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Press Letters from Year 2004

Alastair McIntosh's Published Letters to the Press

 

From 2004 onwards - Chronological Order - Most Recent First 

 

 

Click here for letters prior to 2001 or 2001 - 2003

 

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Published in a Letters Special in the West Highland Free Press, 17 July 2015, after Professor Macleod had resigned his column claiming inhibition of his freedom of expression, and Brian Wilson's column was terminated. 

Dear Sir

I was one of the three whose letters you were good enough to publish (29 May) taking issue with Professor Donald Macleod’s column about Islam. I do not know what may or may not have happened behind the scenes - either with the Professor or, subsequently, with Brian Wilson (whose column read as honourable support for an old friend). I would imagine, however, that for all parties confidentiality might now be the better part of valour.

Donald is one of those rare theologians of the Highland church who has been prepared to come down from the pulpit and enter the rough and tumble of the marketplace. Christ set much the same example. Usually this has shed light. Sometimes (like with some of my own work), it has generated heat. Donald and I have had occasion to disagree robustly yet, like many of your readers, I have usually felt enriched by his spiritual teaching.

Thank you for having given him space down so many years. Perhaps a way might open for his voice to be heard and vigorously debated once again? Not without a little justification have his closest admirers called him “Scotland’s greatest living theologian.”

Alastair McIntosh
 

Published in the West Highland Free Press, 29 May 2015, p. 15,as the lead letter under the heading, "British Muslims 'need our solidarity, rather than marginalisation'". Also with other letters on same topic in PDF.

 

Dear Sir

At least Professor Donald Macleod (Footnotes, 22 May) acknowledges that, for centuries, we Europeans have turned up on foreign shores, “killing native inhabitants, destroying their culture and plundering their treasures.” He now fears “radicalised Muslims” coming over here, but fails to connect such militancy with our own recent destabilising interventions in countries like Iraq and Libya.

This narrows his vision down to one side of a conspiracy. He thereby fears “a coherent plan to increase the Muslim presence in Europe”, one that might even lead to, “an Islamised France, armed to the hilt and waiting to pounce.” His parallel with the Nazi (read Muslim) treatment of the Jews (read Christians) concludes with the sinister scenario: “in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.”

His remedy is to build up “spiritual barriers” with “a legion of formally-ordained Evangelists committed to the many Scottish communities where Christ is unheard-of, and where a passionate Islam would meet with no counter-faith.” This, because he fears that Highlanders of “a generation that is spiritually spineless” might find Islam more tempting than they have previously found evangelicalism. As such, we might “sleep-walk our way into the loss of all our freedoms.”

Leaving aside what indigenous Highlanders might make of such a diagnosis, I wonder how the said friendly Muslim shopkeeper, or the skilled hospital consultant, feels reading this in their local newspaper? To me, its spirit runs tantamount to the incitement of religious hatred. I am an advisor to senior British Muslims including, for the past quarter century, Dr Bashir Maan of Glasgow Central Mosque. Such community leaders feel as bad as we Christians do when they see their faith being blasphemously appropriated by those whose god is not of love, but violence. They need our solidarity, not marginalisation.

For me in this new millennium, I yearn to see a deepening understanding of the Cross as God’s supreme transformative symbol of nonviolence. Jesus told Pilate at his trial: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (John 18:36). He refused the disciples’ request to bring down fire upon their enemies, saying: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:51-56). He met with visiting Greeks (who were “pagans”), he spoke of Heaven’s “many mansions”, and remarked that “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16).

I have learned so much from Donald Macleod and hate having to write this letter. But I plead with you, and pray, dear Donald: don’t push our Muslim fellow humankind into a corner. We have no right to make our Christ too small.

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The Herald, 23 June 2014, under the heading, "Lost Lexicon of Piety Recovered" (also as PDF, and see also Foreword to Hunter)

 

Dear Sir

 

Having been a referee to the process, I am thrilled that UNESCO have granted “Memory of the World” to the Carmichael Watson Collection (“UNESCO recognition for Gaelic collection”, The Herald, June 19).

 

This archive of Hebridean spiritual folklore gathered by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) has been described by the Lewis-born Dr John MacInnes as “a lost lexicon of piety” and by the Colonsay-born Professor Donald Mackinnon as containing work “of rare literary beauty as well as of religious value.”

 

The South Uist-born Canon Angus MacQueen concludes a book of conference proceedings from the Islands Book Trust, saying: “I realise how sensitive his approach to our prayer life was, as if he were eavesdropping on the private life of those old folk who included their God in every passing moment of the day.”

 

UNESCO’s recognition brings honour on Edinburgh University’s Centre for Research Collections and especially, on this collection’s Principal Researcher, Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart, who is acutely aware of the further research opportunities that the resource affords. But above all, this is a world spiritual resource. It reveals the tender beauty of an underlying Hebridean spirituality, one that has increasingly found multi-denominational expression as a recovered lexicon of piety.  

 

Alastair McIntosh

Honorary Senior Research Fellow

College of Social Sciences

University of Glasgow

 

 

 

Published in The Friend, 11 April 2014, p. 11, under the heading, "Copyright Concerns"

 

Dear Editor

 

Hayley Gullen’s objection to one of her cartoons being used without permission on a Quaker Facebook page was headed “Copyright Concerns” (letters, 14th March). A visual artist’s work stands complete within itself. It cannot be cited in part as “fair use”. I therefore have a considerable measure of sympathy with her position,  namely: “The creator, therefore, maintains the impartial right to have control over where, and how, it is distributed. Not recognising this right has serious implications – for example, potentially reducing the income of hard-working artists.”

 

However – and if I might use Gullen’s position as a springboard beyond its context - I would be dismayed if Friends started to feel constrained from quoting literary work out of a sense that they ought first procure permission from authors and publishers. Already commercial interests are trying to narrow down time-honoured definitions of “fair use”. This colonises emotional and intellectual territory. It blocks the flow of motifs that only gained their currency in the first place by having traction with the common treasury of the cultural psyche.

 

I am told that Islam holds knowledge and creativity to be the gift of Allah. Some scholars therefore deem modern notions of “intellectual property” to be a form of theft. Jesus similarly challenged those who hold the keys of learning yet hinder others at the gate (Luke 11:52). Where stand Friends today? Do we still believe that work is worship? Are the fruits of our creativity really “ours”, any more than ministry under the promptings of the Holy Spirit can be said to be “ours”? Consider aquifers when drawing from the well.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in Scotland on Sunday, 30 March 2014, p. 36, under the heading, "Offended by 'Che Lamont' Cartoon"

 

Dear Sir

 

While I disagree with Johann Lamont on independence, I do respect her as a conviction politician with a track record on poverty and violence against woman. Your cartoon caricature of her face as “CHE Lamont” (Brian Adcock, 23 March) was violent to the point of obscenity.  I do not think that even Alex Salmond has been subjected to quite such an ugly attack.

 

Scotland can be proud that three of its four leading politicians – Davidson, Lamont and Sturgeon – are women. Is this how any – irrespective of party or position - should be treated in return for public service? Please, raise the level of debate with cartoons of humour that rise above the politics of demonisation.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in the West Highland Free Press, 14 June 2013, p. 23, under the heading, "Reminder of 'true Christian message' in Footnotes"

 

Dear Sir

 

Thank God that, in the face of brutalising schadenfreude in some sections of the media, Donald Macleod has the courage to remind us that both Johnathan MacKinnon and Stefan Millar, the killers of Liam Aitchison, are not sub-human, not beyond redemption, but bearers (whether we like the thought or not) of the image of God (Footnotes, 7 June).

 

I have lived for the past nine years in Govan, drawn by a project that works with broken people.  When photographs of MacKinnon and Millar were first published what hit me was the deep wrinkling in both their brows. I don’t know their backgrounds, but in Govan it disturbs me on a daily basis to see boys and girls with their brows prematurely furrowed in this way – usually a product of early fear, violence and alienation.

 

The reminder in Footnotes that “their humanity has a claim upon us” is the true Christian message. It flows directly from the Jesus of the Four Gospels as distinct from more arguable injunctions that consume much church energy but are found only in Paul or the Old Testament.

 

“Love thy God” and “love one another”. Such is the Great Commandment of Christ. Thank you, Rev Macleod.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The Stornoway Gazette, 20 September 2012, p. 4, under the heading, "Wind Farm Reaction".

 

Dear Madam

 

Struan Stevenson MEP has a built up a strong track record doing his utmost in Europe to protect the fisheries interests of Scottish coastal communities. He is also President of the Intergroup of the European Parliament on climate change and therefore not ignorant of the environmental threats that beset the Earth. It is therefore significant that he has spoken out on your letters page against huge export-scale wind farms on Lewis (September 13th). As one who has felt divided down the middle by the wind farm debate, it has stirred my growing sense of unease.

 

The land of Lewis is not just for tourists. It is filled with local people’s memory, meaning and markers of identity.  However, to stand close to a large windfarm has the visual effect of taking everything over. It is impossible not to be fixated by the whirring machinery. Graceful, it may be for a while, but soon it feels like being jangled inside the gearbox of some much greater machine.

 

To keep that in context, however, there is a world of psychological difference between turbines erected by a community trust for the common good, and those put up by a private landowner in league with a multinational company for primarily for private gain. However, the economics of the proposed interconnector cable to the mainland is already placing both of these together in unholy wedlock.

 

The scale of what happens in the future depends on the interconnector. If it goes ahead, the sheer level of energy production needed to justify its cost would lift restraints and further drive the island to becoming an offshore platform for energy export. Ask the people of Gravir what even a little of that loss of participation and control feels like as plans for their community are currently being laid over their heads.  

 

The big question that faces us is this. What is an island like Lewis and Harris actually for? What is its higher calling in the service of today’s world? Is it to seek the self-reliance of economic sufficiency while getting on with pursuing our Chief End in life, or has that Chief End become for some the pursuit of riches in ways that only stimulate the demand for more energy?

 

The soul does not live not from bread alone. It needs beauty, and beauty is not a luxury. As John Calvin wrote in the Institutes (Book III:XIV:20): “Meanwhile, being placed in this most beautiful theatre, let us not decline to take a pious delight in the clear and manifest works of God.…  Remember … that all which meets the eye is the work of God, and at the same time to meditate with pious care on the end which God had in view in creating it.”

 

It is good, very good, to produce local energy to meet local need by local people in a community where the level of consumerism is relatively low compared with the rest of the UK. But quite another to become an energy export platform for the less restrained appetites of Babylon and Rome. Scale is the issue, and its balance hangs, like a Damoclean sword, on the interconnector.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

 

Published in the West Highland Free Press, 2 December 2011, p. 18, under the heading, 'In defence of Reverend Kenneth Macleod."

 

Dear Sir

 

Being observant of the use made of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser’s “Songs of the Hebrides” by contemporary musicians who make their own adjustments and re-interpretations, I was pleased to read John Purser’s and Domhnall Uilleam Stiùart’s defence of her (25 November).

 

Perhaps, however, that same defence might be extended to the criticisms sometimes made of her collaborator, the Rev Kenneth Macleod of Eigg and laterally, Gigha.

 

Macleod’s writing embodies qualities that were not just of the Christian era, but also of that which perhaps went before. As such, he sits uncomfortably with both Church and secular modernity, but not, it might be argued, from within his own tradition.

 

It should be remembered that it was the great Professor MacKinnon, chair of Celtic at Edinburgh University, who persuaded Macleod to collaborate with Mrs Kennedy-Fraser. He agreed to do so in order to preserve the tradition in what ways were possible while it was still there. Neither should be judged by the standards of today’s ethnomusicologists whose methods are more exacting but whose sources are more depleted.

 

Macleod made no secret that he wove together fragments drawn from tradition with his own redactions, variations and developments. The back of “The Road to the Isles” contains source notes. These, he says, are intended “to make quite clear which poems are wholly or partly old; the other poems are the author’s own work.”

 

How else, we might ask, is a tradition bearer not only to carry tradition, but also to let it recover, breath and grow from its own roots?

 

Anything less than such living engagement from such a man as the Rev Kenneth Macleod would have been fossilisation. It may be true that many of his verses sound whimsical to the modern ear,  but could it also be true that that same ear requires refinement? Could it be, as Iain Crichton Smith suggested, that we have suffered a decline in “the feeling intelligence”?

 

Have we forgotten how to allow time to slow down outwardly so that inner presence can deepen? For as an elderly woman on Lewis put it to me: “These days everybody is too busy and too noisy.”

 

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in the West Highland Free Press, 8 July 2011, pp. 15 & 18, under the heading, "Nature and authority of the scriptures." The "Professor" in question was my friend the columnist the Rev Prof Donald Macleod, until recently Principal of the Free Church College. The Rev MacDonald was responding to one of his (relatively) liberal columns. A "marag" is a Stornoway black pudding, made of oatmeal, spices and blood, the most famous, as everybody knows, being made by the Stornoway butcher, Charlie Barley. I found this an unusually disturbing letter to write. It was questioning not just the small matter, of the obsession of some church figures with sex, but the much larger question of how scriptural authority is used. One would probably have to be from the Isle of Lewis or somewhere like it to see why this is such an issue. I just felt I had to write it even though it is not a matter that affects me or mine directly, and though I knew, from past experience, that it would not earn many Brownie points in a social reference group that remains important to me.

 

Dear Sir

 

There is clearly sensitivity and nuance in the Rev Ivor MacDonald’s letter (WHFP 26/6/11) relating to gay ordination that goes deeper than he has been able to unpack in a tight space. I value his thought-provoking public engagement in this way. However, one of his primary concerns is with the nature and authority of the Scriptures. My question is: how ought we to select and prioritise Scripture proofs?

 

Most of us are probably not ‘gay’. I certainly am not. But I know people who are, and for these it is deeply hurtful and prejudicial to have it suggested that how they are is somehow contrary to the teachings of Christ.  

 

Jesus never mentions homosexuality. The basis for considering it to be a sin is usually drawn from Moses and Paul.

 

Jesus fulfilled the teaching of Moses, subsuming it with the law of love. Some, however, argue that the gay injunction still stands. They interpret that Paul carried it forward into the New Testament.

 

Leaving aside the question of Paul’s authority over matters never raised by Christ, I observe in Acts 15 that he was a party to the Council of Jerusalem. This forbade ‘fornication’. However, in the same breath it equally bans the consumption of animal blood.

 

Can anybody explain to me how Scriptural authority can be invoked to compromise our homosexual brethren while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to those who strive for European recognition for Charlie Barley’s Marags?

 

Is the distinction honestly Scriptural, or is it a matter of personal feeling? I for one can think of gay Christian vegetarians who would most certainly consider the Marag to be the greater sin. Personally, I am apt to call a truce as I like a good Marag.

 

Jesus never promised us the gospels, or even the teachings of Paul.

 

Jesus only promised us the guidance of the Paraclete, the ‘advocate’ or ‘helper’, the Holy Ghost or Spirit.

 

I put it respectfully to the Rev MacDonald: is the living Spirit of God as love made manifest not our only sure mandate? Is it not the only filter through which the Scriptures should be selected and prioritised?

 

On such account: can your columnist, the Professor, be faulted?

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The Herald, 11 June 2011, p. 17, under the heading, 'Fight to save threatened courses...' Where this letter has been edited to say "a major cement company" the original was worded to say, "... Lafarge, the world's biggest producer of cement."

 

Why should such threatened subjects as geography and sociology matter at Strathclyde University? As a Strathclyde visiting professor linked to those subjects, let me give an example. 

 

I serve, by choice unpaid to avoid conflict of interest, on a think-tank panel for a major cement company. We advise on emerging world issues, helping to raise the level of the playing field on which social and environmental issues unfold.

 

In recent years we have helped the group pioneer industry-leading action on lobbying, anti-corruption, human rights and emissions including greenhouse gases.

 

Last month the group stated recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is extraordinary for an extractive industry.

 

Working directly with the chief executive and his executive, what makes the difference are not just the “hard” technological skills, but the “soft” ones drawn from disciplines like geography and sociology.

 

Such is the power of the Scots generalist tradition. Here specialist knowledge is recognised as needing the broad context of the democratic intellect.  

 

I do hope that the Principal of Strathclyde University can find a way to sustain the teaching of such useful knowledge.

 

Alastair McIntosh 


 

Published in The Herald, 9 November 2009, p. 12 under the heading, "First-rate Theology". A cut that was made to the published version of this alters the tone of the letter, so I have shown it restored in red lettering.  

It happens that my wife knows the actress and playwright Jo Clifford and so, with some trepidation on Saturday night she took me – a born heterosexual - to see Jesus, Queen of Heaven.

 

We were challenged by protestors at the door. I suggested that perhaps the Bible contains the Word of God but is not necessarily entirely of that Word. And even Paul said that in Christ there is “neither male nor female” (Galatians 3).

 

They said the play and my defence of it was “Dragging God through the sewage of sodomy.” I did, however, acknowledge the integrity of their witness, to which one responded in a touchingly spontaneous way that he hoped I’d enjoy the play.

 

In the theatre we were seated as participants at the Last Supper - bread and drink spread on the tables. Enter Jesus, the transsexual Queen of Heaven, who started accurately and sensitively to tell Bible stories.

 

What unfolded was profound and mind-blowing liberation theology. For who are any of us to say that a human being born cross-gendered or otherwise “gay” is not equally in the “image of God”; not equally free to celebrate and enjoy who they are?

 

Jo Clifford’s play closed with all of us present choosing to receive from her the sacrament of Holy Communion. Even the several other Quakers that I saw in the audience participated – and we Quakers don’t do something like that, even in a conventional church, unless we really feel inwardly moved.

 

I am sorry if this letter will sound blasphemous to some. Yes, Jesus, Queen of Heaven is disturbing, but that is precisely what makes it is first rate theology. Perhaps it is time for some of us straights to get used to that … otherwise we’ll never let Jesus down from the Cross.

 

Published in The West Highland Free Press,  23 October 2009, p. 17, as the lead letter under the heading, "Time To Build On What Crofting Has And Make It Work Properly."

Dear Sir

 

Four years ago my wife and I holidayed on Clare Island off the Irish west coast. When our self-catering landlady discovered my interest in land reform she said, “There’s a community meeting on tonight about the housing shortage for young people. Will you tell us about Scotland?”

 

Once there I acted the daft laddie and said, “I can see that there’s no shortage of potential housing plots here, so evidently you have an oppressive system of tenure. Who are the lairds whose greed blocks the flow of life in your community?”

 

A stunned silence swept the hall. It fell to the chair to speak the unpalatable truth. “We don’t have a system like crofting here,” he said. “Since we kicked the British out we’ve all been private proprietors. We’re now the cause of our own troubles.”

 

At that a young farmer stood up. “I would give a housing plot from my land to the community,” he said, “but only if we developed a structure to stop it from being sold on to the highest bidder or becoming a holiday home.” An English incomer followed, making the same offer. I never checked on whether anything came of all this, but that night the community agreed to explore such options further.

 

Scottish crofting is already a structure that, granted we now have land reform and the potential for full community empowerment, can allow the collective holding of land tenure alongside private ownership of the “improvements” such as the house.

 

Such a system can save young families from having to spend half a salary just to cover repayments on the market value on the housing plot. It is better than job creation because it reduces the pressure on parents to work excessively, thereby leaving more space in life for children and community.

 

But most astonishing of all is that these can no longer be caricatured as yesterday’s worn-out ideas from a dying way of life. This month the Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Elinor Ostrom. Her work shows how community groups can successfully manage overlapping rights to shared natural resources. Crofting is precisely such a system!

 

We need to build on what crofting already is to make it work properly once more. So, all power to such thinkers as feature regularly in this paper - Jim Hunter, Brian Wilson, Susan Walker, Iain MacKinnon, Nick Reiter, Patrick Krause, and the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham - in seeking to discern a wise way forward.

 

Ireland's Ryanair-like ethos of privatisation now lies tangled in negative equity and family bankruptcy. Community-held crofting tenure is now what's at the cutting edge of Nobel-class economics.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in The West Highland Free Press, 11 Sept 2009, p. 15, under the heading, "Allowing croft land speculation only creates dying communities."

Dear Sir

 

Susan Walker has done a great service with her spirited defence of crofting against free market commodification of the land (4 September).

 

Her call for community resilience – that is, the ability to hold things together in hard-pressed times – is far more than just a lifestyle option.

 

Consider what might have happened had the banks been allowed to completely collapse last October. Suppliers would have been thrown into limbo. What then for those living at the end of a global food supply chain?

 

That’s only one reason why a vibrant crofting sector is vital for local food security in remote areas.

 

Recently I encouraged a bright young Canadian student under my supervision, Lauren Eden, to undertake her thesis research in Stornoway.

 

She compared what happens today when the ferry fails to sail for a day or two with how it was during the six week long seaman’s strike in 1966, when Harold Wilson declared a national state of emergency.

 

Most people got by OK because crofting, and its ethos of sharing, was still vibrant. In contrast, today the supermarket shelves start emptying within hours.

 

But the lynchpin of crofting is more than just being a system of agriculture. It is also an network of relationships between people and place. At its deepest level, this is about the spirituality of community as something that transcends individualism.

 

That is what makes the idea of privatising the land so offensive. Crofting should be about living with, if not necessarily entirely from, the land. In this day and age it should be the community that holds the land base, with heritably secure resident tenants accountable unto their democratically elected selves.

 

To have allowed and further to allow croft land to become the subject of speculation, excessive holiday homes or long-term absenteeism only creates dying communities pockmarked with holes. Such is the human equivalent of the neutron bomb effect – the military ideal of killing the personnel whilst leaving the outer equipment and infrastructure intact for capture.

 

Many years ago I declined the inheritance of a croft because I knew that my work and family circumstances would have relegated it to becoming a holiday home. The position from which I write is therefore not a hypothetical one.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 2 July 2009, p. 11, under the heading, "Decay in the Hebrides."

Over many years reference has been made in books, discussions and the columns of this newspaper to research undertaken during the inter-war years into the remarkable dental health of Hebridean islanders on the traditional diet.

It may interest your readers that this study is now available, free of charge, as an internet version of a book that was originally published in 1939. Written by Dr Weston A. Price of the American Dental Association, it is called, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects, and is evidently considered a classic amongst nutritionists.

Chapters address the indigenous Swiss, Eskimos, Africans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, but the one of interest here is Chapter 4, entitled “Isolated and Modernized Gaelics.”

 

It starts: “Stories have long been told of the superb health of the people living in the Islands of the Outer Hebrides.” Dr Price corroborated this. He found that in villages where the diet remained primarily oats, seafood, meat and dairy, physical development was “characterized by excellent teeth and well formed faces and dental arches.”

 

He was particularly struck by islands where the diet was primarily seafood and oats. On Scalpay, “only one tooth out of every hundred examined had ever been attacked by tooth decay.” In contrast, a nearby settlement with access to modern sweet and processed foods revealed that “children had an incidence of 32.4 carious teeth out of every hundred teeth examined”

 

Dr Price remarks in glowing terms upon the culture and spirituality of the islands. Here were a people who “possess a physique that rivals that found in almost any place in the world.” Clearly moved by the industriousness and piety of Stornoway’s herring girls, he said: “It would be difficult to find examples of womanhood combining a higher degree of physical perfection and more exalted ideals than these weather-hardened toilers.”

 

He concludes: “Life is full of meaning for characters that are developed to accept as everyday routine raging seas and piercing blizzards representing the accumulated fury of the treacherous north Atlantic. One marvels at their gentleness, refinement and sweetness of character.”

 

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Drumoyne, Glasgow, G51 3YD.

[The full text of Dr Price’s study can be accessed online at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html#ch4]

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 28 February 2008, p. 6, under the heading, "Community is about belonging"

Some time has passed since 31 January when you carried an article headed Vice Convener defends criticism over radio interview. I wonder if it might not be too late still to comment. According to your report, Vice Convener Angus Campbell had been “forced” to issue an explanation that his use of the term “indigenous people” meant “all of the people who live in the Western Isles.” This followed a complaint to CnES from a Mr Paul Blake who, apparently, had been “astounded” to hear reference to indigenous people in a context that spoke about “the future of the people of the Western Isles.”

 

I have not read Mr Blake’s letter of complaint and I did not hear Mr Campbell’s original broadcast. I will therefore not directly address this case but reflect, instead, on the wider issues that it touches on. These have become a burning question in many parts of the world where indigenous or traditional cultures have come face to face with the consequences of cheap travel and high mobility that alters their social structure.

 

The root issue is this: does the fact that somebody can up sticks elsewhere and buy what they perceive to be “a property” on the Isle of Lewis mean that they have also bought their way into instantly becoming full members of the community? At a legal level they probably have. They have a right to vote and all the rest of it. But there is much more to community than just the outward legal structures. There are psychological, cultural and spiritual considerations too. Community is about belonging, and belonging, as Iain Crichton Smith put it in a celebrated essay (soon to be available on the web), is about “real people in a real place”. That is a connection that deepens over time. It has to be earned and gifted rather than grasped at or bought.

 

In recent years I have had often had cause to feel outraged at the manner in which a certain type of incomer – typically the sort that comes to buy the view rather than to belong in a community – tramples wilfully over the gentle and accommodating culture that is already found there. I can say this, because I myself came to Lewis as an incomer at the age of four in 1960, having been born in England of an English mother and a Scottish father (with two Gaelic-speaking grandparents). I therefore describe myself as being “raised” in Lewis, but not as native. Any degree to which I may have become at least partly “indigenous” is due less to blood lineage than to having been profoundly fostered as a child into the community of North Lochs. Today I live away, but as Iain Crichton Smith implies, you may leave the island but you never leave the community. This is a connection that I feel at a visceral level and for which I am profoundly grateful. It influences much of my work.

 

It has been my experience that a person belongs inasmuch as they are willing to cherish, and be cherished, by a place and its peoples. As Maoilios Caimbeul has translated those words for me: Alba: Buinidh neach an seo/ fhad ’s a tha iad deònach/ tasgadh is a bhith air an tasgadh/ leis an àite/ agus a mhuinntir.

 

This is what creates an authentic sense of belonging and which, perhaps, can graduate all residents of a community in the direction of becoming indigenous over time. Such a gift starts as hospitality in the short term and melds into the deeper gift of fostership for permanence. In Gaelic tradition fostership can count for even more than blood lineage: “The bonds of milk are stronger than the bonds of blood.” But it can never be bought, demanded, or forced by statute. It can never be grabbed at by making the people who really are native to a place feel that their indigenous roots and heritage count for nothing or are, at best, a commodity that comes free when buying “property”. Like all things sacred, community can only be approached as one might approach one who is dearly beloved - with the most profound respect, even veneration.

 

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Drumoyne, Glasgow, G51 3YD.

 

Published in The Scotsman, 7 November 2007, under the heading, "Flying Flag for Feminism."

In urging St Andrew to move over and let in a bit more girl power (5 November), Lesley Riddoch overlooks evidence that suggests he was a pioneering feminist. Early Christian apocryphal writings tell us Andrew died on an X-shaped cross because he urged Roman soldiers to relinquish violence, and stuck up for women's rights.

According to the various acts of Andrew, the Roman proconsul, Aegeates, was in the habit of coming home drunk each night and imposing his rooster-like advances upon his Christian wife, Maximilla. Andrew persuaded her to go on sex strike, and the rest is history. As such, if Scotland's Saltire stands for anything, it symbolises a man who, among other things, gave his all for peace and feminism.

But it is Ms Riddoch's important suggestion about Bhrighde, or Saint Bride, that needs taking further. The Scottish Government has announced a winter festival with celebrations from St Andrew's Day "to Burns Season at the end of January". The end of January also marks St Bride's Eve - a sacred time in the Celtic calendar because it symbolises light returning after winter.

It would take only a minor announcement to integrate St Bride with the winter festival, thus starting it with a man, closing with a woman, and pleasing even the iconically feisty Lesley Riddoch.

Alastair McIntosh [See Theology in Scotland paper on this at this link]

Reply published Nov 9th under the heading, St Bride's Day Festival: 

I would endorse the idea of a St Bride's day national festival marking the end of the winter season, as suggested by Alastair McIntosh (Letters, 7 November).

I understand St Andrew was adopted as patron saint as part of the process of deposing the saints of the Celtic church, such as Columba and Bride. Patrick Geddes wanted to reclaim them by having a statue of St Columba in Edinburgh's Lawnmarket.

In returning to Celtic roots symbolised in Columba and Bride, goddess of fire and light, children and family, we would also be choosing a more green, integrative consciousness - restoring value to the dark, the feminine, the peaceful and poetic.

To recognise St Andrew at the end of November and to conclude with a celebration of Bride as the light returns at Imbolc, the church's Candlemas, would be to turn to a meaningful and inspiring symbolism.

TESSA RANSFORD, Royal Park Terrace, Edinburgh

 

Published in The Herald, 20 August 2007, under the heading, "Crofting Reform."

 

For once I am in partial agreement with the lairds’ trade union, the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) (your report, 16 August). Their suggestion to revoke the rights of crofters individually to buy their land is sound. Land ownership by individuals in a free market never sat comfortably with the crofting ethos. The 1976 Act that opened the doors to this always had slow take-up amongst indigenous crofters. For many, it never felt right for land to be treated as a private commodity. Instead, it was a blessing: one that allowed for individual freedom and livelihood, but in a context that had a measure of community accountable through such structures as grazings committees.

 

It is important to grasp this point as Professor Schucksmith’s Committee of Inquiry on Crofting examines the future. But that does not mean a return to traditional landlordism like the SRPBA seems to want. Here I must part company with the lairds. Instead, we need a stronger framework by which communities, not lairds, can own the land – and do so especially to address issues of environmental sustainability, local entrepreneurship and affordable housing.

 

Embedded in crofting law going back to 1886 is the principle that a crofter owns the ‘improvements’ to the land – the house, fences, etc. – but never the land itself. Under feudal landlordism that was deeply problematic. It gave disproportionate power to lairds whose sole qualification was their wealth. But today, under land reform, crofting communities can be democratically accountable landholders unto themselves. It is therefore essential to block the leakage of community assets onto speculative private markets. This can be achieved in various ways. Burdens on title deeds are one. Joint ownership (or shared equity) is another, where the community retains a controlling interest. And a third is to develop existing crofting tenure so that communities retain inalienable control of the land upon which private properties are built.

 

Crofting matters for the future of Scotland. It matters as a pattern of tenure by which people can live with the land even if not necessarily from the land. This generates a cycle of belonging: a sense of belonging, identity, values and therefore, responsibility that sustains both people and place. It thereby contributes to the strength of Scotland as a whole. That is why crofting matters and why the present review by the Schucksmith Committee is so important.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in the The Herald, 23 July 2007, p. 10, under the heading, "Action for the Prime Minister to consider."

As the nation is deluged the government has much to say about flood protection but very little about its underlying causes. I would like to volunteer as Gordon Brown's speech-writer. Confidentially, within the columns of your newspaper, I propose to him the following emergency address to the nation.

"The evidence suggests that climate change is now the most pressing problem of our times. England's floods are but a symptom of the turbulent future we face. The root causes are greenhouse gases produced by our appetite for carbon-based energy. Action is called for on a scale unprecedented outside wartime. Therefore, I wish to reintroduce and escalate those carbon taxes that the fuel protesters thwarted in 2000. Climate change demands a greater patriotism than that of economic self-interest.

"With due protection for the poor, we must tax carbon-based energy profligacy until Britain's share of greenhouse gas emissions is consistent with the best scientific advice. The proceeds from these taxes will, first, provide relief for uninsured flood victims. Secondly, they will institute a massive programme of public works for flood protection. And, thirdly, they will be used internationally to mitigate climate change and to compensate those who suffer most: the poor.

"With other European heads of state, I will require the World Trade Organisation to introduce discriminatory tariffs on trade with nations that would otherwise seek competitive advantage by shirking their responsibilities. And starting with the elimination of nuclear weapons and the recall of our troops from abroad, we will shift resources from the war on terror towards true security - environmental security - within a new framework of life-giving international relations.

"These are grave measures that must be put to the country. Therefore, I request Her Majesty to dissolve parliament and call a general election."

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 1 February 2007, p. 8, under the heading, "Coming off the fence."

Throughout the Lewis windfarm debate I have felt unable to voice objection to any but the Eisken proposal (which is for the enrichment of a private landowner and fringes a National Scenic Area). With respect to the larger AMEC/British Energy proposal for north Lewis, I’ve been utterly divided within myself.

On the one hand, humankind must cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and I have the greatest respect for the integrity of some of the people, especially in the Stornoway Trust, who have been pushing the AMEC contribution forward.

On the other hand, the massive scale, even of AMEC’s revised proposal, will destroy the tranquillity of much of Lewis. I happened to see the computer representation shown on the BBC Coasts programme. The scheme would turn large areas of Lewis into a massive machine. To live there would be like having one’s head inside the gearbox.

However, given the importance of the wider health of the planet, I have found my tongue tied. As the author of Soil and Soul, many islanders have written to me asking that I help oppose the development, like with the Harris superquarry in the 1990’s. The most that I could offer was my position piece published in The Hebridean of 21 August 2003. There I said: “A wind farm at least makes visible the environmental cost of the energy that we already consume,” but added, “The first principle of acceptable wind farms is that communities must give their consent, they must collect much of the benefit, and they must remain in control of future developments.”

Neither the North nor the South Lewis proposals meet that condition. Furthermore, as regards the wider wellbeing of the world, I observe that several prominent environmental organisations that otherwise support windfarms have concluded that Lewis is too unique for world heritage to allow it to be sacrificed in this way. This is hugely important. It is not just local residents who do not want the windfarms in their back yard: it is the wider world also.

Consider for a moment what the true exports of our islands are. Nan MacKinnon, tradition-bearer of Vatersay, spoke truthfully when she told Tocher magazine in 1983 that, “If all the music of the world was cut off, the music of the Western Isles would serve the whole world.”

That music is just one form “export” of a community that has been able to find its “rest” in the land. And I use that expression Biblically, where the divine gift of land is understood as meaning nothing less than the finding of “rest” with God (Psalms 95:11).

Thanks to our Scottish Parliament, Hebridean communities are today in a very different position than they were ten years ago. Then, windfarm income was seen as a way of financing community land buyouts. But today, some two-thirds of the people of the Western Isles live on community owned land. Windfarm revenue could still be one way to finance future community development, for sure. But another is simply the freeing up of land that will make socially affordable housing a reality, and thereby reduce the necessity for families to have to earn so much to pay off usury in the form of mortgages.

I have weighed up the changing arguments about the Lewis windfarms, and with the greatest of respect to those who have advanced the proposal, but with an ear to both local communities and the wider world, I find myself forced to come off the fence. I shall be writing to the Scottish Executive before the 5th February deadline adding my voice of opposition whilst still maintaining the strongest support for community-scale renewable energy developments that meet the condition defined above. 

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Drumoyne, Glasgow, G51 3YD

 

Published in The Herald, 31 January 2007, p. 14, under the heading, "Most people in Lewis want wind power, but on a community, not an industrial, scale." (See also earlier article on this matter ... I have become less sympathetic to corporate involvement as the imperative of community control and consent appears to be being disregarded.)

THE massive scale of the proposed Lewis wind farm not only divides the community (January 29), it has also left many of us divided within ourselves. On the one hand, we, in the industrialised west, must face the music of our energy profligacy. On the other, it seems a bit rich that Lewis has been targeted for an industrial operation that will dwarf most other features of the landscape and leave both residents and visitors alike feeling as if their heads have been thrust inside a massive gearbox.

For several years I have resisted speaking out about this. To have done so as a Lewis-raised environmentalist who is in favour of renewable energy would have felt like special pleading. But now a growing chorus of outside bodies seems to be contributing its voice to the perception that Hebridean cultural and environmental heritage is just too important to the wider world to allow it to be messed with.

Added to that, more than two-thirds of the population of the Western Isles now live on community-owned land, representing over half of the islands' landmass. The original idea that wind farms could finance land reform is, therefore, becoming redundant except at a community scale, as on Gigha. Instead, the most important new economic stimulus for communities will be the freeing-up of land for affordable social housing, thereby reducing the usurious costs of mortgages. This means that families will not need to earn so much cash in the first place to achieve dignified living standards.

Up to 90% of local people living on Lewis do want wind power at a community scale, but not as an operation of advanced capitalism. Should we not, therefore, be putting our efforts into options for low-impact rural livelihood rather than shunting the power from desecrated beautiful landscapes down to desolate city high-rises? Should we not be learning better how to "be" so there's no longer such profligate pressure to "have"?

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published in The Herald, 26 December 2006, under the heading, "Memorable Donation."

I have just read your feature on Tunnock’s teacakes and its mention of Boyd Tunnock’s charitable giving (Business, 22 December). It reminded me of how, some twenty-five years ago when working as a young fundraiser for a leprosy relief charity, I wrote to Mr Tunnock, and he sent back £100. It was just about the only appeal I made to business that ever bore fruit, and to this day, in what is perhaps a fitting thought for Christmas time, I cannot eat a Tunnock’s caramel log without, at the same time, savouring the lingering sweetness of that company’s very Scottish calibre of generosity.

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.


Published in The Herald, 24 July 2006, p. 14, under the heading, "Christians, Muslims and Jews should not be boxed into straitjacketed interpretations of scripture". (The co-author, Dr Maan, represents Scotland on the Muslim Council of Britain. Please click this link to read an interview that he and I conducted with the leading Christian scholar of Islam, the Rev Prof William Montgomery Watt). 

 

We write as a Christian and a Muslim with a shared love of interfaith dialogue. This can take place only where differing faiths approach one another with respect. It is fitting that we critique one another’s faiths from the “outside”, so to speak, but equally, we must strive to understand the other from “within” their own frame of reference. 

Unfortunately, David Forrester’s letter falls short in this respect (22 July). On the surface, his critique is reasoned. However, Mr Forrester fails to consider these texts in the light of accepted Islamic commentary. For example, the authoritative work of Abdullah Yusuf Ali is resolute in its treatment of the passage that Mr Forrester perceives as a “mandate for wife-beating” (Surah 4.34). Citing one of the foremost authorities on Islam, Yusuf Ali says of wife-beating, “… Imām Shafi’i considers this inadvisable … and all authorities are unanimous in depreciating any sort of cruelty.”

 

Most decent Christians and Jews take a similar approach to those passages in the Bible that, for example, urge the beating of children (Proverbs 22 –23) and the cutting off “without pity” of the hands of interfering women (Deuteronomy 25). Can Christians, Muslims and Jews alike not allow one another space to review such ancient scripture passages in the light of scholarship, custom and revelation, and not necessarily be boxed into a straitjacketed interpretation by those who lack empathy?

 

In his other Qur’anic reference, Mr Forrester focuses on “dhimmitude” as in Surah 9.29. However, this particular word is a neologism associated with American neoconservative thinkers like Robert Spencer, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and webmaster of Dhimmi Watch. Many Muslims consider the term “dhimmitude” to be abusive and indicative of Islamophobia. Properly used, “Dhimmi” refers to the rights and obligations of non-Muslims living under Muslim regimes, much as in Britain there is a fitting debate about the rights and obligations of Muslims in a non-Muslim state.

 

In his unsurpassed History of the Crusades (which was partly written in Eigg Lodge), Sir Steven Runciman remarks how “It was bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that created the fanaticism of Islam.” Such is the spiral of violence that all our faiths must avoid. How instructive, then, the Christian teaching that we should pluck out the log in our own eye before worrying too much about our neighbour’s mote (Luke 6.42)!

 

Alastair McIntosh

26 Luss Rd., Glasgow 

Bashir Maan

8 Riverview Gardens, Glasgow 

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 15 June 2006, p. 8, under the heading, "Criticism Addressed." 

Joanne Telfer ‘s letter of 8th June seriously misrepresents mine of 1st June. 

  

She starts by trying to point score over a typographical error that I made where “Eaglesham” appeared as “Ealgesham”. She feigns confusion, but disingenuously so given that “Eaglesham” appeared correctly further down in the letter.

 

She then suggests that the story I told about the Eaglesham plumber whose people are from Point must be misinformed, as the “windfarm” proposed for Eaglesham Moor has not yet been built. However, if she had read my letter correctly, she would have seen that it referred not to the proposed windfarm, but to the existing “giant wind turbines” some half a mile from the said gentleman’s house.

 

Specifically, there are two such turbines and they are located on Myres Hill. If Ms Telfer still doubts the truth of this report, I suggest she searches under “Eaglesham” on the BBC website where she will hear a BBC reporter describing the turbines as being “a few hundred yards from the back of the house.”

 

Next, Ms Telfer describes me as being someone “who opposes windfarms.” Again, if she had read my letter properly, she would have read me saying, “I am strongly in favour of wind energy in areas where communities control their land….” Indeed, I buy all my electricity not from the cheapest supplier, but from Scottish Hydro Electric RSPB Energy, which is generated from renewable sources and endorsed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

 

Ms Telfer then suggests that I may have confused nuclear fusion with nuclear fission. I would have her know that I studied physics at both the Nicolson Institute and Aberdeen University. My teachers would confirm that I was not the most diligent student in this subject, but I do know the difference between fission and fusion. Fission creates dirty and potentially unsafe nuclear energy, while fusion has the potential to be relatively clean and safe. The problem is that fusion needs a massive research effort to see if it can be made technically and commercially feasible.

 

Ms Telfer, however, takes me to task for suggesting that such research is massively underfunded. She counters that “billions of pounds are being invested.” It is true that £6.6 billion has been allocated for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor to be built at Cadarache in France. But this funding is for a world-scale collaborative project pooling the resources of the EU, the US, Japan, Russia, China, South Korea and India. In comparison, the lifetime cost including deployment to Britain alone of the Trident nuclear submarine weapons programme has been estimated at £30 billion. The £6.6 billion for the world’s first fusion reactor is, as I said in my letter, “piddling”, being little more than £1 per person on the planet.

 

Lastly, Ms Telfer lampoons me for urging what she caricatures as “a return to the days” of  the means of Providence. My cautious support for windfarms is precisely because the wind is a "Providential" renewable resource. The main constraints are that they should be community controlled, there should be fair compensation for any who lose out, and they should not be sited in areas that are socially or environmentally highly sensitive.

 

That said, I can well understand why Ms Telfer might dismiss my spiritual references as “a last resort”. I have every respect for honest agnosticism. And yet, I would beg her to consider whether the secular materialistic worldview adequately holds up against the abundant evidence, especially from within Hebridean communities, that some people really do experience a reality that they call "God".

 

By analogy, Ms Telfer may never have been to Timbuktu, but if she talks to some of her neighbours who have gone there, she might find reasonable grounds for thinking that such a place really exists.The same is true with life's spiritual journey. Indeed, perhaps when it comes to considering Providence and its origins, we humans are like the story of two flees that were buried in thick fur and feasting on the back of a collie. Unable to see the wood for the trees, one turned to the other and said, “You know, I’m not sure whether I still believe in the dog.”

  

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 1June 2006, p. 8, under the heading, "Living within energy means" (see also full exposition of my position on wind energy in earlier article).

On Saturday we had a plumber come to do a job at the house. It turned out that his people were from Point on Lewis, so we sat down for half the morning, and I was disturbed by what I heard.

 

He said that he lives up in the moors above Ealgesham. In recent years the positioning of giant wind turbines, just half a mile from his house, have made life hell. He described the effects as follows.

 

  1. On mental health, because of flicker when the sun shines low, and under certain conditions constant noise is emitted “like a cement mixer in the sky”.
  2. On equipment, because of the destruction of a home computer and the shorting out of telephone lines caused by the towers several times attracting lightening strikes.
  3. On economic wellbeing, because £50,000 has been knocked off his house value, so far without compensation.
  4. On community, because neighbour is set against neighbour as some buy land for windfarm speculation, and others have their quality of life correspondingly degraded.

 

I put it to him that the polar ice caps appear to be melting, probably because of greenhouse gases being released by burning fossil fuels. As this happens, seawater will absorb the sun’s heat that would otherwise have been reflected back to space by the ice. In consequence, even more ice will melt, and that is just one of the frightening feedback mechanisms by which sea levels are likely to rise. The consequence for future generations is that our coastal villages and low-lying towns like Stornoway may get washed away.

 

He replied that if the political will was really there, solutions could be found that do not require handing over our countryside to multinational corporations. For example, modern condenser boilers are 50% more efficient than those of a decade ago. We could all be using low energy light bulbs and switching off unnecessary appliances. We could be investing serious rather than piddling amounts of money into “safe” nuclear fusion. And we could enforce high building standards so that the built environment, consuming one third of energy production, ceases to be so profligate.

 

Looking at the success of community wind farms on places like Gigha, it is evident that alternative energy, as well as energy conservation, is part of the solution. However, it must be handled on a scale that is managed by communities rather than for the enrichment of large corporations and private landowners. As with taking medicine from the doctor, a solution is only the right solution when applied with due sense of proportionality and on the right scale. Local communities of place, rather than foreign corporations of profit, are the proper arbitrators of this. I am strongly in favour of wind energy in areas where communities control their land and they have made the decisions in full knowledge of the costs and benefits. But landlord-driven proposals, such as Eisken, are quite another matter - especially in uniquely beautiful landscapes that should be the inheritance of created life as a whole and, especially, of the descendents of those once cleared from such areas.

 

If community windfarms produce more power than local needs and what can be exported with modest infrastructure, is there not a case for saying that industry should come to the islands, rather than trying to set up energy export on an all-or-nothing industrial scale? And on the question of compensation for people who might find themselves in a position like my Eaglesham plumber friend, has anybody thought of bringing in professional property valuers for a full economic study of the costs and benefits to communities and their members? Only then can compensation be justly handled.

 

Such questions concern the future cohesion of our communities. As such, they are more than economic questions. They are also spiritual ones, for the bottom line is how we all choose to live our lives. Should we seek life’s fulfilment from continued material economic growth, chasing after surplus that goes far beyond the calls of necessity and sufficiency? Or should we be attempting to live within the benevolent constraints of the very motto of the town of Stornoway?

 

Personally, I feel divided within myself on the practicalities of many of these questions. But where an industrial scale of exploitation is proposed for the benefit of profligacy, it is difficult not to reflect upon the Lamentation over the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28, or to think about the “businessmen of the earth” implicated in the Fall of Babylon in Revelation 18. After all, in living memory many of our people lived within the means of Providence for their energy requirements. With the aid of modern materials and technology, and with a love of the beauty of our people and place, is the same not possible again?

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in The Herald, 12 April 2006, p. 13, under the heading, "Hebridean religion is a communal matter." (See also previous letter). 

On the matter of Sunday ferry sailings in the Outer Hebrides, Ruth Wishart says that “Scotland is now largely a secular nation” and that religious questions “are private and personal concerns which should not be visited on the body public”.

 

David Ross similarly quotes the pro-Sunday ferries councillor from North Uist, Archie Campbell, as declaring, "I don't believe it is possible to undermine an individual's observance of the Sabbath… People observe the Sabbath in their own way."

 

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of having a collective day of rest, be it a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, what distinguishes such arguments is their profound emphasis on individuality. No consideration is given to the fact that much Hebridean religion takes place in the context of whole communities, largely indigenous at that. As probably a majority of these communities see it, if some people are expected to work in a 24 x 7 economy and if some businesses plan to gain competitive advantage by so doing, community cohesion will suffer because the weekly balance between inner and outer life will be disturbed. You don’t have to be a “Wee Free” (whatever that derogatory expression means) to feel the sense of such an argument.

 

As democratically elected councillors of Lewis and Harris now move to explore legal recourse, it will be interesting to see what is made of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religious observance “either alone or in community with others.” After all, it was in the notorious case of a proposed superquarry on the Isle of Harris in 2000 that Lord Hardie ruled that even multinational corporations have “human rights” under ECHR! If corporations do, then why not other legally incorporated bodies, possibly church, council or voluntray agencies? It is true that Article 9 is subject to "the protection of the rights and freedoms of others", but these are cast in the context of "democratic society". If it is truly the democratically demonstrable wish of a majority of the people of Lewis and Harris to retain their understanding of Sabbath, have they not a case?

 

Ruth Wishart says “Harris and Lewis are not like … most parts of Scotland, a land they inhabit but from which they often seem detached by custom and practice.” In a way she’s right, and whether we are religious or not perhaps that’s why these islands remain of iconic importance to the cultural mix of the whole nation.

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published in The Herald , 31 March 2006, under the heading, "Land reform is an ongoing process."

You reported last week that the upper-crust estate agency, C K D Galbraith, has launched an estate values ready-reckoner (Sporting estate returns outstrip the stock market, March 24), presumably so that our social betters can work out their rewards for the land that they, in the words of a former convener of the Scottish Landowners' Federation (now the SRPBA), "provide us with".
In recent days the English press have caught up on CKD-G's latest marketing tool and headlined about "spectacular returns" in Scotland, especially 858% on estate cottages. These presumably do better when re-stocked with transitory species more prolific than threatened indigenous incumbents, some of whom display growing tendencies towards ingratitude and audacity to question and, thus, to embarrass, power.

Most striking of all have been media stories making out that the CKD-G figures signal the failure of land reform. Do they? The CKD-G study (as reported) spans a time horizon of 20 years. This conveniently sets it right back into the boomtime speculative era of Thatcherism when the natives had not yet woken up to the possibility of becoming restless and applying principles of market spoiling to open up community claims of right.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act was only passed in 2003. It can have had but the slightest impact on the CKD-G study. Why should there be such interest in doing down the flagship introductory legislation of Scotland's restored parliament? Whose interests could that inflate?

On the basis of material disclosure I trust that CKD-G will be informing all prospective investors of a pararagraph prominently set into the Foreword of Lord Sewel's January 1999 green paper from the Scottish Office, namely: "It is crucial that we regard land reform not as a once-for-all issue but as an ongoing process. The parliament will be able to test how this early legislation works and how it effects change. They will then have the opportunity to revisit and refine their initial achievement . . . which will generate a longer-term agenda for further legislation."

Buyer beware!

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published as the centrepiece letter in The Herald, 6 March 2006, p. 13, under the heading, "Britons live under a constitutional theocracy." (Nb. an Eileen Hamilton of Maybole kindly wrote sending her compliments about this letter, but pointing out that the DG title actually referred to the RC faith, as it was originally conferred on Henry VIII by the Pope. I accept this origin, but it does not alter the fact that Henry subsequently carried it over into what became a Protestant British constitutional formulation, as is made very explicit, for example, in Article 2 of the Acts of Union, which addresses succession to the British throne and thereby roots sectarianism into the constitution. For further exploration of this arcane point and how it relates to Britain holding nuclear weapons, see:  http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000_trident.htm ). 

 

Contrary to much comment over the weekend, it is entirely fitting that Tony Blair should factor the Christian God into his political decisions (Blair: God will judge me on Iraq, March 4).


Whether we like it or not, Britons currently live under a constitutional theocracy. A journalist with the Iranian News Agency who phoned up for a comment on nuclear weapons last week was rather astonished when I explained this to him.

Britain's bottom line is that Tony Blair serves as first minister to a sovereign who is proclaimed, by Divine Grace, to be Defender of the [Protestant Christian] Faith.

Look at any British coin and the letters DG and FD around the Queen's head testify to this. It is grounded in successive waves of legislation including the Act of Settlement (1701), the Acts of Union (1707), the Church of Scotland Act (1921) and the Royal Titles Act (1953).

The question in British constitutional law is not whether Mr Blair ought to turn to God; it is whether he does so devoid of heresy. And there's the rub. By using God to legitimise war, he for whom Guantanamo Bay is but "an anomaly" misrepresents the testimony of Christ and so draws Christianity into disrepute. Like the genocidal prophets Moses and Joshua before him (see Numbers 31, Joshua 6 and Deuteronomy 20 for evidence of the war crimes), Tony Blair's version of God blesses war. The heresy charge he faces (yes, we have to talk medieval here!) is that Jesus turned this upside down.

Whether we are Christians or not, the constitutional position of Christianity within Britain makes the theology matter. "Until now," said Jesus, "the kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt 11:12). "Put away your sword," he then went on to urge Peter. "We shall have no more of this" (Matt 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).

By renouncing the option of violence even when faced by the brutality of empire and the false cry of "peace" from Judas, Jesus made the Cross a supreme symbol of non-violence. Such Christianity, costing nothing less than everything, has rarely been tried, meaning that Christianity remains a young religion.

Meanwhile, Heaven continues to suffer the violence of suchlikes as Bush, Berlusconi and Blair. And somewhere in the direction of Iran, a disturbingly satisfied state-sanctioned young journalist has put down the phone and writes that Britain has no moral right to single out his theocracy for sanction as long as its own continues to rattle nuclear sabres daily up and down the Firth of Clyde.

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 6 February 2006, p. 11, under the heading, "Usury is the honest word concerning debt."

 

Let’s use the honest word for what we are witnessing with this debt crisis (£1.75bn student debt leads to call for shake-up of loans system, 1 February). Let’s talk about usury.

 

When I was a boy on Lewis in the distant sixties, most people had no student loans and no pension investments. You grew up in something that was called a community – a living membership one of another. You got educated broadly at the expense of and to help serve that community – the old Scots “democratic intellectual” ethic. And when you got old, your peats would be cut by the younger generation following on; indeed, many was the time as a teenager that I’d deliver a bucket of haddies fresh from the sea loch to elderly neighbours, or turn their hay.

 

Today a system has been engineered that no longer values such community. It is a system condemned by most religions because it works by siphoning off life-energies from the relatively poor to the relatively rich. This system – usury in its many hues – accepts the principle of money being made simply out of having money. Even our mutual, friendly and provident financial societies have nearly all now collapsed into its “de-regulated” fire-filled hollow Molochean arms.

 

We (if I might speak collectively as one who holds to community, warts and all) are the people who have voted for this canonisation of avarice. We have been blinded by our greed, albeit partly with eyes put out by manipulative men. And we still vote for usury every time we’ve got a little bit of spare cash that's invested for the highest rate of return rather than for the greatest common good.

 

And our children? Well, the whole point of ancient infant sacrifice to Moloch was the procurement of economic gain. Think about it as you turn now to the money pages to watch that pension fund. After all, we have failed the coming generation. We’d better not be expecting too much in return. The actuaries are our community now.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The West Highland Free Press, 13 January 2006, pp. 13 & 19, under the heading, "Mandarins and Crofting Reform." 

 

What astute analysis of proposed crofting reform from Brian Wilson and Roger Hutchinson recently. In speaking of the mysterious “desire of the civil service to shake free of this strange smallholding system,” Hutchinson echoes Wilson’s oft-expressed concern that it is the mandarins and not just the politicians we should spotlight.

I vividly remember meeting a rather stunned Andy Wightman after the launch of the 1999 land reform Green Paper. He told me that as he came down a stairs after getting in on a press pass, he overheard the senior civil servant in charge of the proceedings angrily demand of her colleague, “What’s Andy Wightman doing here?”

 

Is it not time to start asking pointed and personalised questions about some of the gatekeepers to this debate?

Consider them as a social class. With honourable exceptions, a top civil servant in this country is very often ex-public school, probably has their kids educated and hospitalised privately, and commonly keeps, under a shroud of “disinterested friendship”, the company of the powerful on their sailing boats, grouse moors, salmon lochs, dinner tables, at sporting events, or in the theatre and concert hall.

 

The trade-off for the pleasure of such company is obsequience, expressed at being “a safe pair of hands” and conducted in sufficiently subtle ways as to facilitate self-denial of the tension between public service and co-option by the mores and interests of unelected power. The purpose of functionaries is to facilitate “interests” in ways that, above all, conserve them and protect the holder from the greatest fear of anybody who needs power out of an insecure sense of their own being  – namely, embarrassment.

Because of the permanence of “real estate” and its ability to extract the poor man’s tax known as “rent” or “mortgage,” so-called “seats” of landed power are the most prized acquisition of ruling classes including the noveau riche. But why should crofting now be a target for loyal functionaries when landed power has learned to put up with it since 1886?

I suspect that the reason, perhaps unconsciously smelt by those with a nose trained to the interests of their social reference group, lies closer to Borders fiefdoms and the Home Counties than to the crofting ones. Crofting sustains strong communities precisely because it provides a legal framework where individual land holdings are held within a wider order of interest. In the past, that was the autocratic laird’s interest with all its idiosyncrasy. But now instead, with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it can be the whole community through a democratically elected and therefore socially accountable land trust.

 

If wisely developed with the help of further land reform legislation (such as Lord Sewel promised in the 1999 Scottish Office “Green Paper”, p. 1), the crofting model could provide a template for the sustained provision of affordable rural housing and therefore social cohesion for local people up and down the nation.

 

The infectious principle at its core is that a crofting-style land transaction is a double-barrelled process. The seller passes on their “improvements” including the house, but the open-ended and heritable land lease is a separate linked transaction. In principle this allows for vetting, regulation, and potential dispossession if in serious default of agreements, as well as offering a potential income flow from peppercorn rents by which the community land trust might become self-financing.

 

From the security and dignity of living with (if not entirely, from) the land such a model permits individual family entrepreneurship - but within a community-held regulatory framework. It thereby squares the circle of capitalism and communism and so addresses the concerns of those who found the 1976 Act to be misguided because “you can’t own the land; the land owns you.”

In short, I suspect that crofting is under challenge neither because it has been forced into an agricultural box it no longer fits, nor because it has outlived its cultural and tourism potential. It is under threat from those who fear that, if more widely understood, it could get contagious. And why should that trouble landed power? The property columns of one Welsh newspaper expressed it nicely last year: if socially affordable rural housing became a reality, other property values might tumble.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh

26 Luss Road, Drumoyne, Glasgow, G51 3YD

 

 

 

Published in The Herald, 28 Nov 2005, p. 15, with 4 similar under the heading, "Now we know the true identity of the 'evil empire'"

 

Thank you for such a forthright leader stating that torture flights through Scottish airports are "morally repugnant, evil and probably illegal" (November 26). Imagine if we, the ordinary citizens of Scotland, had been decent law-abiding German citizens during the gradual erosion of human rights by the Nazis. What should we have done then? And what ought Scots today do about "rendition" via our doorstep? Should we hide behind the figleaf of "reserved matters", thereby appeasing the rendition of our core cultural values? Or are we, as a nation, today challenged to engage with our morality?


Hopefully, in solidarity with other European nations, we can depend on due legal process from our police, judicial and political authorities speedily to wash this blot from Scottish airports. But what if those structures fail us? Could we then be called to the practical defence of our values? Could we be in a situation that is morally similar to that of law-abiding German citizens in the 1930s?


If this be where stands Scotland, and if the appropriate statutory authorities accept being compromised, what alternatives might be left to ordinary Scottish people? What might be expected of those of us who do not want to stand condemned before history; of those who do not want their children to ask: "Why did you do nothing?" Might there be lessons to be held in mind from the moral, legal and activist expertise developed around blockades at the Faslane nuclear base? I do hope not, but I fear otherwise.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Nb. Here is the literary reference to William Shakespeare's Macbeth (4:3) that opens my final paragraph in the above letter. I deliberately used the subjunctive "be" to stimulate archetypal resonance with the shadow side of the Scottish psyche, as something we must face in order to address. See also Kevin Franz's commentary on Macduff's question from a Scottish churches perspective.

 

MACDUFF

    Stands Scotland where it did?

ROSS

    Alas, poor country!
    Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
    Be call'd our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
    But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
    Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
    Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
    A modern ecstasy; the dead man's knell
    Is there scarce ask'd for who; and good men's lives
    Expire before the flowers in their caps,
    Dying or ere they sicken.


Published as the centrepiece and featured letter in The Herald, 23 November 2005, p. 15, under the heading, "Nuclear energy? Perhaps. But no nuclear arms."

 

Nuclear energy may be part of the answer, but first we must ask what are the questions (Blair goes for the nuclear option, 22 November).
 
What would happen to energy demand if we separated need from greed, and heavily taxed the latter? What contribution could be made from renewables, especially maritime ones rather than massive land-based schemes that are possibly entertained only to frighten the horses into the nuclear stable? What of a massive shift to ecological architecture and retro-fitting (given that buildings use a third of our energy, usually wastefully - see www.rmi.org )? What of taxing aviation fuel, and socially stigmatising fast cars?
 
Non-nuclear alternatives require a patchwork of solutions. But above all, they require addressing our shrivelled and shrunken sense of what it means to find fulfilment as a human being, so that we can start replacing quantity of consumption with quality of relationships. The nuclear option, by contrast, is a centralised industrial approach that coddles lazy energy addiction but defers costs to unborn generations.
 
The bottom line is that if Hunterston, Torness or Faslane were hit by a terrorist attack, we could perhaps say goodbye to central Scotland for Kingdom come. No insurer will carry such a risk. If the criterion of unacceptable risk is uninsurable risk, where, precisely, does that leave us?
 
Nevertheless, It may be that our  politicians conclude that nuclear fission is the implicit choice of their highly materialistic electorate who fear the lights going out. If so, let us hope it is but a stopgap until dirty atomic fission is replaced by relatively clean atomic fusion. But ever since I was a boy, fusion has been a technical challenge kicked "thirty years away" into the long grass.
 
If society does go back down the nuclear road, let it be on a basis of using up existing military nuclear material rather than mining yet more. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, there are currently some 4,000 tons of plutonium or highly enriched uranium spread across 60 countries of the world. This, they say, is enough "for hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons." Whatever our energy choices, that is a legacy of 20th century warmongering that must be tackled.
 
Meanwhile, Tony Blair holds onto and is exploring the replacement of Britain's Trident missile "deterrent." In the course of guest lecturing at staff college I have discussed this with large numbers of senior military. Privately, many say that Trident wastes resources because its use would be militarily impractical and ethically unconscionable. They say its main value is political. It secures Britain a seat at the UN Security Council. But such, surely, is only the game of politicians whose wisdom is dwarfed by their egos.
 
This country does need a debate and decisions about future energy security. But the price of even considering the nuclear option has got to be foreclosure on Britain's chosen weapon of mass destruction.  As a nation faced with the threat of asymmetric warfare, we must reclaim the moral highground. To replace Trident would only be to glorify terror.
 

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published as the centrepiece & trailered letter in The Herald, 8 August 2005, p. 15, under the heading, "A racist Scottish identity would be a fascist one." (Iain Crichton Smith's essay, Real People in a Real Place, is published in his essay collection, Towards the Human, Macdonald Publishers (Lines Review Edition (also, Saltire Publications)), 1986, pp. 13-70).

 

 

Once more today our braggarts crousely craw over the grave they would dig for multiculturalism (How London bombs have left One Scotland divided, August 6). The same people who have caricatured racial, gender and class justice as weasel-sounding "political correctness" now relish the prospect that multiculturalism may fail. "We cannot continue with the multicultural apartheid," said Boris Johnson, MP, in yesterday's Sunday Herald – as if multiculturalism and apartheid can be conflated just because both, in completely opposite ways, recognise cultural differences. 


My God, you can palpably feel their lavatory-pan-like gloating grins flush to a choir of hissing cisterns: "Give us your rivers of blood – that we might prove that we were right."

                                        
But where might Scotland stand in all this?


In his essay, Real People in a Real Place, Iain Crichton Smith wrote of emigrants from the Isle of Lewis and the effects of cultural uprooting. He concluded: "Sometimes when I walk the streets of Glasgow I see old women passing by, bowed down with shopping bags, and I ask myself: 'What force made this woman what she is? What is her history?' It is the holiness of the person we have lost, the holiness of life itself, the inexplicable mystery and wonder of it, its strangeness, its tenderness."


Can we, as a Scottish peoples, hold fast in seeking to understand the forces, history and, indeed, the very holiness of those ethnic minorities that have chosen and been chosen to become a part of who we are in this community of place?


Are we ready and willing to put our noses out of joint to see that these, our dear and diverse neighbours, feel safe, equal and valued in "One Scotland; many cultures"?


I do hope so, because a racist Scottish identity would be a fascist one. And in a Scotland that constitutionally rests upon the 1320 Declaration that affirms "neither weighting nor distinction" of religion or ethnicity under the Community of the Realm, such fascism would betray the most sacred meaning of being Scottish.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 14 July 2005, p. 19, with others under the heading, "The insanity of interpreting Islam in this way."

 

Asked why Muslims were so often the focus of insurrection in British-occupied Egypt, the nineteenth-century pioneer of Islamic reform, Muhammad Abduh, replied: "The focus on Muslims is due to the fact that the majority of nations who are betrayed and humiliated, and whose resources have been usurped by foreigners, are Muslim." That colonial process continues today as globalisation.

Why do young Muslims bomb in the name of God when, as community leaders such as Dr Bashir Maan of Glasgow mosque have so often said, the killing of innocents is utterly unIslamic? They do it for the same reason that Irish bombers and British colonialists perverted their Christianity. They do it because violence is actually a mental illness. It arises in minds that have been wounded in their capacity to build and sustain human empathy. Thus the spiral of violence feeds on more violence. Love lies shredded on the street.

True security can be achieved only by a massive shift away from the politics of ego, greed and violence such as caused Britain illegally to invade Iraq and which hangs around our necks as the shame of being the second largest exporter of armaments in the world. The alternative is to build a world free of usurious debt, a world in which geopolitical injustices such as Palestine are addressed, and where "free" trade is held in a "fair" framework of social justice and environmental sustainability.

That is why a quarter of a million of us protested against G8 policies recently in Edinburgh, Faslane, Dungavel and at Gleneagles. That is why, in a Scotland that takes her very name from a dark-skinned North African woman – Scota, the daughter of pharaoh – we must not allow the British origin of the London bombers to infect our minds and destroy our multicultural empathy. Hope lies in the beauty of a rainbow society that, across a long front with many different positions, navigates the shift from violence to non-violence. We must each strive to take away the causes of war.

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published as the lead letter in The Herald, 14th April 2005, p. 17, under the heading, "Duty-free is a major loophole in airport security."


Sarah McLeod is right about "mindless officiousness" in security at some airports (Letters, April 13). I have even witnessed a Chinese man being dispossessed of a tiny pair of tweezers which, as he tried to demonstrate to the security officers, were merely for whisking whiskers out of his nostrils. Meanwhile, everybody else streamed past carrying duty-free bottles, the lethal potential of which, if smashed one against another, is legendary.


The moral? Security to reassure the punters is fine provided it does not affect the profits of a duty-free industry that allows the relatively affluent to dodge tax on their booze while glamorising an environmentally unsustainable industry.


By the way, who pays for this "security" that increases, exponentially, the closer one gets to little Scottish islands? Are the half dozen or so security staff typically visible at, say, Stornoway airport, really financed out of the revenues from a few flights with a few dozen passengers? Or is such job creation, like the lack of taxation on aviation fuel, yet another example of taxpayer generosity to support the mores of the relatively better-off?


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published in The Herald, 18 March 2005, under the heading, "Scotland's open door to those who want to belong." Unfortunately, I wrote this letter in a hurry, and it was rather too long meaning that the editor (unusually) cut it. In consequence, the last three paragraphs are a bit disjointed, and I have restored some of the original in [brackets] for greater clarity in this version.

 

 

John  Thorpe misses my point if he thinks being English-born implies he should cringe for living in Scotland. I was born of an English mother in Doncaster. Alongside my Scottishness, I take pride in many deep and often hidden roots of English radical culture, some of which I alluded to in my literary references (Letters, March 16).


The more significant point begged by Mr Thorpe's letter is the question of where Englishness can sit within "one Scotland; many cultures". His answer, which revolves around Britishness, is one approach. However, this carries an unresolved colonial and sectarian legacy such as the English historian Linda Colley draws out in her book, Britons. It also carries a demographic asymmetry, the English outnumbering Scots by 10:1 except in the British cabinet.


The plot thickens if we ask why national identity matters at all. Is it not a backward notion? Can't we get on with being human? That is what globalisation says, and its effect is to force us all down the road of a homogenised Anglo-American "new European" order.
Many of us value our national identities because they reflect communities of place writ large; areas where certain values have been built up historically and with which people are identified either by birth or through fostership by choice. This is what makes it possible for those who are wholly or partly English to belong fully in Scotland. This is why the English and other peoples who value Scottish culture and are willing to cherish and be cherished by it can earn a real sense of belonging here. [The operative word here is "earn"].


The bottom line is there are marked differences between mainstream English and mainstream Scottish culture. For example, most of us do not value the class system, our education rests on democratic intellectual principles, and we predicate co-operation over competition as a basis for human relationship. Such values find political expression when, for example, the English voted for Thatcherism but we didn't.


What's wrong with having these differences? What matters if we value the human is that we celebrate such values [inclusively]. We hold the door open so those who want to belong to such a culture can learn how to do so while bringing their own cultural gifts. This is not to suggest we are good at achieving such a goal. The reality of racism in Scotland shows we are not. But it does mean that we can attempt to continue forging the nation around our highest values.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published in The Herald, 16 March 2005, as the lead letter under the heading, "The tragedy of mainstream English identity."

 

I read Melanie Reid's article (March 15) on English identity shortly after returning from speaking at schools in Jersey, where a majority of the children seemed to identify themselves as "southern English, I suppose".


I had been invited by the island's education department to speak about the importance of community to island life. But frankly, my presentation missed the mark. One of the teachers said of his A-level students: "I think that they did not understand the problem you were addressing – the problems caused by dislocation from place, community and self caused by globalisation, etc – so they did not understand the importance of the solution you were proposing or implying."


Such dislocation encapsulates the tragedy of mainstream English identity. Globalisation obliterates cultural anchor points in history and place. This makes it difficult for children to understand in others, or even to become in themselves, what Iain Crichton Smith so magnificently documented in his essay, Real People in a Real Place.


I believe that is why, in the words of the Economic and Social Research Council study from which Melanie Reid quotes, the affluent classes in southern England describe "a profound sense of insecurity and loss" related to "the perceived decline of village-scale community, where people knew each other and helped each other."


Some of the great English writers such as Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb saw it coming. And why did it come? Because money bought deprivation. Because globalisation as the successor to Empire cauterised the cultural soul by what it required people to do and be.


Until England and, indeed, a wider Britain faces up to the psychological implications of having been a colonial power and having colonised many of its own people through the enclosures, racism and the class system, the possibility of creating identities that are strong, inclusive, richly diverse and life-giving will never be realised. Anomie, disempowerment and, ultimately, the roots of fascism will haunt the national psyche.


That is why Melanie Reid's summation that "The English just are" is no longer acceptable. Identity is power. Power denied is power abused, and the unconscious abuse of cultural power is something that has sold short the great majority of decent English people.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 25 February 2005, p. 23, under the heading, "Jeremiah's relevance."

Philip Clare accuses me of having the "temerity to justify the use of false stories" by using Jeremiah (February 24). Perhaps he failed to understand my metaphor. By referring to the Biblical "mote" in the eye, I acknowledged that the Scots clergyman in question had, by his own admission and unreserved apology, committed minor errors of fact as we all do. What I deplore is this being used to kick a man who has merely stumbled. One commentator urges the BBC that he "should not be on the air, but removed". Such critics fail to distinguish between honest error and duplicitous lie.


Jeremiah is a wholly appropriate reference point. Here is a prophet who tells his people that by betraying their own Jewish core values they have brought terror upon themselves. The only hope, Jeremiah says on God's behalf, is that "if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place . . . then I will dwell with you" (7:5). But instead, the Israelites accuse him of treachery and lying (43:2). Mindful of his own human frailty, Jeremiah laments, "I have become a laughing-stock [and even] my close friends are watching for me to stumble" (20:7,10).


Precisely because the Jewish scriptures are so honestly self-critical, the world owes such a debt to Hebrew culture. The world needs its vision of potential justice and peace wrought anew from ruins and despair. Foremost among those saying so are the great Jewish liberation theologians who condemn Israeli state violence, like Professor Marc Ellis of Baylor University.


It would be much more comfortable if this debate could be conducted without recourse to the Bible. But unfortunately it is not possible to understand today's Middle East crisis without understanding Jeremiah.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published in The Herald, 22 February 2005, p. 15, with others under the heading, "Not anti-Semitism but falsification of fact."

 

Well done, Sandy Gemmill, for defending Scotland's foremost modern liturgist, the Rev John Bell of the Iona Community, against character assassins who pick at the mote in their neighbour's eye. As Tony Benn's mother used to say, "The Bible can be understood as a confrontation between the kings who loved power, and the prophets who loved righteousness." Would that apologists for Israeli repression read from the same Bible.


John Bell may have been knocked down on a technicality. But he can take comfort that Jeremiah was thrown into a pit by much the same people and for much the same reason: namely, "discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city . . . by speaking such words to them" (38:4).


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 11 February 2004, p. 23, under the heading, "The tsunami as a divine visitation."

 

I am sometimes tempted to take the reality of the Devil literally, and suspect that his best work in Scotland is from the pulpit (“Tsunami ‘a divine visitation’, says minister”, 10 February).

 

How sad of the Rev John MacLeod to propagate his nihilistic heresy. It must leave some readers scoffing at all matters spiritual, alongside Screwtape.

 

Are we so infantile as to not see the tsunami as part of natural tectonic process, indeed, the “process theology” by which the Earth constantly renews itself? And are we so egocentric as to think that we are not bound up in that process?

 

One riposte to the Rev MacLeod is Deuteronomy 30:19. Another is Edwin Muir’s One Foot in Eden: 

 

Evil and good stand thick around

In fields of charity and sin

Where we shall lead our harvest in.

Yet still from Eden springs the root

As clean as on the starting day….

Blossoms of grief and charity

Bloom in these darkened fields alone.

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 1 December 2004, p. 17, under the heading, "A high-gain but low-cost housing strategy." I have appended an informal note from Andy Wightman adding a further perspective to this issue. Note also an excellent BBC website on affordable housing at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ican/A3193571

 

Melanie Reid (30 November) describes the rural second-homes problem with admirable clarity, but strangely omits to identify community ownership and reformed planning law as the way forward.

 

The bottom line is that there is no land shortage in Scotland. We have vast empty spaces averaging 4 acres each – that’s 3 football fields per woman, man and child. The problem is that current ownership patterns concentrate land in the hands of those who capitalise from scarcities of their own avaricious creation. This is why it typically costs £50,000 for the plot on which to build a £30,000 house.

 

Land ownership is only half the problem. Equally of concern is a planning system more appropriate to the overcrowded South than to Scotland. We might remember that planning embodies a barren construct of the countryside set in place back in the days when many county councillors were lairdic types or their sycophants. These preserved the country as a playground for the rich. Others, whose only window on nature became a TV up an urban high-rise, were deprived of their full connection with nationhood.

 

It is not necessary, as Melanie Reid implies, for councils to be discouraged by impossible burdens of monitoring and regulating to ensure that social housing stays in the community. The councils don’t have to do it. Instead, democratically elected community land trusts can do it themselves. Already new patterns and examples are showing the way forward.

 

On Iona, for example, the Iona Housing Partnership is pioneering a joint ownership scheme where some of their new social housing will be owned partly by the householder and partly by the community. This will allow householders to get mortgages and thereby have a toe on the property ladder. But equally, it gives the community control over who subsequently moves in to the area, and it creates collateral with which to start buying back holiday homes that currently comprise 40% of the island’s housing stock.

 

Another approach is the crofting model, where a householder possesses the “improvements” but the community (where there has been a buyout) leases and thereby controls the land on which these are built.

 

Such models need to be combined with planning reform to favour empowering approaches as eco-design and self-build.

 

Gigha is showing the way, with some two-dozen new homes being built, compared with just one under the previous 30 years of landlordism. Eigg, likewise, is re-organising its crofting and now has 83 residents including 20 children - a population increase of 26% since the 1997 buyout.

 

Land and planning reform enables people to stand on their own feet precisely because they can stand on their own ground. That’s what makes it a high-gain but low-cost political strategy, and that is how we can build a new Scotland.

 

Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Andy Wightman adds, pers. com. 2 Dec 04: 

 

Alastair,  See http://www.scotland-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/en2003/03en09-c.htm , Section 43.

This is part of explanatory Notes to Title Conditions Act.

I've been arguing for such a right of pre-emption power for a long time 
linked to price. So house sold and can be bought back at, for example, 
sale price plus RPI minus depreciation in fixed items plus 
improvements. All community bodies need to get registered as "Rural 
Housing Bodies" then they can freely build and sell houses then, as 
each year goes by they make provision in their accounts for an amount 
to be set aside to provide a fund to buy back houses in future. The 
good thing is that they can PLAN for how much this will be unlike a 
normal pre-emption which is an equal to market price. This legislation 
is probably the most revolutionary thing to have happened in housing 
law for a long time and if "Rural Housing Bodies" can get their hands 
on land there's no end to the houses they can build. The only fly in the 
ointment is that Highlands and Islands Small Housing trust is finding a 
reluctance to purchase on these terms because we are all so fixated 
with the prospect of capital growth in property.  Andy.

 

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 1 July 2004, under the heading, "'A niggle of unease' at wind proposals". (For a more full exploration of acceptable wind energy principles see my earlier article in The Hebridean.)

 

As a writer and activist on social and environmental matters, I am disturbed at the number of people, including native islanders, who have been contacting me to air their concerns about the way wind power proposals are being moved ahead on Lewis.


My broadly favourable position on wind energy is that windfarms are necessary and acceptable, provided that they are zoned to the least sensitive areas, and the primary benefits go not to landlords or corporations but to communities — and especially those living closest to the farms.


It therefore concerns me to hear from people whose judgement I greatly respect, and who feel that they and their communities are not adequately in control of what is happening.


Personally, I am divided within myself about the current proposals for wind energy on Lewis. It is a question of finding the right scale. Yes, we ‘need’ renewable energy sources to combat probable global climate change, but our society’s consumption of power is profligate. Clearly, the island should take responsibility for generating its own needs and, I would suggest, exporting power back to the mainland at peak periods within the limits that existing cable infrastructure would support.


But over and above that, we must ask carefully whether the landscape of a low-lying island should become dominated by and thus partly defined as a mechanical entity? Do we adequately understand the psychological implications of this, both for those living there and those coming to visit? And what of the reports I am hearing of people being ‘leant on’ and ‘persuaded’ in various ways?
These matters raise a niggle of unease. They point to the importance of full and well-informed public debate. That must be
conducted in a climate that can discern the spirit of what is right and good for both the land and its people. Such a climate must not be distorted by any hint of secrecy, vested interests, or fear.


Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow.

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 5 June 2004, p. 14, under the heading, "Shedding light on the roots of gratuitous violence." The published version as shown here was slightly cut, thus missing out reference to Bob Johnson's work in England (similar to Gilligan's in the US) - see www.jnf.org.uk . 

Lorina MacLaren's article on serial killers as studied by Dr Helen Morrison is of more than just criminological interest (June 4). The central dynamic, as Morrison explains, is that killers appear to suffer a lack in their ability to relate with feeling to others. Understanding the origins of their dysfunction may be of wider social importance. It may shed light on much more commonplace manifestations of social malaise - such as mindless destruction of the environment, mindnumbing managerialist culture, and what has been undertaken in our names by otherwise "normal" soldiers in the jails of Iraq.  

A deficit of empathy is at the root of gratuitous violence. Anybody who can shed light on the origins of such a deficit offers hope for the salving of the human condition. So I was disappointed to find that Dr Morrison's focus is entirely on genetic explanations. "Serial killers are born, not created," she concludes.  

This slams the prison door on those who might be able to heal and thereby be less likely to re-offend. It leaves us arguably barking up the wrong tree and, worse still, with our "normal" heads comfortably in the sand, unable to find the humility to confess the terrifying possibility that,  just perhaps, "There but for the grace of God go I."  

But overt criminal actions are only one of a range of possible symptoms. In her book, For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Child-rearing (Virago)the Swiss psychotherapist, Alice Miller, argues that the "violation of a child's primal integrity" generally takes much more commonplace stiff-upper-lip forms. These start within the neurotic bounds of "normality" and extend all the way to what her case studies reveal of the childhoods and psychopathic behaviour of senior members of the Third Reich. 

Some prominent prison psychiatrists, such as James Gilligan of the Harvard Medical School, arrive at similar conclusions. Gilligan, formerly director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison service, sums up his experience as follows in his study, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (Vintage, New York): "I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.... Without feelings of love [especially in childhood], the self feels numb, empty ... biologically alive yet spiritually and emotionally dead." 

He concludes: "Only when you go into violence and its logic can you see the heart of darkness at the centre of the psychology of civilization.... Other cultures ... demonstrate that violence does not have to be universal; and that altering social, cultural, and economic conditions can dramatically reduce, and for all practical purposes eliminate, human violence from the face of the earth."

 Alastair McIntosh, 26 Luss Road, Glasgow

(The above letter attracted the following response, that I think merits including here, not least because it fills in some points that had been cut from my own original):

To understand the roots of violence - published 7 June.

Alastair McIntosh, writing in response to Helen Morrison's claim that "serial killers are born, not created", proposes that a deficit of empathy is at the root of gratuitous violence (Letters, June 5), and appeals for light to be shed on the origins of such a condition. There is much light to be found in the writings of Alice Miller, as cited by McIntosh, but even more in the vast area of psychological research under the umbrella of attachment theory, in the work of John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Pat Crittenden, and many others.

There are no absolute answers here, but many clues as to how a close examination of the variations in the sensitivity and responsiveness of an infant's caretakers generates understanding of precisely the forms of attachment insecurity that are characterised by severe relationship difficulties and deficits of empathy.

The quotations from Morrison herself – if representative of her wider thinking – show an astonishing failure to follow through on the psychological material that seems to be staring her in the face. She says "serial killers have no attachment to other people". So why not look at the vast amount of work being done on how these fundamental attachments are formed, and positive or negative trajectories put in place? It is a cop-out to resort to reliance on future genetic technology, and the physical analysis of killers' brains, as she does.

Equally astonishing is her comment that "often serial killers will come from perfectly normal homes" – she appears unable to scratch beneath the surface of what appears superficially "normal". Alice Miller's writings could offer her many chilling examples of the dangers of naive psychology. Morrison also suggests that "there seems to be something in some children that allows them to survive bad situations". Yes indeed, it's known as resilience, another burgeoning area of research, rooted in attachment theory.

If answers – or just a few more productive clues – are to be found in the understanding of violent behaviour, we need more in the way of joined-up thinking, not only by individual workers such as Morrison, but also between disciplines of inquiry.

Dr Angus Macmillan, 76 Georgetown Road, Dumfries.

 


Published from some members and directors of the GalGael Trust in The Herald, 24 May 2004, p. 13, under the heading, "Executive's inspiring cultural policy".


WE are at a loss to understand how the arts policy now emerging from our devolved parliament can be associated with "philistinism" (May 22).


Having studied the Scottish Executive's recent Cultural Policy Statement, we are both pleasantly astonished and richly inspired. Consider these words from Jack McConnell and Frank McAveety: "Our devolved government should have the courage and the faith to back human imagination, our innate creativity, as the most potent force for individual change and social vision."


Such a starting point gives hope to the kind of people whom our organisation largely comprises – those who, in the past, have too often been led to believe that the arts were "nae fur the likes o' us".


We are not a party political organisation. But we do feel that credit should be given where due. It is our direct experience, from building boats and teaching other cultural skills in Govan (see www.GalGael.org ), that when hard-pressed people start to discover their creativity, a spiritual fire is ignited.


When that fire has many sticks, it becomes the hearth and heart of the community. Here lies the true meaning and power of national development. That is why we see the Cultural Policy Statement, with its affirmation of "cultural rights", as a ship that could carry Scotland far.


Tara Stuart, Seumas MacKinnon, Diarmad MacKinnon, Gehan MacLeod, Colin MacLeod, Vérène Nicolas, Alastair McIntosh, GalGael Trust, 37 Burleigh Street, Govan, Glasgow.

 

 

Published as the lead letter in The Sunday Herald (Seven Days), Glasgow, 11 April 2004, p. 10, under the heading, "End of a long campaign".

 

The vastness of the proposed, opposed and now withdrawn Harris superquarry scheme is exceeded only by the scale of the campaign that fought it over13 long years. Rob Edwards’ stirring article gave, if anything, over-generous acknowledgement of my own role (News, 4 April). 

 

But there are many unsung actors, most of whom kept low profiles.

 

I would request to add three further points of acknowledgement. Firstly, key community leaders and residents on the island have played absolutely pivotal roles, from politics all the way through to prayer. 

 

Secondly, it was a remarkably successful example of well-co-ordinated NGO action. The NGO umbrella organisation, the Link Quarry Group, included Friends of the Earth Scotland, Ramblers Scotland, RSPB, WWF Scotland, Rural Scotland, Sustrans, NEMT and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The staff and members of these organisations deserve gratitude.

 

Thirdly, all parties recognise that Scotland’s planning and political system was not up to handling a proposal of this scale. However, the Western Isles’ MSP, MP and most councillors of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar handled the matter with artful concern. The Government’s own environmental agency, Scottish National Heritage, mounted a principled and fearless stand at massive legal cost.

 

As your columnist, Muriel Gray, suggested, the people of Harris must now be given the support of the nation as a whole (Seven Days, April 4). In the 1995 secret ballot, 67% of them on an 83% turnout rejected the opportunity of violating a National Scenic Area with a superquarry. Here, then, are a people that have chosen long-term integrity of place over the short-term buck. This enriches all who are sensitive to beauty.

 

The onus now rests on a wider world to sustain such a community. Everybody can do their bit. Visit Harris. Buy vernacular products like the famous Harris Tweed. And encourage the Scottish Executive and other wheels of governance in their vital efforts to stimulate community empowerment, economic resilience, cultural renewal and environmental sustainability.

 

Oh, and one last thing, thank you, Redland-cum-Lafarge. You provided a challenge to the cultural immune system. You bowed out with dignity and, by bothering to visit the islands for your final announcement, a personal touch that will not pass unremarked. You leave behind you a community that is stronger – like its mountain. 

 

Alastair McIntosh, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn

 

 

Published as the featured letter in The Herald, 9 April 2004, p. 23, under the heading, "To tackle the rural housing crisis." (The letter to which this is a response is pasted below, as is my original below that).

 

Andrew Bradford of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association suggests that I should "open [my] eyes" about the rural housing crisis (Letters, April 8).

 

What we are witnessing is the first major outing of that mouthful of plums, the SRPBA, which is the new face of the erstwhile Scottish Landowners' Federation. The SLF has, alas, just fallen victim to the best PR advice that money could buy. As its website puts it, "Today, March 31, 2004, the SLF officially changed its name and structure to become the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association." And so we witness another Orwellesque Windscale-like transmogrification to Sellafield. Let it go on record, then, that SRPBA is still the same old Lairds' Trade Union.

 

Mr Bradford's letter tries to reduce to one simple polarity a debate that actually offers several alternatives. He sees housing provision as something that is done for people by either the "private rented sector" or "the public purse [of] the social housing sector". By setting up this simple dichotomy of capitalism versus communism, both treating ordinary folks as needing something done to them, he makes a straw-man argument – a caricature that he can easily knock down.


What Scotland's land reformers are actually talking about is neither end of this polarity, but community empowerment. This stimulates individual responsibility and entrepreneurship but does so within community-owned and democratically accountable frameworks. It squares the circle of capitalism and communism.


Community tenure is the reason why unemployment on Eigg has been slashed – because they now run businesses like their own construction company doing up one another's homes. It is why Gigha is planning to put up 23 new houses, compared with just one in 30 years of landlordism.


What Scotland needs is what was told to Lord Leverhulme near Stornoway in 1920. Leverhulme attempted to quell crofters' unrest by promising industrialisation, urbanisation, and general economic salvation. He believed that "the agitation for land was old-fashioned and irrelevant".


At the end of his speech, a crofter got up and said, in Gaelic, to rapturous applause: "This honey-mouthed man would have us believe that black is white and white is black. We arenot concerned with his fancy dreams that may or may not come true! What we want is the land – and the question I put to him now is: An toir thu dhuinn am fearann? Will you give us the land?"


Alastair McIntosh. 

6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, Fife.

 

Herewith the letter of 8th April to which the above was my response:

 

 

ALASTAIR McIntosh (Letters, April 5), in responding to Lucy Bannerman's article on rural housing, expresses contempt for my continual plea that the private rented sector (not just landowners) should be given incentives to supply affordable housing. My reason for this being that, as I have, personally demonstrated on this estate, there are circumstances in which the private sector can deliver affordable housing at far better value for the public purse than can the social housing sector.

 

Mr McIntosh should open his eyes and be prepared to think what for him is probably the unthinkable. Surely the best solution for the very serious rural housing problem in Scotland is for all potential housing providers to be allowed to participate in trying to solve the problem and to utilise those capable of delivering local solutions at best value for the public purse. If that means, as I am certain it would in many rural situations, using the co-operation and willingness of his dreaded "lairds" to accept modest rates of return in order to support local communities and helpmeet local housing needs, then common sense dictates that this course of action should be allowed.

 

I know of many landowners who would be only too willing to develop affordable housing. They cannot do this without financial assistance but they could deliver around 25% more homes or the same amount of taxpayers' money when compared with rural social housing provision. Far from "the poor", as Mi McIntosh suggests, involvement of the private rented sector would either save the taxpayer a fortune or deliver more affordable houses for those in need. Either of these seem entirely reasonable outcomes.

 

The real scandal is that, in denying assistance for the private sector to develop affordable housing, society has prevented a great many people who desperately need housing from getting a roof over their heads.

 

Andrew Bradford,

Scottish Rural Property and Business

Association, Kincardine Estate Office,

Kincardine O'Neil, Aboyne.

 

 

  

Published in The Herald as the featured letter, 6 April 2004, p. 17, under the heading, "Three roads to affordable rural housing."

Your excellent coverage of Scotland's crisis in affordable rural housing (5 April) reported, remarkably, that Andrew Bradford of the Scottish Landowners' Federation "criticised reliance on the social sector, saying landowners should get more incentives to supply low-cost homes."

 

How typical of the "Lairds' Trades Union" to seek public help that would result in taxing the poor via an ongoing stream of rentals paid to the rich!

 

But thankfully, our politicians have already created an "incentive" that will soon start dropping into place - land reform. But we need to keep holding the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 in the light of the Government's 1999 green paper committment to address the land question "not as a once-for-all issue but as an ongoing process." The new Act is a modest start to, and certainly not a conclusion of the process.

 

Three things must next be tackled. Firstly, the planning system requires review. It must ease provision for housing that, i) addresses social need, ii) is Scottish vernacular and ecologically sound, and, iii) encourages such empowering approaches as community self-build. We need to remember that much British planning law developed in an era when rurual county councillors were typically of the landed classes. They had an interest in keeping the countryside for the rich and their servants, and that policy is now more bankrupt than ever.

 

Secondly, legal structures need to be established that separate ownership of the land from rights over the private improvements made upon it, such as building a house. In social housing developments the land should be inalienably owned by local community housing trusts. Only the improvements upon that land should be privately owned, and the sale of these must hinge upon agreement by the community to transfer the land lease. There is nothing radical or new about this proposal. It is current position with crofting law. Here landlords retain the land, crofters own the improvements, and the Crofters' Commission controls transfer of the land lease. Why not, then, use a similar structure to address the need for social housing? It would allow democratically accountable community bodies to stop housing originally intended for local social need from being sold on as holiday homes.

 

Thirdly, the current land reform act will scarcely touch the big players, with "their property" stitched up in overseas holding companies and family trusts. This needs to be tackled as Scotland's political confidence grows. As an estate agent up north told me recently, "The reality is that your typical landowner holds on to housing plots more tightly than to his balls." That is why Scotland has 5 emptied-out acres of land per head of the population, yet housing plots on the west coast now change hands for upwards of £50,000.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The Herald, 24 March 2004, under the heading, "Campbell and Steele."

 

The exoneration of TC Campbell and Joseph Steele is a partial vindication of Scottish justice, and all credit to the largely unsung Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigated and referred his case. But as Aamer Anwar says (letters, March 23), there must now be a full inquiry so that confidence in Scottish due process can be restored. Mr Campbell has always maintained that "this is not a miscarriage of justice, but a conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice." That claim must be openly examined.

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

Published in The Herald, 26th February 2004, p. 21, under the heading, "The private concerns of senior public servants."

 

I was fascinated to see that the case against the intelligence officer, Katherine Gun, who tried to stop what she described as "an illegal war", was mysteriously dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service after her solicitor revealed his intention to seek disclosure from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, as to the nature of his advice about the Iraq war's legality ("Follow your conscience, GCHQ 'spy' urges intelligence staff, 26 February).

 

In the run-up to the war, a number of senior public servants were privately concerned that if they followed the dictates of duty in the absence of a UN resolution, they might be a party to war crimes. Some went personally to Lord Goldsmith and sought counsel on the matter.

 

One has privately told me that Lord Goldsmith's opinion was that the war would be illegal, unless Saddam really did have weapons of mass destruction that could threaten Britian. This person added, "It is my view that if the WMDs are not found, it could well bring Blair down."

 

I suggested that it could, additionally, render a number of politicians and public servants war criminals. This, my source said, was, "something we take very seriously."

 

I am well aware that the publication of this letter might bring both journalists and the intelligence services tapping on my door or telephone line. I shall oblige them no further than this statement. Let me only add that, as a Quaker, truth and integrity in public affairs is a spiritual obligation of both conscience and consequence. I hereby give my affirmation that there is neither exaggeration nor distortion in what I am placing on the public record.

 

The sequel to the Hutton inquiry has been set to establish the quality of the intelligence that led to going to war and, thus, to regional destabilisation, increased global terrorism threat and some 10,000 registered civilian deaths in Iraq. Two questions remain unexamined by Mr Blair's self-established inquiries: what political process surrounded the use of intelligence, and within what framework of advice from the Attorney General?

 

The mysterious dropping of a potentially "treasonable" case against Ms Gun suggests that the spotlight must now fall on the latter question. There could be no higher test of the capacity of law to safeguard the integrity of our democracy. We can but presume that Ms Gun's case was dropped with good reason. Indeed, the "treason" in question may not have been hers.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh


 
Published in The Herald, 14 Feb 2004, p. 14, under the heading, "Some cameos to illustrate an inclusive Scottish identity."

 
Imagine the outrage if religious groups tried to pass legislation banning pinstriped suits and ties because they represent corporate enslavement to the money-god Mammon! Something similar must now be felt by devout Muslim women whose human right of religious expression is has come under threat by the new law in France banning headscarves from schools. As Joan McAlpine concludes in her thoughtful analysis, this will only fire up resentment: "Far better that the state encourages diverse groups to be themselves" ("Can a headscarf threaten the very fabric of society?", 12 February).
 
In such learning how to live with one another it is important that we distinguish more sharply between assimilation and integration. Assimilation tries to subsume the identity of minorities into that of the dominant group. Integration, on the other hand, encourages diversity by celebrating what people bring as well as helping them along with what they will hopefully acquire. As a Scottish Executive billboard puts it, the aim should be, "One Scotland; many cultures."
 
What might such strong yet inclusive Scottish identity look like in reality? Well, here are some cameos to illustrate.
 
A year ago my wife and I attended a splendid Burns Supper put on by a Glasgow Pakistani association. There was halal haggis, no worries about driving home safely afterwards, and toasts to both our own national bard and Pakistan's counterpart. Then, recently at the Centre for Human Ecology, I listened to a Muslim colleague wearing Asian dress speak passionately about what being a Scot means to her as somebody gifted with multiple identities. Her words stirred the blood and stimulated pride in being Scottish. This morning, an English professor who has recently moved to here emailed me saying that a Scottish learned society has just accepted his proposal to give a conference paper on Hogg, MacDiarmid and the 21st century. What touched him was how welcome native scholars of Scottish studies made him feel. Then, late last night, my wife and I arrived home to an answerphone message that greeted us in Lewis Gaelic ... spoken by a Edinburgh community worker who comes from war-torn Ethiopia.
 
What all these particular incomers have in common is that they have bothered to make the effort to recognise, to understand and to respect what Scotland and her peoples are about. In turn, and with the inevitable starts and stops, they have found, to varying and hopefully to increasing degrees, a community of place that offers very real national identity and belonging. 

As a black Glasgow health service executive said on the Lesley Riddoch Show in April 2000. "Look at me. I'm Scottish, Nigerian and Jewish. That's what it means to be a Real Scot".
 
Yours faithfully

Alastair McIntosh
 

 

Published in The Herald, 23 January 2004, p. 21, as the featured letter under the heading, "Our own classical traditions left to wither."

 

Culture is the glue that holds a people together. It inspires them to take responsibility both for one another and for their environment, so building communities in which human dignity becomes a possibility. In contrast, the process that Paulo Freire calls “cultural invasion” is vital to subjugating a colonised people’s spirit. They must be persuaded that their own music, poetry and other arts are “backward”. Only by aping the mores of the oppressor’s “high” culture can the dominated cadge legitimacy and standing. Once this inner colonisation of the soul has taken place outward force of arms and law can be relaxed. The people’s own power ebbs as the apathy of inferiorisation becomes normalised. This justifies continued domination, and so we learn to lionize the classical culture of the Romans and all that followed in their wake. As Tacitus reported the Pictish chieftain Calgacus, “Harriers of the world . . . they make a desolation and they call it peace.”

 

In the past year I have been to the opera in Scotland, and parts of Beethoven, Handel and Bach lift the soul to transcendental levels. For, this let us celebrate the Italians, Germans, English or whoever. But such art forms are not the centrepost of Scottish culture. You don’t go to homes in continental Europe and find many CDs of Verdi by a Scottish orchestra, Carmen by Scottish Opera or Scottish Ballet videos. Instead, you find Runrig, Capercaillie, and a European populace where virtually everybody can sing Auld Lang Syne in their own language. They want our authentic national music more than to hear us mimicking a version of theirs.

 

Until now, Scottish taxpayers have had to subsidise non-indigenous classical art forms rooted in feudal patronage. Our own classical traditions such as pibroch have been left to wither on the chanter. We’ve been told that this was good for us; that we needed to educate our tastes, become refined and so find improved standing in the great wide world. In short, we’ve been told a lie – and told it by that dominating social class of latter-day Romans who, until Devolution, held hidden power virtually unchallenged in Scotland.

 

That is why your survey of 21 January is so timely in suggesting that only 2% of people would favour public funding for ballet and opera over traditional music (31%). It is why the Scottish Executive’s review of arts policy is welcome and vital. We are talking here not just of reclaiming the “national music” of Scotland, but of reconnecting the nation with deep sources of power and empowerment. Such "work in the spirit" will have both social and economic payoffs. It will restore our birthright of cultural rooting and confidence. From there we will be able to reach out better to other cultures with discernment, grace and authenticity.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

 

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