Sunday, 10 October 2010

On music, culture and food

This week we can celebrate local evidence that Tory PM David Cameron should have regard to his ‘passion’ for the Big Society. The Mod begins in Caithness, the Feisean movement goes from strength to strength and this area’s food and drink offer huge nutritional and spiritual [pardon the pun] sustenance for healthy people and healthy communities.

First of all, the National Mod hits Caithness, or Mod Ghallaibh 2010. Yes it celebrates Gaelic culture and has never ventured o’er e Ord before. Despite early concerns about imposed Gaelic road signs that furore has died down and so many folk in the County and neighbouring Sutherland communities have pitched in to take part, to offer their musical talents and accommodation, food and produce for the event.

Quite rightly the lessons learned from past Mods show a big boost to the local economy and a friendly invasion. Indeed the recent Oban Mod produced over 8,000 visitors to that area and £2.5 millions into the economy at the ‘shoulder’ tourist season. All cultures and musical traditions will surely be boosted by taking part.

Secondly, and still on the Gaelic and musical theme, a report on the Feisean movement, the non-competitive learning festivals of traditional music and Gaelic traditions, through teaching festivals scattered across the land contributes another £2 million a year to small places and large.

The newest member of the Feisean, Fèis Ghallaibh was established in March 2009. In February 2009 the Gaelic Roadshow, Cuairt Chiùil Gàidhlig, reached children in P4- P7 in every Caithness Primary School while “Drop in Lunchtime Ceilidhs” were held in the secondary schools in Wick and Thurso.

This was followed by the first Fèis Ghallaibh on 21st March 2009 that attracted seventy children to workshops offered in fiddle, accordion, chanter/pipes, whistles, keyboard, guitar, bodhran and Gaelic song. Gaelic language was present throughout the day in workshop and games sessions.

Since then there have been further Fèis Ghallaibh Days in May and September 09 and a Fèis Fun Day in August during the school holidays. Meanwhile step dance and clarsach have been added to the choices available and most tutors have been recruited from Caithness and Sutherland although some have come from much further afield.

Lots more young competitors can seek medals this week in the Mod competitions. Good luck to them and to our athletes representing Scotland in Delhi.

The third part of the Big Society I’d like to highlight is the Highland Young Chef 2010 competition of which I was compere in the Burghfield House Hotel in Dornoch two weekends ago. Fiona Murray from Helmsdale won the top prize judged by Albert Roux’s family of distinguished former students. However, Tongue Hotel, Melvich Hotel and MacKays Hotel in Wick provided just some of the other prize winners as reported in the Groat.

Rob compered the Awards, Albert Roux, chief judge, Fiona Murray, the winner, John Thurso MP and Richard Lochhead MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment.

Now I know fine dining is a rare treat for many, but just think, so many of our local restaurants and hotels have young, ambitious chefs and managers who see the sense and worth of good food, locally sourced and beautifully crafted.

My point is that music, culture and food are the distinctively human qualities that make us a distinctive and proud community, county and nation. They must not become victims of the cuts in public support that is under siege from Tory LibDem Coalition government intent on reducing the public sector and putting private services in its place.

It is our passion and right to be ourselves, to boost Caithness dialect, to make our own music, to celebrate great food produced and presented right here. That’s at the heart of Scottish wellbeing and self-esteem. Maybe the Tories should heed the message, if they attack the councils, the arts bodies, the sports supporters they may destroy the key elements of the Big Society that thrives here right now.


The Big Society is also under attack from the Labour Party. Just three days after the UK Labour Conference in Manchester Iain Gray, Scottish Parliament Labour leader has confirmed they will end the SNP’s council tax freeze and allow it to be increased again.

After wrecking the economy Labour now want ordinary Scots to pay for the mess they created. This is the council tax they put up 77% in Highland Council area when they were last in office with the LibDems. Why should the SNP Scottish Government be a message boy for London cuts?

Labour seems to want to hammer Scots families and pensioners by pushing up their council tax. By way of contrast the SNP Government has helped hard-pressed households by freezing council tax year on year – saving average households nearly £300 when people’s finances are under real pressure. Labour now wants to punish people at a time when money remains tight for many.

This confirms what we have long suspected – Scots can't afford a Labour government at Holyrood or a would-be Labour MSP here and the Far North should reject them next May.

In Highland Council area during Labour’s reign from 1997 and with the LibDems from 1999 the council tax increased by £504 on average, while their new call to end the freeze could amount over four years at a 4.5% cap to another £223.90. These are amongst the highest increases in the country.

Iain Gray wants to put this tax up - making an already unfair tax even harsher. The SNP wants to abolish the unfair council tax in favour of a fair local income tax. But we need extra MSPs to achieve that goal and allies in Parliament to demand that Scottish taxes be set and collected in Scotland. At the same time we must expand our economy to make new jobs that will increase income tax take and win new revenues from oil and gas as well as the burgeoning renewable energy sector.

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