Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Seeing the North of Scotland's energy potential

This morning Rob’s assistant Niall drove us up from Evanton to Wick. Rob was holding one of his surgeries in his office in Pultney, Wick so having never yet made this far up the East coast of Scotland I decided to join them.

Here’s me outside Rob’s office with Rob and one of his members of staff Gail:

The journey up took two hours driving across the Dornoch Firth towards Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale. While the hills and the greenery of the woods were stunning, the one bit of the landscape that struck me the most was the looming statute of the Duke of Sutherland, which towers over Golspie. You can’t actually miss this guy – 30ft statute sitting on top of a 70ft plinth, 1300ft up at the summit of Ben Bhraggie. It was erected in 1834 in honour of the laird who owned the lands of Sutherland and who played a major part in clearing the families who lived on these lands to make way for giant sheep farms. In 1994 a plan to have this 30ft statute removed from the top of Ben Bhraggie led to an intense and long overdue debate about the Sutherland clearances.

While many books have been written about the Highland clearances over the years I can certainly recommend Rob Gibson’s book “Toppling the Duke – Outrage on Ben Bhraggie?” for anyone who is interested in reading a historical overview and insight into the campaign, which he had also been a part of, in trying to obtain permission to knock down the Duke of Sutherland statute.

This is me at Lybster, which is just off the Caithness coast.

Behind us is Scotland’s first onshore oil drilling rig. Drilling started here at the beginning of July and as I understand it is expected to produce between 500 and 1000 barrels of oil a day. The rig itself is 170ft and the opportunity for the North of Scotland’s energy potential is immense. When it comes to transferring the oil there is certainly a case for the main railway line up to Wick to be upgraded

Rob's second surgery was back down in Helmsdale which gave me the opportunity to visit the memorial to the Highland clearances, which was unveiled last July by our First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The statue was created by the sculptor Gerald Laign, who is based in the Black Isle.

The plaque on the statue's plinth reads:

"The Emigrants

Commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and jusice beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world. This is their legacy.

Their voices will echo forever through the empty straths and glens of their homeland".

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