Image reproduced with kind permission of Jill Calder. From Robert the Bruce: an illustrated history by James Robertson & Jill Calder published by Birlinn, 2014.

Guest Blog Poem by Martin Stepek

 

1314 

ah remember 1314
it was nothin like they bastart
propagandists say
just blood and screams of agony
for minute after minute

a cowered in the river
ma leg half severt
by some massive english sword
least ah thought it wiz english
could have been wan ae oor side
it was such chaos an carnage

an that turncoat bastart Bruce
aye he milked wan side efter the ither
sookin up tae the english when it suited him fine
then when he saw an opportunity tae stick it tae his enemies
up here he puts his patriotic crown on
pretends that aw his past didny exist

and cried himsel the father of scots
the saviour ae the nation
aw spin
an the mugs bought it

no me
ah wiz jist caught up in the bastarts grabbin evry local guy
they could find
ah tried tae hide in the hay
but they pitchforked it so much
ah’d huv endit up wi a hundred holes in me

and so there ah wiz
in the battle tae end battles
in the war o so-called independence
the war tae end aw wars
cried Bruce

aye right Roberto
you watched as hunners ae yer peasant pawns
were slashed tae bits or cut doon by arras
that fell fae the sky
like a swarm a locusts

aw you played yer cameo role well
the knackered knight ridin tae escape
barely able tae keep oan his horse
poor guy
though he was probably just another bastart
greedy for land an power
but what a saw was a shattert soul
an you
fresh fae daein nuthin whilst we bled
caught up wi him
and ye took oot yer big shinin weapon
a couldny see whether it wiz a sword or an axe
an you took him fae behind
an clattert the massive metal brute
doon on his unknowin head
and near split the manny in two

this wisny battle
it wisny a duel
it was cold heartit
cold blooded
murder

an me
ah jist wantit hame
tae ma bairns
ma wife
and my wee bit land

wan ae the lucky wans me
wan leggit willy they ca’ me noo
still a git by wi ma crutch an ma daughter’s soft help

but ye kin stuff yer scotland up her hairy arse Bruce
this wiz niver fur us
this wiz only fur yer own chests full a money
your parcel a lands
there’s a parcel a rogues in this nation
cryin themsels heroes
aw the time jist riflin through our coffers
bleedin the poor
conspirin against each other

you and yer damned bishops
your great victories
your deal wi the Pope
and the gentler Edward in England

father of the nation
butcher of bannockburn mair like
butcher of yer people, yer rivals, anywan that stood in yer way

hist’ry’ll paint some rosy glow nae doubt
it always does to those who win the game
but as ah watched ma blood trail doon the Bannock burn
an thought ah’d never see my wee sad eyed daughter again
ah raged and raged inside
at the evil men who took us tae this madness
men like you Bruce
aye an Edward tae
an Wallace and Comyn afore

self-servers
nae sense a good or bad
just greedy maniacs

an when ye die
as even kings must
ah hope tae god there’s a hell in which you’ll rust

 

Guest Blog by Morten Nielsen, Aarhus University, Denmark (1)

Associate professor Morten Nielsen is a Danish anthropologist currently in the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University. Based on empirical research carried out in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the UK, his research focuses on land use, house-building and property rights in both urban and rural areas. He is currently undertaking an in-depth study of land relations and property rights among tenant farmers on Islay.

“This is the Scottish Government. Is this Dr. Morten Nielsen?”

I had just come off the Islay ferry and was heading for Inveraray when my phone rang and an energetic woman, who was apparently the living embodiment of the Scottish Government, wanted to know if she was, in fact, speaking with me. I immediately assumed that I had done something wrong. Having spent more than two months doing ethnographic fieldwork among tenant farmers on Islay, my initial thought was that I had probably forgotten to fill out some research permit and now my increasing absent-mindedness had finally backfired.

Much to my surprise, however, the polite state official was not at all trying to expose my academic flaws but, rather, wanted to discuss my on-going research about agricultural tenancies and property rights on Islay. In order to realise comprehensive land reforms in Scotland, she told me, information was badly needed and my research could potentially provide insights into the intricacies of negotiating land rights in the Highlands and Islands. Having an overall interest in the dissemination of qualitative research, I immediately agreed to meet with the polite embodiment of the Scottish Government. As we could not find an available date for us to meet up on Islay, the state official agreed to visit me in Crail, Fife a few weeks later, on a Saturday, when I was visiting some friends on my way back to Denmark.

To Scottish readers, this vignette might not constitute anything out of the ordinary: a foreign researcher being approached by a state official interested in discussing key findings on issues that are high on the political agenda. However, having carried out research on land and property rights in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, I can firmly say that this is the first time ever that I have been contacted personally by a state official interested in the findings from a very short empirical investigation and, moreover, one who was prepared to meet up on a day off.

In both regions where I have previously worked, access to officials at different levels has been paramount to my research but the initiative for making contact has always been mine. The obvious question to ask was therefore why did she feel the urge to contact me apparently out of the blue? In order to respond to this question, we need to discard the tempting but unfortunately unlikely possibility that she was in awe of my research findings. At the time of our telephone conversation I had carried out fieldwork for less than two months and had as yet published nothing in academic journals or in more accessible public media. The likely response to the puzzling question is therefore quite banal. It wasn’t that I was the best of all the scientists doing research ‘on the ground’; rather, I was the only researcher doing research ‘on the ground’!

In Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, research into property rights and access to agricultural land is heavily supported and funded by external stakeholders, such as, for example, the UK Government. Hence, whenever I do ethnographic research in sub-Saharan Africa, I am certain to meet several of my colleagues doing research on exactly the same issues as myself. In Scotland, however, the situation is markedly different. Since I started doing research, I have come across very few colleagues doing what I do (which is to try to understand what people do ‘on the ground’ when, for example, farmers attempt to acquire secure access to tenanted land). To be more precise, I have met none!

Hence, although my conversation with the Scottish state official paved the way for disseminating findings from my research project to relevant stakeholders, it also made apparent a disturbing problem that slows down the realisation of wide-ranging land reforms. The on-going discussion about land and property rights in Scotland is based on very little knowledge about what actually goes on ‘on the ground’ regarding such crucial questions as, for example, how do negotiations between land owner and land tenant take place?; how are rent reviews actually settled?; how do conflicts among farmers and between tenants and land owners erupt and how are they settled?; why do so few tenants use the land court to settle land disputes? The list goes on…

Let me try to flesh out this puzzling predicament a bit further by turning to some of the very interesting issues raised by the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) in its recently published Interim Report. (2) Initially, it is noted with lucid honesty that,

The first step in any meaningful strategy of land reform must be the creation of data on ownership and land values which    is comprehensive and accessible. Regrettably Scotland lags behind most comparable European countries in providing such data

When discussing ownership of vacant land in Scotland, the disturbing lack of information is further emphasized. According to Professor Adams, University of Glasgow,

“…local authorities have no idea who owns 12% of the vacant and derelict land in Scotland

One consequence being that,

“…too often communities are left guessing who owns the land that they live, work and socialise in”.

Taking SAC’s insights as an apt example of an overall problem then, given the lack of information, stakeholders involved in the ongoing process of trying to improve the existing legislation on land and property rights are often in the dark about what happens ‘on the ground’.

What are then the consequences of this worrying lack of information? Why is it that information about what goes on ‘on the ground’ is so crucial for the successful realization of ambitious land reforms? As an anthropologist having working on these issues for the last 14 years, I do believe that it is only through careful examination of how land is actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed that new and potentially revolutionary mechanisms of land distribution can be envisaged and put into action. Let me briefly sketch out only a few areas of concern that I have identified through my three months of fieldwork among farmers in Islay:

  • The need for pragmatic and immediate forms of arbitration. Currently, the only workable mechanism for arbitration is the land court. To many farmers, it is too costly and it is considered as unlikely to reach a viable and positive outcome. Hence, a kind of ‘middle ground’ is needed.
  •  The need for third parties when negotiating rent reviews. The recurrent rent reviews constitute critical and often decisive moments that significantly affect or even condition the relationship between landowners (through factors) and tenants. To many farmers, the need for maintaining a workable relationship with the factor will often prevent them from claiming legitimate rights.
  • The need for transparency when calculating the value of tenanted land. My research indicates that there are no objective standards by which landowners determine the value of tenanted land (e.g. an acre of arable land might vary between different comparable farms).

This is only a very cursory and superficial outline of a few of the many issues that I have discussed with farmers on Islay. Still, as is probably clear by now, I will claim that it is only through detailed examinations of happens ‘on the ground’ that such crucial insights might be identified and subsequently serve as a basis for establishing new mechanisms for a more just system of land distribution.

Let me conclude with an example of what such valuable insights might be used for. During the 1990s, the Mozambican government in collaboration with donors and local and international interest groups managed to involve huge sections of the Mozambican population in widespread debates on the need for a new and democratic land law. Through massive investments, large-scale research projects and ongoing public debates, a new Land Law was finally formulated that was (and still is) the most progressive piece of legislation on land and property rights in sub-Saharan Africa. (3) Today, it is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders involved in the process that the radical and positive achievements could never have been reached if it had not been for the continuous production of information about how Mozambican land was actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed.

In this light, the debate on land and property rights in Scotland is that of a developing third world country that can one day hope to reach the progressive level of developed countries, such as Mozambique.

 

NOTES

(1) Morten Nielsen can be contacted by email at etnomn@cas.au.dk

(2) Scottish Affairs Committee Land Reform Inquiry Interim Report

(3) For a very interesting read, I highly recommend Chris Tanner’s analysis of the process leading up to the approval of the 1997 Land Law.

 

Guest Blog
by Jess Smith, Scottish author, musician and story-teller from Perthshire’s Travelling People

The Tinker’s Heart is a small arrangement of white quartz stones embedded in the ground at the junction between the road to Strachar (A815) and Hell’s Glen (B839) in Argyllshire.

For years it has stood as a testimony to the survival of Scotland’s Travelling people. A sacred place where couples wed, babies were christened and the dead blessed. In 1872 there is proof of two local people getting married there. There is no written evidence as to how old it is and like the oldest ballads that Burns listened to, it is all oral – no dates nor names. Reasons for the stones being placed there are associated with the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances as well as the eradication of the Culture by removing children from campsites. It is sacred to my people from all over the world and needs to be  protected and restored.

Image: Old photograph of Tinkers’ Heart from fionatinker’s website

Several years ago someone told me of the sorry state of the Heart. A visit had me in tears. Highland cattle were trampling over it, a single strain of wire threaded through three metal poles was all there was to protect it (see picture above). It was dying and I had to save it.

I began by writing to the landowner Ms Kate Howe but she refused to answer. I wrote to her cousin Christina Noble but got the same response. I spent ages looking through the internet and found a very informative piece in Secret Scotland – Gypsy Wedding Place. (1)

I needed help so contacted my local MSP, Mike Russell. He was excellent and he set up a meeting with Ms Howe but was not prepared for her negativity. He’d not come across her attitude before. I presumed by his reactions that this landowner did not hold Travellers with much respect. Here is a rich landowner who owns 7048 acres of Scotland yet is not prepared to part with a few yards of old road.

Every step seemed to be getting harder. I went to visit a couple representing the landowner with Mike but got no joy there. Another meeting, this time at Argyll and Bute council headquarters with Mike Russell, Councillor Louise Glen-Lee, the Council’s tourism officer and a gentlemen from Historic Scotland, resulted in more negativity with Historic Scotland stating they would allocate funding for restoration but only with the landowners approval.

Two years moved fast the little heart was crying for help! Then out of the blue a black cage was erected over the heart (see picture below). I was pleased to see the ‘heart’ caged and safe but it looked more like a prison than the decorative stone wall and cairn I’d long visualised. While it remains in Kate Howe’s ownership it is very vulnerable. it has no legal protection and at the stroke of a pen she could develop the area, its a prime spot and I feel she just might have her  sights on such a plan. But even if she didn’t, she will in time die as will I. Who will care for the place then?

No –  this has to belong within the public domain. I contacted the Scottish Parliament to lodge a petition. Four months passed and each time I phoned the reply was “not petition material”! However Mike Russell managed to convince them of the history and importance of the site to Scotland’s culture. Just before Easter came the news that the petition will go live!!

That is how things stand today. Our ancient culture, timeline, respect and historical truths are now at this final stage and I am praying to Mother Earth to do what is right. If we are failed then Scotland’s future will be at the mercy of wind farms, shooters of our wild life, greedy strangers, land fracking and nimbys with lots of cash.

My petition “calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to direct Historic Scotland to investigate what action can be taken to ensure the restoration and preservation of the Heart of Quartz stones positioned in a field next to the A815, opposite the junction of the B839, overlooking Loch Fyne, known as the Gypsy Wedding Place, referred to locally as the Tinkers’ Heart.”

Please sign the petition. You can find further information on the petition page and at the Saving the Heart of the Travelling People facebook page. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland has a record here.

Thank you.

Jess Smith.

Editor’s NOTES

(1) Content here has been removed but relates to the comment from John MacDonald below.