Martin Hannan: We owe parents a city memorial

Dorothy Maitland, operations manager of Sands Lothian, with Dame Elish's report into Mortonhall Crematorium. Pic: Greg Macvean
Dorothy Maitland, operations manager of Sands Lothian, with Dame Elish's report into Mortonhall Crematorium. Pic: Greg Macvean
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When I wrote last week that Dame Elish Angiolini’s report into the Mortonhall Crematorium ashes scandal would be thorough and explosive, I did so because I had heard rumours that her report really would be dynamite.

Even I was shocked, however, at some of the jaw-dropping revelations in the report. Almost a week later, I am still trying to contemplate how this scandal could have happened over so many years, and I am downright angry that the parents of 235 stillborn and tiny children were treated so abominably.

You just have to read the 519 online pages of section 5 of the report about the individual cases to realise just how awful the experience must have been for the parents. The dry, matter-of-fact way in which the evidence is recorded does not disguise what a horrific time those parents must have had – one mother only found out the gender of her stillborn child as a result of the Angiolini investigation. In other sections, the strength of feeling of parents is very evident. Their tears almost weep from the page.

I know I wrote that there should be no editing or redaction in the report, but names, details and photographs have been omitted for good reasons – for once that was sensible censorship.

Perhaps the single most important paragraphs in the whole report are in section 2 where, after recording how the parents had told the investigation how much they wanted to have any sort of remains to help them grieve, Dame Elish wisely writes: “The strict physiological definition of ashes followed by the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities does not appear to have taken into account the needs of those whose feelings should have been the primary consideration, namely the parents . . .
A technical approach, even if it has been shown to proceed on a mistaken premise, fails to appreciate that for many grieving parents there is a profound need to have a focal point for their grief and many parents have been deprived of that assistance in dealing with the grief of their loss.”

In those words, Dame Elish gets right to the heart of the whole scandal. People who should have been aware of the need for parents to have something to hold on to simply ignored them and carried on in their own bureaucratic officious way, sometimes, it is alleged, even forging signatures so that their petty processes were not interfered with.

At this point I would like to 
commend two women for their response to the scandal. Dame Elish Angiolini has performed a magnificent service to our whole Scottish society with her investigation and report. Sue Bruce, the council’s chief executive who commissioned the report, must also be praised for her actions, not least in being the public face of the council in recent days so that you could see the apologies were meaningful.

Now the council must take the appropriate actions to at least try to remedy the situation. The parents of the 235 should be asked if they would like some kind of proper memorial somewhere in the city, and if the majority want it, the public purse should pay for it. A proper compensation scheme should also be initiated. That is the least the grieving parents should be offered.

Salmond has No fears with smears

As an SNP member, I should be angry at the constant smears aimed at Alex Salmond, as this appears to be the latest useless tactic of the discredited No campaign.

I am not bothered, however. In a past life when studying philosophy at university, a professor once told us that an ad hominem argument – when you attack your opponent personally rather than deal with his points – was a lost argument.

So Project Fear can slag off the First Minister all it likes because he knows that all the time wasted on him could be better used to correct the gaping hole in the No campaign’s strategy – its almost total lack of a grassroots presence.

Common sense prevails at last

So now we know. The years of humiliation, of agony mixed with farce and no little skulduggery will end on May 31.

I wrote in this column some time ago that there should be no grandstanding and partying when the trams began to run, and that no one person should take the acclaim for the start of operations.

I am glad to see my advice has been taken and the trams will get under way in a very low-key fashion. That may possibly be the most sensible decision those in charge of the trams have ever taken.

Not there for the love of God

Not even the Church of Scotland is immune to industrial strife these days. The news that staff at the Kirk’s head offices here in Edinburgh are to take industrial action over pay during the General Assembly surprised me, but not as much as learning that the Church has 232 employees in those offices.

And here was me thinking they did it for love of the Gospel.


The plan to demolish the St James Centre will rid us of one of the worst architectural carbuncles in Edinburgh. Trouble is, given what is being allowed at Caltongate, what monstrosity will be inflicted on us next?