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.