CalMac fails to tell passengers what is happening – again

CalMac is managing to enrage passengers waiting at Uig this morning. Technical problems with the regular ferry at Lochmaddy emerged before 7.30am but CalMac has again failed to send out texts with the details.CALMAC-Hebrides-Today

Not every passenger listens to Gaelic radio or even Radio Scotland and CalMac simply cannot be bothered to let them know what is happening.

In fact, CalMac is sending the ferry Isle of Lewis over to rescue them but, yet again, CalMac puts no importance on actually telling the passengers what is happening with its much-vaunted text service which it boasts so much about in its promotional material.

Very poor show this morning, guys. With about half the ministers in the Scottish Government desperate to bring in the crooks at Serco to replace you, you should be on the ball – particularly now. (Note to lawyers: Serco defrauded the UK Government out of £68.5 million by deliberately overcharging for the tagging of criminals.)

By the way, should CalMac staff really be telling customers that they do not know what is happening at Lochmaddy because they have not been in the office for long? Should they not be fully up to speed on disruptions before they even answer the phone? Who is in charge of staff training? Can we expect an explanation? Probably not.

Oh, and while I am at it, your staff at Uig have failed to offer complimentary beverage vouchers. Again. I understand some parched passengers have decided they have to go and demand something. Again.

Update: As a grumpy CalMac chap has finally walked round the cars to tell the waiting drivers and passengers, the ferry Isle of Lewis will leave Uig at 1.15pm.  I suspect some of these passengers may recount their experiences at the hands of CalMac later on Facebook.

Posted in ferries, Western Isles | 1 Comment

How did tiny Aultbea produce two southern soccer talents? – column

So many interesting people were around Stornoway last week at the Hebridean Celtic Festival. As well as the musical acts over in the tent, there was a veritable parade of entertainers assembled in the centre of the town as slack-jawed shoppers looked on. Jugglers, Japanese unicyclists, dancers – even a Johnny Depp lookalike on a tricycle.

Festivals draw many people, not because they are particular fans of any particular music genre, but because they simply wanted to meet people, savour the atmosphere and enjoy the craic. Even the Free Church (Continuing) was out in force and had a stall. Alas, I was led sorely into temptation. Inverness-based firebrand Donald John Morrison almost succeeded in making me take a pamphlet. Better luck next year, a’ Dhomhnuill Iain.

Fleeing the wiles of the Continuing, I raced to the sanctuary of an hostelry. Who did I meet there but Martin Hill. Great yarns. Originally from Middlesex, Martin, who is now in his early 70s, told me about his idyllic childhood in the west London suburbs where he went regularly to see Brentford FC with his dad. A favourite player was Hugh Urquhart.

Years went by and Martin moved north and settled in Contin in 1977. He became a publican. Before long, he met a guy who lived nearby by the name of Urquhart. Ah, he’d heard that surname many years before. He told his new friend Mr Urquhart about the Urquhart who played for Brentford. “Ach,” says the other fellow “That would have been myself.”



Hugh Urquhart was actually from Aultbea, the west coast beachfronted hamlet in Wester Ross. The coincidence of now having his former soccer idol Hugh as a near neighbour hundreds of miles away from Brentford still makes Martin shake his head as he remembers happy days of yore as a nipper.

Another coincidence. Another Highland footballer played for Brentford in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The late Roddy Munro previously played for a wee club on the shores of the Clyde called Glasgow Rangers. Wait, wait, wait. I’m not finished. Guess where he was from. A fishing village on the shores of Loch Ewe called … Aultbea. Brentford had two players from Aultbea. What are the chances of that?

Then I was collared by Colin Macleod. He lives in Maryburgh but insisted that really he is a Stornoway cove. A Westview Terrace boy, in fact. Colin first sold anti-fouling paint, mousetraps and Tilley lamps at the former ship chandler and hardware shop, the lamented Charles Morrison & Son. Later on, he became well-known as an insurance agent and that other former Man from the Pru, Michael Maclennan, remembers him well. Ah the tales, he told me. Just a pity they are not fit for a family newspaper.

Colin, who tells me he is 82 but looks about 20 years off that, is of an island family, the Sketches. We may even be related along the line. We both have bright eyes, we both are dashingly handsome with the same chiselled jawbone structure, we both put all that down to the necking of the occasional amber neck tar. Ach, we’re practically brothers.

I also met the lads’ partner in crime, Big John. Lochussie contractor John Sinclair, at 54 was the baby of the group. He was making his 19th visit to the festival. Wonder if you can figure out how I know that, John? Martin and Colin both needed a sensible chaperone to make sure they got back safely to Rossshire. The big fellow spent time being a perfect gentleman with Katie and Louise, the two friendly lasses from Lochgoilhead we ended up beside.

And those girls were well-behaved too. Ladies who come to Lewis for a good time are not as badly behaved as the ones who frequent places like Inverness. So naughty are they that the male staff at Hootenanny’s bar have had to start wearing trousers because female customers, after a few bevvies, insist on checking out for themselves what’s worn under their kilts. Would never happen in the Lewis Bar.

What men wear in the north of Scotland is very important. Clothing and accessories have to be practical. Because of this ridiculously unseasonal weather, my mate Calum was bought a pair of earmuffs by his wife for tramping round Stornoway. They look a bit weird but they keep the old lugs cosy. However, when I met him on Saturday, he didn’t have them on.

When I asked why, he said they just weren’t practical. He explained how he wore them on the first couple of days of the festival but when anyone offered to buy him a drink, he just couldn’t hear them.

Posted in P&J column | 3 Comments

Outer Hebrides Tourism responds to end of ferries dispute

RMT / Calmac Industrial Dispute resolved: Outer Hebrides Tourism respond

Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) is absolutely delighted all parties have seen sense and resolved this dispute. Local businesses, island communities and indeed our visitors can now breathe a sigh of relief and start to get back to normal.  oht

However, we must not forget that this ongoing dispute has already caused financial and reputation damage to this important island tourism economy. OHT will continue to seek feedback from the Scottish Government and Calmac on our call for compensation for local businesses for losses due to last month’s strike action and the months of travel uncertainty, as well as seeking fair compensation to visitors who are out of pocket.

It is at this time of year when tourists start to think about an autumn break so it is an ideal time to finally see some of the promised action from any agency to engage with our businesses to rebuild visitor confidence in holidaying in the Outer Hebrides.

Collectively, OHT member businesses are incredibly proud that the glorious experience of a holiday in the Outer Hebrides is renowned around the world – whatever the time of year, visitors will always receive the warmest of welcome, enjoy the most spectacular scenery and enjoy a holiday to last long in the memory. We want to encourage visitors to continue to travel to these islands for this experience.

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Will Churchill’s grandson win ferries contract for Serco?

rec logo‘We shall fight them on the beaches': A message to Winston Churchill’s grandson who leads firm bidding for Calmac ferry routes

22 July 2015

By Keith Mcleod

RUPERT Soames is hoping to clean up Serco’s image with a lucrative CalMac Ferries deal, and the £2m-a-year chief executive holds workers’ future in his hands.


First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Serco boss Rupert Soames.

TODAY the Daily Record invokes the spirit of Sir Winston Churchill as we take on the man who holds the fate of CalMac workers in his hands – the £2million-a-year grandson of the wartime leader.

Rupert Soames OBE is chief executive of Serco, who are bidding for key CalMac ferry routes as part of a plan to revive the firm from their lowest ebb.

Euro rules on competition mean tendering must take place which could have wide implications for CalMac staff and customers.

Serco, who make most of their money through government contracts, are not in the business of running them at a loss – they are trying to rebuild their profits and reputation – but it’s Scottish taxpayers who will be footing the bill.

The company appointed Soames, 56, in 2014 on a pay package worth more than £2million a year.  The establishment figure is seen by business analysts as the man to clean up Serco’s image after a series of scandals that happened before his appointment.

The company had been blacklisted by the Government after they charged taxpayers for monitoring the movement of dead criminals.  They were also implicated in malpractice at a detention centre for asylum seekers.

Soames, who owns half of a vast Highland sporting estate, said earlier this year that he will forsake his £900,000 bonus while going cap in hand to investors for £555million to keep the company afloat.

A writedown of £1.3billion – including £250million from some UK work – pushed the group deep into the red after Soames vowed to clean up the firm. The dad of three said: “We have been through the stables and cleared out the manure, which is now sitting in a steaming pile next to some very nice clean stables.”

Choosing him was an opportunity for Serco to revive themselves at the trough of the British establishment through its lucrative public contracts. Eton old boy Soames’s eldest brother is Sir Nicholas Soames, a former Tory defence minister.

His father was Sir Christopher Soames, an ambassador to France and the last governor of Rhodesia. And his mother Mary learned to swear while commanding an anti-aircraft battery in Hyde Park during the blitz.

In his former role as CEO of Glasgow electricity generator giants Aggreko, who make diesel generators and supply temporary power projects, Soames spoke out in Holyrood in 2010 over “bungs” for the renewable energy industry. In what was meant to be a charm offensive, he told MSPs: “We had bungs for windfarms, bungs for micro-generation, bungs for solar, bungs for tidal energy.”

He ranted at government interference in energy markets and “unachievable” goals to reduce carbon emissions, saying: “The great danger facing the UK’s energy policy is that history of meddling with the markets, the persistence with which we reiterate unachievable goals for emissions reduction and the wildly optimistic
forecasts of the availability, cost and performance of new technology.”

He then bamboozled MSPs with a bizarre reference to the energy market. He said it was like Lord Palmerston’s assessment of the 1864 war between Denmark and Prussia.

He waffled: “As Lord Palmerston said of the Schleswig-Holstein question, ‘It is so complicated that only three men have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second is a German professor who became mad thinking about it. And the third is me, and I know the answer but have forgotten what the question was.’”

Companies House lists him as being a director of two firms, and a resigned director of 23 companies. Soames owns a half share of the Camusory Estate at Knoydart. The other half is owned by Camusrory Estate, a company registered at a PO box number in Nassau, Bahamas.

The estate, which covers 8053 acres, includes the island of Eilean Maol, retains salmon fishing rights for Loch Nevis, the sea nearby and the River Carnach. Soames bought it for £571,000 in August 2009.

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CalMac strike threat over

A resolution has been reached in the industrial dispute at CalMac Ferries Limited and Argyll Ferries Limited, ending the possibility of further strikes, said the Scottish Government.

The agreement comes following a fourth day of talks between the government, CalMac Ferries Limited and union representatives.
The government said it means the tendering process for the next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract will proceed, with the Initial Invitation To Tender set to issue on the July 31.

Speaking after chairing the talks, Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay said: “All parties involved in the talks have worked hard to find a solution and I am very pleased an agreement has now been reached that ends the threat of further strike action.
“Nowhere will this news be welcomed more than in our islands and we must now return our focus on delivering these vital ferry services for the communities that depend on them.
“The agreement also means that the tendering process for the next CHFS contract will continue, with the Initial Invitation To Tender set to issue on 31st July.”

He said the Scottish Government had made a clear commitment to ferry services, investing a record £1 billion in port infrastructure, vessels and services since 2007. They had also introduced Road Equivalent Tariff, substantially reducing the cost of ferry travel for passengers, cars, coaches and small commercial vehicles on the Clyde and Hebrides network.

“As Minister for Transport and Islands, I’m well aware of the lifeline role these services play in supporting our islands and the Scottish Government remains committed to delivering the very best deal for all of the communities of the Clyde and Hebrides.”

Martin Dorchester, managing director of CalMac Ferries, later said: “We can confirm that we have been able to conclude talks with the RMT and the TSSA and that their concerns have been addressed. Further strike action was in no one’s interests.

“I’d like to recognise the positive engagement and support of all our unions in achieving this position.

“Now is the time for everyone at CalMac to start focusing 100% on successfully winning the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract. This is the best way of not only ensuring long term protection for our employees but also of securing the quality lifeline services we provide to the communities we serve. We are the best company to deliver these services and I look forward to working with all our colleagues to achieve this goal.”

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Gaelic play Sequamur goes international


Gaelic play Sequamur goes international

Following on from the success of its national tour earlier this year, Sequamur, the highly acclaimed Gaelic World War One theatre production, will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from the 18th to the 24th of August 2015.

Pròiseact nan Ealan (The Gaelic Arts Agency) announced the production will stage performances at the East Belfast Arts Festival in Northern Ireland, the Platform Theatre, London, before concluding the tour with a special performance in Ypres, Belgium.

Sequamur, written by Donald S Murray, of South Dell on the Isle of Lewis but now based on Shetland, tells the poignant story of William J Gibson, who was rector of the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway between 1894 and 1925.   The play portrays the grief and guilt felt by Gibson who encouraged his pupils to fight in the conflict.

An enlightened and charismatic teacher, Gibson believed in the power of progress through education. He genuinely believed that service in WWI would bring a new enlightened age to Britain – but endured personal turmoil following the death of 148 of his own pupils.

The play is being staged by Pròiseact nan Ealan which said it was grateful for significant support from Creative Scotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Scottish Government, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Colm Cille & RBS.

The 60-minute play is performed in Gaelic but is designed to be fully accessible to all, with live simultaneous translation via headphones for people who do not speak Gaelic.

Erica Morrison, Creative Director at Pròiseact nan Ealan, said: “The international audiences which attend the Edinburgh Festival will discover a thought-provoking drama which transcends language boundaries.

“The play echoes events which occurred in our Gaelic community, yet it mirrors similar events which were happening in communities across Europe. Using dramatic performance to allow the audience to share in the sense of grief and loss highlights the important role of the arts in understanding our history.”

Posted in Festival, Stornoway, Western Isles | Leave a comment

Job vacancy in Stornoway

Job vacancy in Stornoway

A company in Stornoway is looking for someone to help their joiner.  A major part of the work will involve stripping out a flat ready for improvement works.  Must be able to work by yourself.  Driving licence is not required.

If interested, phone Graham direct on 07917  035295


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… my kingdom for a horse – LETTER

Isle of Lewis


Dear Editor

Was it really necessary for the local Western Isles SNP membership to have bothered selecting a human candidate (Alasdair Allan) to contest the next Holyrood election when all that is required of a nationalist MSP is an instinctive nod of approval at everything said and done by the SNP hierarchy?

The local party could just as easily have chosen one of the docile and obedient horses or ponies who are regularly corralled at the Lochside Arena on Lewis where they are put through their paces and kept under a tight rein by earnest, whip-wielding young ladies attired in white riding breeches. With the owner’s permission, an SNP rosette could have horsebeen attached to the neck of any of these equine candidates, who would assuredly have cantered to electoral victory in what is effectively now a Scottish one-party nationalist state where all opposition has been sidelined.

Even if all the Lochside owners were unwilling to allow their horses to become political animals, all is not lost for the local SNP. I believe the comhairle are presently looking for an alternative home for a horse currently in their care on which they are spending more in fodder and lodgings than their spendthrift convenor’s annual expenses. With a complete makeover and some veterinary attention, this old grey nag could be made just as electable as the younger-type filly (Nicola Sturgeon), now preferred over the bloated stallion of old (Alex Salmond) by the typical Hebridean SNP voter.

Another advantage for the SNP in electing a horse would be the complete elimination of any likely criticism that may have been directed at them by a discontented or rebellious Western Isles MSP. A dumb animal could, in return for a lump of sugar-coated promises, be relied on to snort in agreement with everything uttered by Nicola, the dominant mare in the Holyrood stable.

Yet another advantage for the Western Isles in this radical departure from normal convention would be a boost to the struggling weather-beaten Hebridean tourism sector. These islands would become an attractive and desirable destination for the many followers and admirers of a noble equine tradition, whose curiosity would be sufficiently aroused to pay a visit to a community who elected a horse as their parliamentary representative. Another missed opportunity!

Surely any alternative is preferable to the profoundly depressing prospect of yet another five years of Alasdair Allan’s unremarkable and tediously predictable parliamentary representation, which never deviates from the will of his Holyrood SNP masters. Please God, neigh, neigh and thrice neigh! (With apologies to the late Frankie Howard, and to no one else.)

Yours faithfully

Iain M Macdonald

PS – I’m rather honoured this week to have joined the very select literary company of both Professor Donald Macleod and Brian Wilson, whose writings have also been rejected by the West Highland Free Press. I must be doing something right!

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Did workers at WHFP back sacking of Prof and Brian? Do they now?

A leading Highland politician wants to know if the workers of the West Highland Free Press were involved in the extraordinary decision to get rid of Professor Donald Macleod and founder Brian Wilson. It is an employee-owned newspaper. Banner_blue

I have responded to say I have no idea and that the newspaper has stated that it simply will not comment further. However, maybe someone else can help this inquisitive and somewhat enraged politician, who says they do not wish to go public at the moment, and the rest of us with the answer to that very serious question which so many others are also now asking.


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Ferry tired so seals are off the hook

Ferry tired so seals are off the hook

The mystery of what crippled the new ferry Loch Seaforth has been solved. tyre

Various sources claimed that the reported creel in the stern thruster was extremely unlikely because the thrusters are only used to manoeuvre on and off a berth, where creels were very unlikely to be set.

Suspicion then fell on the seal population of Glumaig Bay but after a conversation with a very knowledgeable town worthy I can now reveal what the divers actually found. A mangled car tyre.

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