The people have found a way but where is the political will?


Photographer Cailean Maclean

It is a puzzle why the undoubted success of 20 community buy-outs of land in the Highlands and islands over the past 20 years has attracted so little political support. In his book From the Low Tide of the Sea to the Highest Mountain Tops Jim Hunter recalls that only one Scottish First Minister has ever visited a buyout (Jack McConnell, Assynt in 2002). Despite a supposed commitment to land reform, the SNP has done little to advance the cause during six years in power.

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Turning the tide: Scotland’s new land owners

Lines in the sand on Canna

In recent years, communities in the Scottish Highlands and Islands have taken ownership of more than half a million acres – an area equivalent to that of an English county like Nottinghamshire or West Yorkshire. In places long characterised by contracting economies and shrinking populations, this remarkable development has resulted in new homes, new businesses, greatly enhanced self-confidence and the attraction of lots of new residents.

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Global Jukebox: a matter of record

Thanks to the Gaelic poet and writer Angus Peter Campbell (and incidentally, my former colleague at Grampian Television) for the link to the Global Jukebox, which has put online 17,000 songs and stories recorded by Alan Lomax, perhaps the greatest folksong collector of all time. Among them are dozens from Scotland, including many from Daliburgh and Garrynamonie in Angus Peter’s native South Uist.

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A short story for Valentine’s Day

There was an inevitability about the meeting of John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw; their paths and their interests had been intertwining for years. Several times they had been in the same place at the same time, but had not met until a wet night in 1934, when he took the Lochearn to South Uist to address a meeting of the Sea League.  Continue reading

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The strange story of the artist, the general and the Republican candidate.

 

The dining room in Canna House

Margaret and John would not be best pleased, but there is a curious connection between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Laird of Canna’s Royalist ancestor Major-General Archibald Campbell.

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‘There is even a raincoat over the end of the piano’

Before the hurricane struck, I was looking for words to end the old year or, since the clock was ticking, start the new one.  I found Margaret’s letter typewritten late at night during another storm-tossed Christmas.  At almost the same time I came across the December West Word, an action packed newsletter written by gas and candle light as the western highlands and islands recovered from a battering which felled trees, flattened outbuildings, lifted roofs and wrecked power and water supplies. Continue reading

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A dram, a fag, a piper – here’s to a remarkable life full of music

Pictures of Margaret with kind permission of Kildonan Museum.

“Margaret Fay Shaw I always remember from a 100th birthday photo in the South Uist museum: fag in hand, dram on the arm of her chair!”

Memories, memories. With the anniversary of Margaret’s death coming up these pictures gain special significance. Martin’s comment – which I found quite by chance on the excellent Scottish Island Explorers blog – got me searching through pictures and memories of my own.  I had also seen that 100th birthday photo in the very fine Kildonan Museum on South Uist, or Comann Eachdraigh Uibhist a Deas in  Gaelic.

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Strange things

Interesting to see that this year’s theme for Faclan: The Hebridean Book Festival, is An Dà Shealladh, or Second Sight, although how Alistair Darling snuck in there I don’t know. The former Chancellor has a holiday home in Lewis, as well as a new book to promote, but doesn’t seem to have inherited any of his ancestors’ gift of foretelling the future. If he had, perhaps he might have avoided the banking crisis.

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Modernising Canna farming

Canna in 1938 by Margaret Fay Shaw

In the 1930s it wasn’t that unusual for wealthy men to buy up whole islands, but John Lorne Campbell was an unusual young man.

A nice surprise in the post, a review in Farming Scotland Magazine which,  not surprisingly, concentrates on John’s modernisation of the farm on Canna. Interestingly, it also highlights his essential belief that efficiency must go hand in hand with wildlife conservation and sustainability.

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Barra’s forgotten giant

A modest grave for a flamboyant man

Good news that the Ealing Comedy film of Whisky Galore has been reissued in high definition. I caught it a couple of months ago in the Edinburgh Film Festival and it’s as funny now as it was when first released in 1949. It will be on general release, but in case a cinema near you isn’t smart enough to feature it, there will also be a DVD version. Continue reading

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