September 28, 2021
Values and beliefs that matter
The Isle of Eigg has been written about extensively and is often held up as living proof of all that is possible if the ownership of land is passed to the people who live there. The Eigg community is also simultaneously derided for being ‘counterculture’ and for being – a criticism levelled at many community landowners – subsidy junkies. Notwithstanding the fact that tax breaks and farming and forestry grants received by private owners dwarf any public funds received by communities, this debate is about core beliefs and values rather than hard boiled economics. Whimsical piece on this from Maxwell MacLeod.
It is five in the morning and my sleep has been stolen by an on-line advertisement on the Isle of Eigg web site for a tiny bothy that is for sale on that exquisite Hebridean island. I know the cottage well, it is a broken little stone howff that has probably lain shivering and cold for several lifetimes.
I imagine it’s one of those places that is so damp that if you try and dry out your drookit trousers by the fire it would take half a forever.
It is far from nowhere and yet close to everywhere that matters and is available to someone who wants to live permanently in the land of the ever young, eating little other than the view and dancing with the tweetie birds on the raggity beach for their disco. The cottage is for sale for offers over sixty five thousand pounds Roll up, roll up.
No doubt the poor Isle of Eigg trustees who manage the island on behalf of the islanders will be inundated with applications to buy it from other restless nutters wrested this dawn from their slugabed warmth. Last night in dreams I went once more to the bay on the back of the ocean and there in infinite sadness I watched my life go down.
Back in the day I lived for a few months on that lovely island, writing the odd irrationally silly piece for The Independent as half the world seemed to be watching as the local population tried to raise a million pounds to buy their island from a half mad German painter who had bought the place with money he had borrowed from granite eyed money men in Hong Kong who took no prisoners and wanted their cash back.
I am told, though have never been able to confirm the story, that when the news finally came through that an anonymous little old lady from England had decided to send several hundred thousand pounds of her savings to the island to put them over their target that it was such a news story that even in far away Australia one television company had interrupted their regular programmes with a newsflash that made millions smile.
I myself was on the mainland when the news came through that the islanders had bought their land but dashed at once to it’s waking glory by tiny buzz boat. I remember we had trouble steering that inflated rubber soap dish as our eyes were misted with tears as we blattered across the dawn fresh waves that oozed restless and slow turning under a tablecloth of mist. When the mists finally cleared and we saw a shore crowd waiting for us gathered round a farm house our steersman, whose home that farmstead was, turned to us and said “ See that island? Well it’s ours now. That’s my home, that s my family. “ and we howled with unrestrained tears and let the boat graze awhile untended in the blue hills unable to run across them any further. All lost, yet all found.
Recently I attended a dinner party and sat next door to a wealthy land owner. Half way through the cheese and port she turned to me and said: “I hear you supported those ghastly hippies on Eigg, subsidy junkies all of them . It will never work you know. Never work. They are just parasites.”
Part of me knew she was right, yet part of me also knew she was wrong.
Back in the seventies when the alternative land economist John Seymour of “Fat of the Land” fame, once wrote in effect that the trouble with conventional economics was that it evaluated the cost of milking a cow with your head against her soft belly at dawn as a burden. when he saw it as a benefit, it made me wonder.
After all, no system can be taken as sensible if it’s end product is the fall of man.
And the exemplar of Eigg has it’s part to play as we re-set the world.
I hope someone nice buys that damp cottage on Eigg. I hope they cover it’s carpets with noisy children and squeeze every subsidy going from the real parasites in soft grey offices far away. It will never work? It has worked darling. Have you?
Let Scotland flourish.