Editorial 17.4.2013

Portree Gaelic school — time for opposition has now passed
There can be little doubt that some degree of local concern lies at the root of Portree Community Council’s call for a fresh parental ballot into the planned all-Gaelic school in Portree.

But therein lies a quandary which has surrounded the prospect of a stand-alone Gaelic school in Skye’s largest settlement ever since the project was first mooted six years ago.

From the outset the scheme was driven by a group of parents and supporters who — encouraged by the success of Gaelic schools in Glasgow and Inverness — saw the creation of a similar facility in Portree as the next logical and necessary step in keeping the language alive in the 21st century.

The case was made with vigour — and on the back of rising rolls at the country’s other all-Gaelic schools, it proved a persuasive one.

A majority of the parents with children then in Gaelic-medium education in Portree backed the idea. So too — without dissent — did Highland Council.

In the six years since, opposition to an all-Gaelic school has tended to simmer beneath the surface without ever generating any significant level of public protest.

But opposition is there, and Portree Community Council last week moved to ask for a new poll to establish whether parental views had changed since that initial consultation in 2008.

The reasons why some oppose the development  — on the basis that it will split up a successful school, that it may engender negativity that could prove counter-productive for Gaelic, and at nearly £13 million it’s expensive to the taxpayer — have already been outlined in these pages.

But those wishing to stop the all-Gaelic school have left it too late.

Last year Highland Council moved the school up its list of capital spending priorities, and the Scottish Government has pledged £3 million towards the overall cost. Work to redevelop hostel accommodation for Portree High School boarders — a project to run in tandem with the Gaelic primary – has already started, with construction on the school site due to begin in 2015.

A Gaelic school in Portree is going to happen, and while some see that as cause for regret, the time for protest has surely passed — the last opportunity to halt proceedings having come last year when the local authority was finalising the “business case” for development.

A ballot now, while well-intentioned, is unlikely to do much to change a project that already has secured political and financial support. Instead, local energies might be better directed towards assuaging the concerns.

It’s vital that when the school opens it succeeds in its vision to build on the already excellent work made in Gaelic education in Portree over the past three decades. Divisions must not be allowed to fester, and neither should those who continue to be educated at the established primary school in Portree be made to feel left behind by a new facility built nearby.

In that regard, the council must be pressured to come good on pledges of financial support for the existing Portree Primary School, and on the promise — made at the very outset of the consultation six years ago — that an all-Gaelic school will not, in time, carry any threat to the Gaelic-medium departments in schools elsewhere on the island.

Call for parents to be balloted on Portree Gaelic primary

Safety at sea should not be a matter of luck — we need an emergency tug

Luckily none of the crew of the cargo ship which got into trouble west of the Hebrides over the weekend was injured.

Luckily, the MV ‘Wilson Gdynia’ did not sink or run aground. If she had done, luckily she was only carrying wood chips.

All of those details are a matter of sheer good fortune. In other circumstances — circumstances which it could be argued are inevitable in the future — the 300-foot ship would have sunk or run aground with loss of life and spilled toxic materials into our western waters.

And little or nothing could have been done about it, because in the absence of a west-coast emergency towing vessel it took the ETV from Aberdeen more than 24 hours to reach the scene.

In the meantime, in conditions which Stornoway coastguard (which luckily still does exist) described as “gale force winds and high sea”, the Barra and Tobermory lifeboats were left standing by for a day and a night in case the ‘Wilson Gdynia’s crew required rescue. Even those hardy lifeboats, it should be noted, could have done little to save the ship or its cargo.

When the Stornoway emergency tug was removed as part of the UK Government’s austerity pro­gramme, a dozen good arguments were advanced for its retention.
The case of the ‘Wilson Gdynia’ illustrates most of those arguments. Ships get into trouble in the dangerous seas off the west coast of Scotland. They always have and they always will. Basing the nearest emergency tug on the other side of the country is playing Russian roulette with fate and the weather.

This time our luck held. But this is far too important a matter to leave to fortune. An emergency towing vessel should be restored to the west coast at the earliest opportunity.