SNP Jackboots crush Raasay's hopes

SNP Jackboots crush Raasay's hopes

by Hugh Andrew
article from Saturday 23, February, 2013

IT IS NEVER a good idea to write a piece when you are boiling with anger. But it is difficult to know what else to be when confronted with the appalling injustice the SNP has meted out to the people of Raasay.

First some background. As some readers might remember Raasay was owned at one time by one of the worst landlords in the Highlands – the legendary Dr Green, known as "Dr No". The result was that the island was removed from his sweaty grasp and taken effectively into state control. Thus history.

The world has moved on and one of the legacies of that period is that the game rights to the island are held by the Scottish government. Now the game rights sounds arcane but is much, much more than that to a marginal community. It is the right to fish, to shoot, to manage the bounty of the land. And into this on an eighteen year contract from 1995 the islanders threw themselves with a will. They built deer fences, worked the land, managed the stocks. And from at first simply feeding themselves began to build a business. Raasay burgers, Raasay sausage, Raasay venison are simply delicious. This is not a rich island. Indeed its population is still in decline. It needs everything it can get. They were assured that when the contract came up for renewal there would be no problem. So they thought little of it but doubled the rental they offered from £650 to £1150. This for the produce of their own land!

Then without warning they found that Mr Paul Wheelhouse, the ironically named Crofting Minister, without any consultation, without any discussion, had signed a contract to sell those exact same rights to an Ayrshire shooting consortium. The local SNP found themselves in a complete flap. However Mr Wheelhouse informed the crofters that he had to have the best interests of the people of Scotland at heart when he sold rights. They must of course understand this. He had an obligation to accept the best tender. And what was this best tender. It was for the princely sum of £3000. So for £1850 the Scottish government quite knowingly is kicking a fragile rural community in the teeth. £1850 – some £15 for every person whose hopes they have killed, whose dreams they have shattered, whose food they have quite literally stolen out of the peoples mouths.

I have seen Mr Wheelhouse’s correspondence and the usual anonymous spokespeople on whom this government seems so much to depend. I have seen their smug and hypocritical effusions. I have seen their total lack of regret or even understanding about what they have done. I have seen their inability to understand the irony of a government that complains loud and long about London and simply lets the Edinburgh jackboot walk roughshod over all else in Scotland.

I love Raasay. My bestselling book Calum's Road is written about the island and the extraordinary Calum MacLeod. I publish the definitive collection of the great Sorley Maclean. Every time I am on Skye I try and go over to Raasay and stay with Roger Hutchinson, the author of Calum's Road and much else. But it is not just for this reason that I am so angry. I am angry at the betrayal of a people, I am angry at a politics which having got rid of one Dr Green brings him back wrapped in a Saltire with power to make or break peoples' lives, I am angry and ashamed at the hypocrisy of a party which bleats its Scottishness while grinding those same people beneath its heel. And most of all I am angry that we in Scotland still cannot recognise that land is power and that those who live on that land should have rights over it, that no one should have the power of Mr Wheelhouse. We thought and hoped these days were past in Scotland but here we are again. We learn nothing, we forget nothing.

And what does it say about the SNP's views of rural Scotland that, despite all their representation in the Highlands, not one of these people is deemed fit to represent the crofters who elected them but the job is given to a South of Scotland list MSP with clearly little interest in or engagement in the livelihoods of those he is meant to represent? We note too his seeming unawareness that his behaviour is exactly that of the arrogant absentee landlords the SNP might have thought would wish to excoriate.

We shall leave Mr Wheelhouse relaxing as his ministerial driver whisks him to his no doubt comfortable home near Edinburgh. We shall reflect on his advice to the people of Raasay that perhaps they should apply to the Climate Change fund. They don’t want charity Mr Wheelhouse. They want to work. They want the right to use their land.

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