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.