Thursday, 29 November 2012

Second Clearances?

The Facebook page of the West Harris Trust highlighted an article in the Daily Telegraph of 27 November 2012, on the plight of crofters, threatened with a second clearance. Having read the article, I formulated the following reply.

Interesting debate, indeed. In my opinion, it boils down to what to do about the ’second home’ use of crofts, leaving them unused for much of the year. On balance, I would come out with the Crofters Commission, knowing the history of the crofting movement to a certain extent. The people who went to jail in the 1880s did so to ensure that they and their descendants could work the land, without fear of summary eviction. Particularly in Melness, not far from Strathnaver where hundreds were cruelly driven off their lands in the 1810s, having this right misused rankles.

I also posted this comment on the Wall of the The West Harris Trust, where I happen to know plenty of second home lie empty a lot of the year, I would call for a debate to determine which, of the 21st century uses of a croft, is appropriate. Is using only the improvement (house) appropriate or sufficient? People who own a croft, like the person in the Telegraph article, very likely do not realise the responsibilities they take on. It’s not just a house in a pretty area. It’s a way of life. 

What I think is a more serious abuse of the crofting system is feuing off of parcels of land from a croft. The Taynuilt incident (where someone splintered his croft into a dozen feus for house building) was a very bad case of misuse of croftland. In Lewis, where I am based, I have seen many such instances, which can turn a crofting township into a housing estate. Feuing off, in my humble opinion, should be banned.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Lewis War Memorial

Memorial garden, Lewis War Memorial
Twenty-three plaques
More than fiteen hundred names
Standing in a circle
Below a prominent tower

Looking out over the town
Over the Minch
which they all had to cross
but never to return

Looking out over the island
At the villages near and far
From where they flocked
Eagerly but with hidden trepidation

In a circle near the top
their names are remembered
Parish by parish
In each World War

On land, in France or Mesopotamia
Out at sea, in the Atlantic or in the Mediterranean
In the skies over Britain and Europe
or even further from home

But closest to home
Within view of the tower now
The two hundred who drowned
at Holm Point, as 1919 started

Twenty-three plaques
More than fifteen hundred names
Remembered by theirs
Remembered by us all

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


The islanders of Scalpay have today voted to take their island into community ownership, after owner Fred Taylor offered it to them free of charge. The community has also voted to do so under the umbrella of the (adjacent) North Harris Trust.

Community ownership has herewith been extended to another part of the Western Isles, large areas of which are now managed by community trusts. The largest, in terms of area, is Storas Uist, which encompasses swathes of Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay. Parts of Harris (West and North) are under community ownership, and moves are afoot to also take the Bays area into community ownership.

How the Scalpachs, who up to now did not really regard themselves as Hearachs, will work under NHT is as yet not clear.

The votes cast were: For 197, against 8, turnout 78.2%. For N Harris involvement 110, against 96.

Friday, 2 November 2012


On 1 November, SSE published a statement that the interconnector will be rather more expensive (at least £775m) and delayed by at least 12 months. I need not remind regular readers that the interconnector (a high-voltage subsea cable with attendant infrastructure in the Isle of Lewis) is crucial for the many proposed renewable energy projects in the island. Neither need I remind readers of my serious misgivings regards some of aforementioned renewable energy projects.

The local MSP has expressed his concern over this development, stating that the delay is likely to lead to a further spiralling of costs. Furthermore, the delay will also (naturally) delay the renewable energy projects. These are being hailed as essential for the economic development of these islands, something I somehow take the liberty to doubt. I am certainly not going to swallow the possible assertion that all those windfarms would serve to reverse the multi-million pound cuts that have been proposed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
I am the last person to wish to stifle economic development in these islands, something that is badly needed. But windfarms are not the solution; the vast majority of profits do not end up locally, and they do not offer long-term employment.

Rather than having a single focus, perhaps different avenues for long-term employment and investment should be actively explored.