Am Bratach No. 253
November 2012

Own goals count
writes George Farlow
Sutherland population expected to fall in next 20 years

When I returned to Scotland in 1993, I joined a voluntary group. At the University of Aberdeen, I became a member of a democratic organisation which sought self-government for Scotland and to further all Scottish interests. Life was quite simple then: the occasional meeting for the keen to agree more meetings, followed by a ceilidh and a hangover. Huge changes then have taken place as in the wake of the Edinburgh Agreement and a conference of a thousand delegates, where I managed to disagree with half of them.

However, the democratic process is paramount and most of us who fought to stay out of NATO live to fight another day. Pragmatically, there is no change to policy, the SNP will not agree to join NATO whilst it retains weapons of mass destruction in Scottish waters as it does today. I have no doubt that after the referendum an independent Scotland will not be able to sign up to NATO’s first strike strategy and will continue to reject nuclear power and therefore such weapons on our territory. I will remain a member of the Scottish National Party to seek those changes.

In certain issues of Am Bratach, I have seen some correspondents throw the baby out with bathwater and the rattle out of the pram, greetin’ to get the maist milk. The democratic process must prevail whilst recognising the rights of the minorities at the same time. We in North West Sutherland know that in the numbers game we will always lose a first-past-the-post vote. So we work consensually. Our survival rests on the three tenets of the European Union’s 2020 Vision for sustainable economic growth, on social inclusion, and on scientific innovation.

The recent outpourings against social enterprises and state aid in Assynt have made agencies like HIE and other funders extremely wary of supporting worthwhile projects and developments. Why should it be a political decision to buy a coffee or even a lunch for a friend? In tearing up the membership card, we can lose sight of our aims and how far we have come in our efforts to achieve our goals. Regrettably own goals count but should anyone cast stones?

So, with the inaugural meeting of the North West Highlands Geopark Ltd taking place on Saturday November 3 2012 at 2pm, I tread warily as chairman into the scree of red tape buried in the DNA of the Jurassics. The steering group of agencies will be finally wound up a few days beforehand and a company limited by guarantee will strut or stutter in a new funding direction but this time aiming to maximise the support of the communities in the Geopark, an area of 2,000 square kilometres with a population of about 2,000 too.

The support of the agencies will still be required and also of course state aid and a reversal of government indecision. Why? Because our Geopark can deliver significant economic, social and individual benefits to our communities. And, no doubt it will at times help fill the columns of this illustrious organ with the vultures lurkings. However, Ben Peach and John Horne, the nineteenth century geologists who frequently visited Inchnadamph and Knockan, were, like Darwin and Hutton, vindicated. Yet, in their wake, we have the Burkes and Hares of this world digging up the old crofting corpses of neglect and absenteeism, preferring the silence of lambs to beat of hearts and minds.

Highland Council has issued their population projections for the county districts and only Sutherland will manage to lose people over the next twenty years. Lochaber, Caithness and others will achieve increases, as our clearances continue. So, how much worse will it be for Wester Sutherland?

With democracy should come absolute transparency and that is why I would encourage all to enter the tent rather than peeing from the outside. If volunteers think nobody cares, then why should they raise their heads above the parapet. We need to continue to encourage people to come and live here, making them welcome and making them fearless in their ambitions. Should that not be our legacy?

Councillor George Farlow represents the Highland Council Ward of North, West and Central Sutherland and chairs North West Highlands Geopark committees.



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