Blood is Thicker than Dreams

Hey, do you want to come winter camping with a fat old Unionist? We are talking next week, in the probably sleet peppered rain and fierce wind in the remote Hebrides. Best to bring your own tent whisky and porridge, oh and bike. You have to be a photographer and be prepared to endure me being self obsessed with my work and irritatingly grumpy. We can talk about the Salmond trial as a diversion if you like, though maybe not. Hmmm I can’t seem to find anyone willing  to come with me … funny that.
It’s that wretched electric bike I wrote about last week. The Rad Rhino that I was given so that I could write a review about it and couldn’t decide whether to keep.  The camping trip’s  not a great offer I know, unless, like me, you are interested in one of the most fascinating socio-economic challenges in Scotland at present. You see I am off to the island of  Ulva both to do the bike test around their ten miles of gritty track and camp, well I am not entirely crazy, somewhere near their bothy in case the current storm Brendan has a follow on wee brother whose out looking for him and we have to run to it to save our drookit skins.
So what am I on about? Well I’ve been fascinated by the island of Ulva since I was about six and my Dad took me there to have tea with his pal Lady Congelton who had bought the place after the war for £10,000. I remember in those pre politically correct days he told me she was descended from a red indian ( which she was ) and that if I didn’t behave she might chase me round the table with a bow and arrow. She didn’t and I grew to like her so much that I named a character in my Herald cartoon strip The City Crofter after her.
And now of course Ulva is in the news again having been bought for the community of six  with a whopping grant of £4.4 million from Lady C’s great grand son Jamie, a nice lad who lived there full time and who like all his family grafted almost incessantly to make the place economically viable and its community content.
One of the reasons I have chosen to do the bike test there is because I want to see how the new community ownership is working out. As you might imagine I am torn in my loyalties.

It’s not too unreasonable of me to have wanted my Dad’s pals to have succeeded.

Blood is thicker than dreams.
I once went there to write a piece for a glossy and even the very old lady who technically owned the place was aye busy in her wellies in the rain wheeching around the place on a mini tractor filling in pot holes with a shovel. Some landowners are obnoxious arrogant sods and own these kinds of places as trophies and against  these I am happy to join the pitch fork riots.

Some others though try and make them work as worthwhile communities and try to be honourable in their decision making. The Howards fell very much into the latter category and left exhausted having tried their hardest. And yes I know they had made a good return on their £10k, but its really not all that simple.

My belief is that a good landlord is better than a bad community ownership, and visa versa.
First a wee bit about Ulva. Now I know these islands well and in the main they are stunningly beautiful. Ulva though is in a different league. It’s like a jewel  dropped from one of the God’s dressing table into an azure ocean. It’s location is seraphic. When I will stick my head out of my tent next week I will be able to view  Iona, Staffa, the Treshnish and Mull. I will also be remembering the   sights I have seen in the bit of sea before me when I fished there as a kid. Soaring gannets, dinky gilliemots, white tailed eagles, trilling oyster catchers, otters  whales and on one jaw dropping moment a pod of broaching killer whales down from their normal runs in the outer isles to breakfast on the rich waters around Ulva. I would die for the Hebrides.
Of course Ulva’s history is far from being entirely romantic. Once, when seaweed sold well, there were up to eight hundred folk living there, but the clearances were vicious and economic realities have now taken that number down to six.

It’s easy to imagine the clearances were long ago, but when my Father visited the island around 1905 he met folk who could still remember them.

And so today? What of the new idea of community ownership? Were our often noble government wise to invest £4.4 million quid, and the rest once further investment is called for, into a tiny island such as this? I think I have stated my own position fairly plainly. I like community ownership when it works and when it doesn’t I think its a scandalous waste of taxpayers money and we shouldn’t just be too indulgently romantic about it.

Let me tell you about a silly rumour that was circulating at the time of the buy out. It was probably rubbish, but it does illustrate the point in a mildly amusing way. It was said by the gossips at the time that no less a person than Stella Macartney was not only interested in buying the island but prepared to pay more than the government paid.

Inevitably there were many landlords (I play on both side of the fence ) who were telling me that this was all institutionalised theft, and when I responded that so was getting a return of four million from an investment of ten thousand was also institutionalised theft it didn’t go down very  well.
Now lets say that Stella had indeed bought then place  and that it was her own millions, not ours, that she then poured into the place. Would that have been so awful? After all due to our excellent land access legislation we could have walked and wild camped on her land unhindered and who knows perhaps her dad might have come and penned a ballad for Bunessan and tourism would have soared.
There is no way that any government, other than a Stalinist one, should  advocate that every scrap of land in the highlands and islands be owned by central government and farmed out to communities because it costs billions to maintain every year, wouldn’t be very efficient  Such a model might bleed the social services in the more populated central belt dry in a twink. Somehow systems have to evolve in which if the rich want to pour their cash into wilderness land they are able to, and community buy outs such as Ulva’s are simultaneously allowed.
Now that the Ulva buy out has gone through I am right behind them. I know several members of the impressive and decent team that have delivered this amazing project and wish them well, though my own instinct us to encourage them to develop the place round nature tourism rather than crofting. In two weeks time we will be starting the withdrawal from Europe and even if Independence goes through, which I think it probably will, we are in for financially demanding times ahead and there wont be much cash around for expensive romanticism.
I look forward to my daft camping to Ulva, even if its raining.  I very much hope that the buy-out team are able to convince me that their impressive business plan is indeed viable.
Now… where did I put that hot water bottle?


Comments (36)

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  1. Fay Kennedy says:

    It may be an attractive destination for Australians as ‘The Father of Australia’ Lachlan MacQuarry was born there. And in light of the catastrophe of poor land management exposed by the catalysmic bush fires could ignite some interesting cross cultural conversations and projects. Perhaps. Opposites in climate but connected by history. Keep warm!!

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      Fay. An intriguing and well developed notion! My understanding, unconfirmed, is that an Australian institution gave some money to the buy out, though it should perhaps be noted that the mausoleum commemorating him is on neighbouring Mull. I also understand that it is jointly maintained by an Australian charity and a Scottish one, again something I wish to confirm.I have been in regular e mail contact with some of the people who have been affected by the Australian bush fires and have indeed taken them to Staffa, but they expressed no interest in going to Ulva. Perhaps the connection between MacQuarry and the island will be influenced by the tale that when he returned to his native isle and asked them to join him in an army he was helping to fight in the natives told him to bugger off! Regarding your kind hope that I will keep warm be assured that I have no intention of being a nuisance to the current population by acting the arse risking my neck during these gales ( they are busy enough ) and will only go camping if the weather moderates sufficiently and I can get over on their regular ferry runs. So my trip is currently on hold.

  2. Graeme Purves says:

    I suspect that seeking to convince you of the viability of their business plan will not be highest on the buy-out team’s list of priorities, Maxwell.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      Well as I have 1400 words to write for the Herald I hardly think it would be right for me not to give them the opportunity.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Does anybody still read The Herald? I gave up on it a decade ago.

        1. Maxwell macleod says:

          About fifty thousand people probably read the print version on a good day mostly A Bs don’t have any numbers on the on line.

  3. Wul says:

    “…if the rich want to pour their cash into wilderness land they are able to..”

    The rich usually “pour their cash” into the bank of a fellow rich person when they buy wilderness land. That rich vendor usually makes a large and tax-free profit, which they deposit off-shore or in some other tax avoiding vehicle. The new laird will be planning to do the same one day when they want their cash back with a nice “uplift”, get bored, or a better investment vehicle comes along.

    You may well know some nice, cuddly old-school landlords and lassies but they are minority and dying breed. Scottish “wilderness land” is a money-making commodity traded internationally.

    I think its odd that you think Scottish people owning their own land is somehow a way to ruin our economy. It seems to work fine in other countries.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      I would despite the suggestion that all the rich who buy wilderness land are doing it merely for their financial gain.I know several who arent that way inclined.I also know several that are,and yes it’s wrong and yes we need new systems and objectives. My point is that a system in which all Highland land is owned and effectively sublet to communities whilst being in some ways attractive would bankrupt the state if those lands were upgraded to the level we would all wish. It’s how we reach a system in which the rich are soaked whilst the maximum level of social justice is achieved that is the challenge.
      I have never said that the concept of Scots people owning their own land would bankrupt the economy,what I did say and stick to is that in the context of real politic the notion that all the trillions of investment needed to sustain the highlands coming from central government isn’t possible and that we have to provide a mosaic of the two systems that is as fair and just as is possible. I would of course prefer a system where all the land was nationalised and Hollyrood dolled out trillions every year, who wouldn’t ,but given that that is unviable we have to devise a system that works.Not an easy ask.Constructive suggestions welcome,playground insults not.

      1. Wul says:

        Maxwell: “I would of course prefer a system where all the land was nationalised and Hollyrood dolled out trillions every year, who wouldn’t ,but given that that is unviable we have to devise a system that works.”

        Isn’t the land already “nationalised” in the sense that it already belongs to the nation in which it exists? It cannot be moved or un-made. What is a country, if not a piece of land in a particular place?
        When someone “buys” land they are buying the right to do as they please (within limits) upon that land. They can’t really “own” land in the way they can own, say, a pair of shoes.

        My constructive suggestion would be that when a person pays another person for dominion over a piece of Scottish land, they also become liable to pay a yearly fee. This fee is paid to the treasury, as compensation to all the other people of the nation, who now no longer have any rights over that land. In this way the state benefits from its land, regardless of who owns it, as do the people of that nation.

        I actually agree with you about the absurdity of a government “buying” it’s own land back from a wealthy man, in order to allow it’s own citizens to live there securely. It is an unsustainable model.

        I also have issues with the idea of “Community Buy-outs”, whereby local people must take on the endless bureaucracy, fund raising, committee membership and legal responsibililties associated with managing their neighbourhood, just to live securely. If they are paying income tax, VAT and council tax they have a right to expect the state to carry out the infrastructure management which is its core function after all.

        We only have this daft juggling act in the first place because we have the absurdity of one man (it is usually a man) owning and controlling the land on which many other people live. I personally think there is something fundamentally wrong (even wicked) about that scenario.
        When you visit such “estate” communities there is a palpable infantalisation of the local community. Locals are feart to say anything bad about the laird lest they incur retribution. Or perhaps they are “grateful” (spew!) that they have a good laird. It is not a healthy way to run things.

        Another creative solution is that all land which forms the curtilage of a dwelling house becomes the property of the tenant after paying rent for, say 20 years, or such period of time whereby the cumulative rent paid equals the market value of the property at date of entry. (We could play about with the figures to ensure fairness to tenant & landlord)

        My creative suggestions would have the effect of driving down land values ( hooray!) and reduce Scottish land’s status as an “investment” ( see Savils’ link above) and freely tradable commodity.

        Re’ “playground insults”. I’m sorry. There’s something about your style that just pushes my buttons. A sense of entitlement, or belief in the essential “rightness” of the way things “just are” in Scotland. This is my own prejudice and I’m sorry for it. I shall try to be less personal and judgemental in future. You write interesting, thought provoking stuff and I’m sure we would get along fine if we met. Good luck with the bike/camping and may the light breeze always be at your back.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Wul, I think you address the core issues here. I have heard anti-democratic sentiment for “the best government is a benovolent dictator” kind of expression in Scotland, although it seems that the dictator is always envisaged to be “the right sort” and likely someone that the speaker could develop a friendly relationship with. This approach seems small-minded to me, and your points about having the right system is far more rational. Indeed societies are held back developmentally by paternalism. Having just read Thomas More’s Utopia (1516; first English translation around 1551), it is remarkable that the author describes the abolition of (internal) currency as one of the main planks of his idealized commonwealth. Indeed, I don’t see the particular relevance of money to improving wilderness land. Left to its own, Nature may improve it for free, which is George Monbiot’s position (our real riches being the natural world, and the common spaces and resources we can enjoy). He sees a real danger, firstly for England, in the current consulation on criminalizing trespass, for example:

          which is backed, as he says, by the “massively over-represented” landowner lobby in both houses of UK Parliament.

        2. Maxwell macleod says:

          You are right,my style is often intentionally polemic and designed to either annoy or make folk feel either superior or amused.
          It’s something I have been working on for years and it’s primary intention to engage though it also alienates.I apologise to those in the latter category,I mean no ill and it usually works though needs polishing.
          It does however often also license folk to respond either though fury ,a sense of superiority or because they have laughed. It’s what I do, I’m a story teller,or rather I am learning to be one.
          Thank for your excellent comments.I shall sleep on them.

        3. maxwell macleod says:

          Im interested in this notion of the State having an obligation to provide services for all of its citizens who pay tax.
          So lets go from the general to the particular. Mr Posh sells his house in Fulham for £2 million and decides to live down the back of Glen Nowhere and sends a letter to Nicola. ” I’m here, I’m paying £750 a year in taxes please provide me with medical services, daily postal services, educate my children at a cost to the Scottish Government of £60k p.a. “…I’m being ridiculous I know , but what are the red lines on this. Second absurd case study. Your Granny dies and leaves you a house in Montrose, the rest of the street really fancy it and indicate a community buy out request. The surveyor indicates a value of £100,000. Meanwhile your cousin returns from Saudi and says ” I’ve always liked Peggy’s house and will give you £150k for it.” Holyrood says no, you cant take your cousins offer you have to accept £100k. Would you be pissed off?

  4. Alistair MacKichan says:

    According to the scientific lobby, the relationship of us all with planet earth is at a tipping point. This affects all land use policy, and in the case of Ulva, your thought of wilding the island for nature tourism will achieve a lot of good for both the experience of the visitors, and the continuance of biodiversity. Where it lacks is in the subsistence of the resident population, which, like all populations, should rely on local production where possible. Food from afar is an outdated presumption. Wherever possible, and Ulva qualifies, some taming of the environment for crop and stock production is required in order to provide food which is locally sourced, and has no transport footprint. For this element of the required ecology, some crofting experience and lore is needed: those who have been wedded to the land know its potential and its moods. Let us please develop a Scotland which shapes its people as well as a people who overwhelm the land.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      Agree with every word though would add that there should be statutory rights for locals to fish for the pot without license. See John Lorne Campbell Compton Mackenzie Highland sea league

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Alistair MacKichan, what is “the scientific lobby”?

      1. Alistair MacKichan says:

        Thanks Sleeping Dog. Vigorous scientific synopses of climate and resource related studies now permeate discussions: they present peer-reviewed conclusions as gambits in initiating informed discussion by politicians, social strategists etc. George Monbiot is an arch exponent. Greta Thunberg is an acolyte. The Science Marches that swept round the world in 2017 (was it), in defence of fact-based policy-making, were an expression. I loosely term them a lobby, as they bring a pressure of viewpoint to every table now: perhaps their assault upon our sensibility would be better styled a tsunami?

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Alistair MacKichan, OK, cheers. That sounds like the “evidence-based policy” approach of Ben Goldacre, although he distinguishes between good and bad science:

          He writes (for example):
          “I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that government should be more evidence based, and that wherever possible, we should do randomised trials to find out which policy intervention works best. We often have no idea whether the things we do in government actually work or not, and achieve their stated goals. This is a disaster.”

  5. Wul says:

    Is it just me or has this site recently acquired an agressive spell-checker or predictive text function?

    Myself and others seem to be making more and more spelling mistakes of late.

  6. Craig P says:

    Maxwell – you’ll dae mate. You’ll dae.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      Thanks Craig,The jury’s oot with a few folk, but I sleep nights.
      Best mm

  7. John Monro says:

    The problem with any private buyout is that you’re depending on the goodwill and intentions of who? An autocrat? A benign dictator? A developer? A speculator? Surely a community buyout is a bit more “democratic” than being beholden to some single person’s or entity’s whims? Aren’t there now a number of successful examples of community buyouts? What reason does any rich person have to purchase such an island and basically purchase the people that live on it. If one of the problems is the low population, how much more encouraging is it for a newcomer to become part of a democratic institution in which they have an equal say, rather than a boarder on the land? If I had my way, and I become what I’d hope is a benign and insightful dictator of Scotland, I’d nationalise all land, and people would lease the land from the citizenry for a fixed term to have the exclusive use of it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think your article is very useful and a “contrary” view rationally explained is very worthwhile. Basically though you seem to be arguing for an outmoded view of the paternalistic laird, looking after the land and the people with dignity and honour and history. But most of the Scottish people’s experience of living and working on someone else’s property has not been at all benign. But maybe too there is a half-way house?

    I’ve been to Ulva too, many years ago, when I had a Drascombe Lugger moored off a holiday croft on the opposite shore on Mull. I’ve anchored in Acairsaid Mhor and circumnavigated the island (and don’t forget Gometra), anchored off the west of the island and walked up the braes, and past a small lochan where I met my first red-throated diver. The croaking alerted me first, I thought it must have been some sort of frog. The views were amazing, and the peace overwhelming. No wind, just stillness of ancient land and water in repose. I think Ulva and Gometra must be my favourite islands in the Hebrides. A small boat or see kayak to explore the numerous little rocky coves and inlets is ideal.

    I hope that the island can attract a few more people, but please, no horrible modern out of place buildings and if tourism is to be encouraged, please make it in scale to the place. I cannot see the problem with encouraging crofting, surely that’s rather more sustainable than tourism, really. But they’re not mutually exclusive. This would go with energy self-sufficiency too.

    Just to mention there is a very beautiful island carrying Ulva island’s name in New Zealand. It’s in the Patterson inlet of Stewart Island, that lies south of the South Island. It’s a bird and and native animal and plant sanctuary which can be visited by tourists. I’ve never been there though. I should really before I get too old.

    1. maxwell macleod says:

      What an interesting posting. I have visited a good number of Estates that are great and a good number that are awful, ditto community land buy outs. We just haven’t got it right yet
      The idea of the highlands being administered by some civil servants handing out licenses fills me with horror. Imagine Morag Macleod from Ness e mailing in to ask a twenty three year old history of art graduate from Bournemouth civil servant( probably outsourced to the Phillipines ) to extend her house residency to her daughter Donaldina and not that sod of a son of hers who wont cut her sticks and aye smells of lobster bait and expecting a reasoned response.
      I know its almost blasphemous to say it but there have been some major errors in some of the community buy outs/ charity run land areas with infighting, bad decisions and millions wasted. Hideous buildings that were designed for urban use and which somehow wriggled through their democratic processes, chair persons of management boards who lived in the midlands of England. A million pound hostel that has never been used as it leaks like a sieve, as there was nobody on the island to put a foot on the brake when things started going wrong, Community/charity ownership is not necessarily a panacea for the challenges in the Highlands. Neither is an unmanaged free market. There have also been some amazing successes in community ownership and its still where my heart lies. I love the Isle of Eigg’s innovative system for the allocation of house sites, their community energy scheme, their conflict resolution processes, I also love what’s happening on Ulva. Wish I had a glib solution to the systems that should be running our golden places on the edge, but dont.

      1. maxwell macleod says:

        I very much regret that the weather has made me have to delay the Ulva trip ( I am now going to ride the bike between Edinburgh and Glasgow for the test. )
        Many many thanks to those on Ulva who have been so kind, I am sure its going to be a big success.

      2. John Monro says:

        Thanks, there’s no certainties in life, still less in politics. it’s a bit like Scottish independence. How is that a guarantee of an insightful and forward looking government? It probably isn’t. All you can say is that if things go wrong, there’s no-one else to blame.

  8. Peter Twyman says:

    I enjoyed reading your piece on Ulva Maxwell, (and immediately recognised the view ) but I am very ignorant about both land reform and land management in Scotland, so the following two paragraphs comprise my entire corpus of thought on those subjects. I offer it not as an analysis but as a view from naive town, hoping for correction.
    ‘It seems that most of the Highlands and Islands are not well able to support a human population because of a lack of physical infrastructure, fertile land, telecommunications, connectivity and speedy, or in some cases, any, transport links. Because of that the existence of well managed gigantic estates is preferable to leaving the land as a desert.
    Sustainable self supporting communities face a lot of difficulties which are unlikely to be overcome by government action unless that action was the creation of something along the lines of tax free zones, whereupon the market place might do the job.’

    On the OTHER hand, I do have a special connection with Ulva. I was conceived on Iona in summer 1948, so although I was born in London I was bred in Scotland. But the connection with Ulva is not to do with genes; it is the evolution of a cultural meme specific to my family.

    Back in 1773 Boswell and Johnson stayed on Ulva and in my readings around their Hebridean travels I came across a tragic tale of a young laird (possibly Coll) drowning earlier in the eighteenth century. His boat was swamped travelling either to Ulva or a neighbouring island to visit a lady friend. I can’t now find my source material so that will have to do. But this drowning is thought to have inspired Thomas Campbell to write his poem ‘ The Ballad of Lord Ullin’s Daughter’. It tells the tale in which the Laird of Ulva, eloping with (the mythical) Lord Ullin’s daughter and pursued by (the mythical) Lord Ullin and a detachment of troops is drowned with his intended while fleeing across Loch Scridain to Ulva.

    My parents knew of this poem and thought it to be a ludicrous piece of nineteenth century melodramatic hyperbole. Active parishioners, they were always ready to organise an acting out of the poem for Parish fun evenings in the Church Hall or indeed given any excuse. So I had seen the poem acted out on a number of occasions. The climax, when Lord Ullin stands on the shore viewing the tiny boat in the raging storm (“Come back! come back!” he cried in grief,”Across this stormy water: And I’ll forgive your Highland chief, My daughter!–oh my daughter!”) was staged with a number of volunteers under blankets pretending to be a stormy sea. (‘One lovely hand she stretch’d for aid, And one was round her lover.’) The (cardboard cut out) boat and its passengers disappear into the waves. (‘The waters wild went o’er his child,– And he was left lamenting.’) Quite a riot.

    When I first visited the Boat House restaurant on Ulva I was fascinated to see a calligraphed copy of the poem prominently displayed on a wall. I had serendipitously discovered the site of the action! Trouble is that since my parents are long dead along with my brother I was short of people with whom to share this discovery. I called my brother-in-law and this led to a further discovery. He comes from a rather hidebound and straight laced family and had been very attracted to my family when he discovered it via my sister. This was at least partly because of what to him seemed to be rather bohemian and unconventional ways, which included informal amateur dramatics. (I thought my family was pretty straight laced so I guess it depends on your standards of comparison.)

    In our family in its current configuration my brother in law is, with my sister’s support, notable for producing, every year, a short play (these plays fit most easily into the Mummers’ Play category) to be performed by family members and guests at his birthday party at the beginning of December. This family tradition is now forty years old and enthusiastically continued even in his absence in Australia the year before last. The younger generations still celebrated his birthday and performed a play written, on that occasion, by one of my great nieces.

    The punch line is that he tells me he was inspired to do this after seeing performances of Lord Ullin’s Daughter produced, directed and choreographed by my parents. So there’s a straight line connection right back to Ulva’s Isle. And for me that’s even more special than my genesis on Iona.

    1. Arboreal Agenda says:

      Great story!

      It reminded me of ‘Coll’ the skipper of the boat that sailed Boswell and Johnson to Coll from Ulva and encountered a terrible storm in which they nearly died (memorably told by Boswell in the Tour), i.e. Donald Maclean, laird of Coll. He drowned the following year (1774) in another storm at sea.

      1. Arboreal Agenda says:

        Should have mentioned that there are several references to one Lauchlan Mcquarrie in Boswell’s life (a friend of his and Johnson’s) though this is, I assume, reference to the more famous Mcquarrie’s father. As far as I can tell Mcquarrie had got into serious financial trouble and so was forced to sell Ulva (and his whole estate) to Campbell (it having been in the family for a 1000 years).

        Looking up Mcquarrie junior he seems to have been a somewhat typical colonialist and responsible for some pretty heinous crimes along with the good stuff.

  9. Arboreal Agenda says:

    I was tempted in an armchair way to say yes, I’ll join you Maxwell! As an aside I looked at those cheap electric bikes in Halfords after your previous article. Not bad at less than £500 but not bought one yet as doing so well commit me to actually cycling to work again after I gave it up when I moved to the top of a very long, steep hill.

    You may know / might be interested in a passage on Boswell’s Life of Johnson where he writes a letter to Johnson in September 1777 detailing the sale of Ulva which was sold in two packages totalling £9080, to one Mr Campbell of Auchnaba. Boswell says: ‘The Laird of Coll wished to purchase Ulva , but he thought the price too high. There may indeed be great improvements made there, both in fishing and agriculture; but the the interest of the purchase-money exceeds the rent so very much, that I doubt that if the bargain will be profitable’.

    1. Maxwell macleod says:

      Interesting that the price it was sold to Lady C after the war was only £920 more than it was offered at in 1777.Seems the laird of Coll was right to say it was too expensive,or she hogs good deal,or both!
      If you are looking for an e bike you should consider the rad rhino as I notice they are offering them at 30 per cent off, I’ve been checking the market and that’s a steal.

      1. Peter Twyman says:

        Those Rad Rhino people are certainly getting their moneys worth. You can keep that bike with a clear conscience…

      2. Peter Twyman says:

        Those Rhino people are certainly getting their moneys worth. You can keep that bike with a clear conscience…

        1. maxwell macleod says:

          And I haven’t even written the bleeding article yet Peter. Mind you I will be saying when I do that when I filled up their panniers it was so top heavy I fell of , twice!

  10. SleepingDog says:

    As an amateur story-teller, it took me some time to put into words my disquiet at these articles. Fortunately, I had some help, and the author’s explanation of his story-telling persona relieves me of a concern about personal criticism of someone I have never met. The character of Menenius in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is an old, fat, pleasant, diplomatic, storytelling patrician who disnae water down his wine and meets with lowly plebeians, their tribune representatives and the ruling patrician class alike. Except not alike. He plays an “honest broker” yet in reality is chummy with the rulers and snidely disdains the commoners. His over-self-praised worth is cut down when his entreaties to angry exile Coriolanus fail yet subsequent pleas by C’s mother, wife and child succeed (feminist peacemaker supremacy). In the play (as in real life) when the populace change their minds, they are portrayed as fickle, but when aristocrats switch sides, there is a huge fabulous drama about it (honour, tears, family).

    So here in these articles we have an acceptance of a bribe of an electric bike for a positive view that is not publicly interpreted as a bribe. Anyone who has read books like How Corrupt is Britain? will recognise interpretations that UK society is far more corrupt than “not having to bribe state officials” may imply. Menenius is corrupt even if he does not recognise it. What is happening here? And I was introduced to the concept of an invisible knapsack of privileges.

    So: landownership. Systems (like democratic processes, collective decision-making) can be improved, but what about people? Personal — in this country hereditary — landownership? Do you believe in such personable improvement through, it surely must be, a belief in some sort of (aristocratic) “breeding”?

    It struck me that the invitation to admire Lady Congelton was hospitality to invited pals. Yet as a storyteller, one would know such hospitality of the rich is worthless, which is why gods such as Odin disguised themselves as blind beggars to test their would-be hosts’ true worth. Searching the web finds the Jewish parable of disguised-poor scholars turned away from a rich man’s gate, who is only too happy to host them when their names/status is announced (they send their baggage instead, while revisiting the home of the poor scholar who put them up before).

    So, in conclusion, Blood is Thicker than Dreams seems to me like a late-aristocratic defence in favour of patrician ownership of land over commoners, with appropriately modern spin and diversion and false balance. Of course, it could be satire, and I’m too thick to appreciate it.

    1. Maxwell Macleod says:

      Wonderful stuff, I commend you for your exquisite writing , and there’s a good element of truth in it, and I hope we meet one day to discuss the points you make . You will find me quiet of disposition and delighted to listen to your thoughts uninterrupted and with an open mind.
      However whilst your estimation of me as some duplicitous manipulator is perhaps understandable given your limited knowledge of me it is also overstated.
      However I admire you for your courage in making such accusation, we need people who have the nerve to put their foot down when they see wrong. However I think it was Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister( Lord Ashcroft ? ) who said that virtually nothing was ever entirely true and you over estimate my mendacity with your accusations.
      I stick with my core observations. There is good and bad in both the systems of land management that we see in operation in the highlands and islands. Good landlords who deliver great administrations, people who are genuinely liked and admired by their tenants. I think of the Locheils of Lochaber, the Macewens on Muck, Mrs Cameron-Head of Lochailort, John Lorne, Feare Canna, The Macdonalds of Glen Uig. I shall resist shaming the bad ones but their names are legion. It’s an outdated system and needs modification. But I also dont think the new systems of community ownership are without fault and again there are the good and the bad. Where communities get their acts together and build consensus and raise funds and thrash out business plans the result is often incredible, but as I say it’s not a system that can be rolled out across the whole of Scotland, we just don’t have the cash and centralised government is invariably inefficient . Wherever I see the dead hand of government intervention I usually also see corruption, dullness, and the blanketing of entrepreneurial zeal. Consider, the coastline of the Highlands and Islands is longer than that of France, and in the Small Isles alone ( four islands out of a population of what WH Murray estimates as being over three hundred) we have already spent half a million per head. My ideal would be a centralised system with limitless funds being handed out to community groups with massive support systems, but that’s hardly realistic. We need people of vision, such as yourself, to contrive new ideas in line with the future climate crisis. our reduced domestic finances and the needs of the disenfranchised highlanders whilst also accepting that there are decent rich people who are also prepared to make a contribution for the right reasons. Painting me as some kind of satanic figure may be fun, and not without cause, but it doesn’t move the process of finding a solution to these major issues any further forward, and I hope your next posting will.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Maxwell Macleod, oh neither satanic nor manipulative. My Republican Roman patrician example, Menenius, is a peacemaker, a patriot, who appears to act largely out of selfless motives. His blindspots, biases and corruption stem largely from structural systemic roots, but he appears far less bigoted than other patricians. His role-failure and personal dishonesty is to promote the horribly ill-suited Coriolanus as Consular candidate possibly for reasons of paternalistic sentiment, deceiving the people about C having a mild-caring side, on the back of C’s recent military successes (incidentally, there are Scottish hereditary landowners who appear to claim land rights partly as recognition of ancestors’ military service, even if that largely turns out to be shooting unarmed civilians in colonial ‘policing’ operations as they stole their land).

        Aside: the Shakespearean plays constitute a deep analysis and critique of one-person rule. There is a passage of dialogue in Macbeth (Act 4 scene 3), which is apparently often omitted in performance, where Malcolm tests Macduff with an appalling vision of kingship based on precedent.

        Menenius’ role-failure is that as (presumably) an ex-Consul himself, his role is to be one of many counterweights to the danger of one-person rule. Republican Rome has been called a mixed constitution, containing elements of monarchy, aristocracy (or oligarchy) and democracy. Strict monarchy is avoided by having two Consuls, elected for only a year’s term (I am not a historian and my description may be a bit sketchy). This tends to mean that there are many (tens of) ex-Consuls who retain an influential role in politics and form a check against a new Consul seizing sole power and changing the constitution. There are many such features of the Republican Roman system, checks and balances designed to prevent one-person rule: they revile the Kings who came before them (Tarquin was kicked out after the rape of Lucretia goes the story), and of course the Republic came to an end when the threat materialised at last in Julius Caesar and his imperial successors. The Republicans loathed and feared kingship for much the same reasons as painted by Malcolm (and for that matter God when the Israelites beg him to send them a king).

        The Republican Romans recognised that different kinds of decisions need different kinds of process. Obviously military decisions in the field followed a different (quicker, chain of command) process than strategic deliberations back in the war council (as the play illustrates). And clearly the patrician oligarchs should not be able to decide to make disaster capitalist profits by hoarding grain while the people starve (a point the elected Tribunes of the People make on their behalf).

        And yes, I regard private ownership of land which tenants live on as a form of one-person rule, with all the historical/political-philosophical objections that go with it.

        So, there might be an acceptable form of “mixed-constitution” land ownership/stewardship, where various combinations of stakeholders make varying kinds of decisions. I could suggest limiting the ability to inherit land, limits on extent of allowable holdings, removing any single-person (or role) decision ability. It’s not within my field of expertise, though. I note that even joint stakeholder ventures can be problematic, as when landowners team up with mountaineers to create nature-denuded mountaintops (“they make a desert and call it peaks”). I really do not care about the alleged personalities of individual landowners, and even if you had a benevolent (maybe even competent) dictator today, what about tomorrow? Death, dementia, debt, the corrupting influence of power, blackmail, influence of close contacts, growing sadism due to bloodsport fetishes, disablement due to accidental gunshot wounds, the effects of congenital syphilis, bribery, cash-flow problems… who knows? I am not sure why you do not follow your own recommendation to name (and shame) who you see as wrongdoers, perhaps we could learn more about the kinds of problems of bad land managers. It can be of no consolation to those suffering under such a yoke that good managers may exist elsewhere.

        1. maxwell macleod says:

          Ha, enough already, I getting on my bike going from Glasgow to Edinburgh Wish it would stop raining.

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