No purpose served by Ewing’s ‘keep out of the Highlands’ rant

Coronavirus crisis grips city

by Colin Campbell                                                                                                              Sunday, March 22

PEOPLE travelling to the Highlands in camper vans to escape the coronavirus have been condemned by the rural economy and tourist secretary Fergus Ewing.

Fergus Ewing…outburst.

 Ewing, the MSP for Inverness, said: “I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highlands and Islands. This has to stop now. Let me by crystal clear, people should not be travelling to rural and island communities full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel. Panic buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural shops and potentially puts unwanted pressure on NHS services and rural communities. The Scottish Government’s advice is that essential travel only should be undertaken. We have been in touch with CalMac and industry leaders to discuss what further measures may be required to deal with this issue.”

 Ewing says the Scottish Government’s advice is that only essential travel should be undertaken. But people coming here – and there’s no evidence that it’s more than a few – aren’t embarking on a carefree tour to drink in the scenery. They’re not on holiday. As far as they’re concerned, this for them is essential travel, to try and reduce the risk of catching a potentially fatal virus.

 Aren’t their actions – whether you approve of them or not –  understandable?

 If I lived in a crowded city amid nothing but urban sprawl for miles on end I’d be tempted to head for the Highlands as well. The situation in London in particular indicates that you are more likely to catch the virus if you live in a major city. So if some people want to load up with a month’s supplies and come to the Highlands in a camper van and self-isolate 50 miles from anywhere, is there an overriding reason to accuse them of being either reckless or irresponsible?

 What does Ewing want the Highlands to become as we face the coronavirus crisis? The equivalent of a gated community where the I’m-alright-Jack brigade live behind walls and steel barriers to keep everyone else at a distance?

 Aren’t we supposed to be “all in this together”?

 These are very difficult and very different times. All the more reason for trying to understand why people act in a certain way, rather than ranting at them. People who come here in camper vans aren’t out mingling on the streets with others and ignoring government advice on self-isolation and not to gather in groups. On the contrary, in their own way they are directly following it.

 And in what way are these folk “endangering lives”? Is Ewing implying they’re spreading the virus? Does he know if any of them have got it? Or is that a sweeping, disgracefully ill-thought out claim. If people are concerned enough about it to leave their homes, it’s reasonable to presume they’ve also been extremely careful and followed all the guidelines in the weeks beforehand, and are, in fact, the least likely people to be carrying it.

 If they self-isolate miles from anywhere they won’t be putting anyone at risk, nor will they put any pressure on the NHS. And as for “panic buying” in rural stores, does Fergus Ewing really think people who’ve planned to travel here would do so without fully stocking up first, that they’ll turn up without supplies and be dependent on ransacking a tiny village store, if they can find one? How dumb does he think people are? 

 As it is, I’d fully expect many people in England in particular to be angered by this “keep out” outburst, which serves no purpose.

 Not only will they ignore it, they’ll feel insulted by it. And when this is over – and one day it will be over – the Highlands will need, more than ever, to have these people visiting us in normal times as tourists. That of course is no kind of priority just now, but it shouldn’t be totally, flagrantly forgotten.

For very good reasons our pubs will be missed

by our Ross-shire correspondent

IN many communities throughout the Highlands the local pub provided the only venue for spirited observations on all sorts of local, national and international events. Sport, politics, the rising price of everything, health…absolutely nothing is off limits. 

If an elderly person or someone who a few days earlier had mentioned they weren’t feeling 100 per cent didn’t make their regular  appearance in the pub they’d be missed and the landlord would give them a call. If there was no answer one of the regulars would be dispatched simply to check on them.  

It’s also the case that if you were looking for any kind of tradesman you could meet such a person in the local. A relaxed and informal discussion about what was required would follow, a schedule sorted out and a price agreed with a handshake cementing the deal. Very much a case of “google not required”. 

The importance of pubs as gathering places to local people particularly in their later years can’t be underestimated. They provided many with an uplifting experience, ensured folk remained in contact with others and gave people direct access to local tradesmen. 

Although it’s understandable and indeed inevitable pubs are now closed, they won’t be missed by many so much for the alcohol sold. 

Those simply looking for a bit of company, advice, reassurance, a blether with chums or assistance with something will find the closure of licensed premises as a real bodyblow to their way of life and general wellbeing. Let’s hope it’s not for too long.   

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