Atrocity offers no justification and no reasoning

Maintenant, nous sommes tous Charlie

The massacre of cartoonists and journalists at France’s Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine by a couple of one-time petty hoodlums turned into radicalised fanatics has shocked the world but also produced a remarkable demonstration of support for a free press – including its right to offend.

The slogan was simply “Je suis Charlie” accompanied by holding up pens and notepads.

The outrage would produce a similar reaction here if it had been perpetrated against - say – Private Eye.

Poking fun at religion, political leaders and any manifestation of “The Establishment” is the lifeblood of a free society.

All the world’s great religions have an intolerant streak which has sometimes manifested itself in violence.

Ironically, when the French Revolution turned violent it was former revolutionary Madame Roland who cried out “Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.”

However, last week’s atrocity offers no justification and no reasoning.

Killing journalists has become the predictable act of radicalised terrorists who do not for a minute represent Islam as a religion or Muslims as people.

Nor does it justify reprisals.

New Year swansong at Huntly Rotary

Last week I attended the first meeting of the New Year of the Huntly Rotary Club – for the 32nd and last time following the tradition that goes back many decades of inviting the local MP to speak at the meeting – on anything but party politics, which I try to do.

My long association with the club means I know many of the members as friends – and the club now boasts several women among its members.

It is an important organisation for a town like Huntly.

It organises regular activities including providing, erecting, directing and removing the Christmas Tree and promoting the Citizen of the Year.

This year’s winner is Anne Lyne, who runs the Corner Shop in Rhynie – which is so vital to the village – and offers an awful lot in a small space, including hot food and hosting the Post Office.

For quite a number of years, Huntly Rotary acted as a youth training agent delivering valuable training and work experience opportunities for young people drawing on their network of connections with local businesses.

This was so unusual that I had to make representations to ministers on more than one occasion to authorise them to carry out what proved to be a very effective role.

The club have been kind enough to invite me to present the Immortal Memory at this year’s Burns Supper this Friday.

I am looking forward to a memorable evening.

Facing up to NHS challenges

The crisis facing the health service has been in the news across the country recently.

It has been especially severe here in the North-east.

There seems to have been a number of factors at work.

One is that few GPs’ surgeries operate at weekends and holidays and people choose to present at A and E.

But as somebody pointed out, A and E stands for Accident and Emergency not Anything and Everything.

My recent experience of children’s A and E has been exemplary.

I am sure that most health service staff are totally dedicated.

Nevertheless, under pressure, it is clear delays and mistakes occur.

We need to ensure that the health budget at least grows with the economy but we need to ensure that the NHS runs efficiently and that mental health and services for the elderly get a clear and fair share of resources – something that Liberal Democrats are committed to.

There can be little or no doubt that the NHS will be a main feature of the election campaign.

It would be preferable if all parties acknowledged the challenges and tried to find common ground, for example, about the role of the private sector that has been a partner with the NHS under all governments, the priority for mental health and the need for efficient management.