Gathering Place ugly and lasting fallout is just beginning

IS the Gathering Place battle over? Despite fierce resistance over the past five weeks, will the council go ahead and build a £300,000 wall and concrete pathways on a beautiful, natural and unspoilt stretch of riverside at the Ness Islands?

 Highland Council, despite the perpetual whingeing about shortage of money and so many things it can’t do, is a powerful organisation.

 There’s only so much the public and the media can do to challenge it.

 And as far as the Gathering Place goes, everything that could be done has been done. Short of some form of legal action being taken over this murky business – costly and with an uncertain outcome – sterling efforts to have it scrapped appear to be failing.

 Things may yet change, but realistically, that’s how it looks as of now.

 But there are no winners and losers in this wretched affair.

 And though the fight may be fading, there’s a long way to go. In fact the uglier stuff hasn’t even started yet.

 The next move, presumably, is to start actually building the thing.

 That’ll require the area being fenced off and turned into a building site for a lengthy period. Peace and tranquillity will be replaced by noise and grit and dust and grime, as it’s hammered together. Trees and shrubbery will go and wildlife will flee. That will go on for weeks.

 And then, finally, at the end of the destructive process, we’ll see what emerges.

 A grand total of four councillors have staked their reputations on it looking good and “enhancing the area”. A considerably larger number – but not enough – are vehemently opposed to it. And another bunch have taken a shameful vow of silence.

 And then we’ll have the “opening ceremony”, with someone having to step forward and undertake the godforsaken task of making a speech declaring how much it “enhances the riverside”.

 Who’ll be the recipient of that ultimate poisoned chalice? Provost Helen Carmichael, more than likely. A very nice woman, she’s presided over many ceremonial events during her time in office. But this one will plumb the depths, and virtually be a form of satire. 

 Presumably she’ll avoid declaring that the wall and concrete “enhances the natural beauty of the area”, as has already been proclaimed in the risible propaganda guff which has already been spewed out by the council to justify it.

 Or maybe the arch proponent of the Gathering Place, Arts chairman Isabelle Mackenzie, will have to do it.

 That should make great pictures for the media. “Enhancing natural beauty” standing beside a wall.

 If it’s a big wall, it’ll look worse than ever. If it’s a small wall, the public will be asking, en masse: “How the hell did that cost £300,000?”

 Whatever its appearance, they can’t win.

 And then there’s the aftermath.

 I’ve tried to acknowledge that around half the cost is coming from Creative Scotland, but most people won’t bother with the small print.

 To them, it’ll just be a shocking case of Highland Council squandering £300,000 on this thing at a time of cuts, cuts and more cuts.

 And don’t believe for a moment that’ll quickly be forgotten.

 On the contrary, every time the council pleads poverty over leaking school roofs, potholes, no money for halls and libraries, and slashing support for vital voluntary organisations, people will say: “Yes, but they could find £300,000 to build that damn stupid and worthless wall”.

 If the council was a private company this entire affair would fall into the category of being a complete and unmitigated public relations disaster, one most firms would not survive. But the council, being the remote bureaucratic organisation it is, can absorb it, albeit with faith in its credibility damaged still further.

 So I’ll revise that earlier suggestion that there are no winners and losers in the Gathering Place saga.

 As they plough ahead with their ridiculous and reviled exercise in squandering public money on a riverside scheme that no-one wants or thinks necessary, there are indeed losers.

 And that’s Highland Council and Highland councillors.

 Big time.

An impossible job for Sturgeon as she tries to placate the nationalist zealots

 NICOLA Sturgeon has promised an update on her plans for another independence referendum, which she will presumably provide at the SNP spring conference in Edinburgh later this month.

 That’s fast approaching, and many members of the SNP/nationalist movement can’t wait for it. Neither, actually can I. I’ve watched all Sturgeon’s speeches in recent years at these conferences, but this one should have a wide television audience of the most diverse views and will be of very special interest.

 What will she say? What can she say?

 Every activist in the conference hall will be expecting – demanding – a clear and firm statement that she has decided to go for indyref2 to free Scotland from the shackles of “Brexit chaos”. The view that there has “never been a better time to strike” runs rampant among them, and very many others itching to seize what they believe is a golden opportunity. They are primed and ready to go.

 Queen Nicola has got away with evasion and obfuscation before. But not this time. As one contributor to the National paper cogently wrote last Saturday: “The last thing we want to hear is an announcement about a later announcement.”

sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon…on a hiding to nothing.

 Because time is running out. With Holyrood elections to be held in two years time, when it’s more than likely the SNP and their lickspittle partners in the Greens could lose their overall majority, ending referendum hopes for years ahead, it really is now or never.

 But the “Brexit chaos” has been confined to the political sphere. With the No Deal they desperately hoped for off the table there will be no great day dawning – for the nationalists – when it will affect millions of people in their daily lives. No emptying supermarket shelves, no shortage of medical supplies, no job losses by the tens of thousands. The “falling of a cliff” metaphor beloved by the SNP has been rendered redundant. There will be difficulties and there will be Brexit-related problems. But they’ll emerge gradually. In short, there will be no Brexit bolt of lightning which suddenly strikes us all, converting many to the certainty that we have to get out of the Union.

 And the polls haven’t moved an inch. They show that a clear majority of people want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

 So how does Sturgeon respond to her “Independence – Now!” fanatics and zealots? All those marchers and little “Yes” groups dotted around the country who are champing at the bit to get stuck into their indyref2 campaign.

 In her hearts of hearts she must know that after more than two years of Brexit fatigue the very last thing most “undecideds” or “mebbies” – or “weaklings” as they’re sometimes described – want is to plunge straight into another much more intense and divisive political battle. That’s the gut reaction, leaving aside all the unanswered questions about currency, pensions and so on and so forth.

 Ardent nationalists, stoking each other up and talking to themselves in their wrath and fury and hatred of all things British, see it so very differently of course.

 If Sturgeon wants to avoid becoming a virtual hate figure to them she will announce that she intends to go for another independence referendum to be held before the end of the year.

But if she does that she will be hit with a tidal wave of disgust from millions who just want a break from it all.

 So she has a very big decision to make. Her eagerly anticipated speech will have me transfixed. It’ll be fascinating stuff. but whatever she decides to do, Queen Nicola is going to end up a loser.

EU citizens need our support as Hendry, Ewing and co. stoke up their fears over Brexit

EUROPEAN staff working in the NHS will be supported to stay in Scotland regardless of the outcome, SNP Health Secretary Jane Freeman has said. And she didn’t just say it – she ensured a letter was sent out to each and every one of them making this pledge.

 What a noble gesture.

 But I swear the SNP won’t be happy until they add to the many existing problems within the health service by ensuring EU nationals living here have a nervous breakdown worrying about their future.

 Inverness MP Drew Hendry’s at it, MSP Fergus Ewing’s at it, blustering Ian Blackford in Ross-shire’s at it. Reassurance after reassurance after reassurance.

 It must be akin to being called up by your doctor every second week so he can reassure you you’re not afflicted by a terminal disease. All this “reassurance” is achieving is stirring up concerns among EU nationals which shouldn’t exist.

 The SNP makes it sound like these good folk are at risk of being deported in cattle trucks.

 When in reality, there’s as much chance of them being ordered to leave the country as there is a deportation order being placed on Meghan Markle’s firstborn.

 Hendry has held frequent “reassurance events” for EU nationals in and around Inverness. He might as well have hung a sign over the entrance door saying: “SNP recruiting rally”.

 Because that, of course, is what it’s all about. The SNP posturing as the staunch and resolute defenders of EU nationals in the hope that they’ll secure their votes at the next election, or better still, in a future independence referendum.    

ewing
Fergus Ewing…the Brexit tear-jerker.

 The most heart-rending contribution to date has, however, come from Fergus Ewing. He wrote about one “reassurance” experience he’d endured. He said: “The most moving contribution came from a woman of Italian extraction who said that her 13-year-old son was now scared – scared of not knowing whether he can stay here as he wishes or not – and if not, what will happen? It is very sad to witness first-hand just how children have been affected by Brexit.”

 Oh yes, how terribly sad.

 So people in the Italian community who have been here for generations typically have kids crying as a result of Brexit? And what about the Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian and other children settled here. Are they in floods of Brexit-related tears also?

 My granddaughter goes to an Inverness primary school with a substantial proportion of children from these countries. I’m very glad to be able to report that she has seen no sign of her pals suffering in the playground under the stress of Brexit. Not a trace of it in fact. Is anyone surprised?

 And if Ewing did hear about this supposedly unhappy Italian kid why the hell didn’t he tell his parents to get their act together and reassure him that he had nothing – absolutely nothing – to worry about, as parents in any troubled circumstances usually try and do?

 So for Ewing “it’s very sad to witness first-hand how children have been affected by Brexit”.

 We feel your pain Fergus. Time for another “reassurance” event no doubt. But don’t forget, 13-year-olds are still too young to vote.

Rush to ruin one riverside site while another stays ugly and derelict for 25 years

WHAT happens now to the derelict riverside site formerly occupied by the Inverness baths? Councillors voted against a plan for a hotel there and after an appeal they’ve been backed by a Scottish Government inquiry report.

 What was proposed, councillors believed, didn’t rise to the aesthetic standards of what was required for such a location.

 So it would seem we’re stuck with the aesthetic standards we’ve got. Which don’t rise to very much either. 

 This saga has been going on for 25 or more years – and there’s still nothing there.  During that time councillors – following proposal after proposal – have made it clear what they don’t want. So what do they want,  and expect? There’s no clarity on that.

 Now it’s anyone’s guess how much longer this location will remain in its current condition.

 Councillors are no doubt satisfied that their opinions have been validated. The status quo prevails, a prime riverside site will remain ugly, derelict and empty, and it appears there is no inclination or urgency to do anything about it.

 It comes down to a question of priorities of course. Just as long as they got what they want for another riverside location – that is, £300,000 to disfigure the riverside along at the Ness Islands with those concrete pathways and that damn stupid wall.

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