I wrote last Friday that I was to be away over the weekend. As predicted then, the journey across the Highlands was somewhat unpleasant because the weather was poor - in fact there was a blizzard for part of the journey and the road surface felt rather treacherous so it was necessary to reduce speed substantially. The journey back home on Sunday evening was considerably easier, I'm glad to say; I haven't posted since then because I have been quite pre-occupied with various matters.
The reason for the journey was to attend the annual Members' Centres Conference of The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) which are held at Pitlochry every year; I am Vice-Chairman of the Highland Members' Centre and we usually try and have anywhere from two to four delegates from amongst the Committee - this year we managed four. This year's conference wasn't perhaps quite so useful as it was last year, but it was certainly a worthwhile trip. Pleasingly, it was confirmed that the NTS finances are now back in much better shape, after a number of difficult years, despite visitor numbers to NTS properties being down this year, for various reasons - not the least of which was the poor weather over much of the summer.
One point of particular interest for me, though, came up during one of the presentations last Saturday afternoon, when the operations of the Customer Services Centre were discussed; this is the department within the head office which deals with communications from the public and/or members, whether by telephone or by e-mail. It seems that the largest level of negative feedback received concerned the willingness of the NTS to hire out certain of its properties (castles, stately homes and the like) for what are known as 'Pink Weddings', but are in reality of course not weddings at all, but 'commitment' or 'blessings' ceremonies for same sex couples who wish to express publicly their commitment to one another, in the absence of any more formal mechanism being available to them (until the Civil Partnerships legislation was passed earlier today - see previous story!). I wrote about the NTS's willingness to host these these 'Pink Weddings' here in July last and speculated at the time whether complaints from our own home-grown bigots might put this enlightened policy in jeopardy. Sure enough, during the presentation last Saturday my worst fears seemd to have been realised!
However, it was not mentioned during the presentation what changes in policy, if any, had been provoked by these criticisms. So on Monday morning I contacted the NTS head office in Edinburgh and spoke with the person who had made the presentation (the head of the department) to ask him about this. He confirmed that whilst a significant number of complaints had been received, and whilst most of the complainants had resigned as members of the NTS, no change in policy is contemplated. Apparently the NT (the sister National Trust in England and Wales) has also received a significant number of complaints about their similar policy - I wrote about this in the above earlier article, too - although I do not know what changes, if any, these have provoked there.
Whilst it is very pleasing to note that the NTS is holding firm to its enlightened policies, I learned during the telephone conversation on Monday that no bookings for 'Pink Weddings' have been made so far, probably because we Scots are much too sensible to 'waste' money on what is at present, after all, a purely symbolic ceremony with no legal significance whatsoever. However, now that the Civil Partnerships Act has come into being and is likely to take effect in about a year's time, it is possible there will be bookings for Civil Partnership ceremonies at NTS properties in due course. The use of NTS properties for heterosexual marriages has been growing steadily in recent years (and this was the subject of one of the presentations last Sunday) and is providing useful additional income to help fund the upkeep of the properties where they occur, so the prospect of adding another revenue stream from Civil Partnership ceremonies sounds like an attractive proposition - I am glad, but not entirely surprised, that the NTS continues to look at this in a practical and enlightened way.