Scotland’s Nostalgic Future
16th February 2018
“And the droll thing was, for a’ they misca’d Gleska, and gret about Clachnacudden, ye couldna get yin o’ them tae gang back to Clachnacudden if ye pyed the train ticket and guaranteed a pension o’ a pound a week”.
Neil Munro ‘Erchie’
So, as I was saying before last week’s word count so rudely cut me off, we know most of the negatives around developing and repopulating much of Scotland outwith the Central Belt.
We have an abundance of hills and mountains; we can’t build villages or towns near them, like they do in err Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, and Slovenia or even that little known country to our East, Norway.
The moors are too wet, so the likes of modern day irrigation won’t drain water away from peat bogs like it does in similarly soggy states. If only there was some sort of futurised mechanical digger and engineers who could fathom a way to cut channels and divert water running off the hills. Not that such a plan could be allowed to interfere with the magnificent bio system that helps to cultivate Scotland’s joyous Culicoides impunctatus aka the midgie…
In conversations following last week’s missive, there’s been some positive engagement with friends and foes, virtual and yer actual, on how the many Scotland’s, get a shift on, with improving the country.
A genuinely positive article on Highland regeneration came out this week in Spain’s La Voz de Galicia with comparisons between depopulated Galicia and the Highlands, where the population has apparently grown by 22 per cent over the last fifty years, still a small dent compared to how many folk we’ve lost. Highlands and Islands Enterprise come in for some circumspect praise, apparently there is no similar agency in Galicia. Most importantly the author believed the key to successfully regenerating the Highlands, lies in the changed mentalities of a ‘Do-it-yourself’ philosophy and the importance of rural pride.
You may have seen the #naestraw campaign, which started last year with the pupils of Ullapool primary school persuading café owners/pubs/hotels even CalMac ferries to replace plastic straws with paper ones, thus reducing the number of plastic straws that end up in our oceans and contribute to the harming our wounded planet.
There has been a welcome and gradual change in approach as to how we treat our environment. Here in the North, there are regular beach cleans and fishing boats often bring back bags of plastic waste they harvest from the sea. It has started with the youngsters, and the outlook I’d say, has a distinctive rosy tinge to it now.
There’s been much suggestion of reforestation. Trees combat carbon emissions; they have value commercially and employ quite a few folk operating the most amazing machines. Witness the recent project in India, where 800,000 volunteers planted a whopping 49.3 million saplings in one day, nearly 50 million trees in one day. All as part of their commitment to the Paris climate deal.
I recently watched an episode of the TV show about the Galloway Forest. Other than enjoying the rawest Galloway Irish tongues on display (without subtitles) I marvelled at Ozzy, the tree planter, who reckoned he’d easily planted over a million trees in his 20 years with the Forestry Commission.
Imagine a confident optimistic Scotland, where emulating just 1 per cent of India’s effort, wasn’t cynically jeered at. Could 8,000 Ozzy’s plant 493,000 saplings in one day? It’s happening on a smaller scale in the people’s republic of Yorkshire, where Taylor’s of Harrogate; the tea company, are sponsoring the planting of one million trees over the next five years.
I suppose it would be too much to ask Secretary for the State of Scotland, David Mundell, to demand of his cabinet bosses that they help to offset our collective Scottish carbon footprint, garnered from our extracted gaseous fuels, by adding a small fraction of one percentage to oil and gas taxes? These funds could go in some small way to perhaps recreating some of the massive northern temperate rain forest that was lost when north Britainshire provided timber not just for the British Navy and Lord Nelson’s flagship ‘Victory’, all 2,000 mature oak trees of it, but also the charcoal required for the blast furnaces and forges of the Industrial Age.
We’re in a new shinier Industrial Age now, with the business world finally catching up to one of our greatest assets, renewable energy. Scotland, as if you didn’t already know, was the world leading force in hydro power.
The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board was created by Scotland’s best ever Secretary of State, Tom Johnston (a socialist whose legacy is mostly ignored by Scottish Labour today) and made real by the almost forgotten genius of Scottish engineer Sir Edward MacColl (see above). Johnston appointed MacColl as his Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive. MacColl built hydro-electric schemes across the Highlands including Pitlochry, Cruachan, Glen Affric-River Beauly, Breadalbane, Loch Sloy-Loch Awe, Glen Garry-Glen Moriston, Strath Conon and Loch Tummel.
In short, this dynamic duo brought sustainable energy to the vast majority of Scotland and created the greatest infrastructure programme Scotland had ever seen. It still remains so.
MacColl encouraged the use of stone, both for hydro-electric power-station buildings and staff houses. Strangely enough they’re all still standing. If anyone from the Scottish government ever reads this, do look into the longevity of materials being used in building the current slate of hydro dams, you might not like the answers. Sir Edward was interested also in the possibilities of the gas turbine, and of developing the production of peat for briquetting and for power-station fuel. In the biography written about him in 1956, it was said:
“We are accustomed to think of Edward MacColl as THE Scottish Hydro Electric pioneer. He was in reality, perhaps the greatest Social Pioneer of all-round Scottish development in the first half of the 20th century.”
Sir Edward MacColl remains a victim of that perpetual Scottish trait; the prophet ignored at home, whose work is revered by his peers around the world.
We now live in the age of turbines, on shore, off shore, even underwater. We have turbines dependent on tide and wave, solar and biomass. We’re hoaching with new ways of creating sustainable energy.
As the High street bailed out banking corporations, have been slow to invest in renewables and ultimately turned their backs on the communities who founded and funded them, rural communities are now exploring alternative routes to fund the use of their natural assets and feed into the national grid.
At the end of this month, the widespread community of Coigach, a few miles North of Ullapool, plan to release an investment bond on their community owned wind turbine. The offer to investors is a guaranteed 5 per cent annual return on their investment. Working with, jings, I can hardly believe I’m typing this, an ethical bank, committed to environmental sustainability, Triodos.
If only one of those fleeing banks, you know, the ones that want to leave mums with prams and folk in wheelchairs struggling to get into mobile banks, had an ounce of the integrity of Triodos.
Perhaps, this is yet another opportunity for community empowerment, work with credit unions and install banking facilities in local community hubs. Naturally, expansion could come to include mortgages, salaries and investments, you know like banks used to do.
I suspect that this micro management and ownership of community assets is in harsh reality, the likeliest way that the Highlands are going to reverse the stasis created by the (non-genocidal) clearances and the conversion of common lands into the lair of the privileged sporting classes. Community empowerment, despite our elected and pensioned bureaucrats, is perhaps the best model to work with.
Somewhat ironically, at the other end of the Coigach single track road (with passing places) from Achiltibuie, one finds the 17,000 acre sporting estate of one Paul Dacre. Mr Dacre, is the editor of the Daily Mail, possibly the greatest contributor to the rise of racism and bigotry this country has known since Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech.
Mr Dacre, a most ardent Brexiteer and Europhobe, has installed his own personal hydro-dam on Langland’s estate, scarring the hill above Strathcanaird. Characteristically, he managed to conveniently pocket some hundreds of thousands of Euro from with his particular approach to milking the EU cash cow. It is estimated that his hydro dam will add somewhere between £15 and £20 million to his personal fortune. Bless.
Dacre apparently paid £2.45 million for the 17,000 acres of his Langwell Estate. I wonder how many more millions it would have cost him for a comparable sized sporting estate in Hampshire or Surrey?
Incidentally, the Munro quote at the top, is an example that although many missed Grannie’s Hielan hame, the lack of jobs and opportunity were, as now a major disincentive to returning home.