Friday, 22 March 2019

Land reform - time to get a shift on

From my Daily Record column

The old hippy button badge used to say: “Scotland 19 million acres, five million people. Where’s my 3.8 acres?” 

Times have changed but the facts about Scotland’s land ownership statistics remain as solid as the ground itself. Very few owners own a large tracts of the land.

Andy Wightman MSP, building on the work of John McEwen, reckons that 432 individuals own 50 per cent of Scotland’s private rural land.

It comes as no surprise then that the Scottish Land Commission, the government quango tasked with reform, identifies monopoly ownership and the concentration of power over land use as the biggest obstacle to economic development in rural Scotland.

I suppose to tackle a problem, you must first identify it, but it has taken a long time for the Commission to arrive at what was bleedin’ obvious to themselves.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and its rights for community ownership remains the single, most effective land reform legislation Holyrood has come up with, and the groundwork for that was laid before devolution.

About 562,230 acres of land is now in community ownership, and the economic and social regeneration accompanying the change in the Highlands and Islands is remarkable.

But these mostly crofting communities are the low lying fruit of land reform.

The big estates, the monopoly board owners are still in place.

The Land Commission report wants to squeeze them gently by putting public interest tests on the sale of land and requiring estates to draw up management plans that involve local communities.

Hmm, tax land holding until the pips squeak, I say. Impose transparent ownership registers and force lairds to live, as crofters must, within 20 miles of their holding. 

The Scottish government has a target of one million acres being owned by communities by the end of 2020. Better get a shift on. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

Josie Duncan aig Gaelictronica, CCA, DiSathairne

Sùil Eile anns an Daily Record

Mar as àbhaist nuair a thig e gu ceòl tha mise air dheireadh a’ thighinn dhan chèilidh.

’S ann air an deireadh sheachdain a chuala mi airson a’ chiad uair guth Josie Duncan, anns an dàrna leth de Gaelictronica ann an Glaschu.

Mar a thuirt mi, tha mi anmoch ag ionnsachadh gu bheil Josie, còmhla ri Pablo Lafuente, mar-thà air duais ceòl Folk a’ BhBC a bhuannachadh.

Anns an CCA bha i còmhla ri Hamish MacLeòid, Leòdhasach eile air na keyboards, agus tè à Innis Tìle, Signy Jakobsdottir, cluicheadair beum-chiùil.

Le fuaim ìosal, eleagtronaigeach, guth geur Duncan agus ruitheam à cultur eile – saoghal eile cha mhòr - bha na thàinig a-mach iongantach agus gluasadach.

An rud a tha fior iongantach, ’s e mar a tha cultar beag a’ toirt dhuinn uimhir de thàlant seinn, bliadhna às dèidh bliadhna.

Tha Duncan agus MacLeòid air suala de ghinealach ùr de sheinneadairean a’ tighinn gu bàrr an-dràsta.

Chan eil ainm aca air a’ chòmhlan ged tha iad le chèile a’ cluich le Inyal. 

Mas ann am Bristol a bha iad, ’s e Florence and the Machine a bhiodh orra, agus bhiodh iad ainmeil. 


As usual when it comes to music I am late arriving at the party.
It was at the weekend I heard Josie Duncan’s voice for the first time, in the second half of Gaelictronica in Glasgow.
As I said, I am late to learn that Josie, along with Pablo Lafuente, is already a winner of a BBC Folk music award.
In the CCA she was accompanied by Hamish MacLeod, another Lewis islander on the keyboards, and an Icelandic instrumentalist, Signy Jacobsdottir.
The the low electronic sound, Duncan’s sharp vocals and the rhythm of another culture, another world almost, what emerged was surprising and moving.
What is really surprising is how such a small culture produces so much singing talent, year after year.
Duncan and MacLeod and are on the wave of a generation of singers coming to the fore just now.
They don’t have a name for their band although they play together in the group Inyal.
If they were in Bristol, they’d be called Florence and the Machine, and they’d be famous.

Border thoughts - or the Yeats index of how bad the "situation" can be

From my Daily Record column

Prompted by a poem no less I asked, what is the Brexit temperature like in Dublin?

“The nation is holding it’s nerve,” my Irish friend replied with the bedside manner of a solicitous doctor.

The Irish Republic has, of course, the most to lose from  a hard Brexit.

Every sector of the economy, from farming to pharmacy, would suffer a “severe impact” a fortnight from now, according to the Dublin government’s assessment of “the situation”, another lovely euphemism for Brexit from the people who coined “the Emergency” for WWII and “the Troubles” for a bloody street war in the north. 

Like everyone else the Irish government is braced for impact and set aside a grain store of money to compensate for the bodyblow to trade into its biggest market, the UK.

But my pal explained how some in the Irish government have looked over the precipice and gamed beyond a hard exit.

They see a no-deal Brexit not as the end point, but the beginning of the UK’s eventual capitulation to the EU deal that has always been on offer, the only one on offer.

After a few months of no mushrooms on supermarket shelves and a 20 per cent drop in the value of sterling leaving a litre of Spanish holiday lager costing more than a fiver, the UK government will sign up, say some in Dublin.

Starving the Brits into acceptance might have a wonderful historic irony but is as much a flight of fancy as a clean Brexit itself, particularly as the Commons options begin to narrow to Theresa May’s Brexit or a lengthy extension (a political purgatory for us all).

By then someone must start blaming the Irish, whose great success has been to get remarkable solidarity from the EU27 to stop them being picked off by the imperious instincts of the UK.

Brexit is, after all, hopelessly snagged on Britain’s historic relationship with the island and a commitment to the backstop to keep the border between British north and Republican south open.

There were plenty warnings about this lobster creel conundrum during the referendum campaign. But the UK looked the other way, much as it did when the Good Friday Agreement turned Northern Ireland into something that was not wholly British or Irish and anchored in Europe.

The people of Northern Ireland understood this well and voted by majority to stay in the EU. They are, thanks to tribal voting patterns and historic boycotts, mis-served at Westminster. 

The DUP, I expect, will eventually pay a price for being so badly out of step with a place that would rather see itself as a bridge, not a barrier, between the EU and the UK. 

While Brexit has not shifted the dial on Scottish independence, surveys show 62 per cent of people in Northern Ireland believe Brexit makes a united Ireland, and continued membership of the EU, more likely. That doesn’t mean it’s what they want but if you’re young and Norn, and not already left to study at a Scottish University, do the DUP represent the future?

The past is never far behind the future though. The New IRA has claimed responsibility for four parcel bombs sent to three London transport hubs and Glasgow university. The events of Bloody Sunday resurfacing in a court case evoke old hurts and memories.

Even at the height of an Islamist terror threat MI5 still allocates 22 per cent of resources to countering Northern Ireland-related terrorism, all reminders of what is at stake

Often a single line that crystallises as an idea is the spark for an empty column.

This morning it was Radio Scotland’s thought for the day slot which quoted the Irish poet WB Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” 

It seems apt for the times, doesn’t it?. 

But there is now, apparently, a Yeats index, a ruling that the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators, the worse things actually are.

If the poet has made it onto Thought for the Day “the situation” must be quite bad.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Sùil Eile air "Bana-Ghaisgich"

Airson an Daily Record
"Bana-Ghaisgich", aig Tèatar Finborough, Lunnainn
Tha sin uile air ar beò-ghlacadh leis a' bhàs, Leòdhasaich gu h-àraid.
Tha sin follaiseach sa chiad shealladh aig Màiri Mhoireasdan, agus an caractar aice a' dràibheadh a dh'Ulapul agus smaoineachadh air ciamar a bhiodh i air a cuimhneachadh nan rachadh an càr far an rathaid. 
'S ann mu dheidhinn bàs a tha an dealbh-chluich aig Màiri air fad, "Bana-ghaisgich", agus an cumhachd a tha aig boireannaich air a'chèile timcheall air.
Gu sgileil tha i a' cluich a h-uile pàirt, ceud bliadhna bho chèile, ann an cearcall timicheal call an Iolaire, lachanaich, a' seinn agus a' caoidh na thachair.
Leth-slighe troimhe tha thu a' tuigsinn carson nach robh iad a-riamh a' bruidhinn air an tubaist.  Tha an sgriopt, cuideachd air a sgrìobhadh le Màiri, cho geur agus gu bheil thu air do ghearradh. 
Uaireannan chan fheum thu faclan. Tha Mike Vass air an àrd-ùrlar a' cur ceòl ris a'chall, sliasaidean iarainn an Iolaire a' sgrìobadh ri na biastan.
Nuair a chuireas e air eìdheadh an RNR, 's e aon de na h-ìomhaighean as cumhachdaiche air àrd-ùrlar lom.
Chunnaic mise i ann an Lunnainn. Bidh còisir aig Theatre Gu Leòr ann an Steòrnabhagh an ath sheachdain. Na caill e. 
We are all obsessed with death, Lewis people in particular.
That is obvious in Mairi Morrison’s first scene, as her character is driving to Ullapool wondering how she would be remembered if she went off the road.
Mairi’s play, “Bana Ghaisgich”, is all about death and the power women exercise over each other.
Skilfully she plays every part, a century apart, in a circle around the loss of the Iolaire, laughing, singing and mourning what happened.
Half way through, you understand why they never spoke about the tragedy. The script, also written by Mairi, is so sharp that it cuts you.
Sometimes you don’t need words. Mike Vass is on stage putting music to the loss, the thighs of the Iolaire scraping against the beasts.
When he puts on the uniform of the RNR , it is one of the most powerful images on a bare stage.
I saw the play in London. Theatre Gu Leòr will have a choir in Stornoway next week. Don’t miss it.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Clusterbùrach - a new ruling

Sùil Eile airson an Daily Record

Aon uair bha iad a’ gàireachdainn oirnn airson ‘s nach robh faclan againn airson rendezvous neo car a’ mhuiltein.

Ach le poilitigs ann an staing, tha a’ Bheurla air ruith a-mach à faclan.

O choinn ghoirid tha bùrach, facal blasda Gàidhlig, air a bhith air a chur gu feum airson cunntas a thoirt air an ath char ann am Brexit.

 Tha “clusterbùrach” air fàs fasanta.  Tha Alastair Caimbeul ga chleachdadh, Mìcheal Russell, Hannah Bardell cuideachd.

Tha e sgrìobhte ann an Hansard agus tha nam pàipearan-naidheachd air droch litreachadh a dhèaneamh air.

Tha cunnart ann gu bheil am facal air a chaitheamh agus feumach air suaimhneas.

Tha Comhairle a’ Chànain (CaC) air a bhith a’ coimhead air a’ chùis agus air a thighinn suas le freagairt shìmplidh.

O seo a-mach cha bhi e ceadaichte bùrach a chleachdach airson Brexit. Ach tha e ceadaichte brexit a chleachdach airson bùrach.

Mar eisimplear: “Nach e tha air brexit a dheaneamh dhen bhiadh.” agus, “Abair brexit, a ghloic.”

Tha e a’ ciallachadh gum feum sinn an litir x a chleachdadh sa chànan.

Ach cha tuirt duine sam bith gu biodh Brexit gun duilgheadas.


Once upon a time they used to laugh at us because we had no words for rendevouz or summersault.
But with politics in crisis, English has run out of words.

Recently the term bùrach, a tasty Gaelic word, has been deployed to describe the latest twist in Brexit.

“Clusterbùrach " has become fashionable. Alastair Campbell has used it, Michael Russell, Hannah Bardell too. 

The word has been recorded in Hansard and newspapers have mis-spelled it.

There is a danger that the term is becoming worn out and needs resting.

Comhairle a’ Chànain (CaC), the Language Council, has been looking at the issue and come up with a simple solution.

From now on it is not permitted to use bùrach as a term for Brexit. However it is acceptable to use brexit to describe a bùrach.

For example: “Didn’t he make a brexit of the food”, and “What a brexit, you idiot”.

It means we have to introduce the letter x into the Gaelic language.

But no one said Brexit was going to be easy.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Sùil Eile air Ceòl 's Craic air a rèidio

'S E AN App is motha tha mi a' cleachdadh air a' fòn-làimhe 's e fear a' BhBC gus èisteachd ris an rèidio (sin nuair nach eil mi a' cleachdadh a' fòn airson craoladh air an rèidio).
Ach bho chionn ghoiridh tha mi air mo bheò-ghlacadh le làrach-lìn a chuir caraid thugam. Dealbh mòr den phlanaid agus bidh thu a' sguabadh thairis air le do chorrag.
Ge bith càite a bheil thu a' stad tha thu a' lorg stèisean rèidio ionadal an àite.
Tha mi air a bhith eadar Alasga agus Astràilia agus a h-uile àite air an t-slighe Tha "RadioGarden" coltach ri a bhith ag èisteachd ri Shortwave nuair a bha thu òg, an saoghal tighinn thugad fo na plaideachan.
Ach mar as àbhaist tha an combaist ga do stiùireadh dhachaigh.
Bho àm gu àm bidh mi a' lorg "Ceòl 's Craic" rèidio air Facebook, ceòl an t-saoghail tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig.
Le preasantair ùr, Alana NicAonghais, an t-eòlas ciùil aig an Dotair Raibeart agus an riochdaire, Laurie Cuffe, tha am prògram sgoinneal, ùr-nòsach agus farsaing an coimeas ri na tha ri fhaighinn air a BhBC.
Bha fiù's agallamh aice le seinneadair Killing Joke an t-seachdainn sa chaidh.
Tha iad airidh air luchd-èisteachd nas fharsainge.

Translation - The App I use most often on mobile phone is the BBC one for listening to the radio (when I'm not using the phone for broadcasting on the radio).
But recently I've been caught with a website a friend sent me. a big image of the planet that you sweep across with your finger. Wherever you stop you find the local radio station of the area. I've been from alaska to australia and everywhere in between .
"radiogarden" is like listening to shortwave when you were young, the world coming to you under the blankets. But as usual, the compass guides you home. From time to time, I find "Ceòl 's Craic" radio on Facebook, world music through the medium of gaelic.
With a new presenter, Alana MacInnes, the musical knowledge of Dr Robert and the producer, Laurie Cuffe, the programme is fantastic, innovative and wide-raingng compared to what is available on the BBC.
They even had an interview with the singer from Killing Joke last week. They deserve a wider audience .

By the minute, how a Corbyn-Sturgeon deal would work

From my Daily Record column
WANT to know what a Corbyn government would look like? The answer is not to be found by traipsing around the Palace of Westminster in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon, entertaining as the First Minister's day out to London was.
Making tentative arrangements with Labour to oppose Brexit was by far the most significant part of Sturgeon's visit.
But exercising power is a serious and more subtle business. A Labour administration which relies on some arrangement with the SNP is the least fantastic scenario available to a political imagination that puts the words "prime minister Corbyn" into a sentence.
What his government could really look like is to be found in a little clicked corner of the Cabinet Office website.
The department is the clearing house of government, the link between Downing Street and the world of Whitehall and beyond. In its online tomes lie the published minutes of all the private meetings between the Tory Government and the DUP on which, until recently at least, Theresa May relied in a confidence and supply arrangement for her Commons majority.
The records, to quote the Politico website, who first perused them, offer a "tantalising glimpse of the clout wielded by DUP leader Arlene Foster behind the scenes".
They detail the near-monthly meetings of the six-strong "coordination committee" of senior Tory and DUP MPs, set up last year to ensure the voting deal runs smoothly in Parliament.
It is chaired by May's de-facto deputy David Lidington, who sits alongside chief whip Julian Smith and Treasury minister Mel Stride on the Government side.
On the other side of the table are DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, his chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.
All boys together. Well, not quite.
The terms of reference state explicitly that neither Foster nor May should be members. "Neither party leader will sit on the committee but may attend from time to time on Privy Council terms."
That "but" is the unbolted stable door allowing Foster to attend every meeting bar one since the first gathering in July 2017.
Imagine, if you can, the credibility of a Scottish First Minister if Holyrood had not been sitting since January 2017 and MSPs were paid £8million salary in that time.
However, Foster, still under the shadow of the £500million "cash for ash" heating scandal during her stint as Stormont's enterprise minister, and the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland, has a regular audience with some of the most powerful figures in the UK Government.
According to the minutes of the meetings a succession of Brexit, defence and security ministers are dragged in every few weeks to give personal briefings to this DUP star chamber. It seems Foster is spending more time and exercising more power in Whitehall than she is in Belfast.
Given the way Whitehall works on precedent this is an entirely credible template for how a minority Labour government would be guided by the civil service to handle a confidence and supply arrangement with the SNP.
Sturgeon would be in Whitehall a lot more often, and not just appearing as a Westminster minx, sticking her head around the door of Tory Brexiteer meetings to give them a fright.
Sturgeon's visit to London had a twofold purpose - rappelling in to try to organise cross-party opposition to Brexit is important and burnishes her heavyweight image, of course.
But it also helps her twitchy MPs looking over their shoulder at the narrow gap back to Labour candidates in the 2017 snap election.
Why vote Labour in Scotland, they will argue on the doorstep, when we can have Nicola sorting them out?
Given the opposition operation is so disfunctional that Corbyn contrived this week to miss a Commons vote on child poverty, which he tabled himself, letting the Government win by just five votes, perhaps Labour could do with some help at Westminster.