Barry Donaldson Has Been Wronged, But There is a Way Out of this Distasteful Affair

By Robert Wallace

Barry Donaldson is a friend of mine so those reading what follows should bear that in mind. Nevertheless I will try to be fair and impartial; you can be the judge of whether I succeed or not.
Barry has been wronged by a fellow adjudicator. Of that there cannot be the slightest doubt. The emails from Colin MacLellan are quite specific and indeed his response to Tuesday’s article confirmed his opinion: Barry Donaldson is a no good teacher and he, Colin, doesn’t mind who knows it.
Colin is correct when he says that the College of Piping has the right to select its teachers and to decide who, in its opinion, are good enough to teach for them and who are not. But when opinions are negative and widely circulated, as they were in this case, then the originator has a duty to provide the evidence to substantiate his judgement. It is simply not good enough for him to say his reasons are ‘completely sound and reasonable’ and not state what they are.
It leaves the position open to all sorts of rumination and speculation, and in today’s social media climate of frenzied conspiracy you don’t need me to rehearse the depths this might plumb. Barry is a  piping tutor at one of the big schools in Edinburgh. It does not look good for him when someone from the College of Piping, that venerable institution, is undermining his professional standing like this, does it?



Colin’s attitude is all the more surprising in that I do not believe he has ever taught at a piping school with Barry. I have; continuously for over ten years. The students love him. He works tirelessly 24/7; he is always there for them. They love him for his knowledge, his willingness to socialise, his daft stories, his strong views.
Together we established the College’s Highland School at Carbisdale, later at Achiltibuie and then at Ullapool. He went with me to Brüggen in Germany in 2007 for our first winter school and later to Homburg. He is loved down at the South Florida Academy where we will be going in February. Not so much as a half syllable of complaint about him have I heard – not even from some of those grumpy sods you always get at piping schools.
Colin complains of ‘washing dirty laundry in public’. I ask myself this: who soiled the sheets in the first place? So, come on Colin, why was Barry, a former Director of the College and Pipe Major of the CoP band, so much of a pariah in your time as Director of Piping?
And now to the murky dealings of the Solo Piping Judges Association. How on earth could the committee nominate Colin as their chosen candidate for Chairman when they knew that Barry’s complaint had been registered with them only a few days before the AGM? Moreover, why was the proper Complaints Procedure not followed? (Believe me, I know all about this procedure; check it out here.)
The complaint was actually raised at the AGM by Duncan Watson but brushed aside as not a matter for the Association. How could they be so sure of themselves when Barry had not even been formally interviewed by the required two-man investigating team? Perhaps they didn’t speak to Colin either, though I doubt it.


You may take the view that all of this has nothing to do with the judging of piping. No, it is to do with intangibles more visceral: integrity, respect, trust, common decency. How can Colin feel comfortable as Chairman of this association when he has shown such an outspoken disregard for the feelings, reputation and career of a senior adjudicator whose interest he is now charged with protecting?
Okay, let’s draw breath for a moment and cut him some slack. He’s made a mistake; on that point there cannot be the slightest equivocation. But we all err from time to time and he is only human. He has made a significant contribution to piping as witness the list we published the day he resigned from his job at the College.
He will be emboldened by his solid band of camp followers; they build a protective wall as I write. This is to be expected, but will it solve anything? No. The solution is for him to suspend himself as chairman of the SPJA long enough to allow a proper inquiry to be carried out using the stated procedure – and not involving any of the individuals who were party to kicking the complaint into the heather in the first place. The inquiry must look at both who was responsible for the procedural failures and at the substance of the complaint itself. If due process is followed its findings will be respected on all sides.
Finally, let us not forget who the victim is here. Barry Donaldson did not ask for any of this. Nor did he deserve it. He has an unblemished track record of service to piping and in his professional life as a senior police officer. Is it any wonder that against that backdrop he should feel anything other than indignant at what has been said about him and the way it was expressed?
He is entitled to an apology. The College of Piping has done the decent thing in expressing publicly their regret to him for the lack of governance which allowed their then employee to create this distasteful state of affairs. Yet they were quite specific; they would not speak for their former Director of Piping. If Colin were now to pick up the phone honour may be served and the healing process could begin.


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5 thoughts on “Barry Donaldson Has Been Wronged, But There is a Way Out of this Distasteful Affair

  1. I’ve known Barry for many years and never heard a word said against him. I still haven’t. The mud slinging in this debachle has been widely broadcast but never, it seems, given definition or substance. With no allegation to refute and tongues wagging over nothing, it’s time that the matter was laid to rest as a complaint without definition or foundation. I hope that Barry doesn’t feel that his reputation has been harmed.

  2. I agree with Les on this:
    From over in the US, and just from my own personal perspective: you are protecting a friend by making an internal matter very public, thereby apparently attempting to shame a particular individual in the course of performing his duties as a Director and now Chairman of a committee.
    I cannot honestly see how this is anything more than the continuation of a larger public effort taken up in public with respect to the SPJA’s decision last year. Perhaps also this is associated with whatever fallout still remains from changes at the College.
    And it is now snowballing into quite a mess. And, from what I can see, it has been Piping Press, not CoP or SPJA, doing all the snowballing.
    While an admirable suggestion on the face of it, to ask that the parties come together and smooth things over, maybe it is time to recognize that the Internet is not the best place to transact matters of such delicacy.
    Nothing personal, Rab. You own a website. You can do what you wish. But the ramifications are quite remarkable and are not very healthy or helpful for the rest of the piping world.
    Who, honestly, just want to play music and know if they are going to be heard impartially and given a chance to be appreciated for their efforts.

  3. Like yourself, can I note that Barry Donaldson has been also a friend of mine for seriously long period of time, and I consider yourself and indeed Colin and Roddy, as friends as well as fellow pipers.
    In part of my work there is a similar dispute between group members which has been described today as guerilla warfare. We have various participants becoming ill over those issues and with the level of criticism going around the wave, while others try to find a way forward.
    I feel the parallel is despairingly similar, and similarly and with the greatest respect, perhaps it’s time for all parties to resolve this outwith the internet, in a manner appropriate for their standing in the world of piping.
    Applications for referees to…………….

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