Cath Macdonald: Get on board with rural advice and Cal Mac schemes

CalMac ferries are a lifeline to remote island communities. Picture: John Devlin.
CalMac ferries are a lifeline to remote island communities. Picture: John Devlin.
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News has recently been announced of a National Council of Rural Advisers by Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing.

The aim is that the National Council should “provide advice on the potential implications of ­Scotland leaving the E U as part of the UK, and making recommendations on future policy and ­support, with the aim of ensuring a vibrant,sustainable and productive economy”.

The news was warmly welcomed in the rural districts.

Shortly afterwards, Fergus Ewing announced the names of the rural advisers who were to make up this National Council. The reaction was surprise and deep disappointment as there was no crofting representation on it. It was regarded as a snub to the Highlands and Islands that in the 13-strong group of rural development advisers, there was not one individual with any direct experience of crofting, while there were members with experience of large, industrial farms.

When this was raised with the Scottish Government they responded by saying the National Council would seek “the views of a wide variety of stakeholders and representations across rural,coastal and island communities”.

It was intended to reassure all those on the remote, rural edges, facing diverse challenges.

No. It does not reassure. What is needed is crofter representation by someone with real crofting experience, sitting at the top table where the decisions are made. It is hoped that these views will be noted, and some action taken before the National Council begins its work.

Meanwhile, another piece of news, which sounds good, has come our way. Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne is ­setting up a community board and inviting applications from residents of the rural areas and islands which the company serves.

The primary purpose of the board will be to act as the voice of ­communities on strategic issues. Its creation was part of CalMac’s ­successful bid to operate west coast ferries for the next eight years. CalMac has engaged in the past with communities through formal and informal meetings. What’s good is that members are being recruited. It will comprise of 12 members and will be separate from the CalMac board.

Residents of rural communities covered by the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract are being invited to apply for a position.

As is understandable in island communities, where ferries are a lifeline service, a substantial amount of time is spent in local council meetings in discussion over ferries. Strong opinions are often expressed.

It is therefore hoped that this new opportunity will be taken ­advantage of, and that there will be no lack of applicants for membership of the CalMac Community Board.

Cath Macdonald is a retired lecturer and staff tutor in bilingual education. She lives in the Western Isles.