Item 16 on the agenda of Argyll and Bute Council’s meeting on 28th June 2012 was a motion moved by Councillor Vivien Dance from Helensburgh and seconded by Councillor Maurice Corry – or Maurice Steuart-Corry, as he is now styled
The motion alleges that the Cowal Gathering discriminates against dancers from Helensburgh and Lomond; and proposes that the Games be instructed to cease such discriminatory practices on peril of losing their council grant – aka Service Level Agreement.
The minutes of the meeting record both the text of the motion and its fate.
|16 NOTICE OF MOTION UNDER STANDING ORDER 13|
Moved by Councillor Dance, seconded by Councillor Corry
That this Council:
a) Recognises and values the dedication and commitment of the volunteers and management who stage the Cowal Highland Gathering which contributes to the economic viability and sustainability of the local community and is a significant and prestigious cultural event for the whole of the Argyll and Bute area.
b) Is committed to promoting equality and endeavours to ensure that all youngsters who reside in Argyll and Bute have equity of opportunity to achieve their aspirations, ambitions and potential.
c) Agrees that the management of the Cowal Highland Gathering be advised that the current discriminatory practice in the Highland Dancing competition whereby Helensburgh and Lomond dancers are excluded from the Argyllshire Championships ceases from 2013 onwards as a condition of the continuation of all funding, both “in kind” and through the SLA, provided by Argyll and Bute Council.
d) Agrees that the management of the Cowal Highland Gathering be advised that the definition of Argyll and Bute in all of the competitions at the event from 2013 onwards reflects the current boundary of the local authority as a condition of the continuation of council funding.
The Notice of Motion was withdrawn by the mover and seconder.
The nature of the motion
On the surface this is a very reasonable motion and immediately persuasive.
It is even gracefully introduced by a formal recognition of the value of the Cowal Games to the social, cultural and economic vitality of Argyll and Bute.
The trouble is that it is entirely groundless. It has been a piece of clearly deliberate mischief making for personal political publicity.
The situation it paints bears no relation to the reality – and that is a reality of which Councillor Dance was fully aware and chose, twice, to ignore.
The same motion she withdrew from the council meeting on 28th June was submitted as it stood to the Helensburgh and Lomond Area committee meeting which took place two days ago, on Tuesday 14th August.
Consequence of the withdrawal of the motion
The consequence of the withdrawal of the motion was that the matter was not discussed at all by the council as it was no longer on the agenda.
This meant that the factual situation outlined in writing by Malcolm Barclay, Event Director of the Cowal Games, to each individual councillor in advance of the meeting, was neither discussed nor recorded. That was unfortunate.
The facts presents a very different scenario from that suggested by Councillor Dance and ramped up by various media who have also been given these facts but, like Mrs Dance, have chosen to ignore them in the interests of headlines.
One such organ even trumpeted on 13th July that: ‘The councillor who intends to crush the Cowal Games unless the event ditches a “discriminatory” Highland dancing policy is set to lead campaigners to Kilmory on Monday – armed with a 1,000-signature petition.’
Crusading rhetoric indeed. `More than a tad embarrassing.
It is entirely reasonable that, fed limited and distorted information, the residents of Helensburgh and Lomond will have been angered at what has been presented to them as an act of gross discrimination preventing dancers from the area from competing at the Cowal Gathering which was stubbornly refusing to reverse its decision.
They have been pawns in no more than a political stunt and, as such, their honest trust has been abused and their emotions frivolously aroused.
The real picture is almost banal in its lack of monstrosity of any kind.
It discriminates against no one. It is entirely reasonable. It is transparent – and has remained below the public radar because it has suited too many to dump it there in the pursuit of more theatrical tales of dastardly deeds.
No Helensburgh dancer – nor any dancer – is excluded from competing at the Cowal Gathering.
Helensburgh dancers are indeed competing in the Games, where they are very welcome and where there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.
What is more, three of the dancers in a photograph of six advanced to inflame anger at their ‘exclusion’, are amongst those competing in Dunoon next week.
The Argyllshire Championships
The Cowal Gathering’s Highland Dancing programme contains no fewer than 28 competitions.
Three of these 28 competitions fall within a particular traditional contest, the Argyllshire Championships. These three are age-related: one is for dancers under 13; one for dancers between 13 and 16; and one for dancers over 16.
The Argyllshire Championships itself is one of 13 qualifying events for a long-standing Scotland-wide contest, based on the 13 historic regions of Scotland and culminating in the National Area Finals which take place in Oban each year.
In each of the 13 championships, the eligibility criterion is residency within its historic boundaries – which are in many cases different from the local authority boundaries.
In the case of the Argyllshire Championships that historic boundary does not include Helensburgh and Lomond, a fairly recent addition not to Argyll but to the local authority area of Argyll and Bute.
Bute, which had not previously had access to this competition through any of the historic regions, was included by request in the 1980s, when an earlier local government reorganisation married Bute to Argyll.
There was no need later to request inclusion for Helensburgh and Lomond because that area has always been included – within its own historic region of West Dunbartonshire, whose championships are held annually in Bearsden.
Describing this situation as discriminatory is a mischievous nonsense. There are tough laws today against all forms of discrimination. If Councillor Dance genuinely believes this situation to be discriminatory she may test it in the courts.
Dancers from Helensburgh and Lomond have the same access to the national event as do dancers from Kintyre, Lochaber, Wester Ross and anywhere else in Scotland. Each competes in the qualifying championships for their own historic area.
What the Cowal Gathering did
The Cowal Gathering does not ‘own’ or control but simply ‘hosts’ the Argyllshire Championships, which is, as explained above, one of 13 qualifiers for an inclusive nationwide contest run by a national organisation.
When Councillor Dance began to shout ‘discrimination against Helensburgh and Lomond‘, the organisers of the Cowal event discussed the matter with the national body to see if the qualifiers could or should be aligned with local authority instead of historic boundaries.
The answer was ‘No’ for obvious reasons.
It was ‘No’ because, as shown above, there is nothing remotely discriminatory or excluding in the competition.
It was also ‘No’ because, as with almost everything in the cultural sector in a small country like Scotland, the national event and the qualifiers are run by a very small group of people.
If they were to change ‘Argyllshire‘ (with Bute) to the local authority area of Argyll and Bute, they would deprive the historic area of West Dunbartonshire of the Helensburgh and Lomond part of its competitive constituency – and, to be consistent, they would have to change their entire qualifying system to align with Scotland’s local authority territories.
There are 32 Scottish local authorities.
Such a change would mean going from running 13 qualifiers a year to running 32 of them – and the organisation clearly could not cope with that.
Nor was there ever any need for them even to look at the situation.
This was an utterly fabricated political storm, without foundation in fact, driven by inflammatory rhetoric and arousing public anger for no reason other than the headline making and grabbing gratification of irresponsible politicians and media alike.
Possession of the facts
Every one of the howling media and the faux St Joan about to lead the symbolic army of the 1,000 strong petition to Kilmory, had been given the facts. We have been assured of that by the Event Director of the Cowal Gathering.
Councillor Dance got the facts first hand and face to face at a meeting where, from the start, her manner is described as having been ‘aggressive’ and ‘not listening’.
The Games people laid out for her the facts as we have laid them out above.
At the end of that meeting she declared ‘I know no more now than when I came in’.
Since the situation could not be more plain nor more uncontentious, there are only two interpretations of this declaration:
- she knew no more since, had she allowed herself to listen to the straightforward facts, there would have been no basis for the rabble rousing she so enthusiastically and groundlessly espoused on this issue;
- she knew no more because she had known it all correctly from the outset and intended to distort the facts for political gain – if that is what you can call it.
Either way, this St Joan has been a discreditable charade and one sufficiently irresponsible as to be prepared to put at risk the reputation for communality and integrity of an event founded upon such values and of substantial economic importance to Argyll and Bute – which as its chosen local authority, includes Helensburgh and Lomond.
The good folk of Helensburgh and Lomond have been exercised and angered for no good reason. The Cowal Gathering – with participants and audiences from across the world, has had this synthetic furore to deal with in the very run up to the event – which is next week.
Both deserve much more than to be cynically exploited in the interests of trying to revive a fading and never glorious minor political career.
Note: For information. the following documents were provided to each Argyll and Bute Councillor by the Event Director of the Cowal Gathering in advance of the council meeting on 28th June, which was to discuss Councillor Dance’s motion, which she withdrew before that discussion could take place. The same information was also provided by the Gathering to the various media who chose instead to be the support group for the Dance pantomime.