Letters / The ball is not in the community’s court

Maggie Sandison’s stance relating to Up Helly Aa (Viewpoint / ‘Challenging conversations’; SN, 17/3/2019) is a curious one.

Any dialogue, she feels, has to be respectful and community-led. However, as a community leader she provides no signposting for this to actually happen. It could be argued that, along with Malcolm Bell, there’s a concerning lack of leadership in matters of gender equality.

The Up Helly Aa committee has ignored any external approach, at even Junior Jarl level, consequently this does not bode well for ongoing engagement. In fact, Maggie and Malcolm’s metaphorical ‘washing of the hands’ is beneath their respective positions. Their duty is to investigate and challenge inequality, no matter how prickly the pear might be.

It appears that inequality can get a blind eye turned, based on history and tradition…and if it’s a good night out. Women’s Suffrage challenged parliamentary tradition but, somehow, Up Helly Aa is more cherished than access to democracy.


The men’s sheds argument is vacuous at best. The squads are allegedly full, so any man needing men’s shed type support is not able to join one (and may not know anyone to “get them in” anyway). There is no needs based assessment or open access to squads. Isolation is a lame duck argument and evidences a poor understanding of the issues underpinning men’s sheds. The men involved in UHA already have a good social network, which is the gateway that allowed them into a squad in the first place. So she can put a line through that argument.

As Maggie Sandison is espousing the benefits of said sheds, it’d be interesting to discover what commitment the SIC is offering towards similar endeavours. Or is men’s mental health also a community led discussion alongside tackling inequality? Or were her words just a feeble excuse for the inexcusable?

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Even so, politically speaking, nothing happens in isolation. Despite the NHS and police warnings last week regarding alcohol over-provision, their advice fell on deaf ears. This is fully understandable as it’s the same SIC that allocates a local holiday post-Up Helly Aa ‘to allow folk to recover’. A Hangover Holiday doesn’t indicate a progressive attitude towards alcohol abuse. It’s the good ol’ boy approach to public health and social justice.

Although the SIC is able to take a peculiar local stance, I’m curious how a national public service organisation such as Police Scotland is able to support an event where women are actively excluded. This appears to be contrary to their core values but no-one has sought comment from the police commanders regarding their role in upholding discrimination.

In conclusion, the points raised by Maggie Sandison are nonsensical but at least well meaning. The ball is not in the community’s court; it’s in the court of the UHA committee and they just aren’t willing to serve it. As a result, it’s up to public bodies to light the way through courage and leadership; qualities that are not readily evident in the chief executive and convener’s recent comments. This is an opportunity to make an actual difference to future women; to be a true torch bearer, for fairness and equality.

Stafford Kearney
New Zealand

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