Argyll and Bute Council was scheduled to discuss its funding support for the Cowal Games at its meeting on Thursday 20th September. This comes in the wake of a running dispute with Helensburgh councillors over eligibility for dancers from that area to a particular confined event, in the Cowal Ganes, the Argyllshire Championships.
The day before the meeting , on 19th September, the Event Manager for the Games, Malcolm Barclay, circulated all Councillors with the following email and an attachment listing the facts of the highland dance contests the Games host.
The Event Director’s email
I apologise for contacting you again and taking up your time but I have become aware that there have been attempts recently to misrepresent the Gathering’s position and to muddy the waters around the real issues through some online media sites. It was also suggested that the paper we issued recently may have been worded in such a way that it assisted these attempts and may have created some ambiguity on a couple of key points.
With this in mind I have amended the wording of the recent paper. The facts remain the same but hopefully any ambiguity has been removed along with the possibility of others misrepresenting what we have said.
As I mentioned above others have used the issue of whether the Argyllshire Championship at Cowal is the qualifier for the area national finals or not to muddy the waters and detract from the main issues. I have been accused of issuing a lot of “misleading information” in order to bolster the Gatherings standpoint and to mislead Councillors. I take these allegations very seriously and strongly refute them.
In the early days of this whole episode I was interviewed by a journalist from For Argyll website and I did say that the qualifier for the Area Finals were held at Cowal each year and that this was one of the reasons that the boundary could not be changed. However this was not the case, we did not hold the qualifier. At the time I made the statement I genuinely believed that we did. This misunderstanding was a result of several conversations about the intricacies of the dancing world, confined events and the fact that we used the same boundaries as all the qualifiers or something along those lines. I was very quickly corrected on this point and no one from the Gathering has made that claim, verbally or in writing, since. This claim has never been made in any of the paperwork issued to the press or to you as a councillor and I refute the claim that I have tried to mislead you.
Whether or not we are, were or will be a qualifier for the area finals is not the issue and I hope the amended paper removes any ambiguity along this line.
Another claim that is untrue is that we have refused to meet with Councillor Dance to discuss this issue and resolve the issue ourselves. Earlier this year our dancing convener and I met with Cllr Dance and Cllr Marshall to discuss the situation. Unfortunately Cllr Dance was not prepared to listen to any of the background or reasons put to her. At no time since has she requested a meeting.
Lastly I believe we have been accused of claiming we have support from other dancers from the Helensburgh and Lomond area that we do not actually have. I can confirm that at present we have three e-mails from parents of dancers from the above area unequivocally distancing themselves from this move. Given the scathing content of the e-mails I do not wish to issue them publicly but I have sent copies to two of our local Councillors as proof of their existence.
Thank you again for your time.
There are passages in the Event Manager’s email to councillors which require material corrections to be made. because this missive materially misleads yet again. For someone in Mr Barclays’ position to be continuingly cavalier is a serious matter.
The source of the misleading information
Citing only For Argyll in the text of his email, Mr Barclay effectively alleges that we attempted ‘to misrepresent the Gathering’s position’ and ‘to muddy the waters around the real issues’. This – demonstrably – is the exact reverse of the truth. It was Mr Barclay himself who ‘misrepresented the Gathering’s position’ in material. degree, by claiming repeatedly over a period of months, to others and to us, that its Argyllshire Championships dance contest was a qualifier for the national finals. It has never had this status. It was this single deception, and no other agent, that ‘muddied the waters’ in its attempt to deflect attention from ‘the real issue’ – that for whatever reason, the Gathering simply did not wish, as it has always been free to do, to change the geographical eligibility to include Helensburgh and Lomond.
Mr Barclay nevertheless says to councillors that in his attachment to the email, linked at the foot of this article and ‘amending the wording’ of an earlier paper he seems to have sent them, ‘the facts remain the same’.
It depends on whether ‘the facts’ in question are the real facts which have never varied – the Argyllshire Championships has never been a qualifier for the national finals in Oban in May of each year; or whether it relates to the two versions Mr Barclay has given councillors. We have not seen the earlier document but councillors will have dome and will still have it.
If that document claimed that the Argyllshire Championship was indeed a qualifying event for the nationals, then the facts have changed radically. This fictitious claim was the buttress of the case for the Gathering’s refusal to include Helensburgh and Lomond in the eligible area for this event.
Mr Barclay suggests that we and others have been ‘misrepresenting’ what he has said, In the case of For Argyll, I can testify unequivocally that we printed only and verbatim what Mr Barclay told us on the phone. I handled this matter, he spoke to me, I have been blessed or cursed with excellent recall, I take notes and I keep records. I also believed implicitly and did not question what he told me in the first instance and, as a result, the only waters I contributed to ‘muddying’ were those of his challengers whose case the facts have shown to have been well founded and correct. For Argyll misrepresented nothing of what he said. The misrepresentations came directly from Mr Barclay himself.
In saying that ‘others have used the issue of whether the Argyllshire Championship at Cowal is the qualifier for the area national finals or not, to muddy the waters and detract from the main issues’ Mr Barclay repeats this falsehood and its misleading impact. He was the sole and continuing public source of the false claim that this contest was a qualifier for the nationals. He used this claim to justify his refusal to include Helensburgh dancers in it – which is and was the sole issue of dispute in this matter between the Gathering and dancers and supporting councillors from Helensburgh.
Mr Barclay says that he has been ‘accused of issuing a lot of “misleading information” in order to bolster the Gatherings standpoint and to mislead Councillors’. We made no such accusation, as our archived article – available to anyone to find and read – readily demonstrates. When we eventually discovered that the information he gave us, which we had accepted and acted upon in good faith, was utterly adrift from the truth, we made his deceptions public but made no accusation as to his intent in so misleading. But the facts now show that he is guilty as self-charged in this,. He did issue misleading information and he did therefore mislead councillors and, through us, a substantial public audience – in a situation so starkly clear, he cannot have been ignorant of the fact that the Argyllshire Championships had never been a qualifier for the annual Oban finals..
In the next paragraph Mr Barclay admits that he did tell me – and this was in our first ever conversation – ‘that the qualifier for the Area Finals were held at Cowal each year and that this was one of the reasons that the boundary could not be changed’; and he admits ‘However this was not the case, we did not hold the qualifier.’ This confession does not, however, lead to his accepting responsibility for misleading us and the Helensburgh delegation and councillors. For the remainder of his email he does not return to his own centrality in misdirection.
The start of For Argyll’s involvement
In saying that ‘In the early days of this whole episode I was interviewed by a journalist from For Argyll’, Mr Barclay implies that we have been involved in this issue for a considerable time. This is flatly incorrect.
The issue began formally on 28th June when Councillors Dance and Corry tabled a motion at the full council meeting on that day, asking that the Council’s funding and support for the Gathering should be suspended until the issue of the excluded Helensburgh dancers was resolved. We were not at that meeting, knew nothing about any of this and continued to be wholly unaware of it.
Then, on 15th August, 49 days later, we were informed that a motion that had been tabled at council back in June [and withdrawn then], had been submitted to the Helensburgh and Lomond Area Committee the day before, 14th August – and that this motion threatened the funding of the Cowal Games.
Since the Cowal Games is the largest single event in Argyll each year, it matters greatly to Dunoon and Cowal and to Argyll as a whole, in its economic impact. We made some enquiries and read the online minutes of the Council meeting on 28th June, finding that what we had been told was correct.
The following morning, at 09.35, we emailed Mr Barclay to ask what this threat entailed and to ask for information from him on the facts of the Cowal Gathering’s position.
He telephoned us later, around lunchtime – we emailed him at 13.14 that day to thank him for his time. In that conversation he gave us the narrative we accepted without question:
- that there was this annual national finals competition
- that it had 13 qualifying competitions
- that the Argyllshire Championships was one of these, representing Argyll;
- that it and the other qualifiers used historic area boundaries to determine geographical eligibility;
- that it had admitted the separate historic are of Bute to this event because Bute had no access to the nationals and access to the Argyllshire Championships qualifier remedied that situation;
- that Helensburgh dancers could access the championships through the West Dunbartonshire area whose historic boundary included them and whose ‘championships’ were held in Bearsden;
- that when the issue of the exclusion of the Helensbugh dancers was raised, the Cowal Games had gone to ‘the national body’, enquired about changing its boundaries and, for practical reasons [explained in our article of 16 August and as given to us by Mr Barclay], had been refused;
- and that was it – the Cowal Games could do no more.
Mr Barclay, in his email to councillors above, admits that, as we said, he was our source of this information.
We note though that he makes no mention of the admission of Bute – or the reasons he gave us for that. This is unsurprising. The Cowal Games has always been free to admit dancers from Helensburgh and Lomond to the Argyllshire Championships – as they did with Bute – and with no reason at all to exclude them since, as we have discovered and as Mr Barclay neglects to mention, the Argyllshire Championships has never been a qualifier for the national finals. So his narrative on the reason for including Bute in its eligibilty area at an earlier stage was and remains false.
Our first article on this issue was published later that afternoon, at around 16.15 and, as can be verified here – repeated Mr Barclay’s above narrative in full unequivocal support of the Cowal Gathering. We was excoriating about the Helensburgh campaigners, seeing them as political mischief makers.
We then left the issue completely alone in every way, neither contacting anyone to discuss it nor publishing on it – until 11th September, just under a month later.
Phase two – the challenge
On that day, we were informed that the issue of exclusion was still live in Helensburgh, that the group of councillors supporting it had enlarged, that a petition was circulating said to have gathered around 1,000 signatures and that a motion was again to go to Argyll and Bute Council at its meeting on 20th September.
Having accepted the authority of Mr Barclay’s information – without question because it also related to official bodies, event status and a national competition – and therefore believing, equally unquestioningly, that the Helensburgh campaign was based on a false premise, we published a second article that day, again repeating the ‘factual’ narrative from Mr Barclay and again mocking the Helensburgh campaigners.
The following evening, 12th September, we were telephoned by an absolutely furious dance teacher from Helensburgh who, in no uncertain terms, told us we had got the entire situation wrong. Never imagining that Mr Barclay’s account could be wrong, we challenged her certainty, quoted Mr Barclay and interrogated her quite firmly on the facts.
She told us that the Argyllshire Championships was emphatically not a qualifying competition for the nationals, she said ‘it goes nowhere, it’s a one-off”, She told us that the Inveraraqy Games hosts the Argyllshire qualifier. As a separate issue, since she was saying that the Argyllshire Championships was not a qualifier, she said that the boundaries for West Dunbartonshire and for Glasgow were unclear, with no clarity on where Helensburgh could access the national finals. She said she simply wanted her dancers to be able to dance in the prestigious Argyllshire Championships – as did they – and that she could see no reason why they should not be admitted, Bute’s admission was a sore point.
The trouble here is that anger at injustice makes all of us shrill in the heat of it and shrillness is an easy mode of communication to dismiss as irrational rabidity. Events were to show that this dance teacher has suffered such a dismissal in her anger at what is indeed discriminatory, given the ease of the addition of Bute to the historic boundary of Argyllshire. The characterisations of her offered to defend the Cowal Gathering’s position have been mischievous and demonstrably misplaced. They owe her a genuine apology.
So, separating the dance teacher’s fury from the substance of what she was saying, we were content that these were facts that were externally and officially verifiable.
After the phone call, the dance teacher sent us documents on the ability of eligibility boundaries of confined events to be changed by the ‘owner’ of standalone competitions. These documents upheld the validity of what she had said to us.
Phase 3 – the start of the unravelling
Then, that night, 12th September at 23.42, after reading these documents, we emailed Malcolm Barclay to list the key issues in his narrative that were then under challenge. We told him that if this challenge were sustainable we would immediately apologise to those his mistaken information had led us to dismiss so robustly – and that we needed to hear from him as a matter of urgency.
He phoned us the following morning – Wednesday 13th September – and we immediately asked him a direct and straightforward question: ‘is the Argyllshire Championships a qualifier for the national finals?’ As we have reported, there was a pause and then he said ‘No’. He went on to say, however, that while it had not been a qualifier this year  it had previously been a qualifier and that they hoped it would be again in 2013. We asked when it had ceased to be a qualifier. He could not tell us but said he would let us know.
Mr Barclay then told us that Bute had been admitted to the Championships in 1985 so we said that the Argyllshire Championships must therefore have been a qualifier at that point because he had previously told us that the reason for admitting Bute to that Championships was to give the island access to the national finals. He then said 1985 might not be the exact date but would check and let us know.
We said that we had been told that the Inveraray Games was the qualifier for the nationals, which he confirmed. We then asked if, with his statement that Cowal hoped to be the qualifier next year, Inveraray had agreed to give up the event. He said – as we have reported – that nothing had been agreed but that the intention was that the two events would host it in alternate years. We still believed him, although we found it not credible that Inveraray would give up or share a unique contest in favour of the very much larger games in Cowal. But then we still believed that it could have been no more than a year or two since the Argyllshire Championships had been the Argyllshire qualifier for the national event.
During the conversation Mr Barclay said he would send us a statement he had issued to the Dunoon Observer earlier that week. When it did not arrive, we asked for it in the afternoon and it was emailed to us.
This statement – and its variation from the one he had given to the Dunoon Observer is crucial to a direct untruth, evidenced below, in Mr Barclay’s assurances to councillors in the email above .
Following this conversation, with his admission that the Argyllshire Championship had not been a qualifier this year for the national finals, we published an article that day – Thursday 13th September – carrying in its opening sentences an unsought and unqualified apology to the councillors, dance teacher, dancers and campaigners in Helensburgh whose case we had wrongly dismissed as ‘mischievous’.
In that article we reported the challenge to Mr Barclay’s ‘facts’ which had been sustained and noted that we were continuing to investigate the remaining uncertainties in the matter.
The finale – a complete lie
We discovered on 18th September from the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing that the national competition which has its finals in Oban each May is around 15 years old, that the Argyllshire qualifier has always been held by the Inveraray Games and has never been the Argyllshire Championships. run by the Cowal Games.
We published an article on that day, making the exact position clear.
Mr Barclay claims in his email above that when he said that the Argyllshire Championships was a qualifier for the nationals and that this controlled its eligibility boundaries, , he believed it to be true. We had accepted that in our article on the facts of the matter and were very supportive of him, believing he had himself been misled.
But since we discovered that the Argyllshire Championships had never been a qualifier for this Scotland-wide contest, our view has necessarily changed.
It is impossible to credit a circumstance where the Event Manager of the Cowal Gathering has for some reason imagined that his Argyllshire Championships – which he registers annually with the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing – has also been a qualifier for the nationals when it has never been so.
We therefore now have to regard Mr Barclay as having been duplicitous to all concerned, including ourselves.
And it did not stop there.
The last deception
In his email to councillors above, Mr Barclay refers to the occasion – the second of only two communications we have ever had with him – when we asked him on Thursday 13th September if the Argyllshire Championships was the Argyllshire qualifier for the national finals.
Referring to his admitted previous misinformation to us, he says: ‘I was very quickly corrected on this point and no one from the Gathering has made that claim, verbally or in writing, since. This claim has never been made in any of the paperwork issued to the press or to you as a councillor and I refute the claim that I have tried to mislead you.’
Firstly, he was not corrected by us. He corrected his own earlier misinformation. We did not have the information, which was why we asked the question. He gave us the fact under question. He already had that information as he was able to answer that question at once with a clear ‘No’ – the Argyllshire Gathering was not a qualifier for the nationals
He goes on to say that since this ‘correction’ which he made to us on the phone early in the morning of Thursday 13th September, ‘no one from the Gathering has made that claim, verbally or in writing, since. This claim has never been made in any of the paperwork issued to the press or to you as a councillor and I refute the claim that I have tried to mislead you.’
One has only to read the press statement from the Cowal Gathering to the Dunoon Observer, a statement Mr Barclay told us on 13th September he had himself issued earlier to the paper.
This was published the following day on Friday 14th September: It repeats the identical narrative to the one Mr Barclay had earlier given us on 11th September, saying:
‘The Argyllshire Gathering is one of 13 qualifying events for a country-wide competition which culminates in the National Area Finals held in Oban.
‘Helensburgh dancers can qualify through the West Dunbartonshire Championships, hosted by the Bearsden Games, where historical boundaries are also used.
‘Historical boundaries are used partly because they do not change, unlike local authority areas.’
The article indicates that this material has come directly from the Cowal Gathering by saying:
‘The Gathering spokesman continued: “We have met with representatives of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, the organisers of of Bearsden Games, organisers of Highland Dancing events at Inveraray Games [FA; not, interestingly described as including the Argyllshire qualifier] and the organisers of the National Area Finals to discuss the situation. The outcome of these discussions is that we are not in a position to unilaterally change our eligibility criteria, as all these other stakeholders do not support such a change”.’
This last remark is also identical to what Mr Barclay told us in the first of our only ever two conversations. It is materially misleading on two counts. The Argyllshire Gathering is a standalone event, It has no connection with the national event. There are no other stakeholders in the Argyllshire Championships. The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing has told us that they would have no objection to any change of eligibility criteria the Cowal Games might propose, provided it fell within the very straightforward and immediately achievable guidelines it issues and which we published in out article of 18th September.
We have constantly repeated the banes of the days concerned in this particular sequence of events – because there are sins of omission as well as commission, a matter central to what Mr Barclay did not do here.
The Dunoon Observer goes to press on Thursdays for Friday publication.
We emailed Mr Barclay late on the night of Wednesday 12th September with the questions we wished to discuss – centering on whether or not the Argyllshire Championships was a qualifier for the nationals.
Given how late this was and that he phoned us the following morning, in which exchange he admitted that his championships was not such a qualifier, it is likely that he did not see our email until first thing that morning – Thursday 13th September. This was the day the Dunoon Observer was going to press and was going with a press statement he told us he had himself issued to them earlier in the week.
So Mr Barclay may not have known that the game was up until he read our email early that morning. And since we now know that the Argyllshire Championships has never been a qualifier for the national event, this whole unnecessary mess has always been a game of his making.
As soon as he saw our email and realised that his fictions were about to unravel, he could and should – and as an honourable priority – have phoned the Dunoon Observer and got them to pull their article – or revise it. At that stage, early Thursday morning, there was time to do this.
Even though the Dunoon Observer would have had the nuisance and the last minute emergency of redrafting or changing their front page, this could have been done and would have been reputationally preferable to carrying redundant and innocently deceptive information.
But Mr Barclay does not seem to have contacted the paper, given what they went on to print and publish, as quoted above, in their splash front page story, Song and Dance.
This was inexcusable.
It is also worth noting that the statement he sent us later that afternoon [13th September], which he described in his covering email as ‘ the paper provided to the local paper yesterday’ was not the same statement but an amended version, excluding the misleading material he let the Dunoon Observer go ahead and publish but which he was then aware we knew. This can be verified by comparing the statement he sent us – which we published in full at the foot of our article later that day, 13th September, with the statement he had issued to the Dunoon Observer on 12th September and which, with no retraction, they published uncorrected on 14th September.
Mr Barclay’s statement above: ‘This claim has never been made in any of the paperwork issued to the press’ is a knowingly sophist last deception since it refers to ‘paperwork’ issued to the press, where he will have emailed his statement to the Dunoon Observer [in digital not paper form] on 12th September as he did to us the following day.
The incontrovertible fact is that the important Cowal Gathering has suffered severe reputational damage in the utterly avoidable mess its Event Manager has made of this matter.
As soon as the question was raised about Helensburgh dancers access to the Argyllshire Championships – an event he knew to be a standalone and knew that changes to its geographical eligibility criteria were effectively within his purview – Mr Barclay had two options:
- explain that this was a long standing confined event to which they had, at some earlier point, given dancers from the Isle of Bute access but which they preferred to maintain as it has been;
- take the issue of inclusion and change the eligibility boundaries, if not for 2012 at least in good time for 2013.
Instead of either of these, Mr Barclay devised a third option. He chose to fabricate – or to conspire in the fabrication – of an entire and easily demonstrable fiction to provide an excuse for the continuing exclusion of dancers from Helensburgh and Lomond.
The deception was discovered and made public, as it was always likely to be at some point.
In his email above Mr Barclay is using a range of transparently obvious further deceptions to excuse himself from the sole responsibility he bears for this damaging incident.
It was Mr Barclay alone who made the status of qualifier fot the nationals the issue in whether or not he was free to admit dancers from Helensburgh.
Only the irretrievably naive could now attach credibility to anything Mr Barclay says. His own believability – and his judgment in manufacturing such a demonstrable nonsense – are together damaged beyond repair. It is unfortunate that he has also contaminated the reputation of this important event.
Any examination of For Argyll’s publication record on anything will show that we are not innately or immediately suspicious or distrusting,
We assume competence, honourable behaviour, truthfulness and trustworthiness until we are shown otherwise – and then we are rightly unforgiving. This seems an enabling and reasonable way to be and we see no reason to change it, either in presumption or pursuit.
Note:For information, this was the factual account Mr Barclay attached to his above email to councillors: Amended statement for council meeting 19092012
For reference, the four articles we published, before this one, are:
- No substance to political mischief making on Helensburgh dancers and Cowal Games
- Helensburgh parents deceived in renewed dance attack on Cowal Games
- Helensburgh dancers, the Argyllshire Championships and the Cowal Gathering
- Argyllshire Championships may never have been a qualifier for the national finals