Monday, 7 November 2016

Save the Ardrossan ferry route

As an Ulsterman I regularly take the ferry back 'home' across the Irish Sea, although to do so I need to drive an hour and half south from Largs to Cairnryan. Not too long ago there was in fact a closer option to my North Ayrshire home, a ferry service from the town of Troon, just forty minutes away. Despite the fact that it sailed to my birth town of Larne in County Antrim, it was a route that I never used. The reason was simple - it was far too expensive. As a ferry port, Troon just didn't work economically, either for me as a customer or anyone else, and eventually the Northern Irish ferry service ceased to be. Today the port in Troon remains all dressed up, but with nowhere to go.

Troon has raised its head again, however, in its desire to become an active ferry port once more. ABP Ports, the owner of the town's port is bidding to take the ferry route from Ardrossan which currently serves Brodick on the Isle of Arran. It's an astonishing bid, one that has raised a lot of controversy locally with accusations that the company is trying to bribe the island's inhabitants through a community fund of £50,000 (see Whatever it might be trying to dish out from its corporate candy jar to sweeten its attempted take over, however, there are some key facts that just make the whole idea of Troon a useful port for Arran a complete non-starter.

The current sailing time from Brodick to Ardrossan is 55 minutes. The route to Troon would be one and a half times longer by way of distance and time, and almost certainly in the cost of each trip as a consequence. And if you have longer sailing times, you will therefore need to have fewer services each day. Then take for instance the fact that in Troon, the railway station is a mile away from the port. Is it realistic that in the busy summer season, when many folk are trying to visit the island that the ferry operators will have anything like enough buses to run a shuttle service to take folk across the town? By contrast, in Ardrossan there is a train stop at the harbour itself - should an islander need to travel to the mainland, perhaps to have a hospital appointment, it is a very straightforward onward journey from the port. As public transport solutions go, you could not ask for better.

Don't get me wrong. Troon is a wonderful town - a place I have visited several times in the past with my kids, and also to give various talks to the local family history society. But Troon is not a convenient place to go to as a transport hub. It never worked for the Northern Ireland trade, it will work equally as ineffectually for the Arran trade. The Scottish Government's Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has announced that he will be considering the case for both Ardrossan and Troon, and that may well be the right and proper thing to do. But can anyone be in any doubt that once both options have been examined, that Ardrossan does not win the business case hands down?

Well, to help make the case, a Save Our Ferry campaign has been launched today in Ardrossan by North Ayrshire Council. Along with local councillors from across the political divide, local businesses, members of the local community, and our parliamentary representatives Kenneth Gibson MSP and Patricia Gibson MP, I attended a gathering at Ardrossan ferry terminal to show support to those in Arran who rely on the service, and to those in Ardrossan whose livelihoods depend on the retention of the service.


We are as surprised as anyone that we have to make the case to retain the service in Ardrossan, but despite it being such an obvious case, we are only too happy to restate it. Whilst in Ardrossan I took the opportunity to ask my local MSP Kenneth Gibson to summarise why he believes the ferry service should be retained:

An online petition is available at, which will be presented to both North Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Government. Please take the time to sign - let's save the Ardrossan ferry, let's Keep it A to B!

UPDATE 23 NOV: I was out last Saturday 19th November gathering signatures for the petition at both Saltcoats and Ardrossan, as part of the SNP. Whilst there I recorded my own take on the possible move, which you can view below:

(Also available at

A new campaign site from North Ayrshire Council with another petition is at - please take time to sign this also. There is also a Save Our Ferry event at Ardrossan Civic Centre on Thurs 24th November at 7pm - further details at



Monday, 17 October 2016

Say No to xenophobic Tory rhetoric

A letter I've had published in this week's Largs and Millport Weekly...

Dear Editor,

I don't think I have ever been as shocked by a newspaper headline as that presented in The Times on the morning of October 5th : “Firms must list foreign workers".

Now we're getting an idea of what Brexit really means. Theresa May is planning to impose some of the most right-wing policies on the UK that a Conservative government has ever sought to implement. It does not matter that businesses and organisations such as the NHS rely on immigrant workers to help provide the services we need, because it would seem that now we apparently intend to demonise them, make them register as migrants, and attack the NHS for hiring them in the first place, along with anyone else offering jobs to those not from Britain. Theresa May also stated elsewhere to the BBC that she will 'allow' foreign doctors to stay until indigenous doctors can be trained up – I am sure they are truly grateful for her magnanimous offer.

I have been ideologically opposed to the Conservatives my whole life, ever since the days of Thatcher. Despite our political differences, I always thought at least we had some core ambitions in common – a desire to achieve the best for our respective communities and our families, no matter how we differed utterly in our attempts to realise those ambitions. But now I am reading headlines advocating registration schemes for those deemed to be the 'other'. What next? No blacks? No Irish? Yellow stars on our sleeves? Are we really heading towards all of this as British national policy?

Do the Scottish Conservatives really support this new xenophobic right-wing direction that Theresa May is taking us down? Instead of asking them to check their rhetoric, Ruth Davidson, a former EU Remain campaigner, spent the conference in England cosying up to this new regime, even belittling Scots in one of her speeches to gain a cheap laugh: “Usually they put the Scots in a place where nothing can be broken. Or stolen for that matter”. Really Ruth? Really?

On October 4th our local MSP Kenneth Gibson led a debate in Holyrood condemning hate attacks against Poles. It received cross-party support, with the exception of the Tories. They abdicated their responsibility at a time when the national rhetoric their London bosses are sewing needs firmly to be challenged. So are the Scottish Conservatives truly Conservative any more? Or like their southern colleagues, have they simply abandoned their principles for the darker, inward looking, backward facing, narrow-minded, Brexit-ready British nationalism of UKIP? Increasingly by the day, it would seem to be the case.

Chris Paton, Largs

UPDATE: A Tory councillor down south has just been suspended for starting a petition calling for opposition to Brexit to be made a treasonable offence. You can't write this stuff - see

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Last chance to Save the Gretas

I've just submitted a personal response to the Forestry Commission Scotland consultation over the Halkshill and Blair Park forestry proposal for the hills behind and facing onto Largs. Whilst I am generally supportive of the idea of a forest, I have a few issues with the proposals as they currently stand in terms of its intrusion onto the Largs landscape, its affect on our community, and the lack of meaningful consulation with local stakeholders, including the community at large. On this basis I have objected to the project in its current form. The objections are summarised as follows:

1) The visual impact of the project on the landscape directly facing onto the tourist town of Largs - including the intrusion of commerical conifer based woodland (Sitka Spruce and Scots Pine) onto the hill facing the town, and the galvanised steel fence to keep deer out. When the forest is initially sown the view from my house, and from the town, Cumbrae, and boats at sea, will look onto a scarred and ploughed landscape; and when harvested the commercial part will just look a mess. They need to push the project back over the ridge of the hill, and remove the conifer plantation from sight.

2) The devastating transformation of the much loved Gogo Glen leading up to the Greeto Bridge area (see my previous post at, including the inherent dangers of accessing the new Core Path 'forest capable' road (i.e. the old track to the Gretas) from the town as a forestry route, with safety concerns for Bellesdale Avenue and Flatt Road (especially in light of the new super-school being built), not to mention wear and tear on Largs roads.

The environmental statement also shows that the west end of the proposed planting area, which includes the Gogo Glen, is not optimally suitable, with threats from windthrow and even pests. If the project fails, who clears up the mess?

3) A serious lack of information on any proposed community benefit to help mitigate for what will be a substantial change in the use of the landscape behind the town. Two pages as an afterthought in a 800 page statement, comprised of nothing but vague promises, does not instil any confidence for community support - particularly when no community benefit has as yet been identified from the hydro projects already being built in the glen by Stakis. Public money will be involved - it is not enough to just make vague promises. This is our environment, our landscape, and it will be fundamentally affected.

4) A lack of consultation with businesses in the town about the potential impact of the whole endeavour. Pretending that a previous consultation a few years back for a windfarm a few miles up the road can provide relevant data for the impact of a commercial forestry project on local businesses in Largs is thoroughly misleading.

5) A blatant conflict of interest between FCS, which will grant permission, and Tilhill Forestry, the developer - in that the Forestry Commissioner is also the Managing Director of Tilhill.

If you have any comments to make to the FCS you have until August 14th. See for the Environmental Impact Statement containg details of what is proposed.

Let's keep trying to Save the Gretas...


Saturday, 9 July 2016

A Little Britain now in free fall

On June 23rd Scotland voted to remain within the European Union, in contrast to the result from the rest of the United Kingdom (with the notable exceptions of London and Northern Ireland). Despite our vote, we now find ourselves potentially on the point of being dragged out of the EU against our will. In the last two weeks, I have watched with horror as the value of the pound has plummeted to its lowest level in almost half a century, and as billions have been wiped off the value of stocks. In England the two major political parties are now in the midst of civil war, providing no leadership whatsoever in what can arguably be described as the greatest crisis faced by the UK since the Second World War. Elsewhere, in the aftermath of their lies and deceit to the nation, the arch-villains of the piece, Boris Johnston and Nigel Farage have simply run away to hide, rather than accept responsibility, whilst racist attacks have escalated dramatically towards many immigrant residents.

By contrast in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has stood up to the task at hand, reassuring our European citizens of their value and continued welcome in our land, whilst at the same time taking our case to Brussels, to preserve our position within the EU. The First Minister, with the backing of Parliament has a mandate to try to preserve our relationship with Europe. What forms this might involve have yet to be worked through, but independence is now once again another serious prospect as a means to achieve this. When asked if another referendum was on the cards, the First Minister replied that it was 'highly likely'.

Incredibly, much of the former Better Together side from the previous independence campaign have also now agreed that this is a serious and desirable possibility in the current circumstances. Sir Nicholas MacPherson, who only last year Alex Salmond was demanding resign from the Treasury, has written in the Financial Times of the very serious potential that independence now offers Scotland, a dramatic change to his stance in 2014. Author J. K. Rowling, who raised the ire of many in the Yes campaign two years ago, has also now conceded that independence is now likely, adding that her previous support for the union was never unconditional. Even within the Scottish Labour party, many MSPs are now seriously giving support to the consideration of independence as the likeliest means forward. Was I the only one stunned on the recent BBC debate to see Jackie Baillie so warmly supportive to the SNP's Fiona Hyslop in discussing the way forward?

Despite having voted Yes in 2014, I've never seen the point in blaming No voters for the result back then. However people might have voted then is actually irrelevant in the context of today's current political situation. The United Kingdom that existed in 2014, the one which we were told was a safer bet to remain within to keep us in the EU also, simply no longer exists. With Ian Paisley's son in Northern Ireland, of all people, now telling folk to obtain an Irish passport if they can, you know that something truly seismic has happened in the history of the UK.

If Nicola is unable to find another means to preserve our EU status – whether through some form of 'reverse Greenland' scenario, or whether through some form of federal UK structure as proposed by Kezia Dugdale (albeit, something that was actually promised and never delivered through Gordon Brown's infamous 'Vow') – and an independence referendum proves to be our final recourse, the good folk of Scotland will need to seriously consider the question in light of the increasingly worrying circumstances we now find ourselves, namely a Little Britain now seemingly in free fall.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

This sorry EU referendum

For the last ten years I have worked on a daily basis as a family historian, working out who my clients are descended from and how they connect to past events. But whilst I work in the past, surrounding myself with old documents and even older stories, the one thing I absolutely don't do is live in the past.

In 2014 I became heavily involved in the YES campaign for Scottish independence. As an Ulsterman I found the whole notion of 'civic nationalism', embraced by the YES cause, to be a Godsend, a key to finally resolving a crisis of identity that I had endured for decades. For years I had not felt comfortable being labelled as British, Irish or Northern Irish, and was furious at those who kept trying to put me into one category or the other for their own convenience - to make me conform to a particular cultural baggage as a consequence of a pre-determined identity that I did not have a hand in determining. But in 2014 I could finally claim my identity as a 'civic Scot' - a person who irrespective of where he or she came from could claim and feel an equality in this country. This was not as a consequence of who we were born to, or where, but as the result of the society to which we wished to contribute, and for the betterment of all. I campaigned for YES alongside people born in Scotland, from England, from Ireland, from Africa, and from all religions and persuasions, who like me, were enthused by the energy and sheer potential of what lay before us, and in a campaign that we almost won.

One of the greatest moments for me personally was to attend a debate attended by Northern Irish born surgeon Philippa Whitford in Largs. To this day I give major credit to Philippa, who I personally think was a game changer when she declared for the YES campaign, warning us about the consequences of privatisation of the English NHS which would affect us subsequently with a cut to Barnett consequentials for the Scottish NHS. It opened up a completely new front that the No campaign could not defend against. But more than that, here was someone with my accent, as passionate about Scottish independence as I had become. But it wasn't just Philippa - there was Tommy Shephard, equally versatile with his Derry brogue, and even Lesley Riddoch, a journalist born in England to Scottish parents and raised in Ulster and equally fluent with my lingo. This all confirmed to me that this form of nationalism was not based on 'Scotland for the Scots', but a new and dynamic force that sent William Wallace and the Bruce back to the history books, to be replaced with something even more inspiring. Independence was sadly not to be in 2014, but in the aftermath of that campaign, I remain proud, damned proud, of what we achieved in such a short time through peaceful campaigning and with an unrelentingly positive message. We had creativity, energy and inspiration unlocked around us through the referendum campaign on a daily basis, and both this nation and I were changed forever, and for much the better.

Two years on, a few days away from another referendum, and my feelings could not be more different.

I have watched for months with horror as both sides of the EU referendum debate have argued to either remain in the EU or to leave. Every single aspect of this campaign, from the Project Fear tactics being employed by both sides in a relentless Groundhog Day style campaign, replaying all the greatest hits from the 2014 Better Together school of dirty tricks, to the horrendous execution of an English MP by a far right supporter from Scotland who shouted 'Britain first' as he murdered her in cold blood on a Yorkshire street, have shocked me and filled me both with contempt and fear. In 2014 I campaigned for Scotland not to become some 'little Scotland' that wanted to retreat from the world, but to become a newly energised and vibrant nation that wanted a seat at the EU alongside our good friends in England and rUK. But whilst the Remain campaign for the EU in its many forms has made a pig's ear of a lot of its efforts over the last few weeks, the rhetoric from the Leave campaign has become increasingly truly terrifying. "Take back control" they say, as they demonise migrants, refugees, 'unelected EU officials', and more - perverting what Europe actually is, how it is run, and why it is so important for us to stay in.

I desperately value my EU membership - my wife is from the Republic of Ireland, whilst my sons and I currently hold British passports. Whenever we travel to the continent for holidays we all go down the same aisle at passport control. My youngest son asked me the other night if the UK left the EU would we have to go through separate aisles at border controls? At that point it really hit me just how unnecessary all of this campaign has been, for a referendum that was only called to keep the right wing of the Conservative party at bay during a UKIP advance. I've now obtained application forms for Irish passports for myself and my sons, so that we can obtain dual citizenship, irrespective of the result, and in particular retain our European status. I have no desire to be solely subject to a xenophobic United Kingdom of Little Britain and Northern Ireland, should the Brexit vote win the day.

But my greatest fear just now is not actually for Scotland, but for England itself. Whatever the UK media tried to paint us as in 2014, it was certainly not anti-English, an allegation that deeply offended many of us during the YES campaign, not least some of my English friends campaigning alongside me. Our campaign in 2014 railed against Westminster's treatment of Scotland, not the English nation, in a post-imperial world. I spent four years as a child in England, and attended my first primary school there. I have a brother who was born there, I went to university there, I met my wife there, and I had my first real job there. England is a fine nation, with a proud history and much to celebrate. But just as I don't live in the past, neither should a nation - yet that is what is what is being offered as a mirage by the Leave campaign. Let's 'take back control' they say, and let's put the 'great' back into 'Great Britain'. But the xenophobia behind much of the Leave campaign's rhetoric, which has been fuelled mercilessly by much of the London based press, is about creating a new political reality. One where right wing Etonians rule the day, as bankers sit in their counting houses, counting all their money, while the Queen sits in her parlour, eating bread and cake and honey, in perhaps the longest birthday celebrations known to man. England has many serious problems not being addressed by this right wing agenda, and to paraphrase actor Brian Cox, 'the issues will not be resolved' by a Brexit. London is not England. England is not Britain.

So I emplore folk... Much of what makes the EU work is a complete basket case, I could not agree more. But it's our basket case, one we need to work to get a seat at in Scotland, and one we need to try to improve when there. Just as we will need England to be a good friend and neighbour when we become independent, we also need England to remain at the table of the EU, alongside the rest of the UK. So on June 23rd please vote to remain in the EU, not just to save Scotland's future prospects, but to help save much of England from itself. Scottish independence will come - it is inevitable - but it will be a much uglier and darker journey getting there with a xenophobic, right wing Tory government in control in London, if the UK votes to leave the EU.

Let's work towards becoming equal partners and friends with England and rUK in the European Union, the largest trading block in the world - not a nation that makes a tactical error at this stage and in so doing becomes subjugated to the will of Johnston, Farage, Gove, and all the other Little Englanders who haven't yet twigged that the empire has gone. Johnny Foreigner is not the problem here - Tory boy Johnny Westminster is. Let's keep our eye on the ball.

But let's first get this horrid, sorry, unwanted referendum out of the way - which has inspired no-one and just about disgusted everyone - and then concentrate on reshaping this island into nations of equals that want to play together on the European and world stage.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The election count in North Ayrshire

On Thursday evening, May 5th, I had the privilege to attend the count at Saint Matthew's Academy in Saltcoats for the 2016 Scottish election, as one of three representatives from the Largs branch of the Scottish National Party ( and, with my colleagues Linda Nicholson and Davina McTiernan. This was my third election count (my previous visits being to the 2014 independence referendum count, and last year's General Election count, both at the same venue). The following is a brief overview of what happened on that night, but more generally, I hope it provides a glimpse of what actually happens at such counts in general.

Although the count starts at 10pm, it usually takes a while for things to pick up, with one of the first duties being to bring in the votes from the polling stations (as well as those already cast by post) to the centre, and so I arrived at 11pm. After receiving a security band for my wrist at the main entrance, I made my way into the hall to find that the votes were still being verified, before the main count and allocation of votes to each party began.

Scottish Parliament (Wikimedia Commons)
In the Scottish Holyrood elections, there are two votes - the 'constituency vote', and the 'list vote'. The first sees 73 candidates elected to become MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) through a simple 'first past the post' system, as with the Westminster elections (for the UK wide parliament based in the south of England). The remaining 56 seats for the parliament are decided by the 'list' vote, with 7 seats allocated in each of 8 separate regions across the country. The way that these seats are decided is much more complicated, but essentially uses proportional representation, employing what is known as the D'Hondt system to work out who should get what and where. It is very complicated, but in essence the list vote compensates parties who have lost out in the constituency vote, by rebalancing the make up of the parliament closer to the lines of how people have caste their votes proportionately on a national basis.

In this venue, two constituency votes in Ayrshire were up for grabs - Cunninghame South and Cunninghame North, the latter being the one I was particularly interested in, hoping to see our candidate Kenneth Gibson returned for another term. To cater for the two votes, the main sports hall was essentially divided into two halves, with the Cunninghame North count taking place at the end where the declarations would eventually be made, and Cunninghame South at the other end. In each half there were several tables with groups of counters seated on both sides. As attendees we were allowed to walk around both ends of the hall, and in between the two constituency halves, as the process took place in full transparency. The first part of the process doesn't allow you to see who is winning quite yet, although several members of each party in attendance were standing by various counting stations trying to gain a glimpse of votes cast, which they recorded on rough notes in statistical tallies - the odd glimpse of an X beside SNP on a ballot here, another beside the Conservatives there, another for Labour, etc. It is a crude way to gain a rough statistical sample, but from our perspective gave us an early confidence boost as it looked as if we were doing quite well.

SNP group in the hospitality room

The process takes some time, and so a separate room was available for all attending to grab a coffee or a bite to eat, and to watch the results coming in nationwide across Scotland on three large televisions. Although TV coverage had started at 10.30pm, there was not a lot that could be said by the commentators until the declarations were made, and the first of these was not expected until 1am. In this room members of the parties talk to one another in their own core groups, mingle with the press, and even chat with their opponents - whilst the daily barrage of campaigning can be quite brutal, with the polls closed conversations between parties can be quite light-hearted (at this point we were all there for one purpose). In here I managed to speak to Dr Philippa Whitford of the SNP for the first time, to whom I joked that there weren't enough Northern Irish folk in the party (I'm also from NI!), and managed to catch up with a few councillors, including a quick chat with several from the SNP, and the sole North Ayrshire Conservative councillor Tom Marshall. There were very few Labour folk there, but it was notable that a few folk from the Green Party were present. I also spoke to Calum Corral from the local Largs newspaper, who had set up a live blog feed for his readers ( Calum had recently returned from a great trip to Chicago, and I had also just been away for a couple of weeks to Canada on a lecture tour - the conversation ended up with us both lamenting the fact we missed the appearance of a whale in the waters between Largs and Cumbrae in recent days (he showed me the video clip on his phone!)!

With the verification completed (Cunninghame South ahead of Cunninghame North), the tables for the counters were rejigged with the addition of boxes designed to place the votes for each party into dedicated slots, in preparation for the main count. This kicked off at about 1am, at which point some of the national results were beginning to come in. It is initially frustrating to get a sense of how each party is doing, as it takes a time before the bundles in each slot are large enough to see who might be ahead, but it soon became clear that our man Kenny looked to be doing well, as did our colleague Ruth Maguire, standing for the SNP in Cunninghame South.

After observing the process for half an hour or so, I returned to the waiting area, and bumped into Jamie Greene, our Conservative opponent in Cunninghame North, with whom I had a quick chat. Jamie had just learned that his Conservative colleague Jackson Carlaw had taken a constituency seat in Eastwood. This had a major impact on his own situation, in that with Carlaw having previously been number one on the Tory list, he was now off it - meaning that Jamie was now pushed up to first place on the list, having previously been second. This dramatically improved his chances of being elected to Holyrood as a list MSP - even if he lost the constituency vote - which was beginning to look likely from the count. The complexities of our electoral system!

Our own candidate Kenny Gibson was of course present, as was his wife, our local MP Patricia Gibson, and we all chatted in the waiting area as we watched what was turning out to be another great night for the SNP, albeit one with a few surprises. As we were watching the TV, our party leader Nicola Sturgeon was shown making her way to the Glasgow count, of particular interest to her mother Joan, who was watching with us, she being a local councillor in North Ayrshire, as well as our current Provost.

Joan Sturgeon watches as Nicola arrives in Glasgow

Just after 3am, Kenny gave us the heads up that the declaration was likely to be in about half an hour. I went into the hall just as we were invited to view the decisions as to the validity of some of the ballots which had been spoiled. Although you must put an X in the box of choice, there are some exceptions as to what can and cannot be allowed. If an X is not completely within a box, for example, and overlaps the boundaries, it can still be valid if the two intersecting lines of the X are located within the box. Ballots with nothing marked on them are rejected, whilst others that are deliberately spoiled (occasionally humorously, occasionally obscenely) are usually rejected. However, the decision on each is done in full public gaze of observers from all parties, and objections can be noted to the decisions made by the election officers, although I didn't see anyone do so.

The declarations were finally made just prior to 4am, by Elma Murray, the returning officer and chief executive of North Ayrshire Council. First up was Ruth Maguire, who was well-deservedly voted in as the SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, to great cheers from the party. (The full result is at

Ruth Maguire making her acceptance speech

After hearing Ruth's acceptance speech, and that of her defeated opponents, it was time for the Cunninghame North declaration. Once again, our man Kenny Gibson was returned as the SNP MSP for the region, and gave a short acceptance speech, thanking his electoral agent Linda Nicholson, his campaign co-ordinator Alan Dickson, his wife Patricia, and all the constituency volunteers who had helped to get him re-elected. Job done! (The full result is at

Following the defeated opponent's speeches, we then all posed for press photographs with our victor, and of course, I grabbed a couple of pics for the moment also! By now it was passed 4am - but the night was young! We said our goodbyes to each other, then made our way to our respective homes to watch the unfurling drama.

Kenny with his electoral agent Linda Nicholson

Kenny with his wife Patricia Gibson MP

The constituency votes sorted, the ballots for the list vote, which had to include results from several regions in the west of Scotland, were subsequently worked on at a counting centre in Braehead to decide the remaining 'list MSPs'. Our Conservative opponent Jamie Greene was duly elected at this stage, but not our Labour or LibDem candidates, who did not garner anything like enough support. Overall, the SNP was returned for a historic third successive term as the government, and became the first party since devolution to amass more than one million votes for a Holyrood election - not bad for a night's work! The Tories also historically overtook Labour to become the official opposition. The next five years will be fascinating to watch - as will the local council elections next year!


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day to my fellow progressive Scots - not for the Scottish independence that we dared to hope for, but for the achievement of weaning ourselves off the unionist media and the UK Government's propaganda, and the freedom of thought beyond the previously accepted status quo. In the week where the Social Attitude Survey notes the highest ever support for Scottish independence since 1999 (when it began), and the highest level of trust given in Europe to a national parliament (for Scotland at 73%), we remain steadfastly in the earliest days of a better nation.

On a personal note, the highlights of my last 2 years include helping Scotland reach 45% in an independence referendum for which we were told by yesterday's men that we never had a chance (and a week after we took the lead in the polls - albeit a week too early); the election of Grace McLean as a councillor locally in Largs for the SNP in October 2014; the election of Patricia Gibson as MP for North Ayrshire and Arran in May 2015, again for the SNP; meeting former First Minister Alex Salmond, whose vision for Scotland and vision for what we might be as a nation transformed my life; and meetings with Nicola Sturgeon, current First Minister, who being the same age as myself has inspired me to up my game and to continue to believe in, and work for, the 'beautiful dream' of Scottish independence.

Scotland - we're only getting started. 
Happy Independence Day!!!!

(Update: The Wee Black Book was published today, sequel to The Wee Blue Book - well worth a read online at


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Scotland needs an organ donor opt out scheme

I've had a letter published in the Largs paper this week about presumed consent with organ donation, lamenting the Scottish Parliament not voting it through last week, as recently done in Wales:

Dear Sir,

About 12 years ago I made a BBC television documentary in which I followed the transplant unit of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh for several months, where I had the great privilege to not only get to know the staff and surgical teams at the unit, but also many of those waiting on the organ donor list. One of those I was fortunate to follow over a period of five months was a young 18 year old student from Linlithgow, who was in need of a functioning kidney. He had been on the list for so long because of the severe shortage of donor organs that in the end his own mother decided to donate one of her two healthy kidneys in a live transplant operation. I followed the family on their emotional journey throughout the process, including the transplant procedure itself, but tragedy soon followed its aftermath, when the young lad's immune system rejected his mother's donor organ. At the start of the programme I interviewed the young lad whilst he was hooked up to a dialysis machine, and heard his hopes for a free and normal life ahead of him; at the end of the film, following the failed organ's removal from his body, he was back on the same machine again, thoroughly dejected, with no idea where his salvation would come from the dialysis routine within which he was once again trapped.

Last Tuesday 9th February I watched with interest the Holyrood debate on the organ transplant presumed consent bill, created by Anne McTaggart, and supported passionately by many members across party lines, including our local MSP Kenneth Gibson. Whilst on this occasion the bill was rejected, although sympathetically received, it is a goal that I believe is still worth pursuing, and one which I hope our elected representatives will continue to push hard for. Having seen first hand just how difficult it is to secure suitable donor material for those waiting on the list, something certainly needs to be done.

In Wales, a system of presumed consent for the use of donor organs after death was put into operation from December last year, with a two year campaign there currently educating the public on how the system works, and how they can opt out should they choose to do so. The notion of presumed consent is one which it is hoped will significantly increase the numbers of potential donors available. Many of the lives that may be saved from this will be in Scotland, as the organs sourced from Wales will be available for use across the UK. I have heard sincere arguments from individuals against the notion of presumed consent, but it seems to me that many of these ignore the fact that consent still lies at the heart of the system, which can be freely removed as much as it can be given.

Until if and when such changes can be brought in, however, I would urge anyone who has not signed up to the current donor register to seriously consider doing so, via

Chris Paton

UPDATE 3 DEC 2016: One year on from the introduction of presumed consent in Wales, there have been some incredibly encouraging developments and tangible results as a result of the initiative, with the consent rate up from 49% to 59%, and an increase in the living donor rate of 20%. A summary of the findings is available at

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Damage to the Greeto Falls walk and beauty spot near Largs

In anticipation of a meeting happening on Tuesday 16th February at Largs Library, to discuss the new Halkshill Commercial Forestry Project happening in the hills behind Largs, my wife, youngest son and I all took a walk up to the Greeto Falls today. This aims to create a new forestry enterprise in the vicinity, with over a million trees and two hydro schemes to create power, although any community benefit to Largs has as yet to be defined.

As a part of this project we had heard that one of our favourite spots in behind the town had been damaged, and so wanted to see this for ourselves prior to the meeting, having only had a glimpse of a couple of pictures. I've documented what we found to better inform anyone who may wish to come to the meeting.

Having walked up Bellesdale Avenue, we noted the details of the construction company on the gate that covers the gate of the track leading up to the hillside walk to the Greeto Falls.

No sooner had we arrived at the top of this short, steep bit of track than we then came to our first surprise - the track we normally walk up is now blocked off, with signs telling pedestrians to divert to an alternative track up the hill.

A gate has been pulled down for folk to cross over, and there is then a smaller gate, which still has a thick wire strewn across it, which I narrowly missed, thanks to my wife warning me as I approached it. This is actually quite dangerous, and could easily catch someone across the neck if not paying attention.

We then walked up the hill partway, but there is no trackway identified for walkers to climb up. We quickly realised we had actually overshot the track we had seen on our way up the hill, so soon found our way back. This took us through another gateway, with yet again, two wires across the gap waiting to garrote somebody.

With the track suddenly veering off to the top of the hill - not where we wanted to go - we decided to cut back down onto the original track that we usually walk up to get to the Greeto Falls. The track is now gone - it has been dug up to create an access road for heavy plant vehicles.

With the weather as good as it was, there were several other folk taking a look for themselves. One of them had warned us that there was a 'Dalek' up ahead waiting to shout at us - we carried on and soon came across it...

I was easily able to understand its warnings, because it had the same friendly Northern Irish tones that I was used to hearing when growing up back in Norn Iron! After sounding a red alert klaxon straight out of a Star Trek film, it then informed me that the police and others were coming to get me...

It soon transpired that the police and others weren't in fact coming to get me, or anyone else that it was shouting at, so we carried on a bit further. The entire track to the Greeto Falls is now a dirt track, a very muddy one at present due to recent weather, and a large scar now following the hills towards our eventual goal.

And then we reached the Greeto Falls - only to have our hearts broken...


Thankfully they have yet to destroy the view in the other direction...

The meeting takes place at Largs Library on Tuesday at 7pm. This all happened over the winter when fewer folk were up the hills; how it happened, why it happened, what the community benefit will be, how it will be repaired and landscaped after the creation of the hydro scheme on Greeto Water, and indeed, if it will be repaired or landscaped, and when, is something I hope we'll hear some serious answers about on Tuesday.

UPDATE: Douglas Blair from the Community Council has indicated the following:

"...the drop in session regarding the proposed Commercial Forest Project will take place tomorrow beginning at 7pm in Largs Library led by Patricia Perman Environment Chair of Largs Community Council. It is one means by which we can discuss with you the pros and cons of the proposal as we understand it and at least we will be better prepared once the Public Consultaion and the EIA is issued. I know that there has been much conversation over the works at the hydro scheme but issues surrounding this will be discussed at our community council meeting under planning. Our monthly meeting takes place this Thursday at 7pm, Largs Library."

(With thanks to Douglas Blair)