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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 December 2018

Agenda: Iolaire Disaster, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health Services, Early Learning and Childcare Expansion, European Union Citizens (Contribution to Scotland), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Water Charges (Single-person Households)


Contents


Iolaire Disaster

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The first item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14614, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on the centenary of the Iolaire disaster. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Some members have indicated that they will speak in Gaelic, so interpretation facilities are available. Members may listen to the interpretation by inserting their headphones into the socket on the right-hand side of the console, towards the front. If any member experiences a problem, they should try using the audio button and selecting channel 1 to hear the English interpretation.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commemorates with great sadness the Iolaire disaster of 1 January 1919, when at least 201 men, mainly those returning home to the islands of Lewis and Harris after active service in the Royal Navy, lost their lives; remembers this terrible event, which took place when HMY Iolaire struck the Beasts of Holm, a group of rocks only around three miles from where the men's families were waiting for them at Stornoway Harbour; notes the series of commemorations that will take place in the islands around the centenary, and commends the efforts that are being made in the community and nationally to give due recognition to a disaster that, for many decades afterwards, had a devastating impact on the people of the Western Isles.

The member has provided the following translation:

Gu bheil a’ Phàrlamaid a’ comharrachadh le bròn call na h-Iolaire air 1 Faoilleach 1919, nuair a chaidh co-dhiù 201 neach a chall, a’ chuid as motha dhiubh a’ tilleadh dhachaigh gu Leòdhas agus na Hearadh às dèidh seirbheis-chogaidh leis a’ Chabhlach Rìoghail; gu bheil i a’ cuimneachadh na tubaist uamhasach seo, a thachair nuair a bhuail HMY Iolaire air Biastan Thuilm, creagan a tha dìreach trì mìle bho Chidhe Steòrnabhaigh, far an robh na teaghlaichean a’ feitheamh riutha; gu bheil i a’ toirt fa-near na comharrachaidhean a bhios a’ tachairt anns na h-eileanan ceud bliadhna às dèidh na tubaist; agus gu bheil i a’ moladh nan oidhearpan a thathar a’ dèanamh anns a’ choimhearsneachd agus gu nàiseanta gus aithne a thoirt dhan tubaist seo, agus air a’ bhuaidh chruaidh a bh’ aice airson bliadhnaichean mòra às a dhèidh air muinntir nan Eilean Siar.

13:00  

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Air iomadach càrn-chogaidh air feadh na rìoghachd, tha 1914 gu 1919 sgrìobhte. Tha an dàrna bhliadhna sin a’ cuimhneachadh a’ chùmhnaint ann an Versailles a chuir crìoch air a’ chogadh gu foirmeil. Ach bha sin seachd mìosan às dèidh do na gunnaichean fàs sàmhach anns an t-Samhain 1918, agus do thòrr dhaoine a-nis, tha 1919 a’ coimhead caran neònach mar cheann-latha airson crìoch a’ chogaidh. Ach ann an aon àite co-dhiù, tha a’ bhliadhna sin a’ dèanamh ciall anns an dòigh bhrùideil aige fhèin fhathast.

Ann an Leòdhas agus anns na Hearadh cha tàinig call a’ chogaidh mhòir gu crìch ach air a’ chiad latha den bhliadhn’ ùir. Agus bha buaidh mhòr aig an rud a thachair air an latha sin, buaidh air bailtean agus teaghlaichean anns na h-eileanan airson bhliadhnaichean mòra, gus an latha an-diugh.

“An rud a thachair”. Tha e a’ tighinn a-steach orm mar a tha mi a’ cleachdadh nam facal sin nach do dh’ainmich mi an rud a thachair fhathast. ’S dòcha gu bheil rudeigin freagarrach mun an sin, air sgàth ’s gun robh an gnothach cho gort nach tuirt muinntir nan eilean mòran mu dheidhinn airson 60 bliadhna co-dhiù. Bha an Iolaire na cuspair ro phianail a thogail ann an còmhradh modhail ann an taigh sam bith.

Ach, tha e ceart gu bheil sinn ga chuimhneachadh a-nis, 100 bliadhna às a dhèidh. Agus tha mi taingeil dha-rìribh gu bheil daoine bho gach taobh den Phàrlamaid ann an-diugh, gus sin a dhèanamh.

Seo an rud a thachair, ma-thà: sgeul na h-Iolaire.

Air oidhche challainn 1918, bha His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire a’ fàgail Caol Loch Aillse. Gu h-iorònach, bha ainm Gàidhlig oirre—An Iolaire—ach cha robh càil a dh’fhios aig a’ Chabhlach Rìoghail ciamar a chanadh iad an t-ainm sin, agus bha an t-ainm “I-o-laire” air a chleachdadh.

Bha an Iolaire loma-làn sheòladairean. Bha a’ chuid as motha dhiubh a’ tighinn dhachaigh às dèidh seirbheis-chogaidh leis a’ Chabhlach Rìoghail, leis an Nèibhidh.

Bha tòrr às na teaghlaichean aig na daoine a bha air bòrd na h-Iolaire a’ cruinneachadh air a’ chidhe an oidhche sin ann an Steòrnabhagh. Bha iad uile dòchasach gum biodh na gillean a’ tighinn air ais dhan eilean ann an deagh thìde gus am biodh iad a’ toirt a-steach na bliadhn’ ùire còmhla ri chèile, agus a’ comharrachadh deireadh a’ chogaidh aig an aon àm. Tha na puingean seo, am measg nithean eile, a’ dèanamh sgeul na h-Iolaire nas duilghe buileach.

Is e oidhche fhiadhaich a bha ann. Dìreach dà mhìle air falbh às a’ chidhe, faisg air 1.55 anns a’ mhadainn air latha na bliadhn’ ùire, bhuail an Iolaire air creagan leis an ainm Biastan Thuilm, agus chaidh i fodha am broinn dà uair a thide. Tha sinn a’ creidsinn gun robh 280 duine air bòrd agus tha sinn a’ creidsinn gun do bhàsaich 201 duine.

Agus fad na tìde, nuair a bha na rudan uabhasach seo a’ tachairt, bha iomadach teaghlach air a’ chidhe, fhathast, dìreach dà mhìle air falbh, a’ feitheamh gu foighidneach, mar a bha iad air a bhith foighidneach airson ceithir bliadhna fhada. Mar a tha aon òran Leòdhasach a’ dol:

Mo chreach, mo chreach ’s a thàinig;
Chaidh an gàirdeachas gu tùrs.
Mun d’ dh’èirich grian na màireach,
’s iomadh gàirdean bha gun lùths.
Chaidh fios air feadh gach àite
gun robh ’n t-àrmann ris robh ’n dùil
air cladach tìr an àraich,
air am bàthadh anns a’ ghrunnd.

Airson làithean às dèidh sin, bha muinntir Leòdhais a’ coimhead a-mach air an tràigh, agus lorg mòran dhiubh cuirp. Cha robh aon chorp am measg gach trì air an lorg agus bha tòrr air an glacadh am broinn na h-Iolaire fhèin. Às dèidh mìos, chuir an Cabhlach Rìoghail sanas a-mach gun robh iad a’ reic na h-Iolaire airson scrap.

Aig an toiseach, cha robh fios aig duine sam bith gu cinnteach cò bha air a dhol air bòrd na h- Iolaire aig a’ Chaol, agus cò eile a bha a’ feitheamh air a’ bhàt’-aiseig às a dèidh, an Sheila. Bha aig tòrr de na daoine air bòrd an Sheila ri coiseachd 50 mìle bho Steòrnabhagh mus do ràinig iad dhachaigh. Chuala mi aon sgeul mu fhear a bha anns an t-suidheachadh seo. Ràinig e dhachaigh mu dheireadh thall agus fhuair e a-mach aig doras an taighe aige gun robh an teaghlach aige a’ deasachadh gus tìodhlachadh a chumail dha fhèin. Tha sgeulachdan gu leòr eile ann mun àm sin, agus tha e math gu bheil muinntir Leòdhais agus na Hearadh gan innse a-nis. Chan eil fios aig a h-uile duine ann an Alba mun Iolaire agus bu chòir.

Tha taisbeanaidhean agus tachartasan air a bhith ann am-bliadhna ann an Caisteal Leòdhais agus ann an diofair bhailtean. Chunnaic tòrr dhaoine cuirm chiùil agus dràma mun an Iolaire air an ard-ùrlar agus cuideachd na dealbhan a rinn Mairead Nicfhearghais. Tha mi an dòchas gum bi tachartas eile a’ gabhail pàirt anns a’ Phàrlamaid fhèin anns a’ Mhàrt, nuair a bhios leabhar ùr “The Darkest Dawn” air a chur air bhog.

Is e tubaist uabhasach a bhiodh ann do choimhearsnachd sam bith 201 neach a chall. Ach airson eilean, tha e doirbh a mhìneachadh dìreach cho mòr ’s a bha e. Dè bhiodh a leithid de thubaist a’ ciallachadh ann an Glaschu, mar eisimpleir? Is dòcha gum biodh sinn a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn 5,000 teaghlach ann an Glaschu a’ call mac air an aon latha. Sin an seòrsa buaidh a bha aig an Iolaire air a’ choimhearsnachd ann an Leòdhas agus na Hearadh. Agus, cuimhnich, thàinig an Iolaire às dèidh cogadh anns an robh an aon choimhearsnachd air 1,300 neach eile a chall.

Anns na 10 bliadhna às dèidh na h-Iolaire, bha tòrr anns an eilean a’ call an cuid dòchais. Chaidh mòran gu Canada, Astràilia, na Stàitean agus New Zealand tro na 1920an.

Uaireannan, bidh sinn a’ cuimhneachadh a’ chogaidh mhòir ann an dòigh a tha caran abstract. Ach chan eil rud sam bith abstract mu dheidhinn na h-Iolaire.

Bidh sinn a’ comharrachadh 100 bliadhna le seirbheisean ann an Steòrnabhagh agus faisg air Biastan Thuilm air oidhche challainn agus air Latha na Bliadhn’ Ùire.

Is dòcha gu bheil cuid a’ smaoineachadh nach eil e ceart a bhith a’ cuimhneachadh air rudeigin cho brònach aig an àm seo anns a’ bhliadhna. Ach is ann aig an àm-sa den bhliadhna a thachair e. Chan ann air 11 den t-Samhain a thàinig an cogadh mòr gu crìch, far a bheil mise a’ fuireach.

Agus tha e ceart, às dèidh 100 bliadhna, mu dheireadh thall, gu bheil a’ Phàrlamaid againn agus an dùthaich againn ga chuimhneachaidh cuideachd.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

On many war memorials around the country are written the dates 1914 to 1919. The second of those years recalls the treaty, signed at Versailles, that formally brought the war to an end. However, that was some seven months after the guns fell silent in November 1918. To many now, 1919 looks an odd date to mark the end of the war, but in at least one place it still makes its own brutal sense. In Lewis and Harris, the losses of the great war did not come to an end until new year’s day, and what happened that day has left a lasting impression on villages and families throughout the islands, right up to our own time.

As I say the words “what happened that day”, I am conscious that I have not yet actually said what it was that happened. However, perhaps there is something appropriate about that, as the matter was so raw that the people of the islands scarcely spoke about it for at least 60 years anyway. The Iolaire was a subject that was simply too painful to raise in polite conversation in any house. However, it is right that we are remembering it now, 100 years on, and I am very grateful that people from all sides of the Parliament are here today to do so.

This is what happened—the story of the Iolaire. On hogmanay 1918, His Majesty’s yacht Iolaire was leaving Kyle of Lochalsh. Ironically, she had a Gaelic name—“iolaire” means “eagle”—but the Royal Navy had no idea how to pronounce that, so “I-o-laire” stuck. She was full of sailors, most of them returning home after war service with the Royal Navy. That night, many of the families of the men who were on board were soon gathering on the pier in Stornoway. They were all hopeful that the young men would return home in time to bring in the new year with them and mark the end of the war in one go. Among many other reasons, those very aspects make the story of the Iolaire all the sadder.

It was a night of wild weather. Just a couple of miles away from the pier, at around 1.55 on new year’s morning, the Iolaire struck a group of rocks called the Beasts of Holm and sank within the course of two hours. It is thought that there were 280 people on board and that 201 of them died. All the while, just a couple of miles away, many of their families were still on the pier, waiting patiently. They had been patient for four long years. As one Lewis song goes,

“Alas, alas,
Their joy turned to mourning.
Before the morning sun rose
many an arm was without strength.
The word went about the place
that the warriors they awaited
were on their native shores,
lying drowned on the sands.”

For many days after that, the people of Lewis went out looking for remains on the shore and many of them found bodies. However, one in three of the bodies were never found and many were trapped in the Iolaire. By the end of January, the Royal Navy had advertised that the Iolaire was for sale for scrap.

Initially, nobody was completely sure who had boarded the Iolaire in Kyle and who had waited for the steamer, the Sheila, after the Iolaire. Many of those who got the Sheila walked as far as 50 miles from Stornoway to get home. I heard a story about one man who was in that situation. He eventually got home only to discover at the door of his house that his family were making preparations for his funeral. There are many other stories about that time, and it is good that the people of Lewis and Harris are telling them now. Not everyone in Scotland knows about the Iolaire, but they should.

There have been exhibitions and events this year, in Lews castle and in different villages, and many people saw the music and drama production about the Iolaire in Stornoway, as well as the paintings by Margaret Ferguson. I hope that there will be another event in the Parliament in March at which a new book, “The Darkest Dawn”, will be launched.

The loss of 201 people is a heavy one for any community to bear, but it is difficult to explain the scale of that for an island. What might the equivalent disaster represent in Glasgow, for example? We are probably talking about the equivalent of 5,000 families in Glasgow all losing a son on one day, as that was the scale of the impact that the Iolaire had on Lewis and Harris. Bear in mind, too, that the Iolaire came after a war in which that same community had already lost 1,300 people.

In the 10 years after the Iolaire, many in the islands lost hope. Throughout the 1920s, many went to Canada, Australia, the States and New Zealand.

At times, we tend to remember the great war in a slightly abstract way, but there is nothing abstract about the Iolaire. We will mark the centenary with services in Stornoway and near the Beasts of Holm on hogmanay and on new year’s day. Perhaps some will think that it is not right to remember something so sorrowful at this time of year, but this is the time of year that it happened.

Where I live, the great war did not come to an end on 11 November, so it is right that, after 100 years, at last our Parliament and our country remember it, too.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. We are quite tight for time, so I ask everyone to speak for no more than four minutes.

13:08  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Alasdair Allan for bringing this timely debate to the chamber.

The Iolaire disaster was an unequivocal tragedy of returning servicemen lost in sight of their homes. Commemorations are always sobering. I am particularly aware of that having commemorated the disaster of the Otranto and Tuscania on the north coast of Islay as part of the world war one commemorations that I was involved in earlier this year. The sinking of the Iolaire, with the death of at least 201 men so close to their own shores, strikes an especially poignant chord.

Over the course of the first world war, more than 6,000 Lewismen joined the war effort, which was about 20 per cent of the island’s population. More than 1,000 of those servicemen died during the war, which was a high toll for such a small community. Every family had a father, brother, uncle or son who died. We can imagine the relief to be heading homeward of those who were fortunate enough to have reached the end of the conflict. They could look to the new year facing the comforts of home and familiarity of the loved ones who were eagerly awaiting their arrival.

However, on the eve of new year’s day in 1919, HMY Iolaire—the Gaelic for “eagle”—left Kyle of Lochalsh bound for Stornoway harbour on the Isle of Lewis. The yacht was overloaded with Royal Navy men, mostly from rural Lewis, and lifebelts were few and far between. In the small hours of the morning and in clear view of the lights of home—at one point, only 20 yards from the harbour—the Iolaire struck the rocks of the Beasts of Holm.

Families who were waiting by the shore for their loved ones could only watch in shock. With heavy uniforms weighing the men down, swimming to safety proved too difficult for many. Many islanders grew up without the ability to swim, having been warned to stay away from the cliffs at an early age.

One man, John F Macleod, managed to reach shore pulling a line of rope, which helped to save more than 40 lives. Another man clung to the mast of the Iolaire for hours until he could be rescued. One hundred and seventy-five natives of the island were claimed by the sea. Some men were found with rings and letters in their pockets; some men were never found.

The impact of that catastrophic loss on the Western Isles was devastating. In essence, it seemed that a generation of young men was gone. In those island communities, the loss was stark. Families who had believed that their loved ones had escaped the threat of war were confronted with a disaster that they could not have imagined. Their mourning was redoubled; as The Scotsman wrote in the aftermath,

“Many have had sorrow heaped upon sorrow.”

The Iolaire disaster witnessed life’s end for more than 200 men, and it sourced a vast depth of grief for many more, which should not be underestimated. For men who had battled enemy fire, survived torpedoes and suffered the extremes of war, this was a bitter end in view of their homes. For the islanders of Lewis, Harris and the surrounding isles, the inquiry into the disaster failed to find a solid conclusion as to how it had been allowed to happen.

With the centenary of the Iolaire disaster approaching this new year, I recognise the commemorations that have been created in honour of those who were lost. Islanders have long known of the moments of disaster; it is time for wider Scotland to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the extent of its impact. Indeed, marking this remembrance has led to increased vocalisation of the grief that has passed through the generations in the Western Isles.

The commemorations have been a fitting and collective act of remembrance. Although the war memorial on Lewis was officially opened in 1924, a monument was not placed at the Beasts of Holm until 1958; I am pleased to see the tributes of today. For example, portraits of 100 sailors who died in the Iolaire have been created by Margaret Ferguson, an award-winning artist whose great-uncle was among the death toll on the night. The portraits have brought the men to life and have touched home for many families. The exhibition will open on 29 December on Lewis. Last month, locals planted trees along the road that leads to the war memorial, and on the anniversary, the Prince of Wales and the First Minister will jointly mark the centenary with a visit. These acts of remembrance are incredibly important; they allow us to respectfully acknowledge the disaster and the heavy toll that it has had on the island community.

I join my colleagues in commemorating the Iolaire disaster. For the islanders, it opened a new year that they could not have imagined and it saw the death of those who thought that they had escaped its hold. As one of the United Kingdom’s worst maritime disasters, it was a significant loss of life that we need to be conscious of. I commend us all to remember it today.

13:12  

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I thank Alasdair Allan for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I am sure that each and every resident of Lewis and Harris appreciates such a traumatic event receiving the recognition of a chamber debate just two weeks away from the centenary.

As I am a Leòdhasach, or Lewisman, this is probably the most difficult speech that I have ever had to write or, indeed, to deliver in the chamber. As I was born and bred not just on Lewis but on the farm where the tragedy happened, the Iolaire disaster has been deeply ingrained in me since I could be aware of it as a toddler.

The Beasts of Holm, where the Iolaire ran aground, are technically just a few yards off the cliffs and rocks at Stoneyfield farm. At the time of the tragedy, my great-grandfather had not yet taken over Stoneyfield. The farmer at the time was Anderson Young, who opened the Stoneyfield farmhouse doors to many of the 79 survivors who made it ashore on that horrendous night, giving shelter and warmth to them. However, soon after the tragedy, he moved with his family to Canada, presumably in large part because of the trauma that the tragedy had caused to him, his wife and children.

My great-grandfather took on the tenancy of Stoneyfield just a few months after the tragedy, and my grandfather took on the tenancy of neighbouring Holm farm a few years later. At the time of the tragedy, my grandfather and my three great-uncles were in their late teens and early 20s, living in the village of Sandwick, next to the farms, and they would have been involved in the retrieval of the bodies from the shores of Sandwick beach and around the farm shoreline on that fateful day. I do not know for sure that that was the case, because they never talked about it. That has been the case on the island since the tragedy—nobody, or very few people, spoke of the disaster. Even when I was growing up in the 1960s, some 40 to 50 years after the disaster, it was still not discussed, so the many events and commemorations that are taking place on the island are acting in a cathartic way, allowing people to come to terms, at long last, with the grief and hurt that still exist and are still tangible on the island to this day.

It took just over 40 years for an official memorial to be erected at the site. My grandfather donated the land for the memorial, and I am pleased to see that it has been renovated for the centenary and that the path down to the memorial from the former coastguard station road end has been greatly improved in advance of the commemorations.

As someone who was born and brought up at Stoneyfield and Holm farms, I have experienced the impact of storm-force gales there. On the night of the tragedy, the ship ran aground during what was up to a force 10 gale—possibly stronger. I have walked around the headland at Holm point in force 10 gales, and stronger, a number of times—one time, I lost my footing and nearly slipped into the rough sea—and I have seen walls of water lifting up from Stornoway bay and crashing into the Stoneyfield farmhouse, so what those poor souls endured is beyond my comprehension, and it is beyond my understanding how there were even 79 survivors on such an horrendously stormy night.

As the award-winning blogger Katie Laing puts it in her excellent Hebrides Writer blog,

“The Iolaire is in our DNA”.

I have found it difficult to put my feelings into words, so, if it is all right, Presiding Officer, I will quote the current minister of St Columba’s church in Stornoway, the Rev William Heenan. At the opening of the exhibition at Sandwick hall, he said:

“As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the Iolaire disaster, the memories of the inconsolable loss of life still evokes deep emotions in our island population—emotions that have been inherited from previous generations who lived through that fateful Hogmanay night and who had personally experienced the ‘darkest dawn’ of New Year’s Day 1919.

The cloud of silence which then enveloped this island and her people and which has pervaded this community in every generation since, is only now beginning to lift.

These last four years of rolling commemorations for the First World War and the various major battles fought during it, have in some respect helped to prepare us, for this the hardest and final of these commemorations—the loss of the Iolaire.

However, the silent grief, borne by the people of Lewis and Harris; the excruciating pain of the sorrow which has permeated every fibre in the warp and weft of the fabric of this society; and the lack of both information and answers as to why and how the disaster occurred; have to a large extent inhibited the island from processing and working through their loss, and coming to terms with their heartache.

Time has helped to heal some of the wounds inflicted by the events of that terrible night, enabling people to at last begin to speak about it and to process its harrowing legacy, but the scars of the tragedy still remain. They are indelibly ingrained on the psyche of islanders and their diaspora, just as the peat-banks and lazy-beds now no longer worked still mark and scar the landscape of our island topography.”

13:17  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I thank Alasdair Allan for securing the debate.

In a year that has marked the centenary of the end of world war 1, we are fast approaching the last commemoration of that conflict—the sinking of the Iolaire. The islands had provided many men to fight in the services for the world war and had already suffered great losses. We can only imagine the relief of families, hearing that their loved ones were on their way home, believing them to be safe and making preparations to welcome them. There must have been an air of excitement, or maybe it was just relief.

For the men, their arrival at Kyle of Lochalsh must itself have been a sort of homecoming. Those who had previously been fishermen would have been in familiar surroundings, because they would have often berthed or landed their catches in Kyle. They knew the crossing well, because it was close to home, and they were seeing it for what was possibly the first time in years. They would also have been meeting old friends and catching up on news. Home was within touching distance.

As more men arrived at Kyle, the boat that was supposed to take them—the Sheila—was already close to capacity, so the Iolaire was sent to fetch them home. The Iolaire was not equipped with enough safety equipment for the number of men that were likely to sail on her. However, it was hogmanay, and it would have been cold—too cold for people to stay outside for the night, and it was unlikely that there would have been enough accommodation in Kyle for all of the men. It appears that there was some discussion about the issue, but with more and more men arriving in Kyle, the decision was made to sail, with devastating consequences.

As Angus MacDonald said, many people believe that the tragedy was the cause of mass emigration from the islands in the 1920s. It certainly contributed to poverty, and the islands’ economy has yet to recover from the loss of those men.

As we near the centenary of the loss of the Iolaire, I have been surprised to hear that, as Alasdair Allan noted, many islanders say that they have only recently become aware of it because it was never spoken about in their homes or villages, so deep was the sense of loss.

I was very young when I first heard about the sinking of the Iolaire—so young that it feels that I have known about it all my life. My grandfather fought in both world wars, as did his father. My grandfather never spoke to me about his wartime experiences, but I knew of them because of his medals and because he had an old demob union flag that he flew every time there was a wedding in the village. However, he did speak about the Iolaire. He told us of the tragedy and of the loss that was experienced by the whole island of Lewis and Harris. The communities have come together, and will continue to come together over the following weeks, to mark the centenary. We must stand together and we must do so with them.

I hope that the site where the Iolaire sank will be recognised as a war grave, although I understand that there is very little left of the boat. However, the Beasts of Holm will mark the spot where the men fell. Chris Murray, whose work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been recognised by the Queen’s gallantry medal, has offered to dive to lay a wreath at the site on new year’s day. That will be another fitting tribute to those who were lost so close to home 100 years ago.

As people begin to speak more widely about the tragedy, we can see how the events impacted on so many lives. My Gaelic tutor told me that his grandfather had been on the Iolaire but had, for some reason, transferred to the Sheila—a decision that saved his life. I found out only recently that John Macleod, who bravely swam ashore with a rope and saved many lives, was the great-grand-uncle of Chris Bryant MP. Thus, the personal stories come to life: we must preserve those stories and remember the lives that were lost.

13:21  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Mòran taing, Presiding Officer. Gabhaibh mo leisgeul. Chan eil ach beagan Gàidhlig agam. Mar as àbhaist, feumaidh mi Beurla a bhruidhinn.

“Bidh dùil ro fear-fairge, ach cha bhi ri fear-reilige.”

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Excuse me, I just have a little Gaelic. As usual, I will need to speak in English.

“There is hope of the man at sea, but none of the man in the churchyard.”

The member continued in English.

I thank Alasdair Allan for bringing the debate to Parliament and I hope that the little Gaelic that I have was sufficient to convey the Gaelic proverb:

“There is hope of the man at sea, but none of the man in the churchyard.”

I think that hope is what underpins the thoughts of many people at this time.

Men had escaped the ravages of war, and their loved ones were waiting for them to return unscathed. Of course, the likelihood is that they would not be returning unscathed: they would have been damaged by a brutal war. As long as they were at sea, however, hope remained intact for all those people. I wonder how we will show respect. Will we show respect to the 174 men from Lewis—the Leòdhasachs—and the seven from Harris, by speaking as we are today, to show that we value the 205 men who died?

The first world war was driven by people who did not value lives: many of those people had contempt for life. It is a terrible tragedy that sailors survived a war, only to die yards from their own shore. It has already been said that many of their families were waiting for them on the quayside with the bunting out.

Members have mentioned the impact on the islands: Lewis and Harris lost one fifth of their population in the first world war, and 6,000-plus men served their country, which had a significant impact on the Gàidhealtachd of Scotland and, as we have heard, it affected whole communities.

There is collective mourning, but there is also almost collective denial. We understand the significant impact that the event has had on generations. That their lives were not valued was reflected by the fact that the men perished on an overloaded boat that had insufficient lifeboats and lifejackets. I will not go into the detail of the tragedy—anyone who has travelled over the Minch in January will know how dangerous the waters can be—but others have alluded to the very brave and humane acts that took place, and the great efforts that were put into saving people.

The sinking of the Iolaire was the United Kingdom’s worst maritime disaster, with the largest loss of life in UK waters since 1904, and was the worst peacetime disaster involving a British ship since the Titanic. Maurice Corry referred to The Scotsman coverage that said that

“Many have had sorrow heaped upon a sorrow.”

That is the terrible reality.

A public inquiry was held in Stornoway on 10th February 1919. The local community provided seven men for the jury, and it reached the verdict that the Royal Navy was responsible.

A naval inquiry was held in private on 8 January 1919. As has been said, the Admiralty put the wreck up for sale just 15 days after the disaster. Because no officers who had been on board the Iolaire survived, the Royal Navy ruled that

“No opinion can be given as to whether blame is attributable to anyone in the matter.”

That is indicative of the fact that survival of ordinary ratings was clearly not valued.

The Iolaire inquiry gathered dust in the Admiralty vaults for more than 50 years and its findings were not released into the public domain until 1970, which is a disgrace. The Admiralty was insensitive in putting the vessel up for sale 15 days after the disaster, when 80 bodies were still unaccounted for. That appalled the community.

Skipinnish is a group that includes guys from Tiree who are Gaelic speakers. The group has a song that says:

“New Year of peace would dawn tomorrow
Sing to me the Island Ocean
From hope and joy to wrenching sorrow
Far to the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.”

We can best commemorate those who died by not allowing a repetition of war.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that we are very tight for time.

13:26  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The sinking of the Iolaire with its loss of life on that night in 1919 must be one of the cruellest events in Scottish history. I thank the constituency MSP for Lewis and Harris, Alasdair Allan, for giving us a chance to reflect on it today, and to remember the men who survived the horrors of the first world war but never made it home to their families.

Unlike many members who are speaking in today’s debate, I do not have a personal connection to Lewis or to those who were affected by the lolaire tragedy, but it has been emotional listening to members who have such connections—especially Angus MacDonald, who made a powerful speech.

I wanted to speak because I remember hearing of the lolaire when I was at school. I had a very good O grade history teacher, and I remember him going into a lot of detail about the impact that the war had on people at home in Scotland. It was not part of the curriculum, but he added that extra bit to it. He wanted us, as fairly cushioned 15-year-olds in the 1980s, to try to grasp in some small way the devastating legacy that war had had on Scottish society. The lolaire disaster was one of the events that he told us about, as he tried to bring home the myriad of ways in which the war had hollowed out a generation. His telling of the disaster really made an impression on me.

The terrible event is said to have set in train an exodus of young people from the island in years to come—in particular, of young women who had lost their loves. One of the most heartbreaking accounts that I read said that an engagement ring was found in the pocket of one young man who drowned. Even 100 years on it is heartbreakingly difficult to read the accounts of toys being washed up on the beach that had been bought by young fathers as they looked forward to seeing their kids after so much time apart.

The young women of Lewis now lived in a community in which the male population of the island had been decimated. Hopes of future marriages and raising families were lost to a generation of Lewis women. Thoughts of a future raising a new generation of Lewis children were lost to many families. Many families were robbed of their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers in communities that had already lost more than 1,000 young men in battle.

After reading more this week, I was struck by this comment from local Lewis historian Roddy Murray. He said:

“We can speculate on its contribution to the mass emigrations of the twenties, its effect on the Lewis character, the rebirth of an inherent fatalism. Its effect was like the Passover of the Old Testament.”

It is fair to say that the war and the loss of young men possibly set in train mass emigration to Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Australia, as people tried to leave the tragedy behind. We can read accounts of those who were left behind in Lewis, with the shock of the disaster leaving many of them unable ever to speak of what had happened, or to vocalise the unfairness of the hand that the island had been dealt.

As many members have said, the lolaire is second only to the sinking of the Titanic in lives lost through an accident at sea in peacetime. However, there are no Hollywood film epics and no minute-by-minute drama documentaries on repeat on the History Channel about the disaster. Perhaps the reason is that the grief was so concentrated in one community and, therefore, was too painful ever to be dramatised or retold in anything other than a quiet and contemplative way—if at all.

I have tried to compare the sinking with other tragedies that I could relate to. It was similar to the feeling after the Piper Alpha disaster, which many people in my area found hard to speak of. As Alasdair Allan said, the effect of that scale of loss of life on an island community is something that people who do not live in an island community—like me—cannot really get their heads around.

This year, which is the centenary of the first world war’s end, we have rightly talked often of the sacrifice that was made by so many in the war. I thank Alasdair Allan for allowing us, once again, to pay our respects to the returning servicemen of Lewis, their families and the community that was so deeply scarred by that tragic accident.

13:30  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am conscious that we have heard a lot this afternoon from people who are very closely related to this incident, and I do not want to add very much more, except to thank Alasdair Allan for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is right that, as we think about returning home for Christmas, we think about this event from 100 years ago, because it is made all the more poignant by the fact that it involved 280 sailors travelling home for new year.

I was interested to hear about the overloaded boat, the navy not responding as it should have done and the sailors being weighed down with kit. We have also heard about the great heroism of John Finlay Macleod, who swam ashore with his rope and rescued 40 men, and it is right that he is being immortalised for his efforts in the sculpture that Prince Charles will unveil in the new year.

It is also right that, at Christmas—a joyous time that we should be spending with our families—we remember that, in the new year of 1919, there were many who would not spend any time at all with their own. People lost brothers, husbands, uncles and cousins, and I struggle to understand and comprehend how difficult that would be, given how every family was connected.

I am keeping my contribution short, purely because I want to hear the contributions of other people. However, it is right that we think about what is the worst maritime disaster in Britain’s history, an event made even more tragic by the fact that the sailors involved had survived the great war and were returning home.

Finally, I commend all those organising the national commemorative services at new year. I know that a huge amount of energy has gone into the preparations, and I am sure that the events will be a fitting act of remembrance of this national disaster.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Mountain, for giving us some time back.

13:32  

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

I, too, pay tribute to Alasdair Allan for securing this debate. It is fitting that, almost a century after a disaster that took 201 lives, our Parliament gives time for reflection and commemoration.

I say that it is fitting, because, as others have pointed out, the disaster was for a long time seldom mentioned in public discourse. It was so enormous in scale that it was almost something unspeakable. These young men survived the slaughter of world war one only to perish within sight of home, and their loss cast a dark and silent shadow over the islands, which had lost so many more young men in the war. Others have already talked about the significant demographic effect of the disaster. Those men would have been coming home to start families with their sweethearts, but, as it was, depopulation accelerated rapidly in the Gàidhealtachd in the 1920s.

There is another Iolaire legacy. The years of silence have lifted, and the tragedy is now being properly explored and features extensively in the oral, social and cultural history of the Outer Hebrides. In that respect, I pay particular tribute to the dedicated web resource in Gaelic and English that has been created by the National Library of Scotland. A wealth of the original documents and oral history from the time has been digitised, including facsimiles of news reports. One such report, from The Scotsman of 6 January 1919, says:

“Carts in little processions of twos and threes, each bearing its coffin from the mortuary, pass through the streets of Stornoway on their way to some rural village, and all heads are bared as they pass.”

The digital resource draws on the work of the journalist John MacLeod, whose highly praised book “When I Heard The Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire” documents the loss of the Iolaire and its aftermath, and there are also interviews with islanders such as 17-year-old Freya Macleod, the great-granddaughter of Iolaire survivor John Finlay Macleod, who saved upwards of 40 people on the stricken ship by swimming ashore with a life rope.

The resource also links to some of the many artistic responses to the Iolaire disaster, such as recordings made in the 1970s by musicians and poets who were alive at the time of the sinking.

Contemporary artists have responded to the centenary. An Lanntair is currently showing “Dawn till Dark”, an exhibition featuring the work of glass artist Alec Galloway and photographer Mhairi Law. Although, unfortunately, I have been unable to see the exhibition, I have been impressed by some of the images that I have been able to view. My partner, who is a writer, assisted Mr Galloway with a piece called “Harbour Full of Words”. It is a beautiful large glass bowl, filled with seawater from the harbour and lit from beneath. It contains 201 pieces of sea glass, collected from beaches where victims were found. Each piece of glass is etched with a word connected to the Iolaire, and the piece includes the names of all those who died.

The new year sees another exhibition—“Iolaire 100”—by Margaret Ferguson, featuring portraits of the sailors who died as well as those who survived. That is fitting because, although the tragedy of the Iolaire is all about loss, it is also about survival. A community that suffered so much loss, death and emigration did survive. Its Gaelic culture continues to inspire people around the world. Lives were stolen that night, but hope was not extinguished. The Iolaire has become a symbol of sorrow, certainly, but also a symbol of resilience.

13:36  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I was a child in Stornoway in the 1960s, years after the Iolaire disaster. Many women of the Iolaire generation were still alive when I was a boy. I saw them simply as cailleachs—old women, dressed in black. I did not know then how many had lost their husbands or fiancés on a single day, so many years before, and mourned them still.

The cailleachs dressed in black reflected the pain of the whole town—of the whole island. Many young men had perished in the great war; many younger women and men were to leave for North America in the hungry 1920s. In between came this terrible, gut-wrenching, soul-searing loss of so many who had survived the war and had so nearly won home. Fifty years later, the despair of that dark and stormy night still dominated the life of the island. Yet, so painful was it then that people in Lewis hardly talked of it at all, as Alasdair Allan and others have said.

As Alasdair Allan also said, the loss was not in Lewis alone. My grandfather, Donald John Macdonald, was of the same generation. When the great war ended, he was 28 years old and a member of the royal naval reserve—like most of those who drowned on the Iolaire—and he had served in the Mediterranean since 1915. He had grown up on the Isle of Berneray: a little island of a few hundred souls, off Harris. His own father had died at sea, and his widowed mother had raised her children in a cottage by the quay.

Home leave for Donald John involved a voyage to Stornoway from the mainland, then a 60 mile walk to Rodel or Obbe on Harris, or a run home on a fishing boat from wherever he could find one going in the right direction. Mercifully, Donald John was not travelling home on leave that new year. He was not on board the Iolaire. He went on to sail the seven seas as a merchant seaman in the 1920s, to marry Mary Macdonald from North Uist, and together they would raise a family of their own.

Other young men from Berneray were not so lucky. Norman MacKillop was 19 years old and Donald Paterson was only 18 when they died on the Iolaire. Those were boys my grandfather knew. The loss of even two such young men was a heavy blow for a small place like Berneray.

It was a personal tragedy, too, for the families of those who crewed the Iolaire, who hailed from ports all round Britain. David McDonald, from Virginia Street, by the harbour in Aberdeen, was a signal boy aged 17 and the youngest to die that day. School students at Aberdeen grammar school have helped remember him this year, adding a granite stone in his name to the new commemorative cairn in Stornoway. Even in Lewis, a hundred years on, the shadow has retreated, and a new generation of islanders are able to commemorate the Iolaire in a way that previous generations could not.

lain S MacDonald wrote many fine songs, and one of the finest is “The Iolaire”. Like me and my sister Deirdre, whom he married, lain was a child in 1960s Stornoway, still in shadow and in silence, but to hear him sing his song of “The lolaire” was almost to hear the storm itself, so dark with rage and loss. That song is his memorial, too, as he has died, too young, in this centenary year.

“To the families of Lewis the chilly winds moaned
Your sons they have perished and they’ll never come home ...
It seemed each pebble on the shore
It bore a sailor’s name”

Gu dearbh, cuimhnichidh sinn iad: We will indeed remember them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

In order to hear contributions from the final two speakers and the cabinet secretary, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3 of the standing orders, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Alasdair Allan to move a motion without notice.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by 30 minutes.—[Alasdair Allan]

Motion agreed to.

13:40  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Alasdair Allan for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

For those who are listening from outwith the Western Isles, this might be the first time that they have heard of the Iolaire tragedy, despite its being the worst peacetime British sea disaster since the Titanic and its devastating impact on the population and morale of those islands. Today, we are bringing that tragic new year’s day 100 years ago to the fore and highlighting the moving remembrance that is taking place.

Two months after the end of the great war, leave was granted for many to return home. On hogmanay 1918, the Iolaire set off from Kyle of Lochalsh at 7.30 pm. At 1 am, the ship was sailing too far east for reasons that we still do not fully understand. Lights on the beasts of Holm warned of danger, but the ship failed to turn. Her momentum pushed her forward and, as a gale took hold, she failed to change course. Instead, she carried on full steam ahead into the pitch-black night and struck the beasts of Holm at 2 am on new year’s morning. More than 200 men died, including 174 from Lewis and seven from Harris. Seventy-nine survived and 40 were saved by the heroism of John Findlay Macleod, as we have heard.

The islands’ contribution to the great war was considerable, with 6,172 men from Lewis serving in the armed forces. That is a source of pride for an island of just 29,603 souls in 1911. However, losses were heavy. From the 51 houses in the village of Leurbost alone, 32 men were killed or badly wounded in the great war. Eleven more would be lost on the Iolaire, which sank less than one mile from safe harbour.

What is most upsetting about the disaster is that, having survived the horrors of war, those young men drowned as their families gathered to welcome them home to communities that had missed them sorely. A third of those who were lost on the Iolaire would never be recovered, but many bodies that were given up by the sea were washed up on Sandwick shore. That sight haunted those who saw it for the rest of their lives.

The tragedy impacted on islanders for decades. Morale was shattered and mass emigration followed.

John MacLeod, the author of “When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire”, which is a comprehensive account of the disaster, said:

“My grandfather ... who was a boy of eight at the time never forgot standing outside his door ... in the village of Cross and seeing the carts coming over the brae with coffins. Carts passing the house. Carts with one coffin, carts with two coffins, carts with four coffins. Coffins after coffins.”

Lewis ran out of coffins, and they had to be brought from Kyle. That detail encapsulates the scale of the tragedy on such small, close-knit communities.

A hundred years on, the disaster is now entirely out of human memory, but people talk about the Iolaire. A new generation of islanders wants to understand the pain that the tragedy inflicted and to know the men whom they lost and the grief that was felt by those who were left behind. Perhaps with the last survivor and the last child who lost a father now gone, people are finally free to revisit the tragedy and give it the commemoration due.

One particularly moving contribution to the centennial remembrance is Catriona Black’s animated film “You are at the Bottom of my Mind”, which builds from stories told in Gaelic from decades past by survivors and witnesses, and adds a traditional music score specially written for the creation. There are 25 hand-drawn frames for every second of the five-minute film. It becomes a moving painting of 7,500 drawings that was 10 months in the making. It is layered with photographs and films, such as the seaweed-covered surface of the deadly beasts of Holm and the gravestones of men who were lost to the sea. Those poignant details bring the artwork to life and remind us of the brutal reality of what happened that night. I encourage everyone to watch that film when it is broadcast on hogmanay.

We have recounted stories of bravery, grief and the sheer waste of human life. Now, a century later, we have a chance to remember and allow for the sharing of grief decades in the making.

13:44  

Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

I feel greatly privileged—if a little hesitant—to participate in this debate, in which we are remembering a tragedy the cruelty and impact of which are almost beyond comprehension. I congratulate Alasdair Allan on his beautiful speech. Sadly, I cannot speak Gaelic, but it is the language of my soul and I love to hear it whenever I can. I thank all those who have spoken of their own direct relationship with the terrible tragedy.

I am the child of island parents who came from Tiree rather than Lewis. My father was at sea for his whole life, and, from an early age, my mother made us aware of the risks that his job brought and the joy and relief that everyone at sea experienced on reaching safe haven. Islanders understood then—as they understand now—the power of the elements to shape their lives, their opportunities and their futures.

The Isle of Lewis is an island of great warmth, generosity, humour and sense of community, even if it has—as other places do—a sad history. It was only when I began to visit Lewis as a young woman that I learned of the terrible tragedy of the Iolaire, despite its immensity and despite my great interest in the history of the Highlands and Islands. Those who suffered did so within their families and communities, and that part of our history has been left largely unreported. That is why this afternoon’s debate and the events surrounding the centenary are so important.

When we look at tragedy, we sometimes say that it is hard to imagine what it felt like or what its impact was, but, when we start to imagine, the horrors become overwhelming. It is not just that young men were lost at sea; they were returning safe at the end of a war during which they must have suffered terribly and seen the brutality of war at first hand. We are talking not only about the loss at sea of young men but about the loss of 201 souls who were returning to small communities, where their loss wiped out a whole generation from individual villages. They were not just coming home; they were coming home on 1 January to celebrate the new year, which, in those days, was the only day of celebration in the whole year on the island. That day—new year’s day—signified the importance of family and community and of mutual support. As well as being a time for reflection on the past, it was a time to look at prospects for the future.

The fact that those young men were lost not on a foreign field but within reach of safe haven and within sight of home as families gathered on Stornoway harbour to meet them makes the tragedy one that is almost beyond words. For many, its consequences and impact went unspoken for generations. It is important not just to remember the event but to understand the importance of renewal, to do what we can to support fragile remote rural communities and to maintain optimism for the future, remembering that migration from parts of Lewis reflected the pessimism that followed the tragedy. Events that might seem small on a national scale can have a catastrophic effect on small communities.

I congratulate all those people who have been involved in marking the centenary on the sensitive, creative, thought-provoking and challenging events that they have produced. A moving example of those events and a good symbol of the work that has been done is the shinty match that is to be held on Lewis on 1 January between the Lewis shinty team and a team from Kinlochshiel Shinty Club from Kyle of Lochalsh, from where the returning sailors departed for the last part of their journey. I have particular pride in that event because of a family connection to it, but it is a powerful symbol of what was lost. Young men—some of whom were shinty players—lost their potential and were denied their futures. Two young teams will play the game that the men who lost their lives were denied. Given the renaissance of shinty on the island in recent years, that act of remembrance should also be one of renewal whereby the new generation of young islanders will offer their respect for the past and their determination to play a part in securing the cultural, sporting and economic future of the island they love.

This is a time to remember a time of immense sadness, but it is also a time to recognise the strength of the human spirit in the darkest of times, which was evident in the communities affected. Given the strength of those communities in renewing themselves, it should be a time of hope for the future, too.

13:49  

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

I, too, thank Dr Alasdair Allan for lodging his motion and giving the Parliament the opportunity to record our recognition ahead of the commemoration of the terrible tragedy of the Iolaire. The fact that so many MSPs wanted to speak in the debate is testimony to the strength of feeling that exists. The speeches of each and every one of them were very fine indeed. I was particularly touched by Angus MacDonald’s very personal story and Lewis Macdonald’s personal reflections. They gave us an insight into the sense of that continuing grief—a grief silent for so long.

Only last month, we marked the centenary of the first armistice, on 11 November 1918, and reflected on the emotions that would have been felt at the time: joy that war was over, grief for those who would never return, recognition that the world would never be the same and uncertainty for the future. The people of the Western Isles would have felt all of those things. Their losses had been among the heaviest in any community, with one in six of those who joined up never returning. However, by Hogmanay 1918, the armistice had been signed and some of the men from the Western Isles were on their way home. We can imagine the people at home keeping an eye on the clock and mentally following the journey while preparing to welcome the homecomers.

Poet Murdo Macfarlane, in “Last Night the lolaire was Wrecked”, beautifully describes the joy of a young woman in Lewis as she bakes in preparation for her sweetheart’s return. Let me share the first verse with you, in Gaelic:

“’S binn sheinn i, a’ chailin,
A raoir ann an Leòdhas,
I fuineadh an arain
Le cridhe làn sòlais,
Air choinneamh a leanainn
Tha tighinn air fòrlach:
Tighinn dhachaigh thuic tèaraint’,
Fear a gràidh.”

That scene would have been taking place across the islands. How cruel that, for so many, the welcome home was denied. How could those who did survive celebrate a return when so many had that celebration snatched away within sight of their homes? It is small wonder that it was too painful to discuss, but life had to go on, and it did, although for many that life was far away in Australia, Canada and New Zealand—yet more loss for the islands.

The story of what happened to the lolaire has never been widely known outside the islands. For that reason, when I set up the Scottish first world war commemorations panel, in 2013, and it set about the task of recommending which events should inform the Scottish commemorative programme, there was a determination from the start to include the tragic loss of the lolaire. From the beginning of the commemorative period, the lolaire commemoration was established as Scotland’s last act of remembrance in the official first world war commemoration programme. That would not be the armistice, because Scotland still had the anniversary of the lolaire to come.

I have quoted from a poem by Murdo Macfarlane, and, over the years, a number of other poems and books have highlighted the deep impacts that the tragedy had on the tight-knit island community. The land of the Gaels has always been renowned for its poetry and song. However, as the centenary has drawn closer and the full story has emerged, innovative arts organisations have been telling the story of what happened in moving and engaging ways.

As part of the year of young people, schools across the islands have been working on the Dileab project, which culminated in an evening of music, dance, drama and song dedicated to the lolaire at the Nicholson institute in Stornoway last week.

The arts centre An Lanntair is delivering a range of events, from talks to an exhibition of 100 portraits, created over the past two years, of sailors lost and saved from the lolaire, and even an animated film, as we have heard.

14-18 NOW, the United Kingdom’s official arts programme for the centenary of the first world war, commissioned two new suites of Gaelic music: “Cumha An lolaire”—“lolaire Elegy”—by Lewis-born piper and composer lain Morrison, and “An Treas Suaile”—“The Third Wave”—by Duncan Chisholm. Duncan worked with Julie Fowlis to create a piece that pays homage to John Finlay Macleod, who, as we have heard, swam ashore with a rope to create, literally, a lifeline that saved 40 men. That is a truly remarkable story.

BBC Scotland and BBC ALBA are producing a wide and varied range of programmes on television and radio around the centenary, and the stunning new sculpture at the site of the memorial will be unveiled at the national commemorative event on 1 January. Situated within a few metres of the spot where the ship floundered, its simple design provides a fitting addition to the existing memorial and a moving spot at which to take a moment to contemplate the tragedy that unfolded on the rocks below.

Prince Charles, who bears the ancient title of Lord of the Isles, will attend the service of commemoration on 1 January 2019, accompanied by the First Minister, and they will have the opportunity to speak to descendants of those people who were lost or saved. Also on that day, a CalMac ferry with around 500 local people on board will sail out to the spot where the lolaire turned towards the rocks. A short service will be held on board before 201 schoolchildren each drop a single carnation overboard—one for each man who died.

There can be few stories more tragic than that of the lolaire. The men on board would have been rousing themselves from sleep, closing books and pulling their belongings together—the things that we all do as we come to the end of a journey. Those who were waiting for them would have been noting the time and possibly heading for the harbour if they lived in Stornoway. The end of that journey should have been a joyous occasion. One hundred years on, it is right that the last act of remembrance in the Scottish commemorative programme is the lolaire commemoration, as the impact on the tight-knit island community was beyond measure.

As we have heard in the debate, the story and the impact will continue for the people of the islands for a long time to come. We have had the privilege of honouring and paying tribute to the men during the debate, but it is incumbent on us to make sure that their memory lives on and that we have the renewal that has been spoken about. I hope that, on 1 January 2019, we will all take a moment to reflect on the events that took place 100 years ago, which have left such a poignant legacy. Mòran taing.

13:55 Meeting suspended.  14:00 On resuming—