Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Nov 15 12:36:21 GMT 2001


Scotland plc

A major land reform bill is passing through the Edinburgh parliament.
Off-shore islanders are now buying and managing their land and within a
decade, the country will be owned and run quite differently. 

Scotland recovered its own parliament in July 1999, after 300 years of rule
from Westminster, and three of its first eight legislative priorities were
land reform. And they tell us about the history of globalisation far beyond
Scotland itself.

The British minister of state, Brian Wilson, spoke in June last year to the
London committee of the powerful Scottish Landowners Federation – it has
4,000 members and they claim to control 80% of Scotland's private land. He
warned that "an irreversible shift" had taken place "in public policy
towards land ownership in Scotland". Land reform was now "a litmus test by
which the parliament and executive would be judged" (1).

His colleague, deputy Highlands and Islands minister Alasdair Morrison,
warned well-funded interests who were lobbying to weaken the parliaments
resolve: "Landlords have for generations been obsessed with control, but
today are gripped with fear at the prospect of losing the illegitimate
power they've exerted over Highland communities 
 Notice has now been
served on rapacious landowners who have abused wealth and privilege. An
unstoppable reforming process has begun" (2).

On 3 May 2000 the Scottish parliament voted unanimously to abolish feudal
tenure, ending feudalism's 900-year grip on most of the nation's 8m
hectares. But this legislative move was largely sham. It still leaves power
even more concentrated than in most Latin American countries: 1,000 people
– of Scotland's 5m population – control nearly two-thirds of the private
land. This, says Wilson, justifies a progressive programme of
"normalisation, because by any reasonable standard, the pattern of land
ownership in Scotland is abnormal and undesirable".

The alternative model – which scheduled legislation in the Scottish
parliament will promote – is community ownership. This should give rural
communities the right of pre-emption, or first option, to buy their land if
and when it is put on the market. Land reform campaigners hope that this
will be specified at a price fixed not at speculative value, but at an
economic price set by a government valuer.

People's revolution

In a community buy-out, tenants become their own landlords as
democratically elected trustees or directors of a community land trust.
About 10 of these already exist. The most prominent started in 1997 on the
Isle of Eigg following a campaign that the then-landlord compared to the
French Revolution. Islanders had accused their owner, a millionaire
Anglo-German car salesman, of treating their home as his private
playground. They said he constrained their business activities, and when
they resisted, issued eviction notices. After a long, highly political
battle, Eigg's 60 residents (3) (including its Sorbonne-educated official
historian) bought the 3,000-hectare island for $2.3m – about half the price
expected before the restless natives spoilt the market. Now, four years
after their people's revolution, community businesses have created
unprecedented full employment, native forest is being re-established, a new
pier is planned and a feasibility study has started for generating
Eiggtricity electrical power from wind and hydro.

Exiled islanders have been able to return, gaining secure leases on
farmland. And rents now finance the local infrastructure rather than a
landlord's boats, planes and vintage cars. Says Isabel MacPhail of nearby
Assynt (another community buy-out that was once the sporting ground of the
meat baron, Lord Edmund Hoyle-Vesty): "It is like the end of colonial rule
– gradually our imaginations are unchained".

It is this sense of decolonisation that has turned Scotland's land reform
into flagship parliamentary legislation. Underlying these consequences of
devolution is the Scottish constitutional principle that sovereignty rests,
not with the Queen in a London parliament, but with the people – with what
the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland's first constitutional
instrument, called the Community of the Realm.

Scotland' original parliament was given up in 1707 under the Union of
Parliaments, a process that began with the 1603 union of the Scottish and
English crowns. It was driven through the 18th century by England' fear of
invasion. This fear was justified, because Scotland' Auld Alliance or
Entente Cordiale with France made England vulnerable to an allied assault
on both northern and southern flanks.

However, the 18th century Scottish parliament was not democratic. Run by
merchants and feudal landlords, it was more interested in access to
England' expanding colonial markets than in the sovereign wishes of its
people. In the face of opposition and riots, the unpopular 1707 Union had
been forced upon the Scottish people. Referring to the bribery that
lubricated the deal, Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, later said:
"We were bought and sold for English gold; such a parcel of rogues in a

Popular resistance to the Union grew as a reaction against capitalist and
modernist values, and culminated with the Jacobite uprising of 1745 when
Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed from France, raised a Highland army,
and marched to within 200 kilometres of London. But recruitment during the
campaign was disappointing. And an expected French pincer movement under
Marshal Saxe never left Dunkirk. Overextended, poorly led and disheartened,
the Jacobites retreated.

The following year they were defeated in the last battle ever fought on
mainland British soil – Culloden. In reprisals, Highland villages were
burnt, women raped by the crews of British naval ships, and young men
forcibly transported from communities like Eigg into slavery on the
plantations. To this day some Caribbean blacks trace a Scottish mixed

Repressive measures after Culloden, such as banning the kilt, destroyed
cultural confidence and leadership structures. Land ceased to be a tribal
asset valued for the number of people it could support and became a
privatised market commodity, valued for the wool that improved breeds of
sheep could yield. In the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th
centuries, half-a-million peasants were forced out of their homes,
providing a destitute labour supply for the industrial revolution and
soldiers for the British Empire's famous Highland regiments, and filling
New World emigrant ships. Too often the oppressed became oppressor in the
territories of other dispossessed peoples (4).

The British state that emerged by the late 18th century had become, says
Linda Colley, "an invention forged by war. Time and time again, war with
France brought Britons, whether from Wales or Scotland or England, into
confrontation with an obvious hostile Other and encouraged them to define
themselves collectively against it. They defined themselves as Protestants
struggling for survival against the world's foremost Catholic power. They
defined themselves against the French as they imagined them to be,
superstitious, militarist, decadent and unfree" (5).

Britain's fulcrum position – socio-economic and military – between the rest
of Europe and America can be seen, historically, as an extension of the
imperial project which is now seen in globalisation's Anglo-American
international business culture. From Napoleon through to Hitler; from the
Falklands to Afghanistan, war, including the national totem of nuclear
weaponry, continued to define national identity.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher relished this, speaking fondly of the
Anglo-American "special relationship" with President Reagan. But, in the
end, it was the stimulus of her socially divisive regime after 1979 –
founded on American neo-liberal economics – that convinced 74% of Scots in
the September 1997 national referendum to vote for restoration of the
Scottish parliament and a distancing from London (6).

Re-imagining history

"The creation of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and the
increased prominence of Scottish and Welsh identities, have profound
implications for people in England", says an l October 2000 report from a
commission chaired by Lord Parekh, The Future of Multi- Ethnic Britain (7).
"Britain is a recent creation, and colonialism and empire were integral to
its making", the report continues. "Dominant stories in Britain need to be
changed ... How to re-imagine English, Scottish and Welsh history so that
it includes everyone; how to understand identities in transition; how to
balance cohesion, difference and justice; how to deal with racism."

Writing in Scottish Affairs, the Historiographer Royal for Scotland,
Professor TC Smout, has explored Scotland as "a famous enigma to students
of nationalism". Identity is civic and geographical rather than ethnic.
This, he suggests, offers hope that Scotland can build a multicultural
society that avoids discriminative exclusion. "Modern Scottish identity",
he concludes, "is much more firmly allied to a sense of place than to a
sense of tribe ... Because tribe does not matter and place does, there is
unlikely ever to be ethnic cleansing in Scotland" (8). Such a potentially
inclusive vision contrasts with the xenophobic nationalisms of a Haider or
Le Pen. It suggests that a people can be proud of national identity without
injuring others. It is reflected in the Scottish National Party's slogan,
Independence within Europe.

For the time being, devolution has successfully enabled Tony Blair's New
Labour party to fend off the Braveheart factor. The Scottish National party
plays the Labour party cat-and-mouse in opinion polls. Devolution grants
Edinburgh power over most things except defence, foreign affairs and
macroeconomics. Blair hoped that that Britain would be reborn as "cool
Britannia". The undecided of Scotland replied, "Only if you mend your ways
and stop interfering".

How can a nation acquire a new consciousness? "Once in many generations",
said Canon Kenyon Wright, who chaired the executive of the Scottish
Constitutional Convention that steered the new parliament into existence
(9), "there comes to a people the chance to take their destiny into their
own hands, to say with confidence who they are and what they want, and to
reshape their society in line with their vision. That time has come for

He chaired a national values discernment process, People & Parliament, (10)
in 1998 to get the nation to think about itself – cultural psychotherapy –
by asking 3,500 people to complete three statements. The first issue
stimulated reflection by exploring identity ("We are a people who
"). The
second stimulated vision by exploring aspiration ("By the year 2020 we
would like to see a Scotland in which
"). And the third stimulated action
by exploring political process ("We therefore expect our parliament to work
with the people in ways which

A rural community group said: "Despite centuries of amalgamation we retain
a sense of national identity based on traditional regard for equality,
social justice and universal education". A group of scientists responded:
"We have different needs from London and do not approve of imperialism". An
adult education class said: "We have a distinct national identity as well
as district and local identities". And Glasgow schoolchildren said:
"Community spirit and making people feel welcome are very important".

The responses reinforced the importance of land, demonstrating a strong
sense of place. This was the primary contributor in creating a sense of
belonging. From that arose a sense of identity, and this nourished a sense
of civic responsibility through beauty, compassion, valour and
participation. Only a few expressed xenophobic sentiments. Most emphasised
values of social and ecological justice.

A more recent study found that black and ethnic minorities did not feel as
included as white Scots believed they were (11). But a powerful cultural
emphasis on the "sacred duty" of hospitality and fostership provides a
cultural foundation for working on social inclusion. As a Gaelic proverb
puts it, "The bonds of milk are stronger than the bonds of blood" –
nurture, or choosing to belong through fostership, counts for more than
lineage. People belong if they are willing to cherish, and be cherished, by
a place and its people.

Who is a Scot? "It's all about embracing multiple identities", says Prince
Emmanuel Obike, a health service executive who lives in Glasgow. "I'm
Nigerian, I'm Scottish and I'm Jewish! That's multiple identity for you,
and that's what it means to be a real Scot."

* Fellows of Edinburgh's Centre for Human Ecology. Alastair McIntosh is the
author of Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, Aurum Press,
London, 2001.

(1) The Herald, Glasgow, 16 June 2000.

(2) The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 15 June 2000.

(3) See Camille Dressler, Eigg: the Story of an Island, Polygon, Edinburgh,

(4) Alastair McIntosh, Andy Wightman & Dan Morgan, "The Scottish Highlands
in Colonial and Psychodynamic Perspective," Interculture, XXVII:3, Institut
Interculturel de Montréal, 1994, pp. 1-40.

(5) Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, Yale University
Press, 1992, p. 5.

(6) See Understanding Constitutional Change, special issue of Scottish
Affairs, 1998.

(7) Profile Books, London. See

(8) "Perspectives on Scottish Identity," Scottish Affairs, no. 6, 1994, pp.

(9) See Philip Schlesinger, "Scotland's quiet revolution Le Monde
Diplomatique English internet edition, April 1998.

(10) People & Parliament: Reshaping Scotland? The People Speak, 1999.

(11) Who's a Real Scot? The Report of Embracing Multicultural Scotland,
Centre for Human Ecology, Edinburgh, 2000.

Tony Gosling
tony at

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