Brexit, Trump - the world is tired sick of division.
But I have a little picture on my mobile phone, of figures written on the back of an envelope, that gives me joy and hope.
The numbers are the majority in two congregations of the Free Church in Point which voted to come together after a split that lasted 50 years.
It was not the Truth but the self-righteousness of men that caused the deep wounds.
It was one man who healed them.
Now, the district and the world is the mourning the Reverend Iain D Campbell.
We were about co-ages. As a young man I was doubtful about him, until I heard him preach one snowy Christmas Sunday.
Judge ye not was the lesson I learned. He was quite special.
In a land where there are more empty churches than there is living faith, Iain D epitomised Christian unity.
I have proof of that written on the back of an envelope.
Peace and blessings be with you, Iain D.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Postcard from the Trump White House

Phew, for a White House wedding that went well. Donald Trump didn’t say anything outrageous, he didn’t get angry and he showed an admirable sense of comedian’s timing as he joked with the press.

For Theresa May yesterday was the biggest win of her short term in office. 

She scored on some very serious policy issues - Nato and Russian sanctions - and the BBC managed to secure a u-turn on torture.

It could not have been better for May, she can show the EU that even with Brexit Britain can move Trump into a better place, maybe.

For his part the President was like the cat who got the cream when the world was told that he would have tea with the Queen.

Look out Britain, the ego is going to land later this summer. Good luck with that, your  Majesty.

Oh, and look out Stornoway, he gave his mother’s home island a name check - he might be heading there too.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Telford - the Man of Iron who built in poetry

Celebrating Burns Night was not a big thing where I grew up, but on the islands we barely celebrated Christmas so that ought not be a surprise.

Now January commemorations of the poetry and life of Scotland’s bard are an international institution, and rightly so.

But this week I’ve been caught up by another lad o’ pairts who did not come to define what it is to be Scottish, but built much of what Scotland actually is. 

Thomas Telford was born dirt poor in Eskdale, in the Borders, in 1757, two years before Burns was born further up the road in Alloway. 

His shepherd father died when he was only a few months old and Thomas was raised by his mother in her cousin’s house and left school at 12 to work for a local stonemason.

As a young man Telford tried his hand at poetry too, ungainly village verse, and literature’s loss was Britain’s gain.

Aged 25, he saddled a horse and rode the 300-odd miles to London and went on to become a civil engineer extrordinaire.

Most of the fabric of Britain’s industrial revolution was constructed by this incredible “Man of Iron”, as a new biography by Julian Glover is titled.

For modern-day governments struggling inch by inch along the route of a High Speed rail line and sinking in the shifting electoral sands of a new Heathrow runway, Telford’s achievements stand as a rebuke of modern pigmy politics.

His impact across Scotland, designing harbours from Ullapool to Wick to Banff, bridges in Perthshire and docks in the Broomilaw, was massive.

The visionary plans on behalf of the British Fisheries Board to revolutionise coastal Scotland shame every MSP who voted to abolish the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise this week.

Telford built over 1,000 bridges, 1200 miles of road over rough terrain, 43 harbours and fishing ports, and incredible structures from the Caledonian Canal to the Menai Bridge in Wales. His designs for state-funded churches and manses litter Highland Scotland.

As Julian Glover concludes: “When he was done, the road that carried the fishermen to the village and the fish to the cities, the church in which they prayed, the port which landed the herring, and the harbours from which some of them emigrated to North America: all of them were his.”

You could add that many of them still are. The roads follow the same lines, cross the same bridges to the same churches and harbours.

He was buried in Westminster Abbey yet Telford’s remarkable achievements are largely uncelebrated today, his biggest projects overtaken by the railway innovations of the James Watts and Isambard Brunnels who followed.

Glover, who worked in David Cameron’s Downing Street, well knows how Telford’s story is a cypher for what governments must do to re-tool Victorian Britain for a Brexit future.  

Perhaps Telford did not meet Burns, and they were born further apart than Glover would wish, but he should be just as inspiring.

I am all for the immortal memory of the ploughman poet, but this season let’s raise a glass to another Scot - to Thomas Telford, Eskdale Tam as he penned himself in his poetry.

He turned out to be not much of a bard but one hell of an engineer, and the world needs engineers as much as it does poets.

Man of Iron - Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain, by Julian Glover.Bloomsbury £25

Friday, 13 January 2017

Tristram Hunt on the by-election conveyer belt

It is unlikely that anyone named Tristram would reach the very top of the Labour party but the historian was once talked about as a future leader.

These were in the days before the Corbyn revolution transformed Labour into a party that Tristram Hunt barely recognises. That change is undoubtedly the main reason Hunt is standing down as an MP at the age of 42, regardless of what is said about the wonderful opportunity to be director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The MP for Stoke on Trent Central faced repeated threats of de-selection under boundary changes because of his vocal opposition to Corbyn (he was marked as “hostile” on the leader’s little black list).

But it was the drift of Labour voters to UKIP that worried him. The anti-EU party came second, a distant second, to Hunt when he stood for re-election in 2015 in the Staffordshire seat

However, Stoke on Trent was dubbed the Brexit capital of Britain with the highest proportion of leave votes in the country.

Up to a dozen Labour MPs are said to join the conveyer belt of by-election resignations as they give up on the Corbyn leadership.

Jamie Reid has already signalled he will go from Copeland and it is clear the party is going to face a massive challenge there from the Conservatives.

For the inner-core Corbyn operation Hunt’s departure will be a bonus not a loss, an opportunity to put a more loyal candidate in place to catch the rising tide of support that will surely come Labour’s way as the May Brexit strategy falls apart.

Some hope. The evidence from two by-elections last night is that any Brexit blowback will miss the Labour party entirely and flow to the Lib Dems who have nailed their colours to the Remain mast

In Sunderland’s rock solid Sandhill ward, where Labour hasn’t lost since 1982, the Lib Dems won a council by-election with a massive 41 per cent increase in their vote.

One bright note -Labour’s loss is Dundee’s gain. The Victoria and Albert is opening a franchise in Dundee and Hunt, a great historian, will hopefully prove to be a dynamic director of the parent organisation.

But politically he is now history himself, amid signs that is the direction Labour is heading under Corbyn too.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Chan eil na chaidh seachad mar eachdraidh idir

Mi fhein agus Iain, dhà bhalach a Suardal

Coimhead air ais air 2016, chan e na naidheachdan troma a thug a' bhuaidh as motha orm ach obair mo chuimhne fhìn.

Le Iain Moireasdan rinn mi prògram rèidio Fianais mu deidhinn tsunami Àisia ann a 2005, far an robh mi ag obair mar fhear-naidheachd.

An duilgheadas, agus sinn a' tighinn gu àm claraidh, 's e nach robh cuimhne mhionaideach sam bith agam air mar a thachair.

B’ fheudar dhomh na h-aithisgean a sgrìobh mi a lorg - cha do leugh mi iad roimhe - agus thàinig na tachartasan air ais san spot. 

Bha m’ inntinn air an doras a dhùnadh air an sgrios a chunna mi.

Gu fortanach, bha dearbhadh sgrìobhte agam air mar a thachair.

'S thàinig e steach orm agus sinn a' comharrrachadh na bliadhna annasach seo fhèin gu bheil sinn dualtach cus a leigeil air dìochuimhn.

Chan eil na chaidh seachad mar eachdraidh idir, tha e ann fhathast. Uaireannan chan eil e fiù 's air a dhol seachad. 

Tha Fianais a chraoladh a-nochd aig 5.30f.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

How NHS Highland pulled the plug on Raasay

A view of Raasay, from the deck of Mv Hallaig, last week

For my Daily Record column

This is a dispatch from the edge about the death of a National Health Service in Scotland.

As you might expect from me, it is set on an island community, but lessons can be drawn for any rural area and ought to be heard by a government purporting to put Scotland first. 

So, let’s begin our trip to Raasay, the long strip of an island next to Skye. It’s about the same size and shape as Manhattan, but with less traffic, as fewer than 200 people live there.

You approach Raasay on a 25 minute ferry crossing aboard a new Mv Hallaig, a diesel-electric hybrid ferry project in which the Scottish government invested £20 million.

You arrive at the equally modern £12 million ferry terminal, and walk up past Raasay House Outdoor Centre, fully restored with £4 million grant funding.

Next door copper stills are being installed in the new Raasay distillery, a multi-million investment with public backing which could provide 12 full-time jobs.

Along the road is an award-winning community hall, a magnificent building attracting over £1 million of public money.

With that investment in a half-mile strip, perhaps £50 million, you would think little Raasay is on the cusp of something big.

But this focus of the economy of things, as I call it - buildings, piers and utilities that politicians can cut ribbons on - overlooks a negligence to invest in the most basic service people rely on, the NHS.

Highland Health Board is pulling the rug from under Raasay’s future by withdrawing the island’s full-time nursing cover.

After the resident nurse retired six years ago a rota of three full-time nurses was slowly wound down to nine to five, weekday coverage.

One nurse went off sick about the same time as two others were promoted off the island. For the first month they missed a few nights, then only covered every second weekend.Since the start of the year the rota wound down to nine-to-five, weekday coverage.

Fall ill on Raasay anytime after 5pm, fall down in your home on the weekend, and you face the prospect of being evacuated by helicopter or lifeboat to get primary health care.

One pensioner did just that, sat at the bottom of the stair until dawn, rather than face the palaver of an emergency dash.

The island community council is fighting a rearguard but the high-handed attitude of NHS Highland bureaucrats has alienated people. 

NHS Highland have had few volunteers to hold neighbour’s lives in their hands while waiting for a nighttime helicopter landing. Basically, the NHS want to leave health care with well-meaning amateurs, says Anne Gillies the community council chairwoman.

Needless to say lifeboat and coastguard crews are peeved at being cast as first responders to NHS failure. 

The board claim they find recruitment hard. Yet an island Facebook appeal drew 26 responses worldwide from people willing to work an island nursing parish.

Naturally, everyone wants a hospital at the end of their street and rural communities always accept compromise. 

Thirty years ago people feared school closures would signal the end of the line for some villages.

But these people are resilient. The secondary pupils of Raasay go down the slipway to the ferry and bus to Portree each morning on one of the most daunting school-runs in Britain.

But take away the security of primary health care and their parents start thinking twice about staying, or about setting up home in remote communities.

The plight of Raasay is emblematic of what is happening across the west coast. Coigach, Lismore, Eigg are in the same situation.

Out of hours GP services are earmarked to be withdrawn from Lochaline, Glenelg, Applecross, Lochinver,Tongue and Armadale.

This is the fraying edge of the NHS in Scotland.

There was a nurse on Raasay 80 years ago, before the NHS was founded. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, there is no NHS on Raasay for most of the time.

Pull at the thread long enough and the whole blanket will unravel.

Remove health cover from places like Raasay and ferries, piers, whisky stills and the sprung wooden floor in the community hall, it will all be for the tourists.

The jobs will be commuter-fed, workers departing the island on the last ferry of the day, as the nurse does now. 

Nicola Sturgeon launched that ferry, the ill-named Mv Hallaig, with some ceremony.

Hallaig, of course, is the cleared, abandoned Raasay village made famous by the poet Sorley MacLean.

Perhaps having the First Minister as the naming patron was an omen in itself. On her watch, does Nicola Sturgeon want her ferry sailing to an emptying island?

Friday, 25 November 2016

The end of the world as we know it

From my busy social diary and Daily Record column

Off to a champagne reception in the Locarno Room, the gilded, Italianate suite in the Foreign Office.

The last time they let me in President Obama was giving a boring speech. Yes, he campaigned in poetry, but boy he governed in prose.

Anyway, he’s history. Now we must party as if it is the end of days.

My company in the lift, it’s not golden by the way, is former chancellor Lord Lawson who complains that all the Foreign Office ever do is throw parties. “Well, it seems to have worked so far,” I reply.

Upstairs Boris Johnson, who doubtless views this opulence a temporary stabling, doesn’t blush to tell us that from the map room down the corridor Britain ran an empire seven times the size of the Roman one and planned the conquest of 171 countries.

All that delusion of grandeur, all that diplomatic heritage and protocol, is swept away in the middle of the night by a 140 character tweet from Donald Trump suggesting Nigel Farage would be an excellent British ambassador to America.

The victor in this year of revolution is clearly set on continuing his disruptive politics right up to and through the door of the White House.

Farage beat Theresa May to a meeting, now Trump’s telling her by tweet how to run her diplomatic corps. How humiliating.

Bizarrely, I also received an invite to the Farage victory celebration at the Ritz hotel, which I ignored thinking it must be one of these fake Nigerian-style scams to draw me in.

But it turns out to be a real event, complete with Brexit media magnates toasting the victor and a staircase speech promising more seismic shocks. Chilling stuff, with no credible counter from the left.   

All I need now is to bump into a young American with finger-nails painted emerald green. If she invites me to see her cabaret act the feeling that we are living in a parallel, early Weimar Republic will be complete.