Norrie T MacDonald: Opposition for opposing’s sake is the stuff of the primary school classroom

Norrie T MacDonald, the 19th hole

If you want to understand the extremes to which some people will stoop to in politics, then it’s hopefully not very often that you will find any examples on your own doorstep.

I’ve always been of the opinion that local government should be exempt from the Machiavellian attempts of people whose only agenda is to disrupt the successful running of the ‘machinery’ of administration we all take for granted.

Maybe I was naive to expect we’d all be on the same ‘side’, trying our collective best to maximise the opportunities for the people of these Western Isles.

I guess too naive.

Cue SNP leader, Councillor Gordon Murray’s latest dog-whistle, resulting from last week’s meeting of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

For those who remain oblivious to the frequency at which Facebook Barbara Woodhouse wannabes broadcast (lucky you) Mr Murray sometimes operates with an economy of factual accuracy which leaves those who are unprepared to dig – even just a little bit further in pursuit of the truth – salivating in the best Pavlovian traditions.

There will never be a time, certainly not in the foreseeable future, when there will be ‘spare’ money floating around Sandwick Road.


The halcyon days of having underspent budgets and of looking for projects on which to lavish ‘leftover’ cash (I’m assured this was a regular feature of pre-2008 administrations) are but a twinkle in old Convenors’ eyes.

So any refurbishment of the council chambers, shamefully overlooked by at least the last five incumbent collaboratives, was always going to be moderately controversial.

It certainly didn’t require a Molotov cocktail lobbed in its general direction, especially not one fuelled by completely unsubstantiated innuendo and inferences, designed to ignite ‘public’ opinion.

An uncaring, out-of-touch majority of elected members (but not the SNP group, obviously) had decided to refurbish the council chambers in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, ignoring the more pressing needs of the local economy.

The comfort of our bums on seats was of greater significance than the struggles of individual businesses trying to survive a devastating economic downturn.


The decision to refurbish the council chambers was about much more and, in any scheme of things, needed doing.

That Councillor Murray knew it and had commissioned a report to explain it to him, was neither here nor there.

He went with his simple narrative and the howling began.

Chamber an embarrassment

The decision was actually taken some 18 months ago and, despite some robust discussion, it was agreed that what was planned was necessary and overdue.

The seating in the chamber was, after 45 years of wear and tear, burst at the seams.

Its tangerine hue had now assumed a week old, orange peel in the sun, frayed facade.

It stank a bit and was, even to my own initial impressions three years ago, a bit of a tawdry embarrassment.

Especially so when it doubles as a civic reception arena for visitors of every gravitas and distinction.

They say that if your IT infrastructure is five years old, then it’s probably 10 years out of date.

When you cannot, in today’s modern world, reliably communicate with your ‘satellite’ offices in Castlebay, Balivanich and Tarbert, far less those at Marybank, Cromwell Street and Creed Park; then the chances of joining in with anyone further afield may be remote.

When, in a hugely changed modern meeting landscape, everything is getting done on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, then you need to be able to do so efficiently, effectively and with stability.

Of course, nobody could have predicted this 18 months ago which is why, retrospectively, we should be ‘selling’ the notion to the public as the excellent news it is.

16 other offices will be upgraded to the same standard of communication/technology.

Nobody will have to rely, embarrassingly, on a decent mobile signal and having to ‘put you on speakerphone’ to continue a discussion when the smoke signals have failed.

Sensible people understand this.

People from Gordon’s own party understand this.

The ones who inhabit the real world anyway; and some have already commented.

Altered landscape

The fact that an improved connectivity infrastructure might just re-invigorate our democracy hasn’t been lost on the more astute.

Going back to ‘how we’ve always done things’ should never be an option again, given this new, exciting opportunity.

Of course, there’s much that can be achieved by face-to-face contact and the physical intimacy of ‘actual’ meetings are still important.

But that landscape will be vastly altered by the new normal.

Hopefully, this will mean that a whole raft of possibilities might open up.

The current format for being a councillor makes it difficult for many people to commit to even considering the election process, far less the minimum time required to attend all the meetings.

Maybe being able to do so from the comfort of their own homes, raising their ‘virtual hands’ on a large screen in the chambers when they wish to speak, might just persuade more people that it’s time for our elderly, male-dominated, ‘democracy’ to change?

Which might just make for an influx of fresh thinking and constructive debate.

Opposition for opposing’s sake is still the stuff of the primary school classroom.

Thrown under a bus

When you know you can propose the most fanciful notions without any fear that they’ll ever get beyond the debating arena, you can always tell an incredulous audience that, but for the bad guys in the Comhairle, you could also have had ‘jelly and ice-cream’ in your ‘land of milk and honey’.

Now even Sturgeon, MacNeil and Allan (along with the very many ciallach local members) know that successive national government failures have taken away most of the cows and bees, so why the continued deflection from reality by our local group on CNES?

Because they require to have a purpose, albeit a mostly destructive one.

It has generally been accepted that our council workers, officers and directorates have done a pretty decent job in the midst of what have been exceptionally trying circumstances.

But when you talk ‘council’ up here, you generally mean the whole kit-kaboodle.

You throw everyone under the same bus when – in order to get a massive negative reaction for your own political ends – you allude that the Comhairle are spending a large sum of money on new chairs.

Four months of exemplary work down the drain so someone can appear as some sort of martyr.

Quite shameful behaviour, and quickly seen through by even his own acolytes, many of whom had spoken passionately in favour of a refurbishment (mostly the technology remember?), before adding their names to a list of dissenters when the motion was rejected as incompetent.

Incompetent because the procurement process (which will give employment to local contractors) had already begun, and had been explained, in great detail, several months previously.

Resilient effort

What has been hugely fortunate these past few months is the resilience which the Comhairle has been able to demonstrate as a result of having ‘balances’ at hand to deal with emergency situations such as Covid-19.

Balances which, had they embarked on a spree of imprudence as appealed for by the SNP group when budget setting was being undertaken, would have disappeared into the ether.

Combine with their insistence on asking for meaningless, time-consuming report after report in an effort to undermine what’s already been decided; and the wasted/saved money could have us all bedecked in ermine.

When you insist on portraying yourself as Roy Rogers in a white hat, consistently battling against the bad guys (and regularly failing); maybe it’s time that you listened to Tonto.

Hopefully, someone close will volunteer to be that side-kick, and soon, eh kemo-sabe?

Gordon is essentially a decent guy, but in his aspirations to undermine the credibility of his fellow councillors he undermines the hard work of every single council employee and misses his target spectacularly.

The disconnect between the success of his party at national, and at local government level, may be partly down to perception.

A degree of maturity, purposeful intent, willingness to participate and collaborate; to be serious about their proposals, would go a long way.

I like to think of myself as a reasonable fellow and, as I’ve previously stated, I will support any sensible suggestions, no matter their origin.

Three years later, Gordon; I’m still waiting.

And it’s not due to any political or philosophical opposition.

Stornoway golf

When it comes to golf, what you see is generally what you get.

At Stornoway last week what we got was decent weather and decent scoring.

In the Lewis Cup on Wednesday night, Stuart ‘Tyson’ Campbell triumphed with an excellent 37 stableford points, separated from a renewed Kevin ‘Lava’ MacLeod by virtue of the better inward half.

Martyn MacLeod

The Kenneth MacKenzie Jubilee Trophy on Saturday was won by Martyn MacLeod with 73(64).

He too managed by virtue of a stronger finish than DJ MacLeod’s 66(64).

DJ had an incredible three birdies and an eagle in his opening nine holes to be out in 32. He will rue his one-over inward half.

In the Ladies Quaich, Liz Carmichael won by virtue of the last woman standing rule.

Calum G Ross continues to be the dominant junior boy golfer (ok, we’ve no girls); winning the KMK Jubilee with yet another cracking low score.

His 82(61) beat young brother Geordie, 91(66) into second spot.

Harris hole-in-one

At Scarista, young Seumas Morrison, son of Captain ‘Kuna’, won his first ever competition on Tuesday night; the notoriously tricky ‘Par-3 Trophy’.

His 78(58) beat the ‘mighty’ Chris Sutton, 74(58) by the skin of his, better back nine teeth.

On Saturday it was fireworks galore as the perfect weather saw some exemplary golf in the first round of the Ronan Rafferty Stableford Accumulator.

Billy Fraser

Billy Fraser set the target with a beautifully constructed, gross 69, for 42 points.

Incredibly he had a brace of consecutive double-bogies at 7 and 8 (yes, these pesky par-3s), but still managed to be out in just +2, thanks to an eagle at the 6th.

Steven Brown managed an even more impressive feat with a, hole-in-one, albatross with his very first shot.

He finished a point behind on 41.

An ace for Steven Brown

Russell Tennant was indifferent for his front 9 holes before blasting his way back in just 33 blows and claiming third spot on 40 points.

All in all some great shooting.

Steele success at Benbecula

At Benbecula, Dami Steele continues to make Tuesday nights his own with yet another win in the Order of Merit. His second, consecutive, 38 points pipped Iain MacRury 37points, (BIH) from Harry Luney.

He leads, after 4 rounds, by 9 points from Shaun Brennan.

Dami Steele

In Saturday’s bonus medal, WJ Monk,71(61) narrowly edged Harry Luney, 80(61) by virtue of a better back 9.

Harry will be looking to finish more strongly, we’re guessing.

Tricky rough at Askernish

Down at Askernish, Colin Russell sends us his own news

Gaelic Business Club Trophy – another healthy field and it’s amazing how the weather can vary throughout the island chain.

With persistent rain to the North, it was slightly more favourable at Askernish and, although the umbrella came out a couple times, it wasn’t too bad.

The rough has blossomed following the midweek storm and anything off-line is now starting to get punished.

Winner this week, and coming back to form after the restart, was Allan Louis MacDonald with a very steady and fine 37 points.

Runner up was Donald MacInnes with 35 and he will be rueing his sluggish start after coming home in 22 points.

Third on the podium was Harry Luney with 33 and the highlight of this was a 5 point eagle at the Par 5 18th”.