The Earl is facing the axe


IS it really 33 years since we adorned the front page of the Highland News with the joyous news that Prince Andrew was being made Earl of Inverness? 

 That was back in 1986, and as editor of that august organ it was a time when the words “joyous” and “Royal” went hand in hand and were inseparable, and so giving the story the best show possible seemed to me the natural and sensible thing to do.

 That was a golden era for the Royal family, when every visit was feted and greeted with cheering crowds, with many people standing for long periods to get a front row position on Inverness High Street or wherever else.

 When the Queen came to open a major extension to the new Raigmore Hospital in 1985 that really was a gala occasion, with a special rostrum set up in front of the building where the great and the good of the Highlands were seated in their hundreds and attired meticulously to fit in with the great day.

 I had the privilege – and I use the word deliberately – of being one of four journalists who accompanied the Queen on her lengthy, two-hour walkabout of the hospital, with veteran Inverness photographer Ken McPherson alongside me taking our pictures.

 It’s a fond memory. And the welcome the Queen received from staff crammed into every corridor really did deserve to be described as “joyous”.

 Now a petition has been launched to remove the title from Prince Andrew and sever his association with the Highland Capital. That’s what you get if you rake around with a convicted paedophile.

 But in truth it’s not been much of an association in any case. I think he came here once with Sarah Ferguson soon after their marriage and his award of the Earldom, but since then we’ve barely seen hide nor hair of him.

 Inverness was never destined to be on the meet and greet circuit of “air miles Andy”, who fell off a cliff in public esteem long before the latest scandal.

 Does it matter if he remains Earl of Inverness? Not to the very many people who wouldn’t know he had that title in the first place.

 But, as gestures go, if those behind it feel they are making a point and doing the right thing, then good luck to them.

 The days when a Royal visit to the Highlands stopped the traffic are well and truly over. Now more junior members can slip in and out to open something or other virtually unnoticed by anyone other than those directly involved.

 That’s sad in its way, because these events not so long ago were welcomed as festive occasions and put smiles on many a face.

 Now only the Queen remains held in the highest possible esteem. And when she departs us that will, certainly for many of my vintage, be an enormously significant day. Young people may be unaffected but for many others – including me – it will be a personal jolt to the system and a day of sombre reflection on what truly will be the end of an era.

 As for the rest of them, including Charles and Camilla, in terms of public affection they don’t quite cut it.

 And as for the more minor royals, these days if it was decided to make one of them the next provost of Inverness and I was still editor of the good old Highland News, it might not even make the front page.

Is Hendry as fearful of losing the Inverness constituency as he was last time around?

 WITH just over two weeks to go till election day, how confident is Drew Hendry of retaining the Inverness constituency seat, or to put it another way, how worried is he about losing it? He was certainly very, very edgy during the last election campaign, in my case even phoning the editorial chief of the newspaper group I then worked for at his home at eight on a Sunday morning to complain about a column I’d written, a ridiculous overreaction to a few words of mild criticism I’d delivered. I mean, eight on a Sunday morning? Who phones anyone about anything at that time unless you’re calling a repairer after your roof’s fallen in.

 But it showed how nervous he was. Of course, SNP candidates are working under the shadow of a “You Shall Not Fail” warning issued from the headquarters of The Regime, run by the most fanatical nationalist zealots, which no doubt is enough to put the fear of God in them.

 Although the Tories in 2017 ran Hendry fairly close, it’s difficult to see anyone who will defeat him on December 12. The other candidates remain virtually unknown and 99 per cent of voters would be unable to name them all, and many couldn’t identify even one of them.

 That’s not the case in the Ross constituency, where it still seems quite likely that blustering Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, could be spectacularly booted out. If, through tactical voting, Conservative and Labour supporters back Liberal Democrat Craig Harrow, “humble crofter” Blackford will be a goner. I do wonder what SNP supporters make of this well-heeled former banker blatantly masquerading as a simple man of the soil. Is it an in-joke that they find amusing, but the rest of us don’t get?

 Nevertheless SNP supporters will turn out in droves to support both Hendry and Blackford. But how many people of a markedly different persuasion, battered into apathy by an ongoing overdose of Brexit-related politics, will not bother voting at all?

 If that happens, be prepared for a clamorous outbreak of “We speak for Scotland” triumphalism from Nicola Sturgeon and her acolytes on December 13. And they do triumphalism like nobody else.

 In recent weeks, in a small contribution to efforts to prevent that happening, I’ve managed – I think – to persuade six relatives and friends who were going to give the upcoming poll a pass to commit to voting, and it won’t be for the SNP.

 It doesn’t matter what alternative party they vote for. Every non-SNP vote will be added to the stack of people who do not want another divisive independence referendum anytime soon, and certainly not next year.

 If the SNP win a majority of seats with only 35-40 per cent of the vote, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will have a cast iron mandate for throwing Sturgeon’s indryref2 demands back in her face. Bojo would say no, no and no again.

 Boris as PM may not be the preferred outcome for a majority of Scots, but it’s the best scenario for thwarting Sturgeon and her grievance-ridden obsession. Hopefully, I’ve persuaded six people to effectively vote against the SNP. By December 12, I’ve decided my new target should be 10.

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