Council can expect a lot more grief over the Gathering Place

THE COLIN CAMPBELL COLUMN

IT’S all gone quiet on the Gathering Place, and that’s just the way Highland Council wants it. The doughty campaigners against this riverside travesty have presented their 2,300 signature petition backed by so many angrily deploring it, opponents on the council have protested till they’re blue in the face, there have been two well-attended public protests and Inverness news and views has done what it can to add to the crescendo of opposition.

 Has it all been to no avail? I said recently that this was beginning to look likely and was chided for defeatism but as I also noted, there’s only so much members of the public can do to challenge a powerful organisation like Highland Council when minds have already been made up.

 The sense now has to be – however reluctantly acknowledged – that they intend to press ahead and build the thing, come what may.

 So is that that the end of the story? Far from it.

 One of the many idiocies surrounding the plan to build a wall and concrete over a natural and unspoilt stretch of the riverside was the original assertion that it was “due for completion by July”, that is in a few weeks time.

 The lack of thought put into that timing makes it look even more like a horribly bad and hideously expensive joke.

 It would have meant the area being turned into an extended building site approaching and at the height of the tourist season. How brainless can you get?

 So if the Gathering Place is to be built, when will it go ahead? I’ve no doubt following  the massive backlash careful thought and calculation has gone into this, with the aim yet again of trying to “grease it through” with as little further public attention is possible.

 How about an October/November start date and it being built over the winter months? Not the best time for a construction project but a time when the long and often balmy days of summer have gone and no-one is settling down for any kind of picnic at that beautiful setting then. With the river running higher it may add to the problems but at least, from a council point of view, it will look a lot better building there amid the glaur of winter when the riverside’s not so bonny than it will at any other time of the year.

 And then, as Provost Helen Carmichael steps up in January or February to proclaim at the opening ceremony how impressively the concrete has “improved the natural beauty” of the area, she can utter her vacuous words to a thin ripple of applause from the handful of supporters present and then quickly return to the warmth of the Town House, and offer up a silent prayer that that’s the end of the saga.

 And, following that poisoned chalice event, the hope will be that people will shrug and say it’s done now, and we just have to live with it.

 That seems the likeliest scenario to me – if it does go ahead.

 Who knows, there may be another twist in the tale. I certainly hope so.

 But the facts haven’t changed from the beginning of this wretched affair, the primary one being that only FOUR councillors have publicly expressed support for the Gathering Place.

 Opponents on the council outnumber them and have done their best but the real guilty parties are the largest number who have remained completely, cravenly silent on the issue, like former provosts Alex Graham and Jimmy Gray. They’ve buried their heads in the sand and clearly want nothing to do with it. Shameful.

 It may not prevent the desecration of this part of the riverside but the £300,000 being spent on something that nobody wants will – if it does go ahead – be cast up time and again every time the council pleads poverty, as it never seems to stop doing these days.

 Our current sorry bunch of councillors – maybe the worst ever – have lost the faith and support of many, many people as a result of the Gathering Place travesty. Some are has-beens who probably won’t stand for office again, but when the next elections come around people will look at the names on the ballot papers and remember the Gathering Place. Those involved may be remembered for little or nothing else but they’ll be remembered for that. I’m not one for holding grudges but this one should not be forgotten, and should be filed away and reproduced when the time is right. As I’ve no doubt it will be. The initial wholly justified sound and fury may be dissipating – for now anyway – but public wrath over it will linger on for a long time to come.

Nationalists are all fired up over election that too many others may shun

 WITH the Euro elections just over a week away – on May 23 – Inverness and the Highlands are hardly abuzz with interest and enthusiasm.

 Personally, I have no idea who’s been the MEP for this area for the past four or whatever years. It’s not been Nigel Farage, has it?

 I can’t recall ever having voted in a Euro election, the one poll my conscience leaves me free to ignore. It’s all – long before Brexit – seemed so remote and meaningless, with virtually no publicity, debate or argument to stir anything or anyone up.

 But this time I’ll make an exception and definitely make a point of voting. Because, unlike on previous occasions, one political party and their supporters are all fired up over this. It’s the SNP, of course.

 They are urging their supporters to get out and vote with a concerted campaign which is almost certain to be backed to the full. And if they do well we can expect very, very loud crowing over how this is yet more proof of supposed support for independence and backs up the case for another referendum. The fact that the “silent majority” were routinely apathetic and didn’t bother turning out will, of course, be ignored by Sturgeon and co.

 The nationalists won’t pass up any opportunity to ram their independence zealotry down our throats and this is a good one for them.

 So this time I’ll make an exception and trudge along to the polling booth and vote for someone – anyone – apart from the SNP or their lickspittle supporters in the Greens.

 Let’s hope others shake off the apathy and do the same, if only to avoid the spectacle of Queen Nicola dominating the TV screens the next day and again peddling her bogus “Scotland has spoken” line.

Davidson was right to reject call for meaningless ’emergency’ declaration

 MEMBERS of the “Extinction Rebellion” movement had a meeting with council leader Margaret Davidson in which they demanded the council should declare “a climate emergency”.

 She rejected their demands and proposed an alternative form of words saying the council “recognises the serious and accelerating changes to the world caused by climate change”.

 Ms Davidson was quite right to do so. There has to be at least some degree of support for the aims of the Extinction Rebellion campaigners, but what would a council “declaration of emergency” achieve? Emergency is a powerful word and should only be used in situations where it can produce direct, obvious and visible results.

 The use of it may have been “symbolic” but what would that have achieved? Precisely nothing.

 The local authority has made serious efforts to increase the number of people using bikes rather than driving around this car-jammed city, and while it’s not been a transformative success, at least it’s been of some benefit. It’s more practical and constructive work like that which is needed rather than any melodramatic “state of emergency” guff.

 Apparently members of Extinction Rebellion took part in a mass “die-in” at Falcon Square last Friday. I was over the town at the time and missed the spread of extinct corpses but I doubt if it would have made much of an impression on anyone who did see it. No more than clarion cries of “emergency” would.

 There has even been talk of blocking traffic at certain times. Now that most definitely would be noticed, and far from favourably. What would be achieved by an Extinction Rebel being on the receiving end of a slap from some particularly irate driver whose personal emergency would be getting home on time to do what he had planned for that evening?

 For my own part I am no less than a shining example of carbon footprint absentia, in that I don’t have a car, cycle or walk everywhere, and, rather boringly, haven’t flown anywhere in the past four years. There are far too many cars around and far too many people using them automatically for short little trips where they could easily walk. That riles me but what can be done about it? I’m not going to have a die-in or try and block traffic for a start. Extinction Rebellion members will find out that they cannot force people to bend to their will by aggression or belligerence, because that’s what will be hurled back at them in spades. And far from winning people over, the reality is that by adopting ultra-radical tactics they’ll risk being viewed by a majority of people as a bunch of fanatics engendering confrontation that does damage to their cause.

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