After returning from the good-humoured and successful Skye Bridge protest on 17 October (marking the third anniversary of the iniquitous tolls), SKAT supporters were horrified to read Ceefax and Teletext reports claiming that they had "jostled" Virginia McKenna, of the Born Free Foundation, during a handover ceremony of Eilean Ban (the islet which supports the east pillar of the bridge). It was even more astonishing to read reports in some Sunday papers that a "crowd" had surged forward and scuffles had broken out!
These stories are fallacious and malicious garbage. A delegation of six people had peacefully approached Calum Macdonald (Transport Minister) in the King's Arms Hotel, Kyleain, long after the handover ceremony.
An excellent article in the Press and Journal newspaper on the following Monday, covering one third of a page, contained first class coverageof the event, and included this quote from Cllr Margaret Paterson:-
"There was a time when a young firebrand called Brian Wilson would have been here at the barrier supporting a just cause. But now he's Westminster fodder. This anniversary could have been Labour's opportunity to show its support to the people of Skye, at the end of the National Mod, but its lost it. And where's that other firebrand of old, Donnie Munro?"
Thankfully, the P&J report contained no mention of Virginia McKenna being "jostled" by an unruly and surging crowd, but did mention that some protesters had lobbied Calum Macdonald some time after the peaceful handover of Eilean Ban.
So was Virginia McKenna "jostled" or not? No.
What follows is a press release issued jointly by the Born Free Foundation and SKAT on 18 October::-
"The Born Free Foundation and Skye and Kyle Against Tolls would like to issue the following statement which refutes stories in the press relating to the handover of Eilean Ban on Saturday 17th October. Both organisations would like to point out that at no time did protesters interfere with the handover ceremony nor was Virginia McKenna jostled. SKAT fully approves of the use which the foundation and the community will put the island to and were at pains to avoid interfering with the ceremony."
For the Trust, Virginia McKenna stated that it was regrettable that inaccuracies in reporting had diffused the focus on an otherwise successful day and commented as follows: "I do not know where the press and Teletext acquired the information that I 'complained' about being jostled by members of SKAT during the handover on Skye, of the island of Eilean Ban to the Eilean Ban Trust. The ceremony was performed by Minister Calum Macdonald. The small group from SKAT arrived at the venue AFTER our successful event, to see the Minister. I did not see them nor was I 'jostled' by anyone. Furthermore, the BFF, as a charity, may not be party political. Whilst accepting the keys from Mr Macdonald , I acknowledge the initial role, two years ago of conservative Lord James Douglas Hamilton, who made it possible for the project to commence. I request the press and Teletext to correct their damaging reporting error, which was unjust,misleading and untrue."
Following the press release, both Ceefax and Teletext apologised to SKAT. It would be interesting to see if any of today's Sunday papers print an apology.
On Friday, even Brian Wilson's West Highland Free Press, accurately printed extracts of Virginia's denial of being present at the alleged incident, let alone "jostled".
Interestingly, Brian Wilson did a disappearing act when he heard the SKAT delegation were approaching the hotel, leaving Calum Macdonald to answer their questions.
Calum was asked why Labour had renegaded on its pre-election promise to abolish the Skye Bridge tolls. When Calum denied that Labour had ever made such a commitment, the SKAT delegation produced several leaflets and posters issued by Donnie Munro containing the pledges. Visibly flustered, and without his spin-doctors to hand, Calum blurted out that what Donnie had said was nothing to do with him.
It appears that Donnie Munro is being isolated by his own Party!
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1998.
Most recent revision, 26 October 1998