Tha Murray MacLeòid a’ cuimhneachadh làithean dorch BCCI

Bho chionn deich thar fhichead bliadhna air a’ mhìos seo, thachair an là as duirche a-riamh ann an eachdraidh poileataigs nan eilean – nuair a chaill Comhairle nan Eilean £24 millean le Banca Creideis is Coimearsalta an t-Saoghail (BCCI) a’ dol fodha.

Bha làithean BCCI gu math dorch aig amanan dha Comhairle nan Eilean
Bha làithean BCCI gu math dorch aig amanan dha Comhairle nan Eilean

[English-language version below]

Cha robh sgainneal cho mòr a-riamh air a thighinn chun nan eilean. Rinn meadhanan an t-saoghail air Steòrnabhagh. Abair sgeulachd: margaidhean mòra an t-saoghail a’ gabhail brath air na h-eileanan beaga bochda.

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Ceart gu leòr, bha e gu math ceàrr dha stiùirichean nan eilean an t-airgead aca gu lèir a chur dhan aon àite, ach bha e follaiseach gur e buidheann ionmhais a bha seo, a bh’ air a ruighinn le muinntir cumhachdach an t-saoghail – agus feadhainn gu math dorch aig a sin.

Cha b’ iad na h-eileanan a-mhàin a dh’fhuiling idir, ach le £24 millean a’ falbh ann am priobadh na sùla (£50 millean ann an airgead là an-diugh) airson sluagh a tha nas lugha na 30,000, bha a’ bhuaidh gu bhith domhainn is cruaidh.

No dh’fhaodadh e a bhith.

Ged a bha an riaghltas air a dheànamh soilleir nach robh a’ chomhairle a’ dol a dh’fhaighinn airgead-dìolaidh sam bith, leis gun robh BCCI air liosta Banca Shasainn, de na h-àitichean far an robh e iomchaidh airgead a chur, bha gu leòr truas timcheall dha suidheachadh nan eilean. Ach, bha e ag iarraidh obair dhioplòmasach, air falbh bho sholas cruaidh nam meadhanan.

Leig stiùiriche an ionmhais agus àrd-oifigear na comhairle dhiubh an dreuchd agus, ged a bha an càineadh a fhuair iad ri thuigsinn, bha cuid dheth mì-iomchaidh agus a’ dol ro fhada.

Dhaibh-san a thàinig às an dèidh agus do na stiùirichean-poileataigeach agus an caraidean, ‘s e lìonadh an toll a chaidh fhàgail le BCCI, am prìomh amas agus bha an rud a thachair na leasan math ann an co-obrachadh agus a bhith a' lorg fhreagairtean prataigeach, a bha a’ ciallachadh nach tàinig an droch rud mar a bha feagal a thigeadh.

Thàinig e am bàrr gun robh sgeama ann an àite air an robh an t-ainm 'Cuibhreann Sònraichte Feumalachdan nan Eilean' agus gun robh e iomchaidh sùil eile a thoirt air.

Chaidh a thòiseachadh airson Sealtainn a chuideachadh nuair a chiall iad a-mach às dèidh mar a chaidh reataichean nam pìoba ola atharrachadh airson barrachd airgid phrìobhaitich a thoirt a-staigh. Bha Arcaibh cuideachd a’ faighinn buannachd às agus fhuair na h-Eileanan an Iar an cnap as lugha.

Bha beachd ann gum faodadh seo a chleachdadh airson cuideachadh gus faighinn seachad air BCCI. Dh’aontaich Oifis na h-Alba ri ath-shùil a thoirt air, ach gu cudromach, dh’fheumadh Arcaibh is Sealltainn aontachadh. Rinn iad sin.

Chaidh an sgrùdadh air adhart agus chaidh cuibhrean nan Eilean Siar àrdachadh – gu h-ìongantach dìreach gu leòr airson paigheadh airson iarratasan a lìonadh toll BCCI.

Ann an làithean dorcha BCCI, bha e a’ coimhead coltach gun robh na h-eileanan gu bhith ann an staing uabhasach. Ach leis gun tàinig diofar mheuran poileataigeach – comhairle bheag neo-eisimileach, ball Labarach, Oifis na h-Alba fo stiùir nan Tòraidhean agus sgìrean eileanach eile – còmhla, chaidh an droch rud a sheachnadh.

Mas e seachdain ùine fhada ann am poileataigs, tha grunn ghinealaichean ann an 30 bliadhna. Ach, tha e duilich a chreidsinn gun tigeadh an t-aon rud gu buill san là a th’ ann agus sinn beò ann an àrainneachd phoileataigeach cho sgaraichte is suarach.

Fios bhon neach-deasachaidh:

Tapa leibh airson an aithris a tha seo a leughadh. Tha sinn an eismeil ur taic nas motha na bha riamh agus buaidh a’ Choronbhirus air buaidh a thoirt air luchd sanasachd. Mur eil sibh air a dhèanamh mar-tha, ma se ur toil, nach beachdaich sibh taic a chumail ri ar obair-naidheachd earbsach, a tha sinn a’ dearbhadh a tha fìor, le bhith toirt a-mach ballrachd digiteach.

Thirty years ago this month came the most ignominious period in the political history of the islands – when the Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean) lost £24 million in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

By any scale it was a huge scandal. The world’s media arrived in Stornoway, armed with their prejudices and stereotypes of naive and backward islanders being cruelly exposed in the money markets of the world.

True, the financial leaders of the local authority had committed the cardinal sin of putting too many of their investment eggs in one basket, but it became clear that this was a financial institution whose dubious tentacles reached into the most powerful corners – and some dark ones, too.

The islands were by no means the only ones to suffer, but the sudden loss of £24 million in public funds (around £50 million today) from an area of less than 30,000 residents was of profound consequence.

Or rather it could have been.

Once the dust settled and the national media moved on to their next assignment, came the pain-staking and prosaic work of limiting the economic damage and instigating some sort of recovery.

While the political mood music was that the council would not be bailed out by government, the very fact that BCCI was on the Bank of England’s list of accredited investors on the day of its collapse meant that there were a few sympathetic ears in the corridors of power.

But it required quiet diplomacy away from the limelight.

The director of finance and the chief executive resigned in the immediate aftermath and, while the opprobrium they received was understandable, it was at times unjustified on a human level.

For those that came in their wake and their political leaders and friends, plugging the BCCI money hole was the main focus and what followed was a perfect lesson in political cooperation and pragmatic solutions, which meant the islands were protected from the worst of the BCCI fall-out.

It transpired that a Special Islands Needs Allowance (SINA) had been introduced some years earlier and there were grounds for a review.

It had been introduced largely to compensate Shetland Islands Council who lost a chunk of income from the decision to “de-rate” oil pipelines to encourage private investment. Orkney got a little bit through SINA and the Western Isles was the lowest benefactor.

There was a realisation that this could serve as a mechanism to assist the BCCI recovery. The Scottish Office agreed to a review, but absolutely crucial, too, was that Orkney and Shetland would agree to give their island counterparts a helping hand and to a re-evaluation of SINA. They did.

So a review was held and the Western Isles allocation was raised – conveniently enough just enough to cover loan repayments to plug the financial hole.

The BCCI liquidators eventually got back around 80 per cent of the losses owed, which when currency inflation was taken into account meant the Western Isles Council actually ended with a small profit – albeit years down the line.

In the dark days of the BCCI collapse 30 years ago, it looked as it the islands were staring into an abyss, but thanks to the coming together of differing political interests – a small independent council, a local Labour MP, a Tory-run Scottish Office and the selfless understanding of fellow islanders – the worst of the impacts were thankfully avoided.

If a week is a long time in politics, then 30 years ago is a veritable lifetime. But you do wonder whether such an outcome would be at all possible in the polarised and bitter political landscape of Scotland today.

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