We directly address Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell, and his fellow elected members, whose decision on the naming of the new school hostel this week beggars belief.
It was a staggering example of blatant disregard for the people of Shetland. Responses to the council’s own “public consultation” showed that naming the new hostel after current manager George McGhee was the popular option.
The SIC received 80 suggestions in total – and over half of these were for Mr McGhee, with 44 votes. The next most popular suggestion received seven.
This may not look like a large response, but if the other 23 thousand people in Shetland really wanted another option – such as the direly unimaginative “Anderson High School Halls of Residence” – they would have filled out the consultation.
The point is that they didn’t, and – once again – those who bothered to take part were ignored and overruled. Please also bear in mind that an online public petition backing the idea of “George McGhee” attracted more than 700 signatures – but was apparently hardly mentioned at the SIC education meeting.
Deciding to name the new hostel after Arthur Anderson – and not Mr McGhee – rankles with us for several reasons.
The first and most obvious is the very public slap in the face for one of the SIC’s longest serving and most respected staff members – due to retire this month.
Mr McGhee has been a father figure to generations of islanders – and remains a good friend to many of us who spent time at the hostel with him as manager.
Further to this, it is a slap in the face to the hundreds of people from rural Shetland who supported his name being used – as a final send-off gesture of gratitude.
More to the point, our children – the current hostel residents, some as young as 11 – were asked by SIC education officials to fill in the consultation, and so “have a say” in the naming of the building to which many of them will transfer when it is completed next year.
They also chose the name “George McGhee” – and are now left feeling dejected and ignored by their own councillors. Perhaps it’s a feeling they should get used to, if they intend to settle in the same rural communities as their parents.
The main reason for councillors declining to name the new building after Mr McGhee seems to be because he is “still with us”. We struggle to see how such a gesture of gratitude could have any of the desired effect if he was dead.
More to the point – the SIC has broken this supposed “golden rule” on several occasions in the past. Consider the ferry Hendra for example – named after Whalsay councillor Hendry Stewart who was still alive at the time.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this decision left to address is the choice of lumping the hostel together with the school under the name “Anderson”. What did Arthur Anderson ever have to do with the hostel? Nothing at all.
It is a move that chips away the independence and identity of the hostel and its residents, something essentially important to the young people who have to bide there in order to study.
For a young person moving away from their own community the unique sense of being a hostel resident, independent from the school, creates a feeling of family that they can immediately belong to. A person’s home shouldn’t have to be a mere extension of their school.
The hostel is – and will continue to be – essential to those from the north and outer isles who wish to continue their education. How sad then that this decision has been made by councillors from places like Lerwick South and Shetland Central.
It is to our great shame that North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver and Shetland South member George Smith – representing Fair Isle –demonstrated such little understanding of the strength of feeling in their own communities, by publically supporting the “Anderson” name.
Naming your own home is a great tradition in Shetland. It should be the rural communities of Shetland – to whom the new hostel will be home – that have the final say in its naming.
They have already spoken overwhelmingly in favour of the “George McGhee” option, and we would urge the SIC to reconsider their decision – and show some regard for the stated will of these island communities.
Timothey James Trimlett-Glover