A view on Fishing,Community and Life on the NW coast of Scotland

Posts tagged ‘Community Land Scotland’

“Hold Fast” “Your Dinner is in your Wellies”

Sitting down now with the Glasgow game on in the background, van unpacked and a breakfast for tea. A fine couple of days of land reforming politics at Inverness. Began yesterday with a dart out to the Varuna to pick up some prawns for the Loch Ness Inn and set off via the field where the bore holes were to be drilled to test the sink hole that has appeared beside the turbine house site.


Local opinion is that it should be okay as it was the old route of the river before it was straightened for the mill wheel at the farm. Better safe than sorry. No drilling done by the time I left and it seems none done as it was too wet for the rig to make it across the field. Hoping it is a minor setback, as if we have not had enough of them over the years.

Prawns delivered and made it in time for a quick plate of soup and sandwiches before launching into a full afternoon of politics and community ownership. Had a couple of talks from the Chair David Cameron, Peter Peacock and then Jim Hunter before breaking up into workshop groups where we heard from Gigha and Colintrive/Glendarual. A long and detailed policy talk from Peter outlined the huge amount of work done by the CLS in lobbying for the people who want to improve the prospects for the communities they live in. Gigha has been in the news recently for being “heavily in debt”. I was interested in hearing the Gigha side of the story. Only 40odd houses have been renovated, population increased from 98 to 168, numerous small businesses set up and a debt restructuring. The last has been the issue that caused such a furore in the press, have to say right-wing press mainly, a debt restructuring that any company can go through from time to time and would not raise an eyebrow normally. But we have an agenda driven press now, just something we have to live with. Came home to fb posts showing Lord Astor pontificating on his views on what is happening in Scotland. A common theme running through all the conferences I go to is that Scotland is unique in Europe. No other country has such a large concentration of land in so few hands. Other countries have had their land ownership revolutions 150/200 years ago. Maybe it is time to stop being coy and indirect and just start saying the way you see it. Heard a lot about the Human Rights of the landlord in recent times. Surely the Human Rights of a community supersedes that of an absentee landlord who claims that the community, ie the people, have nothing to do with him. (And Glasgow win). The responsibility of owning such large amounts of land must extend to the residents of that community. 432 people own 50 percent of Scotland’s land. That would mean Inverness would be owned by seven people. Funny how when a landlord gets a subsidy, whether it is SFP, lottery, or public funds it is called investment and partnership, working with government, but when it is a community who receive payments they are subsidy junkies and a drain on the state. How easy it is to play with words and create such a distorted image of what is actually on the ground.

Had a wee break there with Dougal and Eilidh and read that Astor article. It is almost parody, maybe not for the people of Jura. The slave trade was brought up and like every thing it had a local context. The US Civil War resulted in the repatriation of a valuable asset with no compensation. 150 years on and very few around now would argue against the freedom of slaves. No one is saying the same for land but it makes one wonder what will be said in 150 years from now.

Governance was a topic that ran through all the contributions from the practical level. Even communities that have been underway for a lot longer than us have or have had these issues. This morning Lorne Macleod, our new Chair, opened the day with the Macleod Clan motto, “Hold Fast”. Lorne appeared in Applecross to give a talk about how we could go about setting up a Community Company to run our Filling Station and possibly other ventures. Seems a lifetime ago. So relevant as obstacles appear both at local and national levels all the time. Wether it is state aid, funding, planning and just burn out, all these are issues that need to be overcome to allow communities to be sustainable and not be a subsidy drain on the nation. Land values and house prices are a big problem and now we are faced with the first generation which will be worse off than the previous one. Since the Single Farm Payment land values have tripled. A crofting estate on the western isles was bought for £180,000 but if a salmon river just to the south had been included the price would have gone up by £600,000, 160 salmon caught on the river annually. There was a call for land values to truly reflect income generated from source, not inflated investment values. New influx of investors heading north, instead of buying a Picasso or Ferrari they buy an estate, unfortunately treating the communities like they would the Ferrari. Good to hear Aileen Macleod, MSP, talk about radical change, mostly questioned by the well-known in the room. But the questioners know us and our problems so they are a good link to the government and to influence policy in a responsible way. Shouting about Mugabe politics is not helping the discussion. Good down to earth practical discussions took place over the two days and the only phrase that competed with “Hold Fast” was “The dinner is in your wellies.”  Sandra explained she was out in the islands and involved in a long late night discussion with some directors about some lease or other. One of the younger directors got a text stating the above and showed how much time and energy is involved with the future of our communities. Much energy is expended in turning around the often semi derelict estates and “the dinner in the wellies” is a graphic description of how lives are affected by all this effort. So much else was talked about, the danger of wilderness designated areas closed off for repopulation, the fact that some estates cannot be bought out by the community as they have already been cleared. There is no longer a community there. Fine comments and questions asked throughout the two days. Defining the public interest, fiscal and tax policies to reduce the value of land, reducing the difficulties some agencies put in place to access funding and of course state aid. Rob Gibson gave a talk this morning about his influences and journey to date involving land reform. Patience is a commodity needed for the journey.

In between there were many social conversations, walks with Dougal And Eilidh who met Midge and Braken both from Mull in their wanders out the back of the Drumossie,




and storm damage to check out as well.




Managed a migraine during the meal but survived with a withdrawal and blurry vision and fine this morning. Bit of a worry in seeing and hearing how stressed some of the LDOs are trying the work miracles in their own communities. Quick shop around town and a stop off at Rogie Falls,


becoming a favourite for the dogs.


Home by six, inspiration over severe future challenges has to take presidence to get us through the hurdles of the next few years. The climate is definitely changing and not before time. As well as the above managed a couple of lawyer and affordable housing chats. Gone are the days when deer are more important than people. And finally at Drumossie you come across something that is  so appropriate. No apologies for being so political, it is now part of life, both rural and urban, in Scotland.


A Man of Assynt.

Friday evening; Sitting in Sleat after day one of the Community Land Scotland Conference AGM. Actually the AGM is taking place now but we are not members decided to head for the accommodation. Hot day so extra attention to spend time on the Dougal family, who are in the car at the moment. Planning a wee trip round to Ach na Cloich or Stonefield as it is in English. Try and time it for later around sunset time and compare to Applecross sunsets. To get Thursday out of the way, a bit of a non event for the work scene during the day, just a follow-up to the migraine. Wiped out and take a couple of days to get back on track. Made it up to the Inn and working an evening is a sure-fire way of keeping your mind of feeling not up to it. It was a little tense start to the evening as a couple of guests were put out a little by not getting what they expected. Have to say they left for their destinations very contented but it took a little extra effort from the out front guys. Lovely repeat guests that want to catch up with the Boss leaves us to sort out tables and keep things turning around.

So a quiet morning start, Alison has to get up early to do some essentials before heading off Sleat. Managed to get the cauliflowers into the ground, the battle with the slug hordes is still continuing. Most of the veg is still alive after replacing a few of the first wave which took the brunt of the onslaught last month. Some of the seed sowing has left a little to be desired. I set off up the road with Dougal and Co who were going to their first CLS AGM.


Arrived at Sal Mor Ostaig with plenty of time for lunch, taking Megan with us and dropping Owen at DMks and straight into the start of the Conference. Throughout the two days the most striking aspect, I found, was the quiet determination of the movement. There was no loud rhetoric but statements that were being backed up by more and more surveys and studies that point to the people living on the land should be the ones most involved in taking the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. David Allston opened the afternoon with a reference to Norman MacCaig’s A Man of Assynt

Who owns this landscape?

The millionaire who bought it or

the poacher staggering down the hill in the early morning

with a deer on his back?

Who possess this landscape?

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

I have already posted this and make no apologies for posting it again, a beautiful, evocative description of how many who live up this way are attached to their land.These words seem to reach back to a time immemorial when land was communal and those living on the land did not need a piece of paper allowing them to do so. The statistics are out there saying Scotland’s land ownership is the most concentrated in Europe and some argue that is no bad thing, but the concentration of wealth, influence and power in so few hands has to be questioned in a democracy.  Maybe Gandhi is right, democracy is worth a try out. The land that has moved into community ownership has become less dependant on patronage and residents there have began to work out how to stand on their own efforts, a monumental task after centuries of deference to a supposedly more learned establishment. It must be scary for certain communities to take that “independence” step and chatting at the end of the service last night it was pointed out that all we would do would be to scrap with each other. And our local minibus was used as an example. I used the same example by saying it is on the road and being used as much as it ever was. The process of getting it back on the road was painful and unnecessary but that is the nature of small village politics. As long as we talk to each other about our differing views we will be okay. I would far rather that than rely on one person’s distant patronage that only allows a community to function in an arbitrary way. It is only a matter of time before change takes place. How, when and whether in genuine partnership, depends on the personalities at the time. Amanda Bryan spoke in the afternoon about a study carried out on Community owned land. Their capital value is up by 244%, turnover by 254%, direct staffing by 368%, local direct spend 434%. They have brought in £34 million of which 53% was their own funds. All pretty impressive statistics and stand on their own. I do not know of any community that is badly run but at the same time am privy to lots of disagreements within them but at no time does anyone think that they have made the wrong decision to look after their own community. A freeing up from patronage must be good. The breakout session about affordable housing was very interesting and there was a follow up in what I said later in the evening. So much value to meeting with like minds.

An early evening walk Dougal and Co along the loop road that takes you to Tarskavaig was just the time out one needs to process the days meetings and chats, to put things in perspective and to bring a reality to the over-riding buzz of the day. Dougal meanwhile finds every ditch he can, ditches that are more muddy than wet.


Lovely views of the Sound of Sleat and up Loch Nevis


along with a preponderance of bluebells.


The old tree catches the eye.


A lovely meal and before I know it, it is 9.30 and I decided on the spur of the moment to take a little drive up the road to Ach na Cloich in the hope of seeing the sun drop in the west. Did not realise that coming over a little crest on the road that I would see this. Would be a fine end to a day but there was more to come.



Just back from an unplanned trip to Inverness. The morning started off fairly slowly with a bit of reading a new William Boyd book interspersed with book work and getting our e-mails back on-line. Going well with getting the emails sorted and a little reading but all changed at 10.30 with a phone call from Alison. A blow out at 70 mph going through Loch Luichart put the day on a different direction. All was well with getting the van to stop but my last puncture repair did not have the desired effect when Mark and Francis stopped to assist, meaning the spare was flat. Only found out when Mark put the spare on. M and F headed off to town and I got the Inn van insured, fuelled up, and set off east. Picked up Alison and two wheels and headed through, dropped Alison off at her first meeting which was Community Land Scotland. I think we actually ended up having a good day in that after stopping off at KwickFit I signed off the Pier books at the accountants, late but done, another wee shop at Highland Wholefoods and back to pick Alison up at 3.00. Ended up having a good chat with like-minded folk regarding Land Reform in Scotland. Always good to get your views across and explain quietly what is badly wrong regarding land controls in some areas. I’ve met James Hunter before but the first time met up with Peter Peacock and it was good company. Guys from the Coigach were there as well. The suggestion that some legislation may be on the way is indeed good news but I will not hold my breath. On the way back to the van met up with Kay, a one time resident, and she gave us ZuZu,s camera to take back home. Then we set off for a meeting with our new legal beagle and talked over the transfer of the toilets and potential issues regarding the Hydro Project. All very interesting but I struggle holding it together as we go into the second hour, “standard securities,due diligence and assignations” blend into one. I always think after these necessary meetings how we seem to complicate things in our oh so civilised society. The surveyors were on the Hydro site yesterday and the project is progressing to the next stage, planning and finance. It often seems insurmountable but we are still in there.




I went up to have a chat with the surveyors as they made their way across the fields along the intended pipeline and on the way back down looking across the fields tucked into the corner by the trees and in front of the farm steadings you can see the site survey for the turbine house evidenced by the dug earth.

Then it was back to pick up the tyres and meet up with Chris at Starbucks…goes against the grain giving these tax dodgers my money but another informative hour talking about biomass, Coal Shed Pier, district heating systems and politics of the land and communities. 7.30pm saw me putting a new lovely and expensive Dunlop tyre back on the van and it was off west and home. Not before Mark and Francis turned up again, this time on their way home. they passed us,saw the lights by the van and turned back to see that all was ok. Typical Applecross residents,caring and helpful. Quick call into the Inn where the ladies from the North Coast had come down for the Red Nose Dance at the Hall tonight. A step too far for me, a shame because I have n’t heard the Big Field Blues Band for a while. Martin and Paul were getting warmed up at the bar when I left. So all in all what was to all intents and purposes a write off of a day turned out to be constructive and met up with lots of interesting people. Not fishing today anyway as there an easterly gale blowing and has been for two days now. Dougal and family were looked after by Jill but they had one or two extra snacks. Some one made it up onto the kitchen worktop and enjoyed half a tray of flap jack. They had agreed a collective vow of silence by the time we arrived back. Dougal by this time was trying to get into a jar of honey. He always retreats to his “safe place” under the computer desk when he is unsure of his reception and always gets away with it.


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