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 Eigg Trust & Community Cohesion

 Maintaining the Bonds of the Island's Core Community

Alastair McIntosh suggests that the Lottery Fund needs cultural education about Eigg



Published in The Scotsman, 13-12-96, p. 18. For more on Eigg click here.



Last week’s Scotsman revealed that the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) attempted to compromise the islanders’ buyout on Eigg. They would have given the money that might by now have secured the island from Maruma, but only in return for constitutional change. This would have brought the Eigg Trust’s community representation to below 50% and forced an arranged marriage with the National Trust.


I am concerned about media misrepresentations sown by interests hostile to community empowerment that might have contributed to this decision. Perhaps I may dispel some myths.


When speaking about Eigg I have taken to asking audiences what percentage of residents they think were born on the island or in the nearby Fort William hospital. Most people guess around ten percent. The actual figure is just over sixty percent.


The broad brush picture is that about a third of the sixty-five strong population are indigenous Hebrideans, a third are from elsewhere in Scotland and the remainder mostly English.  Six of the eight trustees of the Isle of Eigg Trust are Scots, five of these are Hebrideans, four are indigenous to Eigg, three are native Gaelic speakers and all are community elected. We are pleased to have two resident English trustees.


At least 90% of the residents of Eigg are in favour of a community partnership of ownership. To effect this a new Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has been set up as a company limited by guarantee. As soon as charitable status is granted, this will subsume much if not all of the work of the old Isle of Eigg Trust that Tom Forsyth, Bob Harris, Lis Lyon and I founded in 1991. Power in the new trust will be divided equally to reflect both local and national interests. Four trustee places will go to the community, two to the Scottish Wildlife Trust and two to Highland Council. Thus not just residents will benefit, but also wildlife, the broader cultural heritage and thousands of warmly welcomed visitors.


Those unsympathetic to community land ownership have repeatedly attempted to place us in a Catch 22. If indigenous Scottish voices speak, questions are raised about their experience in managing such an asset. On the other hand, if resident incomers’ voices are heard, absentee incomers like ex-laird Keith Schellenberg are quick to tell the press that “none of them are true Hebrideans.”


It needs to be understood that there is a good reason why it is often incomers who do much of the public speaking in controversial Highland issues.


When the BBC went up to Eigg after Mr Schellenberg re-asserted his feudal superiority in 1992, only one resident, the late Dr Hector MacLean, felt secure enough to speak out.


He was famous for quipping that living under Eigg’s lairds was “like living under enemy occupation ... except you’re not allowed to shoot the buggers.”


But what  if you have less pension or tenancy security than the retired doctor? What if you’re amongst that 11% of the island’s population, including six indigenous people, who were issued with eviction notices for no apparent reason just two years ago (The Scotsman, 17-10-94)?


Then an implicit culture of silence is imposed. This is why much of the running in contentious Highland debate is often made by those who might be thought of respectively as “outside insiders” and “inside outsiders.”  That is to say, people from outside who now live inside the community, and others who are indigenous to the community but are now resident outside.


“Inside insiders” - the indigenous residents - tend to be relatively silent. They know that their most important role is to maintain the bonds of core community. Better to allow the thin ice to be stepped on by individuals who have more external buoyancy than become vulnerable to divide-and-rule tactics of outside interests.


After his recent visit to Eigg the Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, told the media that he was “rather appalled” because, “The present situation is pretty shocking and is not sustainable. The islanders have a right to a degree of security.” This is apple pie and motherhood; not revolution. Only with security can businesses and self-reliant ventures be started and can help be fully forthcoming from the local authority, commercial banks, the Scottish Office and Europe.


The Board of the NHMF next meets on17th December. Perhaps they were not previously in full possession of the facts. Let us hope they will think again.



Alastair McIntosh is a community elected trustee of the Isle of Eigg Trust. He grew up and was educated in North Lochs, Isle of Lewis, and is a fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology.




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