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Lords Diary: Lord Robertson

(Alamy)

4 min read

Hogmanay on the Inner Hebridean island Islay should be a dream ticket. The west of Scotland island where I was born in the Port Ellen police station is a mecca for whisky experts and drinkers from all over the world.

This small island with a population of only 3,000 has nine malt scotch whisky distilleries (I conducted the official opening of number nine, Ardnahoe, just before the lockdown in 2019) and two more are under construction. Each distillery has a glittering visitor centre offering samples and merchandise to fulfil the fantasy of every whisky aficionado’s bucket list.

But here’s a point. Under Scottish government proposals presently out for “consultation,” all that merchandise will be outlawed. No branded glasses, or T-shirts or golf umbrellas. All of them outlawed by the SNP/Green anti-alcohol commissars. Unless the lovers of the industry, which employs thousands of Scots, rise up…

Islay is also famous for its birds and whisky loving twitchers are in their element

I come from that village of Port Ellen, one of the two ferry ports on Islay. (An insurance policy against the vagaries of the weather.) It has a population of only 300. From this village has come two British cabinet ministers, two presidents of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, one ship’s captain who built eight shipyards and more than 200 unique ships on the United States/Canada Great Lakes and also a hero general of the American War of Independence who became the first president of the Bank of New York.

What’s more, my first school, Port Ellen Primary School, was recently voted the number one primary school in the United Kingdom and got the trophy on the BBC’s The One Show. Eat your heart out Matt Hancock

The island, like the others, depends on the ferries. And ferries are a controversial subject in Scotland. Some of the ferries giving a life-line service to the Scottish islands are in the museum category. Think Ford Anglia (if you are old enough) and you get the antiquity of these essential vessels.

Two new ferries to replace this aging Scottish fleet are being built at Port Glasgow on the River Clyde – once the area which built the mighty Queens and thousands of the world’s best ships. But these two ships, desperately required for remote local communities, are years late and the original price tag of £97m is likely now to be well over £300m. “Two ferries for the price of five,” as Lord Forsyth recently told the Lords. And here’s the rub, they are far from finished yet.

Islay however will get its two new ferries hopefully next year – because they are being built in Turkey! (Declaration; I chair the board of the only, but small, non-government owned ferry company on the west of Scotland. Our ferries are built in the UK.)

One welcome visitor to Islay watching the midnight fireworks in Bowmore as the year 2022 bit the dust was Gregor Robertson (no known relation) the former two term mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia. He and his wife were in Scotland on a winter break and spent a couple of days in brilliant cold sunshine seeing Islay at its glorious best.

Gregor is working internationally in association with mayors and former mayors on the imperatives of climate change. A pioneer of sustainable policies in Vancouver and an attendee at the COPs, he is passionate in proclaiming the urgency of global political action.

Islay is also famous for its birds and whisky loving twitchers are in their element. My daughter Rachael and I took a long walk beyond the most photogenic of Islay’s magnificent beaches, Saligo Bay, and thrillingly witnessed two golden eagles swooping and gliding on the cliff faces. Alas I had not brought my telephoto lenses and the resulting photos represent these spectacular birds as little more than unimpressive specks. A return visit with full kit is called for. 

 

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen is a Labour Peer.

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