Candide

catholic by birth; scientist by choice; sinner by merit. gaidhlig-speaking neuroscience student at oxford. likes to question everything! @di_macd

Scotland's Rebels

In today’s Financial Times:

This is the Our Islands: Our Future campaign, which seeks greater autonomy for the islands of Scotland. It’s in the same spirit as Land Reform and Community Buyouts, so that people living in resource-rich rural areas control their own destiny, rather than having their soils and seas exploited by distant governments who care little for their socioeconomic and cultural well-being. Key demands include:

There is due to be a conference in Orkney on this campaign in a few months. I remember when Tavish Scott was demanding independence for the Northern Isles I was initially skeptical as I saw it as Unionist posturing, but to see the local councils creating this campaign on their own initiative is just so exciting. The late great Father Calum MacLennan of Eriskay, instrumental in setting up the first Western Isles council, used to talk about creating "a wee Gaelic empire" in the west, where the islands and the future of the islands belonged to and was under the control of the islanders themselves.

Island autonomy, whether within an independent Scotland or a United Kingdom, is the next logical step in the road of Local Government and Land Reform we have been travelling for the past fifty years.

The Isle of the Foreigner

guess-he-had-nothing-to-say:

Freedom.  The concept has been hammered into me by my parents ever since I can remember, ‘Sian, you have an enormous amount of freedom.’  And isn’t it such a brilliant word?  It is the word that instantly rouses any individual, crowd or nation.  It is the word that to everyone conjures romanticised images of open roads, walls being torn asunder or a collection of people rising together.  Until now I’ve never really understood what freedom is and that I am in possession of it.  

 

I have been born and raised on a remote island –North Uist - in the Outer Hebrides, my little Alcatraz.  You can choose between a two or three hour ferry or a highly expensive plane to ‘civilisation’.  But even then, not really as if it is the city you crave, that’s another five or so hours away in a bus or car.  So yes, living here is isolated and escape isn’t easy.  Growing up I have always felt a sense of being trapped and that I was missing out on what’s going on ‘out there’.  My thoughts went as far as a ‘streets-paved-with-gold’ image, though in my case gold means interesting people and buzzing avant-garde life.  In addition, despite living every second of my life on this island, I am a foreigner.  My parents are English and Dutch so my accent is ill defined and from this I am regularly told that I am not Scottish; Never mind that I am a Catholic living in Presbyterian North Uist with my house situated next-door to the Free Church of Scotland.

 

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I think it’s interesting to compare what we both wrote on this same topic. Yours being from a ‘neocolonialist(!)’ and mine from an ‘indigenous(!)’ perspective. 

The Real Tìr nan Òg?

The ever-present sea-breeze on our backs, buffeting us forward – we clattered and stumbled over the half-made road. This mass of people, the largest I’d ever seen, marched on laughing, like a conquering army, across the brand-new causeway to Uist; from dear little Eriskay to what I thought of then as the big wide world. The flash of cameras followed us: the last community in the Western Isles to be linked to the rest of the western civilization. We watched the rocks tumbling with our past into the sea. And I, six-year old wannabe spaceman, took my own one small step to Uist, no longer a giant leap over the Sound. My brother and I, breaking free of Granaidh’s grip, running ahead of the crowd, inexorably into the future, running away from my island, running away from home…

               Eriskay, the Island of Youth, the island of my youth, was connected to Uist on November 27th 2000. This bare rock, home to just some six-score souls, most of them old, godly but grumpy, has been my playground, my paradise, my prison. I remember the day when I first realized the sheer tininess of this Hebridean pebble: Dad dragging me up to the top of the hill; a watchful crag from where I looked out to see nothing but sea. Perpetual, endless sea. Stretching – curving – beyond the borders of my world.

               And then I looked down upon Eriskay, and was surprised to find the people like dolls, their houses like toys, so small compared to that carpet of blue. I appreciated at last that these three square-miles of Lewisian Gneiss were our fastness, our only sanctuary from the sea’s storms – it was truly our island paradise. Yet even then I felt a creeping sense of entrapment, suffocation, that one day the baleful ocean might swallow us up, scarcely a pip. Though I felt big and grown-up, like an astronaut, like Edmund Hilary after he conquered Everest, I also knew that I was indeed a little boy.

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This is where I live. The Island of Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland. Fr Allan MacDonald wrote (in Gaelic):

"Should I even have my choice
I’d prefer of all in Europe
A dwelling place beside the wave
In the lovely Isle of Youth.
It’s bare of foliage, bare of bent-grass,
Bare of barley sowing,
But beautiful for all its bareness
Is each sod of it to me.”

This is where I live. The Island of Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland. Fr Allan MacDonald wrote (in Gaelic):

"Should I even have my choice

I’d prefer of all in Europe

A dwelling place beside the wave

In the lovely Isle of Youth.

It’s bare of foliage, bare of bent-grass,

Bare of barley sowing,

But beautiful for all its bareness

Is each sod of it to me.”