Monday, 6 April 2009

Meanwhile, back on the island

Whitehall 1212 is on its holidays in the Western Isles this week but just because we're at the island end of the London-Lewis nexus, and Westminster is on holiday, doesn't mean that politics has gone away.

After an early morning radio broadcast to the Gaelic nation on Geoff Hoon's troubles with housing allowances, now extending to Alistair Darling, I stop off at Stornoway airport to pick up my copy of the Herald.

The drome and the supermarket are the only two places to be sure of meeting anyone, church on a Sunday as well I suppose, as Stornoway town centre is abandoned since the recession swept away Woolworths.

The planes have all gone by the time I arrive but there's Donald John MacSween, the prospective Labour candidate for the Na h-Eileanan an Iar, along with Peter Peacock MSP, former Labour Minister and before that able leader of Highland Regional Council

Peacock bemoans the expenses row, saying it contaminates all politics. A stewart on the Inverness to Edinburgh train last week pointedly handed him a receipt for his breakfast so, the waiter said, he could "claim it on his expenses".

Mr Peacock wearily had to point out that he was a Scottish MSP and couldn't claim his breakfast back. One day, not far from now, the rigorous Scottish parliament expenses scheme will be applied at Westminster too.

Catherine Stihler MEP
joins us, like the first cuckoo of Spring, a sure sign that the European elections can't be far away. The Labour team are off around the island to press the flesh and raise their profile. Nice weather for it.

Of course that doesn't last long. By the time we make for coffee at An Lanntair, the island art gallery, the rain is back on. We're just getting onto the cullin skink when in pop a clutch BBC executives with some men in suits, whom we establish are members of the BBC Trust.

They must be up as part of their assessment of BBC Alba, the Gaelic TV channel, and whether it ought to be on Freeview. Bit of no-brainer that one. The Trust has made the new channel jump through all kinds of hoops and audience target stats to prove that it should be made available on Freeview, instead of Freesat or Sky channel 168 as it currently is.

The channel is scoring remarkable viewing figures despite its limited broadcast range. (My mother and sister's households, for example, which neatly cover the entire audience span from pensioner, through working mother and tweens don't have the access to the channel though both have Freeview equipment.)

If you do have access to BBC Alba watch out next Monday for my friend Ishbel MacIver's biography of Winnie Ewing, the matriach the modern-day SNP, which has been completed in record time. I'll try and get a preview clip us soon as.

Sad to hear on Gaelic radio this afternoon of the death of Neil McCormick, former SNP MEP and distinguished nationalist and academic.

More blogging during the week but now back to the stove. The old adage is true, sit on an island long enough and the whole world will come to you.

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