Press Letters up to Year 2000
Letters to the Press - from Autumn 1999
Chronological Order - Most Recent First
Click Here to Return to Letters Index
Click here for letters 2001 - 2003 or 2004 onwards
Published in The Scotsman, 7 November 2000, under the heading, "Superquarry ruling..."
Letters to the Editor
Your track record for responsible environmental reporting has
done more than most to raise awareness of the complex issues that surrounded the
Harris superquarry proposal.
However, your report (4 November) gives the wrong impression
in suggesting that the quarry pitted “conservationists against an isolated
community” (November 4). In 1995, 68% of that community voted against the
quarry after the public inquiry. Conservationists, therefore, comprised the
majority of the community itself.
People have lived sustainably on Harris for several thousands
of years, by integrating economy, community and a spiritually-informed respect
for place that points the way for a wider world under threat from global
Published in The Herald, 6-11-00, p. 14, under the heading, "Harris Quarry Decision."
Letters to the Editor
You rightly say that Sam Graham “is to be commended” for
his decisiveness over the Harris superquarry, but let it never be forgotten that
the really costly stance on this was taken by a principled woman – Sarah
In fairness, let it also be noted that the SNP never
significantly swerved from their anti-quarry stance. Such refusal to turn
Scotland’s environment into a political football doubtless made it politically
easier for the Scottish Executive to take their courageous decision.
Whilst speaking of commendation, let it be said that whilst
the editorial stance of this newspaper was pro-quarry, you usually made it
possible (at least in my own experience) for dissenting voices to be heard, and
to be so without undue restraint.
This is more than just a free press. It is a press that
ensures the freedom of its readers.
Published in the West Highland Free Press, 27-10-00, p. 15, under the heading, "Bid to Privatise the Seabed "Unnacceptable."
Letters to the Editor
John Edmondson and Jenny Twelves speak of “bringing
democratic procedures into disrepute” in relation to their effort to privatise,
for personal enrichment, part of the South Uist seabed (letters, 20 October).
Democracy, however, is a multi-layered process. And if
incomers are to be welcomed and integrated, it is vital for them to realise that
in the Highlands and Islands democracy starts by honouring the discerned wishes
of the local community. Often these are expressed in subtle, traditional ways,
which it is incumbent upon any incomer to develop sensitivity towards. It is a
bottom-up rather than a top-down democratic process, and one that is grounded,
ultimately, in a spiritual understanding of what gives community cohesion. (The
recent publication by Four Courts Press of Michael Newton’s outstanding work, A
Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World, means there can no longer be any
excuse for not understanding the fundamental principles of Highland society).
It is the local community, and not the Crown Estates, that
has moral authority over the seabed. Under the theological origins of the
Scottish Crown’s legal position, the Crown should serve merely as a wise
administrator on behalf of the Community of the Realm. It is time for the
ramifications of such largely-neglected constitutional principles to be better
understood, and to be so in terms of the human rights of indigenous peoples.
Indeed, the expertise of Commonwealth lawyers who have specialised in native
people’s post-imperial rights over the land and sea should perhaps be brought
to bear here in Scotland.
In a Highland community, a person belongs inasmuch as they
are willing to cherish, and be cherished, by a place and its peoples. Violation
of this principle leads to withdrawal of the community’s blessing, without
which no individual or enterprise can expect lasting happiness and prosperity.
Highland communities have amply demonstrated that they are open to warm
integration of the incomer. But that person must demonstrate respect, and help
to build community rather than suck away selfishly at its lifeblood. In the
absence of respect, our communities are merely subjected to the same old
imperial process of internal colonisation. That is why the behaviour of people
like John Edmondson and Jenny Twelves is no longer acceptable in 21st
century Highland Scotland.
Nb. Further to this letter's publication, the following was also published in the WHFP, 3-11-00, p. 11, under the heading, "Community Control of Seabed."
to the Editor
Highland Free Press
week you kindly published a letter of mine about the move by John Edmonson and
Jenny Twelves effectively to "privatise" part of the seabed in the
face of various press reports of local opposition.
would be of little public interest were it not that the principles under
consideration have profound implications far beyond Loch Eynort, which is why
they are highly charged. As your editorial of 6 October said: "This is not
just a planning issue but a political one of the future ownership and control of
sea lochs. The guiding principle should be that local communities have some
power ... on their doorstep."
the past week, however, it has been put to me by a member of the couple's family
that their business plans may enjoy more local support than has so far been
evident in the public domain. In the absence of an objective community ballot it
is not easy to test this assertion, but were it to be the case then it would, of
course, put matters in a different light. Not least it would call for shifting
the focus of the debate away from the people who have precipitated it and onto
the wider underlying issues.
may well be appropriate for a business to be given exclusive use of part of the
seabed so that they can operate with security in the same way as, for example, a
croft gives limited exclusive rights of usage of the land. However, the point is
that this should happen under the local community's control, for the community's
overall benefit and within a wider conceptual framework that retains the
cultural principle that sea lochs are a community commons.
Published in The Scotsman, 25-10-00, under heading, "Super-quarry Delays."
Letters to the Editor
Hardie rightly calls the years of delay in deciding the Harris super-quarry
issue "scandalous" (your report, 19 October), but no less disturbing
is the judicial basis used by Lafarge Redland Aggregates to advance its case. By
appealing to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it has
effectively imported to Scotland the bizarre American legal principle that a
corporation enjoys constitutional protection as a "person" in law.
Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 21-9-00. By the way, the "leading businessman" mentioned in paragraph two was Mr Ian Wilson, "father of the superquarry concept" and a principal mineral-rights holder at Lingerabay. I avoided reference to his name in the newspaper published version of the letter as this might have raised legal issues for them.
Letters to the Editor
I have been following the correspondence between Mike MacLeod
of Stornoway and John Lievers, a director of Lafarge Redland Aggregates,
regarding whether the proposed and opposed Lingerbay superquarry could be used
as a nuclear dump.
In June 1991, when I was lecturing in the Faculty of Science
and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, I was introduced to one of the
leading businessmen behind the superquarry who was seeking support for his
At that time I had few strong feelings either way about the
proposal, but having published research into the civil war caused by the Rio
Tinto copper mine on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, I was acutely aware
of the impact of large mining corporations on small island life.
I was also aware that efforts were being made to dump various
types of industrial and municipal waste on small Pacific islands, and that often
a hole suitable for dumping is worth more than the rock that was taken out.
In the presence of three colleagues, I asked the businessman
about the prospects of this happening on Harris. He told me that “relatively
unpolluted” sludge dredged from European rivers could profitably be brought to
Harris and mixed with the soil. This, he assured us, would be an
I told him that over the previous five years there had been
some 2,000 applications to dump wastes, mainly from the USA, in Pacific island
lagoons. I asked whether this possibility had been considered to enhance the
long-term profitability (and to finance reclamation costs) of Lingerbay. He
replied that this was not an immediate objective. The issue, he said, would be
“too emotive” to raise at this stage in the planning process.
I must say that I was left wondering how much else might have
been left on the back burner because it would be “too emotive.” One wonders
whether Mike MacLeod might be spot on in concluding (Letters, 7 September) that
a potential time-bomb may have been introduced by Redland’s last-minute change
to the Section 50 agreement about site restoration.
I wonder if I might also comment on Mr Liever’s remarkable
letter to the Gazette of 24 August? He said that the quarry would create
“many opportunities for biodiversity, environment creation and overall greater
environment benefit.” Well, last week I happened to be a keynote speaker at an
international conference of 400 scientists and professionals organised by the
Society for Ecological Restoration.
I asked some of the world’s foremost restoration scientists
and industry consultants what they thought of Mr Liever’s remarks. They
laughed. They said that his words would be valid in locations where, for
example, you had a flat landscape despoiled by industrial farming which could
have variety added to it by digging a few holes. But to make such a claim for a
pristine mountain is to abuse the science of restoration ecology.
Finally, today as I write (Monday 11 September), Lafarge
Redland opened their court case against the Scottish Executive. Whilst I have
every sympathy with their view that the Executive have dragged their feet for
too long, one part of the reported basis of the company’s legal challenge is
disturbing in ways that could have legal implications far beyond the
to The Herald of August 3, the company will be arguing that the
Executive’s foot-dragging is in “contravention of the company’s rights
under Article Six of the European Convention of Human Rights”. This says,
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal
charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a
reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by
of course, have their own rights and obligations within law. But the idea that
they can be defended as “persons” within the law is a bizarre view
introduced by corrupt oligarchs during the American Supreme Court case of Santa
Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1886. However, as
corporations become globalised and want more power everywhere, efforts are being
made to extend the American position worldwide.
Unlike American law, the British constitution and Scots law does not entertain a sharp separation between Church and State. Human personhood in Scots law is therefore rooted in theological understandings about the nature of God. If Lafarge Redland succeed in claiming “human” rights for themselves as a “corporate person,” the outcome would be blasphemous and idolatrous. It would have profoundly worrying legal implications for Scotland and for Europe as a whole. It would represent, indeed, an assault on the very notion in law of what it means to be a human being.
We always knew the corporation were out to get our environment. Who would have believed they might also challenge our humanity?
Published in The Herald, 18-9-00, p. 14, under heading, "Profoundly disturbing," with the letters page's banner headline quoting, "Seeking a ruling implying 'personhood' can be man-made as well as God-given, the Lafarge Redland lawsuit is idolatrous and blasphemous." Click here to view Stornoway Gazette essay on the historical origin of corporations, the East India Company and the Santa Clara County Supreme Court case establishing corporate "personhood."
Letters to the Editor
Your report today confirms that a primary allegation in the
Court of Session case being brought by Lafarge Redland Aggregates this week is
that the Scottish Environment Minister, Sarah Boyack, has acted in a manner
“incompatible with [the corporation’s] rights under Article 6 of the
European Convention on Human Rights.” Using such a basis for a corporate case
is profoundly disturbing and could have implications for European law far beyond
If the court finds that a corporation is possessed of
“human rights,” a multinational will have succeeded in importing a bizarre
and dangerous Supreme Court ruling from America: namely, that “corporate
persons” enjoy the same constitutional protection as human persons (Santa
Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1886).
However, there is a vital difference between the American
constitution and ours. They separate church and state. We don’t, the Royal
Titles Act 1953 being the most recent to affirm this. Whilst our constitution is
arguably anachronistic in a secular world, it nevertheless contains powerful
safeguards, if understood to its theological roots, for what it means to be a
By seeking a ruling implying that “personhood” can be
man-made as well as God-given, Lafarge Redland’s lawsuit is both idolatrous
and blasphemous. It is one thing for the corporate Golem – the man-made man
who runs amok - to assault our National Scenic Areas in trying to superquarry
Mount Roineabhal; quite another for it to challenge, in Scots law, our very
personhood through the attempted appropriation of human rights.
Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 3-8-00, p. 18, under heading, "Quarry supporters wide open to manipulation." (Nb. in a letter to me of 23 August 2000, John Lievers, director of Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd., confirmed that they fund the CQLSN but said that "the total amount reimbursed over the years is the concern oly of this company and the CQLSN..." He also acknowledged sponsorship of the Harris football team, the Leverburgh show, and a student bursary.)
to the Editor
Macdonald, the secretary of the Coastal Quarry Local Supporters Group, claims
“overwhelming support … particularly from those who live in South Harris,
the area closest to the quarry site” (Letters, August 1). But this is
substantially based on a non-confidential petition organised by his own group,
which as I shall demonstrate here, was in significant degree established
seemingly as a corporate front.
only two secret ballots to have been conducted, by recognised impartial bodies
representative of the whole community, showed the people of the South Harris (Obbe
constituency) voting 50.4% against the quarry in 1993, and 71.5% against in 1995
(see “Massive swing of opinion against superquarry”, West Highland Free
Press, May 26 1995, p. 1).
may be true of people like Mr Macdonald, as individuals, that, “Not one of us
has received a penny from Lafarge Redland”. I never said they had. What I have
repeatedly done is to cite an uncontested Stornoway Gazette article of
April 10 1997 (p. 11) headed, “Redland admits payments”. This reports that,
following questions raised by Calum MacDonald MP and local quarry opponents, a
Redland director, Mr John Lievers, issued a statement saying: “In his recent
TV interview on Eorpa, Capt. John Archie Mackenzie was completely correct in
saying that Redland Aggregates Limited has met the costs of the CQLSN’s
mailshots to the people of Harris. The company will continue to meet other
reasonable expenses where appropriate and when requested to do so by the
following week the Stornoway Gazette (p. 16) published a CQLSN statement
aimed at heading-off growing suggestions that the CQLSN was merely a corporate
front puppet organisation. Vice-chair John Macleod asserted, “Redland are not
involved in the drafting of the constitution. It has absolutely nothing to do
with Redland. We are doing this off our own back.”
the newspaper report continued: “But the Gazette has come into
possession of a fax from Burness to Redland Aggregates director, Mr John Lievers,
which indicates the quarry developers were very closely involved with the
detailed drafting of the Network company’s constitution. In the fax, dated
January 8, 1997, Burness solicitor, Mr Paul Pia, tells Mr Lievers, ‘I trust
that you duly received my first draft of a ‘Constitution’ – a Memorandum
and Articles of Association – for the Local Supporters Network… I have
provisionally called the proposed company ‘CQLSN Limited’ but this is
provisional only and should, following your discussion with the supporters, be
replaced with your chosen name.’”
I do not doubt that there are many people of sincerity involved with the CQLSN
including, one trusts, Mr Donald Macdonald himself. They have their own ideas
and interests to represent, which is fair enough. However, this does not alter
the fact that the CQLSN has proven wide open to manipulation by those who stand
to become exceptionally rich if this proposed wrecking of a National Scenic
Area, and its potentially adverse impact on other job sectors like fishing and
tourism, is not halted by the Scottish Executive once they receive scientific
advice from SNH – and that a body which, I am interested to see from his
favourable reference to Magnus Magnusson, Mr Macdonald seems prepared to
consider as potentially authoritative and capable of articulating even a
Published in the West Highland Free Press, Skye, 28 July 2000, p. 11 under heading, "Lingerabay: Boyack 'Was on Horns of Dilemma.'"
to the Editor
Highland Free Press
seems that far from “dithering” or taking “a coward’s way out,” Sarah
Boyack was impaled on the horns of a dilemma landed on the Scottish Parliament
from a botched pre-devolution approach.
sources in the Scottish Executive suggest that if she’d decided either way on
the basis of the Inquiry Report, she would have been open to judicial review.
The whole process would then have dragged out even longer.
issue facing Harris now is how can high-grade jobs – not quarrying or even
fish processing – be created for the remarkable level of university graduates
that Harris produces from its young. This is where organisations like Harris
Development Ltd. must continue taking the strategic approach to job creation,
which is already paying more dividends than the quarry would have done.
is imperative that if designation as a Special Area of Conservation goes ahead,
the people of Harris get themselves into the driving seat. Just as Harris set up
a “Quarry Benefit Group” to consider what the island might gain if the
quarry was to go ahead, so too consideration should be given to something like a
“Conservation Benefit Group.”
is an opportunity for SNH to show that it can strengthen crofting and rural
communities. The fact that Eigg has now created virtually full employment
suggests that people and conservation really can work together for economic
benefit. However, such “conservation” must be equally about people and
nature – it must be nothing short of all-round “sustainable development.”
Published in The Herald, 25 July 2000, p. 16 under heading, "Social cohesion and silence on superquarry."
to the Editor
Ian Mitchell is going to direct his attentions towards me (letters, July 22), I
should be obliged if he would do so with scrupulous attention to accuracy. The
eagles that nest just 400 metres from the proposed superquarry site on Harris
are not reintroduced Sea Eagles, but fully native Golden Eagles. This may
be confirmed both by observation, and by reference to Chapter 19 of the1998
draft public inquiry report.
for Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish listing recent letter writers to the Herald
and pointing out that, “none of their addresses was in the islands…”, I
wonder why he omitted my name from his list? Whilst my address may not be from
the islands, I grew up and was educated in Lewis in a family that has island
connections going back to the early twentieth century when my great uncle
established surgical services in the Lewis hospital. Lord MacKay’s omission of
my name was perhaps an oversight, but had it been included it would arguably
have sat uncomfortably with his argument.
said, Lord MacKay’s question is a valid one. It has been telling that, apart
from letters from the Redland Aggregates-funded Coastal Quarry Local
Supporters’ Network such as that from Donald Macdonald today, there have
been few letters, either for or against, from residents of Harris.
reason is that any massive proposed development in a small community acts like
the force field of a magnet. It pulls things into a new shape and creates
opposing north and south poles that were not there before. Through no will of
its own the community becomes polarised.
island people value social cohesion, most keep their heads low. But those of us
standing on the edge of the community are less vulnerable. We have the
often-uncomfortable duty of advocacy, and this goes for voices on both sides of
any major debate.
MacKay should know this well. His is one such voice.
Letter to the Sunday Herald, published 23 July 2000, p. 8, as "Harris can be special."
the proposal to make Harris a European designated Special Area of Conservation
goes ahead, it is imperative that local people are in control of the process and
draw longterm economic benefit from it.
Natural Heritage have not, in the past, had a good press in crofting
communities. Too often there has been a culture clash with an old-guard British
establishment that perhaps understood nature conservation but failed miserably
to understand social development. However, that is now changing within SNH…
Eigg it is being abundantly demonstrated that local people will pull towards the
restoration of both social and the natural environments when they are empowered
so to do. As one long-term unemployed Eigg resident said recently when he went
to sign off the dole after 19 years, "Ahh, the scourge of full employment
has returned to Eigg!"
conservation as being about both people and environment is the way forward for
Harris. Just as a "Quarry Benefit Group" was formed by the Harris
Council for Social Services to ensure maximum advantage if the quarry was
to have gone ahead, so there is now a need for a something like a
"Conservation Benefit Group" to ensure true sustainable development on
Harris - that is, development sustaining of both a peoples and their place.
this can be achieved, the pattern and example that Harris sets will be not just
for Scotland, but a light to the world.
Published in The Scotsman on Monday 17 July as the lead letter under the heading, “Big majority voted against superquarry scheme” (p. 15). The first paragraph had the mention of share prices edited out of it. Also, an ambiguity in my wording was compounded by editing cuts, thus the clarification letter that follows. Note that my original missed out the two words shown below in square brackets, which had the effect of understating my case. My mind was blitzed that day with the news having just broken ... OK ... not good enough! Clicking the hyperlink in this letter will take you to full details of the Hiroshima calculation to demonstrate that it is a valid point.
to the Editor
9th September 1992 this newspaper launched the first major
investigation of the proposed Harris superquarry scheme. Within a day of
publication, perhaps by sheer coincidence, £160 million had been knocked off
the market value of Redland Aggregates’ shares.
was the start of what many Harris residents now describe as a “gradual process
of education.” The proposed quarry was to be 50 times larger than existing
large British quarries. It would leave an opencast scar 6 times the height of
the White Cliffs of Dover. And the 36 tonnes of explosive [per week] it would use
over 60 years would be equivalent to dropping on Harris the
equivalent of 6 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs. Little wonder, therefore, that
in 1995, with arguments both for and against fresh in their minds, fully 83% of
the Harris population voted in an independently organised secret ballot against
the quarry and did so by a margin of 68%.
minister Sarah Boyack has, as you report (July 13), been “blasted”” for her decision to refer Harris for consideration as a
European Special Area of Conservation – a designation that would scupper the
quarry. However, had she not done this the matter might have gone to judicial
review and taken even longer to determine.
1998 draft enquiry report concludes that Harris would benefit by only 33 direct
and 10 indirect jobs (13:279). Already, more jobs than this are about to be
created by Harris’ new fish processing factory, which had to conduct a survey
to ensure that 40-80 suitable employees could be found.
inquiry report confirms that the proposed development would have had, “a very
disruptive effect on the character of the area affecting local residents [by
introducing] a form of industrial activity incompatible with an area of scenic
beauty [and] the underlying objectives of the National Scenic Area” (14:296e).
That is why, far from being “dithering,” Miss Boyack’s move may be
astutely intelligent. Golden Eagles nest just 400 metres from the proposed
quarry site. May they remain as icons of conservation that integrates the beauty
of place with the wellbeing of its people.
Correction to published version of the above, appeared in The Scotsman 18 July 2000 under heading, "Quarry."
to the Editor
apologies - an ambiguity in my letter published July 17 was understandably
compounded by your editing process. May I clarify that it was not 83% of the
people of Harris who voted against the superquarry in 1995. Rather, it was 68%
against, on an astoundingly high 83% participation rate.
Published in The Herald, Saturday 15 July under the heading, “Real meaning of conservation” (p. 14).
to the Editor
from dithering, Sarah Boyack may have played a highly intelligent card in asking
that Harris be designated a European Special Area of Conservation. She may
therefore have good reason for being, as you report, “angered at being held
responsible for this further delay” (July 12).
is a minister who inherited a nightmare from the regime in place before we got
our own Parliament. Informed sources suggest that the 1998-99 inquiry
reporter’s draft report contains deficiencies that could have left the
Scottish Executive open to judicial review whichever way it decided on the
matter. Had Miss Boyack come down decisively one way or another the decision
might not have stuck. The agonising wait for Harris would have been even longer.
of the key areas weaknesses in the draft 1998 report is section 15:134, which
blandly states, “On the basis of the evidence at the inquiry, it is not clear
whether Roineabhal warrants Special Area of Conservation status.” And yet, the
mountain is a breeding ground for Golden Plover, protected otters inhabit the
foreshore, and Golden Eagles nest just 400 metres from the quarry boundary.
Pain, the inquiry reporter, makes a “finding of fact” that “it would be
many years before the upper edge of the workings reached the slopes closest to
the eyrie.” Astonishingly she concludes, “I find no conclusive evidence that
the pair of Golden Eagles concerned would necessarily abandon the nesting
sites,” therefore, “I do not find these to be considerations which should be
given a great deal of weight in the overall assessment of the application”
(19:100-6). One wonders whether, in so concluding, Miss Pain found herself
persuaded by the argument of Redland Aggregates that, since a pair of Peregrine
Falcons had been undisturbed by one of their Welsh quarries, Scottish eagles
which are “just as sensitive to disturbance” would be similarly
her credit, Miss Pain did find that whilst the quarry would probably only create
33 direct and 10 indirect jobs for Harris people out of an overall conservative
estimate of 110 jobs if full production were ever reached (13:279-80), this
“very substantial benefit to the local economy” would “have a very
disruptive effect on the character of the area affecting local residents [by
introducing] a form of industrial activity incompatible with an area of scenic
beauty.” She adds: “The inevitable scale and characteristics in terms of
industrialisation of the superquarry will be so significant that the underlying
objectives of the National Scenic Area in terms of scenic beauty and the
landscape characteristics will be materially affected by virtue of the change
from a small scale landscape of detailed variety to a large scale industrial
area… I find that the impact cannot be described as minimal – on the
contrary, it would be locally severe.”
Pain may have been powerless, within the strictures of old-guard British
planning law, to give due weight to such considerations. Hopefully, strengthened
by Europe’s and the Scottish Parliament’s evolving commitment to development
that sustains both people and the environment, Miss Boyack is now in a position
to do better.
needs to hold on to its remaining natural beauty. The human cultural wealth for
which we are famous is rooted in this, and that is the true wealth of Harris -
the real meaning of “conservation.” Without beauty, our nation would
haemorrhage vision. We would become a mere doormat for passing multinational
corporations. That is not what our Scottish Parliament stands for.
Published in The Herald, 12-7-00, p. 18 under heading, "Does Crown Office not want justice to be seen?"
11 July 2000
to the Editor
is going on in Scottish justice? You report that the Scottish Criminal Cases
Review Commission uniquely has to take the Crown Office to the High Court in an
effort to force release of documents relevant to the “Glasgow Two” (Plea to
release Ice Cream Wars files, July11)?
the Crown Office not want justice to be seen to be done?
What interests can be served by concealing possibly vital information
while two men, who have protested their innocence for 16 years, fester in jail?
far the only senior politician to have advanced their case was a former Scottish
Secretary who entertained sufficient doubt as to let them out in 1997 on remand
for a year. Do we need to bring back Michael Forsyth for justice in Scotland?
is the voice of complicity. It should have no place except in the explicit
public interest in an open society. The longer that gatekeepers to the corridors
of power furtively block access to the full facts, the more the evidence stacks
in favour of Tommy “TC” Campbell’s chilling assertion: namely, that
“This is not a miscarriage of justice, but a conspiracy to pervert the course
Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 6-6-00, p. 16 as “The most credible Harris quarry ballot." No reply has appeared refuting these points.
5 June 2000
1995, 68% of the people of Harris voted against the proposed and manifestly
opposed superquarry. This was a secret postal ballot, organised by the
independent Electoral Reform Society. It took place immediately following the
public inquiry when all arguments – both for and against - were still fresh in
people’s minds. A phenomenal 83% of eligible residents voted. Such a turnout
reflected the sense that a decisive statement was being made about the
ballot therefore holds a credibility that has been replicated by neither of the
two subsequent polls which, presumably, inform the remark in your June 3 leader
that the community, “has been in favour, then against, and now, apparently,
supports the project again”.
of these subsequent polls was commissioned by a TV company and based upon a
telephone sample. It was therefore hardly comprehensive and would certainly, by
local standards, have been deficient in both authority and anonymity. The other
was mailed out by the so-called Coastal Quarry Local Supporters’ Network.
As the Stornoway
Gazette revealed on 10 and 17 April 1997, this group received expenses from
the corporation, including the costs of mailshots to the people of Harris. A
leaked fax suggested that the corporation also undertook the legal work setting
the Network up and even came up with its name! Redland director, Mr John Leivers
admitted to the Gazette that, “The company will continue to meet
other reasonable expenses where appropriate and when requested to do so by the
Network.” Little wonder that a West Highland Free Press
cartoon later quipped that Redland Lafarge would carry on organising polls
“until it got the result it wanted”!
reports in the Highland press state that, because of the BBC Castaways
series, tourism companies are now taking an unprecedented interest in Harris.
More immediately, a new fish processing factory is expected to employ 80 people
when it opens later this year. This is similar to the level of locally-sourced
direct employment that the quarry would have provided; indeed, it is of such
scale that a survey had to be conducted to ensure that sufficient local staff
could be found.
developments show that the fortunes of Harris have the potential to revive
without dropping the equivalent of six Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs on a
National Scenic Area. But as most corporate PR consultants are well aware, the
best way to wear down local opposition is simply to wait until campaigning
resources, sense of scale, memory of gaffes and hope has corroded away. Because
of this, any further delay cannot be viewed as politically neutral. Good
governance requires that the Scottish Executive acts promptly. Failure so to do
will, as your leader suggests, make the distinction between industrial blight
and planning blight only a matter of degree.
Published in The Herald, 1-6-00, p. 18.
for Human Ecology
to the Editor
Rolls challenges the Rev Ron Ferguson’s biblical knowledge, maintaining “the
sole reference to usury in the New Testament is Jesus’ use of the parable of
the talents” (Usury, homosexuality and erroneous columnists, Letters, May 22).
is in error. Luke 6:34-35 (NRSV) has Jesus saying, “If you lend to those from
whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to
sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend,
expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children
of the Most High…”
major world religions have, at formative times in their history, condemned the
lending of money for interest. An academic study of this may be found in my
paper, A Short Review of the Historical Critique of Usury, written with
Wayne Visser of KPMG South Africa in issue 8:2 of Accounting, Business and
Financial History, Routledge, July 1998. Usury corrupts social relationships
because it changes money from being a simple accounting system of mutual rights
and obligations to a self-perpetuating mechanism that makes money out of money
contemporary thought, only Islamic economics adequately appreciates the idolatry
intrinsic to this. However, Keynes had some inkling of the problem. His
biographer, Lord Skidelsky, remarks upon, “Keynses’s sense that, at some
level too deep to be captured by mathematics, ‘love of money’ as an end, not
a means, is at the root of the world’s economic problem” (1992, p. 454).
of the Centre for Human Ecology
Published in The Herald, 4-5-00, p. 18 under heading, "If it's a taboo subject at school."
3 May 2000
to the Editor
18-year old daughter, Catriona (heterosexual, I am given to understand), has
just written to me from abroad about the “Section 28” debate. I believe
that, based upon her first-hand observation, she would warmly endorse your
leader today maintaining that it is the existing legislation that warps
children’s minds and is “deliberately discriminatory.” I think she would
feel that it is not the place for schools to “promote” sexuality of any
kind, but they should certainly educate openly and honestly about it, and
the Scottish Executive is courageous in the principled stance that it is taking.
I know that she would be happy for me to quote from her letter as follows:
“I wish that they would hurry up and get rid of Clause 28. I remember in school that because of it, our teacher wasn’t allowed to answer children’s questions on gays. It was not allowed to be discussed. It also reminds me of the problems that my gay friend had at school. One time we were having lunch and a bunch of boys ran in and bombarded him with gritty ice balls. He dropped out of school not long after. How many fears would be reduced if it could be discussed! What sort of impression do children get if it is presented as a taboo subject in school? Oooh ... what a nasty piece of work Clause 28 is!”
Published in The Herald, 17-4-00, p. 14 under the heading, "A good biblical prophet uses satire, ridicule, and irony."
15 April 2000
to the Editor
am neither gay nor lesbian, but I sometimes use the Bible in your columns and as
a Quaker and a sinner, I want to be able to carry on doing so without feeling
tarred with the homophobic brush of an unreformed Judaism, Paulianity or even
Churchianity. I therefore wish to defend Ron Ferguson’s “Stone a Poof for
Jesus” satire given today’s letters of attack.
from ridiculing the Bible, the Rev. Ferguson follows in a tradition that Jesus
himself established where he pushed sanctimonious upholders of religious law to
the point where their strictures strangulated in the vacuum of their own
example, in Matthew 5 Jesus affirms the law’s teaching about adultery. But he
then adds the impossibly stringent injunction that even to look on a woman
lustfully is to commit adultery in the heart. This makes sexual sinners of
nearly all of us except, perhaps, gays who might lack the interest. Little
wonder that in John 8 there was nobody left to cast the first stone.
Luke 7 Jesus allows a “fallen” woman sensually to wash, kiss and massage his
feet. Legally this would have rendered him ritually unclean, which is why the
guardians of religious probity speculated that he was a false prophet. But this
wonderful man dismissed them with the words: “Her sins, which are many, are
forgiven; for she loveth much.”
said much about Mammon that might apply to those who have disproportionate
resources with which to fund the perversion of democracy, but nothing about
homosexuality. The “law” that he advanced was a new covenant, written not as
an objective code on heartless tablets of stone – cold, rigid and cruel as we
can see, for example, in parts of Deuteronomy 20-25 – but etched on the human
heart – living, flexible and compassionate. As such Jesus taught not a moral
code, but love. His use of scripture was, like ours must be, selective, but
always consistent with the maxim of 1 John 4 that “God is love.”
deciding whether to condemn a homosexual couple, Jesus would probably have made
a point of getting to know their lives from the inside out. That is what
spiritual discernment requires. If we are to be any better than the reactionary
neighbour in American Beauty we might follow suit. I believe this is
Published in The Herald, 4-4-00, p. 18, under heading, "Public interest in feudal land." For full exploration of these arguments see Carbeth Hutters paper. See also letters below of 8th and 30th November 1999, and of 23 October on the constitutional status of foxhunting.
is instructive to juxtapose your leader today about the Cuillins (MacLeods
should prove ownership) with last weeks report from the Scottish Crofters’
Union conference (£10.8m Land Fund may be used for crofters’ purchase, April
1). Was this an April Fool’s joke, or is Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie
missing the point that there is actually no need to compensate crofting
landowners under existing Scots law?
that is required to return croft land to the communities from whence it
originally came is a slight amendment to the 1976 act that already gives
individual crofters the right to buy for 15 times their annual rental. This act
has widely been considered a failure. It requires that a crofter
“privatises” his or her place in the community, thereby going against the
deep instinct that land ought not be “owned.” It also means that the crofter
loses certain rights. However, if the 1976 act were to be amended so that
existing crofting rights were retained, and if the crofting community were to be
allowed to act in concert by taking control on a community-wide trust basis –
such as in Eigg, Assynt or Stornoway – then the property loss implications for
landlords would be no different than if everybody simply decided simultaneously
to exercise their rights under the 1976 act.
this argument deeper, in various letters last year (e.g. Rights that the lairds
may not have, October 22) I pointed out that perhaps the only good thing about
our existing feudal law is that, within its legal theory, God owns the land, the
Crown delegates land on behalf of God to the people as the “Community of the
Realm,” and therefore in principle, land ought to be used in accordance with
the social and ecological justice that God wants. So far, not one landowner,
lawyer or constitutionalist has had a letter published in your newspaper
refuting these arguments. The Scottish Landowners’ Federation have been
outspoken in their silence.
Cuillins sale, however, places such arguments centrestage because it will
require that goodness of title is explored right to its medieval roots. As
Professor Donald MacLeod said in the West Highland Free Press last week,
“Some even argue that the divine claim is not merely a matter of
technicalities of feudal land tenure, but a matter of natural justice. They
point out that God actually made the Cuillins and that that gives him all the
usual proprietorial rights of an artist... To buy them would be [to] purchase
is this argument confined to theologians and land reformers. In non-theological
language what it means is that there is a public interest, expressed through the
Crown, in all feudal Scots land. On 15 December last year Counsel’s opinion on
this in relation to the present feudal reform bill was expressed by Sir Crispin
Agnew of Lochnaw Bt, QC, acting for Scottish Environment Link.
opined, “The present bill … would appear to have the effect of severing all
connection between the land and any other rights, privileges, benefits of or
derived the [Crown’s] paramount superiority…
If the courts held that the Act had lost appropriate rights, then they
could only be reintroduced at the risk of having to pay compensation.”
Finnie’s talk of compensating crofting landowners is not only worth of a
rethink in the light of the 1976 act; it is also premature until the full
interests of the Scottish people in the land of this nation have been examined
with more rigour than our civil servants have so-far accorded it. May the
Cuillins debate to advance us in this matter, may the Parliamentary committee
handling feudal reform take careful note, and may Scotland’s finest legal
brains not miss the opportunity.
[Retrospective p.s. ... well folks, actually, they did miss it. SNP attempts to get some of these points taken seriously were dismissed as irrelevant by the Executive's Jim Wallace during the passage of the feudal reform bill in May 2000.]
This and the longer letter beneath it both address possible ways forward for British farming in its present troubled state... Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 31-3-00, p. 18, under heading, "The true and fair price of food."
for Human Ecology
27 March 2000
to the Editor
was heartwarming to read your leader calling for higher standards of broiler
chicken welfare “despite the complaints about higher cost which will greet
it” (27 March).
complaints, however, must be squarely faced otherwise our chicken industry will
suffer the same plight as pig farming has recently undergone. Here Britain’s
improved standards have been bankrupted by cruelty-pork cheap imports from
dignified future of British farming, if there is to be one, lies in
compassionate animal care standards, the rebuilding of vitalised rural
communities, and optimalising economic linkages and multipliers at a
decentralised, local level.
government complains that Europe and the World Trade Organisation tie their
hands. Inasmuch as this is true, it only highlights past misrepresentations of
the people. Such continued abdication of governance is no longer acceptable.
strengthen political backbones both the farming and the animal rights lobbies
ought pull together. British producers must be protected from rapacious
“free” trade that turns a profit only at the lowest common denominator of
exploitation. The higher cost to be paid for food will be simply the price of
civilisation – the true and fair price of food. No longer must our guts, souls
and the very fabric of society be poisoned by aftertastes of injustice.
Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology
Published in The Herald, 3 February 2000, p. 16, under the heading, "Strip out cruelty and low wages." See also Scottish Affairs paper on "GATT and Crofting."
Letters to the Editor
January 31 2000
Centre for Human Ecology
12 Roseneath Place
I urge those who ponder ”What is the future of farming?” to dig out today's Herald
farming page and scrutinise George Hume’s outstanding feature about the
environmental benefits of Belted Galloways and other traditional breeds. His
account is not mere speculation and it goes far beyond the mere
“quaintness” of curious-looking cows.
To grasp the socio-ecological significance of agriculture, it is
instructive to study reports of what happened when intensive practice first
penetrated Scotland. The following illustrative paragraph is from the 1803-1886
manuscript memoirs of the Scots herbal physician, Dr John Mackenzie, describing
the introduction of sheep ranching around Loch Maree. (I am grateful to Ronald
Black of Edinburgh University’s Celtic Department for this source.)
was in as lovely a spot in a wild Highland glen as any lover of country
scenery could desire to see. I mean then, for then no sheep vermin had got hoof
in it; as ere long they did. Then only cattle ever bit a blade of grass there,
and the consequence was that the braes and wooded hillocks ware a perfect jungle
of every kind of loveable shrubs and wild flowers, especially orchids - some,
of the Epipactis tribe, being everywhere a lovely drug that I often got
many thanks for sending to botanic gardens in the South.
milk cows never troubled their heads to force through this flowery jungle, laced
up with heaps of honeysuckle and crowds of seedling hazel and other native trees
and shrubs. Till my Father’s death in 1826, no sheep’s hoof defiled the glen
unless passing through it to the larder. But very soon after, an offer of a
trifling rent for sheep pasturing let these horrid brutes into the glen, and
every wild flower, and every young seedling bush or tree was eaten into the
ground, so that an offer of a thousand pounds would not find one of my loved
wild flowers or a young shrub from seed — nothing but a bare lot of poles,
whose very leaves ware all eaten up the instant one of them appeared.
who remembered the wooded glen of 1826, and now looked at it; would never
believe it was the same place — unless seen from a distance, for the sheep
could not eat up the beautiful wild hills.”
Modem agricultural policy has reduced much of Europe’s countryside to
a degraded and degrading factory floor. It has dishonoured and diminished both
human and natural nature. We have failed to adapt to post-war opportunities and
lost sight that the pressure is no longer on to “feed the nation”. We can
stop fighting the war, including its sublimation into marketing practice. We
neither need nor want ever-increasing quantities of meat on the plate
and certainly not when peppered with shame. Rather, we need an agriculture where
the arable-stock balance equates with the land’s permanently sustainable
carrying capacity, and that, with biodiversity and compassion.
the ecology of low-input-low-output (LILO) traditional animal breeds and their
integration with more “improved” strains is the key to such sustainable
agricultural development. It offers the means to restore beauty to the
countryside - beauty as the touchstone of right relationship which gives pride
to people, which gives a foundation for community worth having, and which generates
employment both from and with the land. Such an agenda offers back to farmers
their God-given vocation of maintaining the soil in good heart, thereby
integrating soil with soul. As such, the core values of the nation are exercised
In having destroyed so much in the name of intensive production, farmers
have only done what past public policy demanded. We must now, instead, ask that
policy majors upon restoring the ecology of the land and healing its human
communities. We, the public, must be prepared to pay the cost of these measures.
They are, simply, the true and fair price of food which, in the long run,
upholds rather than penalises the poor It potentially benefits even those in our
urban Sowetos that can often be traced to the intergenerational poverty of those
once pushed off the land.
This is the real importance of organic certification, fair trade
labels, and the ‘Freedom Foods’ meat standard that supermarkets like Tesco,
much to their unexpected credit; are struggling to promote. We must not look on
buying such products only in terms of flavour or health. The bigger issue is the
kind of society they help us to become. It’s about the integration of
social and ecological justice —consumption without exploitation — so as to
strip away the poisons of cruelty and low wages that currently pollute most of
what we eat. The challenge is to re-establish what Robert Burns called
“nature’s social union” - an authentic human ecology
The policy implications that would follow from Parliament taking this
seriously could do more than simply save farming. They could fire up from within
a vision of right relationship - that, in community with nature, in community
with one another and, arguably, in community with however we might understand
our God to be. Such a vision could be Scotland’s light in the ecology of
nations. Such a pattern and example would merit respect in the world, aye, and
self-respect. It would give life.
of the Centre for Human Ecology
Published in The Stornoway Gazette, 13 January 2000, p. 6, as "Mammon, Moloch and the Lingerbay Quarry."
In his poem, Domhnullan, the Rev Donald MacCallum, bard of the Pairc Deer Raid,
pictures the idol Mammon sitting with a golden scallop-shell on his knees full
of precious stones.
“Darling,” he says to Donnie, who has come seeking a way to mend his
brokenness of heart. “Won’t you/ Be so kind as to pass that delectable
jewel/ Over there - it’s the heart of Calum Grasper/ Who served me well - into
my scallop-shell?/ And I will give you, Donnie, your answer.”
The outcome is that Mammon - what Ronald
Black’s commentary and translation of the poem calls “the businessman’s
oracle” - will, of course, look after Donnie. He will make him a rich man ...
if he leaves Mammon his heart.
Mammon, in other words, is one with Moloch:
that Old Testament god of spiritual death; that fire-filled hollowed-out stone
idol into whose roasting arms the people would sacrifice their very children
to increase this-worldly prosperity.
We can be certain that in reflecting upon
Mammon, the Rev MacCallum must have been familiar with Ezekiel 28. “Thou hast
been in Eden, the garden of God,” Ezekiel wrote. “Every precious stone was
thy covering ... thou wast upon the holy mountain of God. Thou hast walked up
and down in the midst of the stones of fire (i.e. mineral wealth).
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till
iniquity was found in thee.”
And what was the nature of that iniquity?
Nothing that would have been unfamiliar to MacCallum’s Calum Cràgach
- Calum the Grasper. To Ezekiel it was the profligate trade of the mercantile
city of Zidon. He concludes: “By the multitude of thy merchandise they have
filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will
cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee [with]
a fire from the midst of thee... Son of man, set thy face against Zidon and
prophesy against it.”
Now, the Gazette reports (January 6) that the Lingerbay superquarry
decision is thankfully a step closer. In the early weeks of this new Millennium,
many influential people in the Western Isles will probably be subjected to
intense lobbying pressure from pro-quarry forces. Mammon will be rattling his
scallop-shell and eyeing-up Stornoway as the potential new Zidon. Meanwhile,
down in the south of Harris, Moloch will be hoping that nobody will notice all
the alternative jobs created in association with Harris Development Ltd., and
nobody will notice that “daily bread” - God’s basics for life - are
actually already provided for. After
all, God never promised a fast car or an index-linked pension for this life;
only eternal life and the Creation’s sustained providence.
Moloch, however, is disdainful of providential “life abundant.” Mo1och’s
heart is set on being a hollowed-out fire-filled stone idol. Moloch’s affinity
is therefore with the 36 tons of high explosive that the Lingerbay public
inquiry revealed would be detonated each week when in full production. Moloch
knows that this is equivalent to dropping six Hiroshima-sized atom bombs on Mt.
Roineabhal over the quarry’s lifetime. Moloch, after all, receives sacrifice
with open arms into his increasingly hollowed-out stone tomb. The desecration of
Roineabhal would therefore be as good an idolatrous act as any that trades duthchas
for faith in the Church of Mammon. Moloch, after all, has canonised despair.
No liturgy pleases him more than to hear people say, and even pray, ‘The
quarry is the salvation of Harris.”
In contrast, God’s way of relating to the
Creation urges us to set our faces against Zidon and testify against it. “I
have set before you life and death,” he told Moses in Deuteronomy 30. “Therefore
Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 30 November 1999, p. 16, as the lead letter under heading, "Land Reform: Two steps towards credibility." Other letters addressing Scots constitutional law include 8th November on the Act of Settlement, one of 22 October 1999 on the constitutional status of foxhunting, and that of 4 April 2000 on the Cuillins sale.
1992 when the Eigg and the Gigha evictions were at their height, a Scottish
Office Minister told Parliament: “Land ownership is not a matter on which I
have a locus to Intervene” (Hansard; June
4 1992). That is why the Scottish Executive’s announcement on Wednesday
strengthening land reform proposals is so welcome (Minister hands
crofling communities the right to buy, November 25). But two steps remain to
make the process wholly credible.
First, the July 1999 land reform White Paper specifies the sustainable
development of communities as its primary object. However, buy-outs can only be
sustainable if the future flow of economic returns justifies the initial capital
I can remember being told by a former laird of Eigg that community
ownership was inappropriate because the £3m he then hoped to raise by selling
the inland reflected its status as “a collector’s item”. Vanity value is
not the sort of consideration to which communities ought be exposed.
Accordingly, where the community prerogative
of pre-emption is exercised under the new legislation, it should be at economic
rather than market valuation.
Secondly, in the Justice and Home Affairs Committee recently, key expert
witnesses have failed to distinguish between the Crown’s feudal and paramount
roles. It is vital not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We ought
therefore to maintain the existing legal principle that, in theory, land is held
by the Crown on behalf of the Community of the Realm - the people of Scotland.
This is not academic. In a globalised world where the World Trade
Organisation attempts (as with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment) to
extend corporate power over sovereign domains, we might, in the future, be glad
to have retained our ancient Scots anomaly. We might actually find ourselves
protected —morally and even in law — by the principle that Scottish land
cannot, in any absolute sense, be considered to be private property. It is,
rather, “usufructural”, meaning that land “ownership” is only of
accorded rights of usage. Parliament accords these rights in the public
interest, thus public interest stays paramount.
In this matter we must avoid the frequent mistake of confusing the
Scottish Crown with the English one. We therefore need not dismiss the relevance
of the Crown if we disagree with the current position that it is vested
in a sovereign monarch. No less an institutional authority than A V Dicey has
acknowledged that, “Of the powers ascribed to the Crown, some are in reality
exercised by the Government, whilst others do not in truth belong to the
King…” Crown powers therefore do not have to be synonymous with a
sovereign’s role. This is particularly so in Scotland given the pronounced
constitutional status of people’s sovereignty.
Scots Crown, as we can see right back to the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath,
symbolises representation of the Community of the Realm. It is the people who
decide how this power is invested. Such is our historic Claim of Right. And as
such, the Scottish Crown must never be confused with a monarch or their golden hat.
The British constitution within which the
Scots constitution is currently nested has been called “our conventional
constitution”. It evolves partly through “convention” that is
“understood”. The Establishment that does this “understanding” was once
an aristocracy, but now comprises Parliament.
It is therefore for Scotland’s Parliament to ensure that ambiguities
in the present feudal reform Bill do not result in a slip-up that might deliver
us Anglo-American absolute properly rights.
No sooner would we have woken up to the people’s hitherto unexercised
theoretical sovereignty over the land than it will have been given away to the
lairds by our own MSPs! Perhaps this explains widespread landlord support for
Given the Scots construct of popular sovereignty under God, such an error
would be, in Dicey’s words, “opposed to the spirit of the …
constitution”. Arguably, it would reduce one of the first and boldest pieces
of legislation by our new Parliament to an idolatrous and unconstitutional law.
How foolish history might see us! But this can be prevented by a small
clarification of the Bill’s wording. It simply needs to affirm understanding,
in the implicit, constitutional sense of that word, that Crown title remains
to the Editor
textbooks on the “British Constitution” reveal that their subject matter is,
in fact, what Walter Bagehot in his famous 1867 essay called, The English Constitution. Pre-Union Scots, Irish and Welsh
constitutional principles are not part of the Establishment’s
“understanding” of what is “implicit” to our “unwritten
constitution”. Thus, England’s medieval Magna
Carta is canonically proclaimed; but not so Scotland’s Declaration
of Arbroath from the same era.
it is “understood” that British sovereign power derives from “God”. The
Latin initials inscribed on every British coin (including Scottish pound ones)
reminds us that the state’s legitimacy is derived by the “Grace of God”
(DG) through a sovereign “Defender of the Faith” (FD). Bagehot was thereby
able to surmise: “If you ask the immense majority of the Queen’s subjects by
what right she rules, they would never tell you that she rules [by right of the Act
of Settlement]. They will say she rules by ‘God’s grace’...”
is in this context that we must set Tony Blair’s conclusion that to repeal the
1701 Act of Settlement would be too
complex. It would cause problems with the Queen’s status as “Defender of the
Faith”. In Scotland this is just a title, but in England it is a role.
However, to leave the Act of Settlement as
it stands implies that our Roman Catholic fellow humankind are second class
citizens. Perhaps, then, it is time for some medieval Scottish light to
illuminate new possibilities within the British constitution.
the Declaration of Arbroath, the Pope in Rome is described as holding his
authority “by divine providence”. The same basis is accorded to the
authority of the King, Robert the Bruce. However, the Bruce is warned that “if
he should give up what he has begun”, the “community of the realm” (or
people of Scotland) would “drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his
own rights and ours”. In other words, theologically “fallen” power would
be decisively engaged with.
implication, then, the same principle could be considered to have been applied
to the Pope. As such, the 1560 Reformation can be considered to have been
constitutionally consistent with the Declaration’s implicitly qualified
affirmation of Papal loyalty. Our Roman Catholic forbears who signed the
Declaration were clearly ready to protest
any corruption of God-given vocation. In a very real sense they were therefore
proto-protestants. Perhaps many of them would have felt comfortable in today’s
established Protestant church, this being legally defined by articles of the Church of Scotland Act, 1921, as, “a branch of the Holy Catholic
or Universal Church”. Equally, perhaps many would have felt proud of a
post-Vatican II reformed Scottish Roman Catholic Church: one that whilst still
falling short of full inter-communion can nevertheless work jointly with other
denominations through Action of Churches
Together in Scotland (ACTS).
then, it is time for it to be “understood”, in the British Establishment’s
constitutional sense of that word, that the terms, “Protestant” and
“Catholic”, no longer hold their 18th century meaning in any way that ought
stand up in law. After all, when Article II of the 1707 Treaty
of Union incorporated England’s pre-Union Act
of Settlement into United Kingdom law, it referred to “all Papists and
persons marrying Papists”. This is a language and conceptual framework that
few modern Catholics or Protestants could own.
is an accepted legal principle that old laws embodying antiquated principles
that may once have been greatly valued should sometimes be allowed the dignity
of withering away rather than suffering the ungrateful rebuke of repeal.
Professor George Gretton yields an example of such a laying-down in the Stair
Memorial Encyclopaedia of Scots law where he writes, “It does not appear
that the obligation to swear fealty [to a feudal superior] has ever been
formally abolished, but must be deemed
abrogated by desuetude” (my emphasis).
constitutional basis for suggesting that sectarian discrimination should “be
deemed abrogated by desuetude” is quite explicit in the
Declaration of Arbroath. It is here that the British constitution might
beneficially borrow from the Scots one currently invisibly nested within it. The
Declaration astonishingly pushes Galatians 3:28 to its most charitable extent.
It proclaims that within the “Church of God”, there is “neither weighing
nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman” (Scottish Records
Office translation). Of course, Jews belonged to another faith. “Greek” in
this context meant gentiles. And as for the English, if ever there was a
documented case of trying to love one’s enemies, this was it!
the British constitution through a lens such as this yields profound
implications. It would mean that the Christian faith would, indeed, be defended
from the bigotry that Christ so axiomatically protested. Other faiths such as
Islam might be supportive: after all, the Qur’an says, “We believe in God
almighty and ... that given to Moses and Jesus and all other Prophets from their
Lord. We make no distinction between any of them” (Surah 3:84). In short, the
primal legitimising tenet of the British constitution would be upheld.
presumption of abrogation might furthermore mean that no law would need to be
changed. This would avoid such complications as having to seek individual
parliamentary approval of relevant Commonwealth countries in accordance with the
Statute of Westminster, 1931.
may be that, presuming the prior blessing of Parliament and agreement within the
Church of England, a simple statement from the “Defender of the Faith”
herself would be all that it would take to establish “understanding” that
sovereign status is henceforth non-sectarian. This might be through rare
exercise of the Royal Prerogative. Perhaps a Christmas broadcast next year would
be in order? Perhaps it would be a fitting step into the new Millennium?
Published as the lead letter in the West Highland Free Press, Skye, 29-10-99, p 3, as "Come Clean on Coastal Quarries, Mr Wilson." Mr Wilson has not contested these points either in private when I talked with him in November, or in public.
25 October 1999
Letters to the Editor
West Highland Free Press
Mr Ian Wilson, the Durness Estate Factor, has told the Free Press (22 October) that he would not progress the concept of a coastal superquarry “unless the community wanted it.” Will he, then, apply the same principle to his interests at Lingerabay on Harris?
Mr Wilson has been reported as disclaiming knowledge of who controls the secretive Liechtenstein-registered company, Vibel SA, that he factors. Can we believe this? Hardly, given his own vested interest.
In a June 1991 meeting, Mr Wilson explained to me that he had acquired mineral rights on five potential superquarry sites. Page 16 of his March 1991 report, “Scotland’s Hidden Wealth,” reveals that he had set up several mineral rights companies jointly with one ITW McKeen.
He boasted that sites like Lingerabay and Durness represented “five potential oil wells” which would become profitable when “Environmental Shock” displaced quarrying from elsewhere.
His remarks about the “Durness sequences” might explain why he proposes there what he now calls “fairly small-scale mineral developments” – a mine rather than a superquarry. These rocks, he said, contain a suite of minerals that could be picked out by small but linked “satellite quarries.” Low-grade coal imported from the USA could be desulpherised with Durness limestone. Aggregates could be backloaded on the same ships.
When pushed as to his knowledge of such an industry, he revealed that he financed his schemes from profit made by importing coal to break the 1980’s coalminers’ strike. On one occasion he was even chased by pickets!
Mr Wilson admitted at a meeting of the Laid Common Grazings Committee of 1-4-99 that he has a stake in the Durness mineral rights. Yet he still denied knowledge of who controls Vibel SA whose co-operation would be essential for exploitation.
Perhaps he would care to explain himself. After all, the “Observer” (24 October) reports that Mr Wilson now intends to gazump the Laid crofters’ buy-out! He announced that a community bid was “not something that the estate would find acceptable” and that, given his own intention to buy, Vibel’s interest would soon become “totally academic.”
Can Mr Wilson explain how he knows so well the mind of a company about whose directors and shareholders he denies all knowledge? Can he reassure us that this company has not served merely as a tax or public relations shield for his own business associates, family or even himself?
According to the Observer, Highland Council on 11th November will be voting on a new wording for their structure plan to make provision for a “mine” at Durness.Could councillors be facing a foot-in-the-door manoeuvre? If Mr Wilson has any information to contribute in the public interest, would he please come clean in time?
Published as the lead letter (Letters on Political Matters) in The Herald, 22-10-00, p. 20, under the heading, "The Land and the Law: Rights that the lairds may not have."
bizarre to see an appeal being made to the European Convention on Human Rights
by lobbyists for recreational killing who operate under the euphemism of
“countryside campaigners” (Campaign to prevent hunting ban looks to Europe,
You report that the lairds’ case is to be based on the principle that
they should be compensated for job loss. But does the Government not already
make provision for them in the same way as it does for everybody else —
through Jobseekers’ Allowance?
Our Parliament must not be frightened off by such appeals to the courts.
In its 1998 “Yellow Paper” on land reform, Identifying the Solutions, the Scottish Office gave advance
consideration to the possibility of the European Convention on Human Rights
being used to thwart the will of the people.
It concluded: “Article 1 gives a right to natural or legal persons to
the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No-one is to be deprived of his
possessions except in the public interest… It is made clear however that this
right in no way impairs the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems
necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general
interest” (p 108).
But more than this, under existing feudal law most Scottish land is not
“property” in the first place. Lairds are presuming upon our gullibility
when they describe themselves as “landowners”. At stake are not property
rights; only accorded rights of usage. As Professor Gretton puts it in his
authoritative contribution to the Stair
Memorial Encyclopaedia (Vol 18), “Feudalism involves the absolute denial
that land can be owned … land is not owned, but held in tenure [from] the
Crown [which] has no feudal superior, except God alone.”
By challenging Lord Watson’s foxhunting Bil on the basis of property
rights that they may not actually possess, the lairds have given us a foretaste
of possible consequences in store if ambiguities in the feudal reform Bill are
not cleared up quickly by Parliamentary committee (my letter, September 25).
The matter at stake is the sovereign status of the Scottish people as
represented by the Crown and the axiomatic principle of whether or not Scotland
unambiguously remains, in law, God’s owned land. These points rest on
constitutional principles going back to our Magna Carta — the 1320 Declaration
In rightly abolishing feudal tyrannies, Parliament ought not weaken the
Crown’s suzerainty over land on the people’s behalf by handing the lairds
absolute private ownership with just a few specific conditionalities attached.
If they do this, the foxhunters’ appeal to any newly gained property rights as
being “human rights” may be only the thin edge of a wedge that renders our
democratic structures perpetually impotent.
The theoretical principle that the Crown under God ultimately owns the
land could be retained either by writing it in or amending the feudal reform
Bill to define those aspects of feudalism, such as burdens, that are being
abolished, but leaving intact the status of the Crown. Depending on one’s
reading of the Bill, this may already be in place – but there is an arguable
inconsistency in the Bill’s claim not to alter the status of the Crown and its
proposal to redefine land as private property.
It is true that such constitutional law, up until now, may have
exercised few legal teeth. Measures like the Patronage Act of 1712 made sure
that the people remained ignorant of the full implications of their
Modern-day Parliamentary drafters might well wonder what all the barking
from land reformers is about. The fact is that the way in which feudal reform
defines land in relation to the Crown will shape the possibility, or otherwise,
of future land legislation. We therefore cannot stand by and let the unspeakable
in pursuit of the uneatable excise our moral bite.
Published in The Herald at the time of the Kosovo War.
to the Editor
the churches’ “Just War” theory, war must 1) have a just cause, 2) be waged by a legitimate
authority, 3) be formally declared,
4) be fought with peaceful intention,
5) be a last resort, 6) be proportional
to the end sought, and 7) have reasonable
hope of success.
these must be met. Because they are almost invariably not, war can rarely expect
church blessing. That explains our church leaders’ refrain that, perhaps,
“the waging of war is irresponsible” (Letters, March 27).
however, went further. He taught nonviolence,
not “just war”. As Gandhi observed with slight overgeneralisation,
“The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as
nonviolent are Christians”.
recognises that to cohere, power must believe in itself. It must have faith.
Consequently, no power can endure consistent exposure to its own evil. As such,
the principal weapon of nonviolence - the sword of truth - is one that cuts
inwardly. It acts upon consciousness. It operates upon the spiritual taproot of
power’s central energy. It thereby undercuts illegitimate power.
leaving the physical body intact, nonviolence seeks not to destroy “fallen”
power, but to transform it.
Nonviolence challenges the myth of redemptive violence - the idea that violence
can redeem violence. It disarms idolatrous Moloch-like systems of domination. It
renounces the mirroring of evil with evil. War is thereby exposed as the feeding
of violence upon itself.
choosing the cross rather than war at the point of Peter’s sword (Luke 22),
Jesus chose to die for the sake of love, but not to kill for it. Therein lay his
special power. Therein, too, lay the power of the martyrs whose witness slowly
transformed from within the brutal Roman Empire.
suggest confronting death with love might seem like cold comfort for Albanian
Kosovans. But history now contains dozens of examples of where nonviolence,
given time, has worked. Witness such revolutions as, for example, South Africa,
the former Soviet block and the Philippines. Generally, where non-violence
“doesn’t work”, violence would not have worked either. With point 7 of
“just war” theory already failing in Kosovo, only time will tell whether the
Albanians might have been better placing their faith in NATO, or in God alone.
like Jesus, it is time to heal the “ear” that has already been cut off by
military action. Perhaps it is time to say of the violence, “No more of
this!” (Luke 22:51). Perhaps it is time to open doors in every Scottish street
to a massive humanitarian response. And perhaps it is time for Scots defence
strategists to build a new civil defence capacity: one based on a population
trained in nonviolent resistance.
it might be true, these are just the crazy suggestions of a Quaker who has only
yet faced non-lethal violence. Crazy, maybe, but not, I venture, as crazy as
Published in The Herald as lead letter under the heading: "Genetically Modified Crops: Who are Monsanto's insurers," 5 March 1999, p. 24.
March 4, 1999
to the Editor
Donnely’s report (3 March) on the risk of GM pollen contaminating natural
crops mentions that Monsanto’s UK head, Stephen Wildridge, was “moved to
allay consumers’ fears” in the lecture that he delivered to the Centre for
Human Ecology in Edinburgh the previous night.
during his presentation Mr Wildridge asserted that “the benefits of GM food
outweigh the risks.” Accordingly, I put it to him that this implies that
Monsanto have responsibly quantified those risks. Society’s definition of acceptable
risk is that it is insurable risk. I
therefore asked him who Monsanto’s insurers were.
Wildridge replied that this was a question for which he did not have an answer!
In other words, he effectively admitted that the risks are externalised onto
society and the Earth’s ecology. Shareholders reap the benefits on patented
materials; the rest of us underwrite any costs.
other industry (apart from the nuclear industry) would proceed without adequate
product liability insurance? What better proof is there that Monsanto’s
“limited liability” corporate status ultimately means limited
Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology
in the Stornoway Gazette as "Gaels taught to blame themselves for
losing culture," 3-4-97, p. 9.
Ronald Campbell attacks Capt. Roderick Mackinnon (Viewpoints, 20 and 27 March)
for making scapegoats of Culloden and Westminster in considering the condition
of the Gaelic language. He claims, the “demise is the fault of the Gaelic
I happen to have on my desk at the moment a
large, though inevitably incomplete, number of texts on this and related matters
of Celtic cultural erosion. These are for research in which I am using the
Highlands and Islands as a lens which mirrors the tactics of colonial processes
in various other parts of the world.
For those interested in pursuit of the debate sparked by Capt. Mackinnon
and Mr Campbell, some key references include papers in Gilles, W. (ed. 1989), Gaelic
and Scotlan: Alba Agus A’ Ghaidhlig;
papers in MacLean, L. (ed.
1981), The Middle Ages in the Highlands; papers in the Transactions of
the Gaelic Society of Inverness; books by Charles Withers such as his 1988 Gaelic
Scotland: The Transformation of a Culture Region, and Durkacz V. E. (1983),
The Decline of the Celtic Languages.
The latter volume, incidentally, has on the
back cover a review quotation from the Stornoway Gazette. This describes it as
“A book full of meticulous research ... a charge sheet full of the crimes
perpetrated against the Celtic languages of the British Isles.”
I think it would be fair to say that the general conclusion from these
texts is summed up in a paper called Crown, Clans and Fine: Scottish Gaeldom,
1587-1638, published in Northern Scotland, Vol. 13, 1993. On page 47 Allan .
Macinnes writes, noticeably with a little of the apparent contradiction so
often to be found in historians trying to make honest sense of this difficult,
“The erosion of Gaelic was an insidious development, a by-product of
the assimilation of the chiefs into the Scottish Landed classes; not the direct
result of an official declaration of war against the language. Ostensibly, the
cultural currency of the Gaelic language was most threatened by educational
measures. The Statutes of lona specified that the Hebridean fine should put
their eldest children “to the scuillis on the Lawland” to ensure fluency as
well as literacy in English. In 1616, further enactments appeared to challenge
the very survival of Gaelic. Not only were the Hebridean fine obliged to send
all children over nine years of age “to Lowland or inland schools”, but
no-one in the Isles unable to write, read and speak English was to inherit
property or tenant Crown lands. Condemned as “one of the chief and principal
causis of the continewance of barbaritie and incivilitie”, the Gaelic language
was to be “abolisbeit and removit” and the “vulgar Inglishe toung” universally
planted by the erection of schools in every
Macinnes continues to lay the blame for this, partly on the chiefs as
well as on the authorities of Edinburgh and London. In so doing, he offers some
quarter to Mr Campbell’s position, though holding mainly to the mast of Capt.
Although I am not a Gaelic scholar and sadly
grew up in an era when it was quite normal to throw away the opportunity to
learn the language last spoken on my father’s side by his grandparents, I do
now find that the lessons to be learned from the history of Gaelic’s
suppression are particularly salutary in understanding both Scottish and
worldwide issues of cultural disempowerment.
the pioneering Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, such disempowerment, when internalised
by a people, derives from what he called “cultural invasion”. In this the
community’s spirit is broken so that its lands, labour, and self-reliance
can be taken away.
his difficult but rewarding little book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
(Penguin 1972), Freire argued that we must, though with a deep spirit of
forgiveness born of love, come to grips with such history if we are to reverse
its wounds and rebuild empowered communities. Only then can people live out
their full “humanisation” — which is to say, their life and life abundant.
He says of cultural invasion: “In this phenomenon, the invaders penenate
the cultural context of another group, and ignoring the potential of the latter,
they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the
creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression.”
I believe this context demonstrates why the
debate over Gaelic’s decline, far from being just a storm in the Stornoway
Gazette’s foaming teacup, is an issue of worldwide relevance. Similarly, the
new resurgence of both the language and its culture is a beacon indicating
that, to borrow Edwin Muir’s words (which are too good to be scared away from
by the danger of hyperbole), “still from Eden springs the root as clean as on
the starting day.”
Centre for Human Ecology,
P0 Box 1972,
Please click here to view disclaimer applying to all letters on this website
Last updated 02/04/21