How the West was won

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by Bob Duncan

Last week the Stornoway Emergency tug was mysteriously withdrawn for the second time in six months, with no indication as yet from the British Government as to when and if it might be restored. This has left a huge area of coastline, with many of the busiest, roughest and most complex seas in the UK, with no emergency cover whatsoever.

by Bob Duncan

Last week the Stornoway Emergency tug was mysteriously withdrawn for the second time in six months, with no indication as yet from the British Government as to when and if it might be restored. This has left a huge area of coastline, with many of the busiest, roughest and most complex seas in the UK, with no emergency cover whatsoever.

To the casual observer, this might seem like a serious blow for the beleaguered people of the Western isles and the North West mainland of Scotland. It would seem to demonstrate the total indifference of the ConDem administration to the needs of this part of the UK, underlining the argument for self-determination. What could be more damning for proponents of the union as they try to persuade Scottish voters to vote no to independence?

Westminster, however, is nothing if not resourceful. In a few weeks time, just before the Council elections as it happens, they are planning a major military exercise in the very waters which have had their emergency cover removed. Not only will fishing boats and other vessels be “challenged” by warships and military aircraft, but they will be treated as “targets” by the war gamers.

And just in case this does not increase the danger to seafarers and our coastline far enough, the MoD is planning to jam both the marine GPS signal (vital to inshore trawlers in particular) and even the emergency Mayday radio service which instantly pinpoints the position of a vessel in distress so coastguards can immediately activate a rescue.

According to an MoD briefing document, “Denial of GPS services through the jamming of the GPS signal is an essential part of preparation for military operations and is a possible risk to both military and civilian maritime and air users.”

This is not the first time such war games have been held around the Western Isles and, during one of last year’s exercises, at least one vessel was grounded on rocks and the entire West coast fleet was put in danger of similar accidents. At least there was an emergency towing vessel in place then, which could have stopped a crisis from becoming a disaster. Not so now.

In a similar vein, another recent exercise in Lewis simulated an attack on Stornoway Airport by a dozen military jets. Two of the jets simulated a strafing attack on the incoming passenger plane, causing the pilot to take emergency action by aborting the landing. Apparently the military planners had omitted to warn the airport authorities or the Air Traffic Controllers that the exercise was going to take place. This incident was reported to the Civil Aviation Authorities as a “near miss”.

The above incident was brought into sharper focus over recent days, by the announcement by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie that the MoD had been planning to bomb Scottish airports in the event of our becoming independent, just in case they could be used as a staging post by some unnamed future enemy of England. The above incident certainly lends credence to his claims.

All Labour MPs and MSPs, in common with their coalition colleagues, have so far been silent about the Emergency Towing Vehicle withdrawal and it’s uncertain future. It would seem that UK Government indifference on this issue runs very deep indeed.

In stark contrast, SNP MP for the Western Isles, Angus MacNeil has been demanding of London Ministers that they make a statement on the future of the EMV service, but he has yet to receive a response.

Angus said, “I note that the Treasury can find 70 million pounds to give, what seems, as a pre-election sweetener to Boris, while failing to find 2-3 million pounds to maintain cover for maritime safety in Scotland. Unfortunately, because the coastguards and maritime safety are reserved the UK Government is the only entity that can do anything about this issue.”

At the very least, it is difficult to see any evidence of the “respect agenda” in the way the West of Scotland is being treated by Westminster at present. The benefits of the union are even more elusive, unless you count the benefit to Westminster of having remote landscapes, bereft of Tory voters, where they can practice their war games without concern for the safety of the local population or environment.