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Scottish Land Reform Sound Archives 1990s

Archive of Scottish Land Reform Audio Broadcasts with Alastair McIntosh during the 1990s


These 9 broadcasts (plus an interesting PDF of a letter) have all been digitised from old cassette tapes and saved in high-compression MP3 files. Beneath the index on this page is a paragraph of background on each broadcast. The files should download, open and play in your browser on clicking the links - download time will vary with the file length. Due to the high level of file compression, the sound quality is clear enough to understand but don't expect them to show off your hi-fi! The recordings are pieces of social history, but researchers should note that the selection here is not necessarily representative, comprising items from my personal archive that were kept because I was on them. Nonetheless, they comprise a vibrant snapshot into the kind of debates and feelings that ran during the 1990's as Scotland moved from the Thatcher era and towards Devolution with our own Parliament, and on into the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It is revealing that most of the recordings from my personal archive here are from 1994 - the year in which Eigg's residents formally took over running the Isle of Eigg Trust themselves. After that, the media rightly focussed much more on resident islanders and, increasingly, on public officials, as the channels dug out earlier swelled to the flow of subsequent political process.

[A Note on : Scotland's 2003 Act was often described at the time as the new Parliament's "flagship legislation". Politicians had been stimulated by what had happened on Assynt and Eigg. At the time I posed the "Eigg Test" as the test the strength of the proposed legislation - it needed to be strong enough to stop what landed power had done on Eigg from happening again. This principle was subsequently applied in parliamentary debate. By the time of posting this archive in 2007, more than a third of a million acres, representing just over 2% of the Scottish land surface, had moved into ownership by community land trusts. Eigg itself achieved community ownership on 12 June 1997. It had been the first contemporary Scottish land reform trust and the first such movement that was led by the whole community - crofters and non-crofters alike (Assynt, which was significantly inspiredby Eigg according to Alan Macrae, was the first successful modern buyout, and in turn, became a source of inspiration and strength for Eigg during the hard years.) Looking ahead, my own view is that land should be inalienably held by the communities of those who live in its bioregion, self-governed by democratic local process. Only heritable rights of secure tenure to that land should be seceded; not absolute freehold. The model for this is Scotland's traditional crofting system under the original 1886 and subsequent acts - our indigenous "land rights treaty", so to speak. This set up the landowner as "owner" or more to the point, holder, of the land, but crofters had secure heritable (i.e. they could pass it on) tenure to the land with freehold rights extending only to the "improvements" - houses, fences, etc.. Today, under community tenure, the landlord can be dispensed with and the community itself replaces that function, so that the residents of a place become tenants unto their own democratically accountable control. In this way, the community as a whole can set broad controls on local land use, blocking inappropriate development, encouraging what will bring life to the community, preventing speculation and organising infrastructure.]


Click the link to listen to broadcast. Full details and commentary are provided below, as numbered.

1. Lesley Riddoch's "Speaking Out" on Eigg & Gigha - Schellenberg/McIntosh debate,1992

2. Drennan Watson's land debate - McIntosh, Mathers (WWF) and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, 1992

3. Lesley Riddoch's "Speaking Out" - Schellenberg of Eigg debating with his tenants, 1994

4. Tom Morton's roundup of the Eigg struggle - Schellenberg & McIntosh interviews, 1994

5. "Costing the Earth" and "Newsbeat" - superquarries and the Pollok Free State protest, 1994

6. Good Morning Scotland plus amateur recording of Eigg's community taking over the Trust, 1994

7. "Dirty News" on the Eigg Trust takeover - with Schellenberg & Bourne-Arton, 1994

8. "Costing the Earth" on urban deprivation & rural resettlement, with leading campaigners, 1994

9. Colin Bell debate on why "things aren't looking too great for the aristocracy", 1999

10. PDF of emergency meeting letter sent out by Scottish Landowners Federation, 1998


Background on each programme - listen to them by clicking one of the above or below numbered links

1. 1992, Speaking Out on Eigg and Gigha, Lesley Riddoch hosts a debate between myself, the laird of Eigg, Keith Schellenberg, Disney Barlow (then Convenor of the Scottish Landowners Federation), with (the late) Dr Hector Maclean of Eigg (the only person who felt willing to speak out at that time), Isabel Holbourn of Foula in Shetland, Cllr Dr Michael Foxley of Lochaber and Seamus McSporran of Gigha. Both have since achieved successful community buyouts. This recording shows how badly matters stood on the islands under landlordism back then when Schellenberg had just thwarted our initial efforts to buy Eigg by complying with a court order to sell by buying it back through his own holding company. It also shows how resigned the people of Gigha were forced to be at that stage while they awaited a new private owner for their island. At a personal level as a campaigner, I am struck by how relatively poorly I was able to hold my own against Keith Schellenberg! I was just not well enough informed about the "facts" to which he made claim, not enough a master of the soundbite and maybe there were culture factors such as I discuss, below, with the 1999 Colin Bell Show recording. It is astonishing now to listen to this 1992 recording, just a year after we started the original Eigg Trust, and be reminded how explosive and autocratic Mr Schellenberg could be, and how relatively hapless we were. Our only real power was raising questions in a context of alternative vision, and then using the media to communicate, as Schellenberg puts it here, "the turmoil that Alastair has produced" - Alastair, with a few others, it should be said. As Issy MacPhail of the Assynt Crofters has said, we need to understand that the best weapon against the abusive landlord is not what you say, but what he says when you point a microphone at him! It is interesting, too, that Lesley says at one point in this Speaking Out broadcast, "I'm told that the phones are unnaturally quiet and I'm not sure what that means." At that time, speaking out about landed power not the done thing in Scotland. Possibly the greatest achievement of Scotland's land reform since the 1990's has been to break that culture of silence. Broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland, 7 July 1992, 57 minutes.

2. 1992, In the Country: The Sporting Estate - human ecologist Drennan Watson chairs a debate between myself representing the Isle of Eigg Trust and Centre for Human Ecology, Martin Mather of WWF Scotland, and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in this early milestone broadcast challenging the effects of landed power on human communities and the ecology of place. This recording is a really good insight into how pressure for land reform in the early 1990s was coming from social, psychological and ecological concerns. It also shows how far the debate over landed power has now shifted - public discourse no longer revolves to the same extent around landlord interests and even the Scottish Landowner's Federation have since, acting on the advice of PR consultants, euphemistically renamed themselves as the SRPBA - the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association. Broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland, 14 December 1992, 28 minutes.

3. 1994, Speaking Out from Eigg - Lesley Riddoch chairs a unique debate between Keith Schellenberg, then laird of Eigg, and the local residents, in what she subsequently described as "the most difficult piece of radio I ever did." Schellenberg turned up two hours late, keeping everybody waiting in the schoolroom - the only public space that they could operate from at that time as all the others were controlled by him. For my money, the best bit  here is where Maggie Fyffe responds to Schellenberg by pointing out that under his rule, the people had never been able to demonstrate their capacity to be responsible. Broadcast BBC Radio Scotland, 28 February 1994, 59 minutes.

4. 1994, Eigg's land reform profiled on Scotland's Islands, presented by Tom Morton, interviewees including Eigg's laird Keith Schellenberg, in a well-rounded exploration of the issues that gives a level hearing to both landed power and land reform. Broadcast BBC Radio 5, 20 December 1994, 13 minutes.

5. 1994, Costing the Earth on superquarries and the Pollok Free State M77 motorway protest (out of which the GalGael Trust originated). These pieces link a struggle in urban Scotland with the wider question of people's right to connect with the land and form communities of place. I've left on this digital version a little bit of the interview with the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas that preceded motorway item. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 7 December 1994, and recorded around the same day as the BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat item that follows it on this recording about the Pollok protest, broadcast 8 December 1994, 14 minutes.

6. 1994, Good Morning Scotland - BBC Radio Scotland news report of Isle of Eigg Trust handover to the community of 16 July 1994 plus my own amateur recording of the hand-over ceremony,  with a new board of trustees who were elected by the community (myself included). The original Isle of Eigg Trust was founded by four of us who were outsiders to the island in 1991. This was handed over and democratised at the ceremony recorded here in 1994. The original trust structure was then used as the legal and campaigning vehicle to raise the money for the 1997 buyout, but ownership of Eigg was taken into the tailor-made Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust that was created in 1997 for the purpose as a partnership between the islanders, the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. BBC material broadcast 18 July 1994. Both items totalling 23 minutes.

7. 1994, Dirty News bulletin from Eigg on the community taking over the original Isle of Eigg Trust. This is probably my favourite recording in this collection. It includes outrageous comments from laird Keith Schellenberg and the greatly amusing Christopher Bourne-Arton of the English Country Landowners' Federation. It's a great example of the Issy MacPhail principle of self-exposure by the proponents of landed power. Bourne-Arton's domineering arrogance and his presumption of the noblesse oblige of great wealth in running Highland estates is wonderful. What gets me is that these chaps get paid rent or capital (via mortgages) by the rest of us: the flow of revenue is from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, yet even I tended to overlook that fundamental fact in the 1990's debates. It's almost like it was too big an issue for us to have seen and exploited it in most of our campaigning. Broadcast on BBC Radio 5, 19 July 1994, 14 minutes.

8. 1996, Costing the Earth on land reform, urban deprivation and rural resettlement in Scotland. This is a really great piece of radio, as it captures many of the leading grassroots lights in Scottish land reform in the mid-90s. Interviewees include Colin Macleod of Pollok Free State (subsequently GalGael Trust), Andrew Gordon of Blair Atholl Estate (arguing against community participation, and predicting that the Assynt Crofters' buyout will succumb to neo-landlordism!), Ron Greer (ecologist), Angus McHattie (crofter), Kevin Dunion (Friends of the Earth Scotland), Cathy McCormack (Easterhouse, Glasgow), Rob Gibson (now a SNP MSP) and Andy Wightman (Who Owns Scotland?). Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 28 April 1996, 29 minutes.

9. 1999, The Colin Bell Show on why "things aren't looking too great for the aristocracy" as landowners and the Lords come under challenge - a debate with the rightwing pundit Richard D. North of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Sir Maxwell Macleod of Fuinary and the Isles, and myself, which reflects how far the challenge to landed power had moved along during the 1990s. However, it also shows just how resilient the apologists of aristocratic power (i.e. North) can be in putting their case, and although Maxwell is a good friend of mine, I was struck by how squeezed out of the debate I became as these two public school chaps cut and thrust with each other Oxbridge-style as I sat back, politely, and waited to be invited in, mostly in vain. My style was born of a culture where you wait to be asked rather than impose yourself upon the community. It is often confused with disempowerment, but it's not. It's a different way. In the context of contemporary Scottish rural community issues, this is one reason why the indigenous voice tends to get steamrollered, and why incomer/local divides sadly develop. The incomer very often comes from subcultures where "you have to push to get anywhere," while the indigenous experiences such pushiness as individualistic, contrary to collective discernment and violative of depth - "ignorant" in that distinctly Scottish sense of the word, that means "ignoring of human relations."  I remember feeling angered when I came out of this debate. I felt that Richard and Maxwell had been domineering and hogged the show. And yet, when I listen to this recording  now, I can see that it made for great radio, that they are brilliant debaters, and that I was just too sluggish on my feet - in a word, "outclassed" in both senses of the word "class". There's something here about different subcultures operating on different temporal wavelengths - having different relationships to time - and it leaves me feeling perturbed, rather like after my 1992 "Speaking Out" debate with Schellenberg (above), and yet, without a clear sense of what to do about it. Do you buy in to their way, or hold fast at the expense of appearing to have not much to say?  Broadcast BBC Radio Scotland 3 February 1999, 19 minutes.

10. PDF of a letter sent out in 1997 by the Convenor of the Scottish Landowners Federation (now the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association). I was given this letter by a landowner, on whose anonymous behalf I attempted to attend and represent him at the meeting. I was escorted back out of the hotel by the Convenor and one of his fellows, almost falling into the lap of the Duke of Buccleuch, resulting in a sequence of events described here. Fascinating aspects of this letter include the statement: "I do not believe there has ever been another occasion upon which the private landowners in Scotland have needed to come together to meet the challenges which they face." And also, how the impending reconstitution of the Scottish Parliament was seen as a real threat because, "A great number of these [land reform agitation] issues were local in a UK context, bit the overwhelming result of the Referendum for a Scottish Parliament raises their profile to an extent where legislative change is now easily conceivable."  To put it in more overt colonial language, the lairds were experiencing "a little local difficulty".


8 December 2007, updated Jan 2009


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