Triumphs and Tribulations

My last piece touched upon the way that people interact with politicians on social media and the last few weeks have proved no exception. NHS Highland took the difficult and considered decision to change the previously consultant led maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital to a midwife led community maternity unit on safety grounds due to tragic incidents in the past. A pressure group, Caithness Health Action Team, was set up locally to fight what they saw as a downgrading of local services and several protests have been held. Several months on, this pressure group now agree with the report which stated that the status quo couldn’t continue but locally, the damage has been done and this change of opinion is not filtering down to their members. The perception appears to be that this decision is down to the SNP alone and is simply a centralisation and cost cutting measure.

In the run up to the council elections and subsequently the general election, the level of abuse directed at the SNP politicians, candidates and supporters has been shocking with comments ranging from reprehensible personal insults to wishes of dipping us all in yellow paint so everyone would know what we are. Entire social media conversations have been altered and published out of context and whilst many of those wishing us ill will are fellow residents and acquaintances who you know would never think of saying these things to your face but yet are willing to publish it on social media. The vitriol is increased by the many responses from those who not only do not live in the county but don’t even live in the country.

A Maternity and Gynaecology Review Group of which I am a member, was formed to examine and implement changes to the way that transfers to and accommodation in Inverness is delivered and much progress has been made with these and other areas including the introduction of a Liaison Officer. CHAT have recently taken the decision to walk out of this group as they feel that they are being out voted; this, coupled with the ever dwindling attendance at their protests, is perhaps more indicative of the fact that they do not speak for the whole of Caithness as they claim and there are many, many people in the county who wish to receive the safest possible care even if that means travelling further afield as they have always done for many aspects of healthcare. The founder member of CHAT was elected as an Independent councillor last week with fighting the health service reforms as her core message and it will be interesting to see how she manages this.

It was heartening to go from no SNP Caithness councillors to two with one elected from each side of the county. We were one of the unlucky wards that were affected by the recent boundary changes going from 3 wards and 10 councillors to 2 wards and 8 councillors, so to have two gains was wonderful. The boundary changes meant that several new villages were now in our ward and from national campaigns we knew them to be relatively unsympathetic to us so although quietly confident, it was still a relief to hear the final figures. Labour lost both of their councillors and two Independents were also not returned. One of them had been budget leader for The Highland Council and I suspect that the unpopular decisions that have been made in the region for financial savings but were not being well received played a big part in his downfall. Across the region, although we did not get all candidates elected, we made a significant gain.

One of the most shocking things as the results were announced was the amount of openly Conservative councillors elected. It has always been well known up here that many of the Independents are really Tories without the courage of their convictions but to see them openly elected is both sobering and worrying. The 2 elected in Caithness are both young, local men and you can only hope that they were elected on who they are personally rather than as an endorsement of their party’s policies. Many local supporters who have recently been openly critical of the SNP due to the hospital issue do seem to be genuinely shocked at the election of the Tories and if any good can come from the result, it is that people will come to their senses and also show that the SNP is far from finished in Caithness as so many would have you believe.

There was much being made of the vote til you boak voting strategy in the run up to polling day where voters were being encouraged to rank every single candidate on the ballot paper with Conservative candidates receiving your final placing as this is what the Tories were supposedly advising their supporters to do but with SNP last. Arguments abounded over social media with some claiming that this meant you would effectively be voting out the Tories with others claiming correctly, in my opinion, that any ranking was a vote. The system might have worked in urban areas with fewer candidates standing but there are so many possible permutations it was impossible to know how it would work. In so many wards in the highlands, SNP and Tory were both elected on the last round; this was not the 4th or 5th round as suggested by those in favour of this strategy but the 8th or 9th. When the individual voting preferences per round were published, final round votes for all candidates were negligible with the exception of the Tories and SNP who each had final rankings in the hundreds; effectively we voted in the Tories ourselves.

Campaigning carries on apace for the general election and although confident that the support is holding steady and indeed rising, we are aware that there is a lot of work to be done in Caithness. There is a Day of Action in Wick this coming Saturday 13 May, with a street stall, leafletting and a public meeting and our candidate, Dr Paul Monaghan, will be in attendance all day. It is hoped that we will get members from other branches travelling up for the day to assist and a warm welcome is extended to all readers who fancy a wee run up to Wick! Paul’s adoption night is also being held in the Duthic Centre, Tain on Saturday 20 May and again, everyone would be made very welcome here.

You might be forgiven for thinking that you were seeing a different election being reported in the media than the one you had voted in. Although long known but unproven that the media were “anyone but SNP” , it is now beyond any doubt when the party with the biggest membership who got not only the biggest share of the vote but the largest amount of councillors elected can still not be reported as having won. The media are worried and rightly so; 8 June is going to be the day when it cannot be ignored any longer that the majority of people in Scotland want independence.