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Lords Diary: Lord Thurso

Caithness | Image: Vincent Lowe / Alamy

Lord Thurso

Lord Thurso

4 min read

Down to earth with a bump after a summer recess of chieftain duties and a family wedding in Caithness

August is supposed to be when I take a proper holiday, staying at home and relaxing in the hills of Caithness. A combination of poor diary planning and one-off events put paid to that and August has been dominated by tents and events! The last Saturday in July is the Halkirk Highland Games, a wonderful village games that has grown over the years to become one of the top games on the professional circuit. As chieftain my job is to lead the parade on to the ground at the start and then perform a variety of functions during the day including entertaining in the chieftain’s tent, before taking the salute when the bands march off. It is very much a community event with the village at the heart of festivities, but it is also very professionally run with top-grade “heavies” to throw the hammer and toss the caber.


The following Saturday is the Mey Games whose chieftain is King Charles. This has grown under his patronage from a tiny event at Mey to a major games held at John o’Groats and which has become a great tourist attraction. It features a number of events but specialises in Highland events for Invictus competitors. 


In 2015 I decided never to have anything to do with social media. I am not on any platforms and don’t post. I am therefore blissfully ignorant of what is being said. My wife does keep an eye on various sites including the Thurso town Facebook page and sometimes gives me an edited version of something she thinks I should see.

So when we had a family wedding in mid-August in a tent on the lawn, she felt I should see the comments. The marquee we chose was a double tipi – a huge success. However within a day of it being erected, an enterprising local photographer had snapped a picture and posted it. This was followed by a long string of comments, some funny, one or two rather questionable, but nothing objectionable. However, it made me reflect how times have changed.

It is much harder to say that one is away on leave when actually it is easy to break off and attend on screen

Twenty years ago no one would have bothered to photograph it; even if they had, it couldn’t have been posted and therefore no one could have commented. I don’t know whether that is good or bad but I do wonder if this change in attitudes when coupled with developments in artificial intelligence might not get out of hand. That is one for my children to work out.


A lasting legacy of the lockdown years is the number of meetings now online. It is much harder to say that one is away on leave when actually it is easy to break off and attend on screen. This is my last year as chair of VisitScotland (VS) and it has been busy. With six months to go before I hand over, I am now into doing things for the last time which brings added pressure to say yes.

The ability to meet for an hour or so online has proved invaluable but I hope virtual never entirely replaces in-person. It is easy to meet online when you already have a working relationship but rather more difficult to establish a relationship if you have never met.
Bringing new members into a team in a way that they get to know colleagues and feel they belong is an extra challenge in the virtual world, and at VS we have been working on protocols to help new members. I am sure all organisations are facing similar challenges. What has been wonderful is the ability to attend Scottish diaspora meetings throughout the world without leaving Thurso, and that ability to connect internationally is one of the few boons to come out of the lockdown years.


Hey-ho! That back-to-school feeling and flight late from Inverness with no buses when we arrive! Two votes missed already. Thanks BA. 

Lord Thurso is a Liberal Democrat peer

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