Letter from Westminster 31.10.08

ONE of the things that frequently leaves me speechless is the people that I meet in the course of my work as an MP who have given freely of their time as volunteers.

Sometimes it can be at some personal cost and risk to safety (as is often the case with lifeboat crews and coastguards). Sometimes it can be a case of pursuing a hobby or an interest that they may hold anyway but in a way that makes a difference for someone else.

Last week my diary threw up two very different examples of this, both of which impressed me deeply.

On Friday night I attended (slightly late courtesy of a weather-delayed plane) the presentation of certificates for meritorious conduct to coastguard officers and volunteers who had been responsible for the rescue of a missing hill walker on Ronas Hill.

It was an impressive show which involved, first of all, a slide presen­tation showing exactly what the rescue involved in truly appalling weather conditions. But for the efforts of the coastguards, both the full-time professionals and the volunteers, a life could well have been lost.

In his speech before presenting the awards the chief coastguard reminded us that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. On this occasion it was a particularly appropriate comment to make.

I left the hall later that night feeling at the same time in awe of what I had heard described and also proud to represent a community that can still produce people prepared to make that sort of effort and sacrifice.

The next day I came across effort of a very different kind as I attended a meeting of the Orkney Federation of the SWRI to receive a number of hats that had been knitted by mem­bers for the Save the Children Fund campaign Knit One – Save One.

The campaign seeks hats for newborn babies to help cut the number of neo-natal deaths due to hypothermia.

I had attended the launch of this campaign in the summer and had sought local support for it. I had even undertaken the knitting of a hat myself – for those who have been interested enough to ask I can say that it is progressing well but is still a work in progress.

I had anticipated that I might be leaving with a few dozen baby hats and had taken the precaution of bringing my briefcase along to carry them away. The few dozen turned out to be just shy of a thousand baby hats. I was genuinely speechless. This was a simple way in which people in Orkney, when asked, felt that they could help to make a difference to the lives of people in distant countries that they would probably never meet. The baby hats will be handed over at an event in Downing Street on 13th November. Getting them there will be something of a chal­lenge but given the effort that I have already witnessed it is one that I shall be delighted to meet.

Alastair Carmichael


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