by Colin Campbell
A CONFIRMATION of address letter arrived for the next set of elections on the way, the council poll in early May.
Inevitably, as the day nears this will turned by the SNP into a mini-referendum on independence. There’s no escaping that these days. The vote for membership of a community council would be scrutinised for evidence of the way the wind was blowing, even if there no politics involved and only 50 people took part.
More pertinently, will the Gathering Place rear its incredibly ugly head in the May elections?
The stalwarts of the OpenNess group have said they will try and make the three year and continuing riverside debacle an issue, and I hope they succeed to the extent that is possible.
Petition organiser Helen Smith and her fellow campaigners did a terrific job in trying to thwart the construction of the monstrosity and the fact that in the end they, like all the rest of us who were vehemently opposed to it, had to stand back and watch the fiasco unfold to the bitter end does not detract from their efforts in the slightest.
They have published the names of all the councillors who backed it on their Facebook page and are liable to give further prominence to this roll call of riverside shame as the elections approach. And with over 1,000 followers and many more sympathisers these fine folk are not without influence.
Now that the pounding wind and rain has done what the council failed to do and obliterated the depiction of a giant penis on the thing all has gone quiet on the issue for the moment.
But as spring ushers in the graffiti vandalism season yet again no doubt further illustrations from the Kama Sutra or spraypainted scrawls about drugs or whatever else are liable to appear there again.
Councillors were warned that this would happen but of course the principal vandals were the councillors themselves.
This time last year the location was an unspoilt and natural beauty spot and although no one was sunbathing in early February if it had remained that way it would have been enjoyed for much of the rest of the year.
Instead, as hopes were rising that the council clique at the centre of the controversy would let it fade away and get on with work that really needed to be done as the pandemic began to ease, the announcement was made that work would begin in April.
As it did. And for the outlay of £350,000 what do we have there now?
This was the worst decision in Inverness civic history and it remains an unforgivable one.
There is a strong argument, a very strong argument, that councillors are not career politicians but are ordinary people, like all the rest of us, who are prepared to step forward and do their bit for the public good, and they do not deserve to be on the receiving end of very harsh criticism for decisions they make.
It is indeed a factor to be considered. But with regard to the Gathering Place it will not stand.
For example Arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie may have many good qualities but in this affair she appeared entirely indifferent to public opinion and displayed a level of arrogance above her station.
Some may argue that while there were many people publicly opposed to the riverside monstrosity, with 3,000 signing a petition, the “silent majority” did not oppose it or even approved of it.
That is obvious nonsense. The fact is many people do not keep close tabs on what’s going on. Even as it was built, I met local people at the riverside who asked me what was happening. One person, as I reported, thought it was a bridge being built across the river.
Well the silent majority if they’re along the riverside way can see the already decrepit looking slum there and I’d bet most would wish they hadn’t stayed so silent.
Patched up with graffiti poking through, not even the strongest critics thought it would end up looking so bad so soon. And it looked pretty awful to begin with.
But Isabelle Mackenzie before construction was having none of it, and took it upon herself to regale us with intelligence insulting claims that it would be “unique”, and something “which can’t be found anywhere else in the world”.
She doesn’t by any means deserve all the blame for the debacle and the horrible concrete slab that replaced a tranquil natural riverside beauty spot. But she set herself up as its cheerleader in chief and should have to face the consequences.
As for the others most centrally involved, it should also be case of thank you and goodbye.
The best thing they can do is quietly drop out before the upcoming election and leave those who come after them to clear up the mess, hopefully through demolition of this appalling eyesore.
They’ve done enough damage, and after May many people will hope they aren’t still around to do any more.