Updated – Returning Officer under pressure over partiality claims

Updated: I now understand senior political figures will call for an inquiry into the handling of the meeting on Uist and who was present as well as into the actions of the civil servant who allegedly handed over responsibility for the invitations to the SNP. 

Why were non-SNP candidates not invited? 

THE Returning Officer in the Western Isles is coming under pressure to apologise after it emerged he attended a meeting with the Scottish transport minister where SNP candidate Angus Macneil was present but no other parliamentary candidates were invited.

Non-SNP councillors and transport campaigners were not invited amid claims the invitations were actually handled by the SNP office in Stornoway.

Although Returning Officer Malcolm Burr insists he was invited by the a civil servant Scottish Government he has still not explained why he stayed while Angus Macneil, the sitting MP, was the only political candidate present.

The row emerged after South Uist councillor Ronnie Mackinnon called for an inquiry into how Returning Officer attended the meeting “which broke every law in the electoral book” and from which he was excluded.

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Malcolm Burr – stayed at meeting with minister and SNP candidate although he knew non-SNP candidates and local councillors were not invited

The meeting on with minister Derek Mackay on Wednesday, which was ostensibly about ferry services and other transport concerns, was held at the offices of public landowner Storas Uibhist in Daliburgh. Present was the SNP candidate for the Western Isles, Angus Macneil, and the local MSP, Alasdair Allan and a few council representatives, including Mr Burr, who is the council chief executive.

Labour councillor MacKinnon, who has been prominent in the campaign to improve ferry services for South Uist, said: “When I learned of the proposed meeting, I phoned Transport Scotland in Edinburgh to ask why I had not been invited and whether I could attend.
“I was told that the meeting was being organised by Councillor Donald Manford, leader of the SNP Group on Comhairle (council), and that I should contact the SNP office in Stornoway for an invitation.”

The councillor said: “At that point, he could have been in no doubt that the meeting was a party political stunt.” However, the council says its invitations came from Transport Scotland, part of the Scottish Government.

MacKinnon says that the chief executive – who is also the returning officer for the constituency – told him he was “surprised” to learn of Councillor Manford’s role as organiser.
“This was a party political event in the interests of Mr MacNeil who has hitherto shown extraordinarily little interest in the issue of ferry services from Lochboisdale. It is totally inappropriate for the returning officer, or indeed the council, to participate in a meeting which involves one election candidate but to which others have not been invited. This was a clumsy stitch-up which deserves to backfire.”


Cllr MacKinnon said that Storas Uibhist should also examine the role of its own chief executive, Huw Francis, a prominent supporter of independence during the referendum campaign. Labour claims Mr Francis liaised with Councillor Manford to organise the meeting.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Derek Mackay said: “Labour should apologise for their shameful and dishonest smears against local council officials who have no right of reply. The ministerial meeting was not party political, indeed, it was attended by the leader of the council who is not SNP. The Transport Minister’s visit was inclusive and extensive and Cllr Mackinnon himself attended two of these meetings and, incidentally, never made any mention or request to attend the meeting at Storas Uibhist which he was aware of. Had Cllr Mackinnon asked to attend he would have been very welcome. It is regrettable Labour want to create fights instead of working with us to create jobs, secure investment and improve local services.”

In response to questions, Western Isles Council insists the meeting was not organised by the SNP, but by Scottish Government. It says it was invited to attend this and other meetings in Uist by the civil servant with responsibility for island issues.

“Who else was invited was entirely up to Scottish Government and the community groups involved.”

It added that it had no knowledge of other attendees, and who had or had not been invited. It said the council would assist Councillor Mackinnon in pursuing the advice which he received, which was not consistent with the terms of the invitation to the Comhairle’s Leader and officers.

The council response was at pains to point out: “The meeting was also attended by the council leader, who is not an SNP councillor.” However, the council leader, who is an independent member, does not have the duty of impartiality of a Returning Officer and is free to attend any meeting he wants without having to be concerned if he is too close to any party.

Claims emerged from local Labour activists that the chief executive, who they say has been a blatant nationalist fanatic for some time, is now less professional than he used to be in distancing himself from mucky party politics. The council respnded: “The council completely rejects this statement, its implications and any allegations as to Mr Burr’s professionalism.”

Transport Minister Derek Mackay’s office then waded into the row demanding Labour apologise for “their shameful and dishonest smears” against local council officials who, they said, had no right of reply.

“The ministerial meeting was not party political, indeed, it was attended by the leader of the council who is not SNP. The Transport Minister’s visit was inclusive and extensive and Cllr Mackinnon himself attended two of these meetings and, incidentally, never made any mention or request to attend the meeting at Storas Uibhist which he was aware of.
“Had Cllr Mackinnon asked to attend he would have been very welcome. It is regrettable Labour want to create fights instead of working with us to create jobs, secure investment and improve local services.”

Meanwhile, the comhairle has failed to explain why Mr Burr still went to the meeting after being warned by Cllr Mackinnon that it was an SNP stunt and also why he stayed knowing the SNP candidate was there while no other parliamentary candidates were invited.

Posted in council, Labour, snp | 6 Comments

Improvements noted at Blar Buidhe care home

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar  CNES_logo

Blar Buidhe Care Home

An investigation into the HC One-owned Blar Buidhe Care Home has now been completed.

Iain Macaulay, Western Isles Chief Social Work Officer, said: “We have received positive feedback from NHS Western Isles and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar staff involved in this investigation. HC-One have worked closely and constructively with us during this whole process and we are pleased with the steps that they have taken to address our initial concerns.
“As a result, we are now fully satisfied that the terms of the investigation, under the Adult Support and Protection Legislation, no longer apply and that the large scale investigation has now been concluded. We are reassured that the individuals subject to ‘initial inquires’ are no longer deemed to be adults at risk of harm. Individual reviews will continue as part of the normal process monitoring and reviewing process. blar
“Finally, I would like to thank individual residents and their relatives for their cooperation during the investigation.”

The temporary suspension on admissions to the Care Home has been lifted.

Posted in community, council, Stornoway | Leave a comment

Macneil highlights importance of continuing and improving the rural fuel derogation

MACNEIL HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUING AND IMPROVING THE RURAL FUEL DEROGATION

Angus Brendan MacNeil SNP Na h-Eileanan an Iar, has today highlighted the importance of the Rural Fuel Derogation and its effects on island fuel prices over the last few years, since its introduction, which based on a weekly tank refill, it saving islands motorists up to £150 per year.

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Macneil – important to keep derogation rising

Commenting Angus MacNeil said: “The introduction of the 5 pence Rural Fuel Derogation has been one of the campaign successes of the last parliament, in the previous parliament, Labour flatly refused to do anything to help island motorists. In fact it was worse, Labour made up spurious excuses and insulted peoples’ intelligence, with frankly daft reasons as to why it could not be done, they went even further and constantly increased taxes on motorists oblivious and uncaring about its effects on the islands’ economy.

“When the coalition came to power and before they drew up their coalition agreement, I was to the fore in reminding those parties of what they promised in opposition as regards a Rural Fuel Derogation and ensured I pressed for an early adoption before they started to break their word as we saw most spectacularly in the tuition fees debacle that has destroyed the Liberal Democrats as a serious and credible force in politics not only in Scotland but across the UK.

“However, we must not rest on our laurels and must press for the Rural Fuel Derogation to keep rising as times goes on. I would look in the next parliament to keep pressuring as I have done in the last year or two, for the Rural Fuel Derogation to rise for two principal reasons. One, the budget set aside for the Rural Fuel Derogation was underspent and two, despite the welcome victory of achieving a Rural Fuel Derogation we are still paying more tax per litre in the island than the UK average. I will work constructively, as usual, with other MPs across the UK in island and rural areas to achieve this.

“Finally, I am grateful for the support I have had from island retailers who tell me that the Rural Fuel Derogation has been a helpful part of reducing prices at the pump.”

Posted in fuel | 1 Comment

Lib Dem Diary

The Secret Diary of Ruaraidh Ferguson, age 53 and a half

(Published with apologies to Sue Townsend, author of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾)

Thursday 09/04
The first hustings has been confirmed. It’s to be held on Tuesday 28th April, 7.30pm in the Town Hall. It’s being organised by the Evangelical Alliance in association with a number of local churches. Hopefully all the candidates will be attending. Should be interesting for the political anoraks out there, no doubt a few controversial questions.
Interesting point about how things are reported locally. The press release on the LibDems not putting up any posters this year was pretty much reported by Iain X as it was sent; the Stornoway Gazette decided to print it next week as they didn’t have anything from other candidates, whilst Heb News changed the whole emphasis and tone of the release.

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Ruaraidh … Macneil is credited with discovering Penicillin during half time when he was captaining Celtic in the 1967 European cup final.

Friday 10/04
Bit of a row brewing over comments by the SNP candidate on Twitter and, if true, he should really apologise. Always very dangerous this social media malarkey, I’m not allowed anywhere near an iPad if I’ve sneaked a cold one out of the fridge.

The daily directives continue to arrive from party HQ, the latest being: “For the coming week it is important for candidates to emphasise that no party is going to get an overall majority. That means it is important to choose who gets to influence the government.”
I really don’t buy into the idea that you should be talked out of voting for who you want in order to keep someone out.  The whole election campaign by the major parties seems to have been on them trying to explain why you shouldn’t vote for someone rather than why you should. The first-past-the-post system is only one step up from the rotten burghs.

Saturday 11/04
I was disappointed to see the first political posters are up in town, in this case from the Scottish Christian Party. I took a short poll on Saturday morning and asked 15 people that given the posters were up would they now vote for the Scottish Christian Party. 5 people said “what posters?” and “no”, another 5 said “what election?”. Four more also said “no” whilst the last was fairly uncomplimentary about politicians in general and asked what business was it of mine. I took that as a maybe.
It appears that our SNP candidate is taking full credit for the 5p derogation of fuel in his election address. My memory is not what it was and I’m pretty sure there was a strong north of Scotland LibDem connection with all of this prior to any action by Mr Macneil. I’ll need to do a bit of research before commenting further but it does look a bit like Gordon Ramsey wishing he had played for Rangers.

Monday 13/04
I find Dr Wilson’s letter in which he claims Mr Macneil was responsible for the 5p derogation absolutely incredible. Repeating something often enough doesn’t make it true. I have seen an advance copy of the next SNP press release in which Mr Macneil is credited with discovering Penicillin during half time when he was captaining Celtic in the 1967 European cup final.
Compare that to the true story of Sir Menzies Campbell who represented Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympics, Captained the Scottish Team at the 1966 Commonwealth Games and went on to become a Queens Counsel.

Tuesday 14/04
Research into the fuel derogation does indeed establish that Mr MacNeil was a very small cog in a large cross-party machine in which Danny Alexander was the main catalyst. As part of the coalition negotiations, he ensured the 5p derogation was part of the coalition agreement, and was then able to implement the derogation through his position in the treasury.

Wednesday 15/04
Launch of the manifesto. Big day for all however the headline policy seems to be on education which of course is devolved and not part of a Scottish MP’s remit. Labour lead on the NHS whilst the Conservatives big hit is the ability to purchase council houses, again all devolved policy and nothing to do with a Scottish MP. I also notice that the conservatives are rewriting the Smith Commission report in their manifesto, deciding by post code who can vote on what regardless that the funding released effects everyone.
Mark Brown’s leaflet arrived through the door yesterday, the tone, regardless of the policies looks very positive. I notice though that he holds committee roles in both Rugby League and Rugby Union, the experience and history of this should help him answer some controversial questions about marriages at the evangelical hustings.

Thursday 16/04
That’s the SNP posters up. Obviously means they are going to win now! I checked William Hill and the odds are still the same 1-50 SNP, 12-1 Labour, 150-1 LibDem and 200-1 Tory, no odds for the Christian Party, not sure why.
Lots of memos from party HQ on the manifesto and how wonderful it all is. Strangely enough it’s not the worst I have seen and am pleased to see the policies on the environment but as mentioned before a lot of it is based on specific policies for England and Wales. I will need persuading on a few policies but don’t actively dislike any – which makes a change.
I also seem to be in the bad books with HQ over not filling in some online biography as this would appear to be very essential, I will continue to ignore for the moment as it’s all getting very Sir Humphrey.

Posted in LibDem, politics | Leave a comment

Registration and Postal Vote Deadlines

UK PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION

NA H-EILEANAN AN IAR     poll_vote-500x333

Registration and Postal Vote Deadlines

Electors have until midnight on Monday 20 April 2015 to register to vote in the UK Parliamentary Election.  Poll cards were issued to all registered electors in the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency earlier this month.  If you have not received a poll card you should contact the Electoral Registration Officer on 01851 706262 to ensure that your name appears on the Register of Electors.

Anyone wishing to apply for a postal vote must submit an application to the Electoral Registration Officer by 5pm on Tuesday 21 April 2015. Copies of the application forms are also available from the main and area Comhairle Offices.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Transport minister blames islanders – Morrison

Labour challenger accuses transport minister of blaming islanders not MP and MSP

Parliamentary candidate Alasdair Morrison said he was “disgusted” to read comments by Derek MacKay, the Islands and Transport Minister, where he blamed islanders for the shambles surrounding the procurement of the ferry the Loch Seaforth.

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Transport minister Derek Mackay

Alasdair Morrison said: “It’s shameful that the Transport Minister, Derek MacKay, arrives in Benbecula to blame islanders for his Government’s shambolic procurement of the Loch Seaforth. Why he launched this attack about islanders on Lewis on a visit to Uist is difficult to fathom. Uist has many ferry issues which need resolving without Mr MacKay wasting time berating people on a neighbouring island.

“It’s hugely revealing that Mr MacKay criticised harbour trusts, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, CalMac and CMAL but did not apportion any blame to the MP and MSP. Mr MacKay should apologise for his Government’s neglect and the absence of our MP and MSP. They are to blame not innocent bystanders.

“I also hope that the leadership of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will rebut this slur immediately and remind the Minister that they, and many others, told the SNP Government that Lewis needed a two-ferry solution not the half baked solution they are inflicting on our communities.”

Posted in ferries, government, politics, transport, Western Isles | Leave a comment

Angus Brendan MacNeil SNP writes to mobile network operators about improving island coverage

MP writes to mobile phone operators

Angus Brendan MacNeil SNP, has written to the main mobile network companies to seek clarification and have then flesh out their plans for improving mobile and data communications in the islands over the next two years. This follows a sustained campaign and a concession from the Department of Culture Media and Sport, that the islands should see some of the greatest improvements in mobile coverage of any area in the UK in the next two years. UK_phone_networks_w300

Angus Brendan MacNeil commented: “While we have seen some small improvement in mobile communications, notably with the Vodafone Open Sure Signal, and notwithstanding the frustrations when signal is down, recently the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at Westminster confirmed to me in an answer to a parliamentary question, that the islands should see “one of the greatest improvement of any area” in mobile phone coverage. We certainly know how important mobile coverage is, particularly when the numerous lightning strikes of last winter caused so many problems to so many landlines. Mobile phones have long since passed the point when they were seen as a luxury, now they are ubiquitous and a social utility as well as essential for businesses to function as efficiently as everywhere else, not just around the Country but around the World.
“I have long been banging the drum for improving mobile network coverage in the islands, but progress was hampered by the lack of a fibre network to the transmitters to enable a proper network to operate fully.

“Now that the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, through British Telecom, have taken fibre optic to the islands in the last year, and with High Speed Broadband about to commence, rolling out across the islands over the next couple of years, we now have what is called “backhaul” capacity to enable a better mobile infrastructure. Therefore, with the technical parts of the jigsaw falling into place, I now want the hear from the mobile phone companies, Vodafone, EE (Orange) and O2 as to what their plans are to fulfil the words of the Department for Culture Media Support “that we will see the greatest improvements of any area”. I am also sending a signal to the mobile network companies that this is something I intend to pursue over the next couple of years to ensure the islands see the promised improvements in mobile telephony.

“I have been heartened recently, to see that the Isle of Coll has got a community 4G mast, Coll as we know is a small island of 130 inhabitants and this is a ground-breaking project that shows what can be possible, and it is also providing 4G signal to parts of Mull and Tiree. A 4G network also enables areas where normal broadband doesn’t reach to connect to the internet at speeds of 3 to 4 times better than anywhere in the islands are currently receiving.

“Finally, High Speed Broadband and to improve mobile coverage are things that can actually enable one another, this is why I am anxious that the islands are not left behind and that we have a network to rival anything across Northern Europe including our Scandinavian friends.”

Posted in communications | Tagged | 9 Comments

Get ready for temporary Ullapool diversion from next week

Temporary Ullapool diversion starts next week

CALMAC-Hebrides-TodayImprovement works to Ullapool Harbour’s linkspan are on course to start on Monday meaning the closure of the port to vehicular traffic for a period of four weeks. Ferry operator CalMac will be running a temporary service from Stornoway to Uig to allow continued traffic to flow between Lewis and the mainland.

The revised sailing schedule for the duration of the upgrade work will be:

  • Up to two daily return sailings from Stornoway to Uig for passengers and vehicles.
  • One daily return sailing from Stornoway to Uig for freight.
  • Two daily return sailings from Stornoway to Ullapool for foot passengers only.
  • An enhanced service (peak season level) on the Uig to Tarbert route

The temporary timetables can be viewed here.

Drew Collier, CalMac’s Operations Director, said: “The introduction of a double linkspan at Ullapool will significantly increase the port’s resilience by opening it up to a much greater range of vessels than it can currently deal with. It will also improve reliability over the long term by shortening loading and unloading times.”

Fares are being changed to the cheaper Uig-Tarbert rate for the period.

“Transport Scotland has decided to equalise the fares between Stornoway and Uig and Tarbert and Uig to help manage traffic volumes on the route more effectively. The fare from Stornoway to Ullapool is higher than Tarbert-Uig. We are keen to avoid unnecessary congestion at Tarbert during this short period as some travellers may have opted for the cheaper route if prices had been kept at the existing Stornoway Ullapool level,” said Mr Collier.
“This temporary diversion will cause some inconvenience for which we apologise in advance, but the upgrade will improve the quality of the service we can offer from Ullapool over the long-term,” he added.

The improvement work is being funded by the Ullapool Harbour Trust and Transport Scotland. Ullapool harbour is due to open again to vehicles on Monday, May 18.

Posted in ferries, Ullapool, Western Isles | Leave a comment

Now listen to your favourite councillor

CNES_logoMeetings of Western Isles Council now broadcast (almost) live on the internet

The audio streaming can be accessed at
http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/committees/live-audio.asp

There is a small delay but in practice it is usually no more than 30 seconds. That may depend on your connection speed and equipment. There is also a timetable of meetings on the website and a live Gaelic/English translation facility is available.

Yes, listen to your favourite councillor fighting to stop the march of progress, er sorry fighting for you, as only they know how. Try to hang onto your seat as the sharp councillors with business interests pull the wool over the eyes of their dozy colleagues and jobsworth officials who will cause no trouble that could jeopardise their huge salaries and pensions.

Please note, if you do not hear your favourite representative speak at all, you should not just assume their microphone is broken. They may just be asleep, so listen very quietly.

Meetings this week include:

Tuesday 14th April
9.00am – Environment and Protective Services
2pm – Transportation and Infrastructure

Wednesday 15 April
9.30am – Education and Children’s Services
2.00pm – Sustainable Development

Thursday 16 April
2.00pm – Health and Social Care

NEXT WEEK

Tuesday 21 April
Audit and Scrutiny

Wednesday 22 April
Policy and Resources
Full Comhairle

Posted in community, council, Western Isles | Leave a comment

NATO war games force flights to Stornoway to route via Inverness

PASSENGER flights from Glasgow to Stornoway are being forced to fly via the Moray Firth to keep safe during the biggest NATO exercise of its kind ever held over the north of Scotland.

Operator Loganair confirmed the reason passengers were surprised to see Inverness below them yesterday (MON) was because the airline had been told to keep east to avoid fast low-flying military jets suddenly roaring out of glens and risking collisions.

The Royal Navy last night played down the effect on the Loganair flight claiming it was only rerouted to take a more direct route to Stornoway.

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How the Stornoway flight was diverted via north of Inverness   Courtesy: Flightaware.com

The US Navy has confirmed the UK-led Exercise Joint Warrior 151 currently being held is on the largest scale in the history of the twice-yearly NATO war games. Fifteen countries are taking part in the exercise which began on Saturday and runs until April 24.

More than 50 ships and 70 aircraft, some based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire, along with 13,000 personnel are taking part.

It was only last week that Loganair introduced the new 50-seater Saab 2000 planes on the late-morning flight from Glasgow to Stornoway.

However, online monitoring of yesterday’s BE6822 flight caused alarm among people waiting for the passengers and cargo at Stornoway because it popped up on screens nearing Inverness.

One relative said: “I was scared witless because my daughter was on it. When I saw it was heading for the Moray Firth all sorts of fears of an emergency came into my head.”

The display from the website Flightaware.com showed the flight passed over the city before turning left for Stornoway.

The Royal Navy at Faslane played down the claims that the Loganair plane had been diverted to the Moray Firth by the war games, claiming it was only “initially” heading for Inverness.

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A Saab 2000 like the one on the Stornoway route

The navy spokesman claimed Loganair operations had told them they were not affected by Exercise Joint Warrior airborne operations. He went on: “One aircraft filed from Glasgow to Stornoway via a reporting point called ‘Clyde’, and once airborne was tactically rerouted via reporting point ‘Foyle’ (at Aberfoyle) which initially routes towards Inverness navigational beacon.
“This tactical rerouting, offering a more direct track to Stornoway, took into account known military activity and is standard ATC practice.”

However, a spokesman for operator Loganair later confirmed it had been “advised” to expect increased levels of fast jet activity. He said: “During the exercise, Glasgow to Stornoway flights will generally be taking a more easterly route to avoid the exercise activity. Flight plans and routings are all lodged with air traffic control service in advance.”

Although the aircraft left Glasgow late, the Loganair spokesman said it arrived in Stornoway a minute ahead of schedule which suggested that it was flying faster than usual to make up for the diversion to Inverness.

Loganair last night said that only flights to Stornoway would have a tour to the Moray Firth thrown in for free. Flights to Barra and Benbecula would continue on their usual route.

The Ministry of Defence at Whitehall referred enquiries about Exercise Joint Warrior 151’s effects on civilian flights to planners at NATO in Brussels who last night had still not responded to questions.

Posted in aviation, Stornoway | Tagged , | 1 Comment