Saturday, July 25, 2009
What now for Lewis in the new age of reason?
The first 'Sabbath ferry' has come and gone, with the cheers of hundreds of well-wishers replaced by the normality of everyday public transport that most of Scotland normally enjoys. It's early days, but the Calvinist god has yet to visit his wrath upon CalMac or those islanders who have campaigned long and hard for this service. The hardline Presbyterians, despite their warnings of dire consequences, have gone back to bickering amongst themselves. The purer they get, the fewer. But for the rest of us, the dark ages are receding into the past.
Leodhas agus Na h-Eileanan Siar remain remarkable places. They possess beauty and culture. And a declining population.
So what now? Well, despite the progress-phobic Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the islands have two hardworking representatives in both the Edinburgh and London parliaments so things aren't looking that bad. Here though, is an opinion of a Gaelic-speaking outsider.
Gaelic - Use it or lose it. It is a national treasure and the Islands are probably the last place where Gaelic is still used in industries like crofting and fishing, the media, in cultural events and now at official level too. As Brian Wilson of the West Highland Free Pravda once said, 'there is no value in just being the same as everyone else'. The Welsh do a lot more for their language than native Gaels do. Gaelic Medium Education should be the standard for all kids in the Western Isles. At the very least, they would speak better English but it should also go a long way to sustaining our indigenous language. We should throw the Scots' cringe on the same scrapheap where Calvinist scaremongering now lies.
Renewable energy - waves, wind and sunshine. Well Na h-Eileanan Siar has two of them in abundance. But windfarms should be run by the local communities and primarily for their own needs. Any surplus can then be sold on. Same goes for the huge coastline and Atlantic swell. Use it. Jobs for local people, clean energy and any profits can go back into creating better services for the community. Why shouldn't Carlabhagh have a sports centre? If Norway can do it for their 'remote' communities... Maybe John Macleod (continuing) could be harnessed and his hot air used to heat old folks' homes and his Daily Mail columns dug into the machair to compost crops of tatties?
Traditional industries - crofting, fishing, Harris Tweed and building. Support them with tax-breaks or whatever. If multi-national companies can be 'enticed' to relocate to Scotland with £millions in grants and tax-breaks then why can't the same logic be applied to rural communities with fragile economies and declining populations?
Cheaper fuel - Here's an idea. See them toffs in Edinburgh's New Town with their huge 4x4 wanktanks? Tax them to fck and then use those taxes to subsidise fuel in the Western Isles where people actually do need a car or SUV. There's a cruel irony that oil tankers carrying fuel sail past the islands so it can be offloaded near Glasgow then transported back up to the islands by road.
Whisky -Add this to the traditional industries. The new Abhainn Dearg distillery in Uig will have it's first legal whisky ready for the Stornoway Mod in 2011. There's also a planned distillery in Barraigh. Tax reductions on whisky would go a long way to helping them survive and expand.
The land - If the grey carbuncle of Fort William can reinvent itself as the 'outdoor capital of Scotland' then the Western Isles can go one better. Use it to attract extreme-sport enthusiasts and Australians to fling themselves of Rubha Robhanais and bungee themselves back to the lighthouse. Plant new crops. Apparently, cannabis can grow virtually anywhere and needs next to nothing in terms of fertiliser or pesticide. Turn it into medicine, clothes, boat sails... cupcakes?
Back to the future - Bring back things we used to have. Shinty for recreation - Camanachd Leodhais are already underway, replant the forests, use the Norse mills for small-scale and localised power, hunt the whales and dolphin with cameras and enthusiastic tourists...
This might be a bit of effort of the part Comharile nan Eilean Siar, the Scottish Parliament and the expensive one in London... but, ged 's fhad a-mach Barraigh, ruigear e.