Captain D's

Published in the West Highland Free Press, 8 July , pp. 15 & 18, under the heading,

Most people got by OK because crofting, and its ethos of sharing, was still vibrant. It is better than job creation because it reduces the pressure on parents to work excessively, thereby leaving more space in life for children and community. However, the economics of the proposed interconnector cable to the mainland is already placing both of these together in unholy wedlock. Dr Price remarks in glowing terms upon the culture and spirituality of the islands. Could we be in a situation that is morally similar to that of law-abiding German citizens in the s?

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Published in the West Highland Free Press, 8 July , pp. 15 & 18, under the heading,

At that a young farmer stood up. I never checked on whether anything came of all this, but that night the community agreed to explore such options further. Such a system can save young families from having to spend half a salary just to cover repayments on the market value on the housing plot. It is better than job creation because it reduces the pressure on parents to work excessively, thereby leaving more space in life for children and community.

This month the Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Elinor Ostrom. Her work shows how community groups can successfully manage overlapping rights to shared natural resources.

Crofting is precisely such a system! We need to build on what crofting already is to make it work properly once more. Susan Walker has done a great service with her spirited defence of crofting against free market commodification of the land 4 September. Her call for community resilience — that is, the ability to hold things together in hard-pressed times — is far more than just a lifestyle option. Consider what might have happened had the banks been allowed to completely collapse last October.

Suppliers would have been thrown into limbo. What then for those living at the end of a global food supply chain? Recently I encouraged a bright young Canadian student under my supervision, Lauren Eden, to undertake her thesis research in Stornoway.

Most people got by OK because crofting, and its ethos of sharing, was still vibrant. In contrast, today the supermarket shelves start emptying within hours. But the lynchpin of crofting is more than just being a system of agriculture. It is also an network of relationships between people and place.

That is what makes the idea of privatising the land so offensive. Crofting should be about living with, if not necessarily entirely from, the land. In this day and age it should be the community that holds the land base, with heritably secure resident tenants accountable unto their democratically elected selves. To have allowed and further to allow croft land to become the subject of speculation, excessive holiday homes or long-term absenteeism only creates dying communities pockmarked with holes.

Such is the human equivalent of the neutron bomb effect — the military ideal of killing the personnel whilst leaving the outer equipment and infrastructure intact for capture. Many years ago I declined the inheritance of a croft because I knew that my work and family circumstances would have relegated it to becoming a holiday home.

The position from which I write is therefore not a hypothetical one. Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 2 July , p. It may interest your readers that this study is now available, free of charge, as an internet version of a book that was originally published in Written by Dr Weston A. A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects, and is evidently considered a classic amongst nutritionists.

He was particularly struck by islands where the diet was primarily seafood and oats. Dr Price remarks in glowing terms upon the culture and spirituality of the islands.

One marvels at their gentleness, refinement and sweetness of character. Published in the Stornoway Gazette , 28 February , p. Some time has passed since 31 January when you carried an article headed Vice Convener defends criticism over radio interview. I wonder if it might not be too late still to comment.

I will therefore not directly address this case but reflect, instead, on the wider issues that it touches on. These have become a burning question in many parts of the world where indigenous or traditional cultures have come face to face with the consequences of cheap travel and high mobility that alters their social structure. The root issue is this: At a legal level they probably have. They have a right to vote and all the rest of it.

But there is much more to community than just the outward legal structures. There are psychological, cultural and spiritual considerations too. That is a connection that deepens over time.

It has to be earned and gifted rather than grasped at or bought. In recent years I have had often had cause to feel outraged at the manner in which a certain type of incomer — typically the sort that comes to buy the view rather than to belong in a community — tramples wilfully over the gentle and accommodating culture that is already found there. I can say this, because I myself came to Lewis as an incomer at the age of four in , having been born in England of an English mother and a Scottish father with two Gaelic-speaking grandparents.

Today I live away, but as Iain Crichton Smith implies, you may leave the island but you never leave the community. This is a connection that I feel at a visceral level and for which I am profoundly grateful. It influences much of my work.

It has been my experience that a person belongs inasmuch as they are willing to cherish, and be cherished, by a place and its peoples. This is what creates an authentic sense of belonging and which, perhaps, can graduate all residents of a community in the direction of becoming indigenous over time. Such a gift starts as hospitality in the short term and melds into the deeper gift of fostership for permanence.

In Gaelic tradition fostership can count for even more than blood lineage: Like all things sacred, community can only be approached as one might approach one who is dearly beloved - with the most profound respect, even veneration.

According to the various acts of Andrew, the Roman proconsul, Aegeates, was in the habit of coming home drunk each night and imposing his rooster-like advances upon his Christian wife, Maximilla. Andrew persuaded her to go on sex strike, and the rest is history. As such, if Scotland's Saltire stands for anything, it symbolises a man who, among other things, gave his all for peace and feminism. But it is Ms Riddoch's important suggestion about Bhrighde, or Saint Bride, that needs taking further.

The end of January also marks St Bride's Eve - a sacred time in the Celtic calendar because it symbolises light returning after winter. It would take only a minor announcement to integrate St Bride with the winter festival, thus starting it with a man, closing with a woman, and pleasing even the iconically feisty Lesley Riddoch. I would endorse the idea of a St Bride's day national festival marking the end of the winter season, as suggested by Alastair McIntosh Letters, 7 November.

I understand St Andrew was adopted as patron saint as part of the process of deposing the saints of the Celtic church, such as Columba and Bride. In returning to Celtic roots symbolised in Columba and Bride, goddess of fire and light, children and family, we would also be choosing a more green, integrative consciousness - restoring value to the dark, the feminine, the peaceful and poetic.

To recognise St Andrew at the end of November and to conclude with a celebration of Bride as the light returns at Imbolc, the church's Candlemas, would be to turn to a meaningful and inspiring symbolism. Their suggestion to revoke the rights of crofters individually to buy their land is sound. Land ownership by individuals in a free market never sat comfortably with the crofting ethos.

The Act that opened the doors to this always had slow take-up amongst indigenous crofters. For many, it never felt right for land to be treated as a private commodity. Instead, it was a blessing: Instead, we need a stronger framework by which communities, not lairds, can own the land — and do so especially to address issues of environmental sustainability, local entrepreneurship and affordable housing.

Under feudal landlordism that was deeply problematic. It gave disproportionate power to lairds whose sole qualification was their wealth.

But today, under land reform, crofting communities can be democratically accountable landholders unto themselves. It is therefore essential to block the leakage of community assets onto speculative private markets.

This can be achieved in various ways. Burdens on title deeds are one. Joint ownership or shared equity is another, where the community retains a controlling interest. And a third is to develop existing crofting tenure so that communities retain inalienable control of the land upon which private properties are built.

Crofting matters for the future of Scotland. It matters as a pattern of tenure by which people can live with the land even if not necessarily from the land. This generates a cycle of belonging: It thereby contributes to the strength of Scotland as a whole.

That is why crofting matters and why the present review by the Schucksmith Committee is so important. Published in the The Herald, 23 July , p. As the nation is deluged the government has much to say about flood protection but very little about its underlying causes. I would like to volunteer as Gordon Brown's speech-writer. Confidentially, within the columns of your newspaper, I propose to him the following emergency address to the nation.

England's floods are but a symptom of the turbulent future we face. The root causes are greenhouse gases produced by our appetite for carbon-based energy.

Action is called for on a scale unprecedented outside wartime. Therefore, I wish to reintroduce and escalate those carbon taxes that the fuel protesters thwarted in Climate change demands a greater patriotism than that of economic self-interest. The proceeds from these taxes will, first, provide relief for uninsured flood victims.

Secondly, they will institute a massive programme of public works for flood protection. And, thirdly, they will be used internationally to mitigate climate change and to compensate those who suffer most: And starting with the elimination of nuclear weapons and the recall of our troops from abroad, we will shift resources from the war on terror towards true security - environmental security - within a new framework of life-giving international relations.

Therefore, I request Her Majesty to dissolve parliament and call a general election. Published in the Stornoway Gazette , 1 February , p. Throughout the Lewis windfarm debate I have felt unable to voice objection to any but the Eisken proposal which is for the enrichment of a private landowner and fringes a National Scenic Area.

On the one hand, humankind must cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and I have the greatest respect for the integrity of some of the people, especially in the Stornoway Trust, who have been pushing the AMEC contribution forward. I happened to see the computer representation shown on the BBC Coasts programme.

The scheme would turn large areas of Lewis into a massive machine. However, given the importance of the wider health of the planet, I have found my tongue tied.

The most that I could offer was my position piece published in The Hebridean of 21 August Neither the North nor the South Lewis proposals meet that condition. Furthermore, as regards the wider wellbeing of the world, I observe that several prominent environmental organisations that otherwise support windfarms have concluded that Lewis is too unique for world heritage to allow it to be sacrificed in this way.

This is hugely important. It is not just local residents who do not want the windfarms in their back yard: Consider for a moment what the true exports of our islands are. Thanks to our Scottish Parliament, Hebridean communities are today in a very different position than they were ten years ago.

Then, windfarm income was seen as a way of financing community land buyouts. But today, some two-thirds of the people of the Western Isles live on community owned land.

Windfarm revenue could still be one way to finance future community development, for sure. But another is simply the freeing up of land that will make socially affordable housing a reality, and thereby reduce the necessity for families to have to earn so much to pay off usury in the form of mortgages.

I have weighed up the changing arguments about the Lewis windfarms, and with the greatest of respect to those who have advanced the proposal, but with an ear to both local communities and the wider world, I find myself forced to come off the fence.

I shall be writing to the Scottish Executive before the 5th February deadline adding my voice of opposition whilst still maintaining the strongest support for community-scale renewable energy developments that meet the condition defined above. Published in The Herald, 31 January , p. I have become less sympathetic to corporate involvement as the imperative of community control and consent appears to be being disregarded.

THE massive scale of the proposed Lewis wind farm not only divides the community January 29 , it has also left many of us divided within ourselves.

On the one hand, we, in the industrialised west, must face the music of our energy profligacy. On the other, it seems a bit rich that Lewis has been targeted for an industrial operation that will dwarf most other features of the landscape and leave both residents and visitors alike feeling as if their heads have been thrust inside a massive gearbox.

For several years I have resisted speaking out about this. To have done so as a Lewis-raised environmentalist who is in favour of renewable energy would have felt like special pleading.

But now a growing chorus of outside bodies seems to be contributing its voice to the perception that Hebridean cultural and environmental heritage is just too important to the wider world to allow it to be messed with. Added to that, more than two-thirds of the population of the Western Isles now live on community-owned land, representing over half of the islands' landmass.

The original idea that wind farms could finance land reform is, therefore, becoming redundant except at a community scale, as on Gigha. Instead, the most important new economic stimulus for communities will be the freeing-up of land for affordable social housing, thereby reducing the usurious costs of mortgages. This means that families will not need to earn so much cash in the first place to achieve dignified living standards. Should we not, therefore, be putting our efforts into options for low-impact rural livelihood rather than shunting the power from desecrated beautiful landscapes down to desolate city high-rises?

Should we not be learning better how to "be" so there's no longer such profligate pressure to "have"? Published in The Herald , 24 July , p. We write as a Christian and a Muslim with a shared love of interfaith dialogue. This can take place only where differing faiths approach one another with respect. On the surface, his critique is reasoned. However, Mr Forrester fails to consider these texts in the light of accepted Islamic commentary. Can Christians, Muslims and Jews alike not allow one another space to review such ancient scripture passages in the light of scholarship, custom and revelation, and not necessarily be boxed into a straitjacketed interpretation by those who lack empathy?

However, this particular word is a neologism associated with American neoconservative thinkers like Robert Spencer, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and webmaster of Dhimmi Watch.

Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 15 June , p. Specifically, there are two such turbines and they are located on Myres Hill. Ms Telfer then suggests that I may have confused nuclear fusion with nuclear fission. My teachers would confirm that I was not the most diligent student in this subject, but I do know the difference between fission and fusion. Fission creates dirty and potentially unsafe nuclear energy, while fusion has the potential to be relatively clean and safe. The problem is that fusion needs a massive research effort to see if it can be made technically and commercially feasible.

Ms Telfer, however, takes me to task for suggesting that such research is massively underfunded. My cautious support for windfarms is precisely because the wind is a "Providential" renewable resource. I have every respect for honest agnosticism. By analogy, Ms Telfer may never have been to Timbuktu, but if she talks to some of her neighbours who have gone there, she might find reasonable grounds for thinking that such a place really exists.

The same is true with life's spiritual journey. Indeed, perhaps when it comes to considering Providence and its origins, we humans are like the story of two flees that were buried in thick fur and feasting on the back of a collie.

Published in the Stornoway Gazette , 1June , p. On Saturday we had a plumber come to do a job at the house. It turned out that his people were from Point on Lewis, so we sat down for half the morning, and I was disturbed by what I heard.

He said that he lives up in the moors above Ealgesham. In recent years the positioning of giant wind turbines, just half a mile from his house, have made life hell. He described the effects as follows. I put it to him that the polar ice caps appear to be melting, probably because of greenhouse gases being released by burning fossil fuels. In consequence, even more ice will melt, and that is just one of the frightening feedback mechanisms by which sea levels are likely to rise.

The consequence for future generations is that our coastal villages and low-lying towns like Stornoway may get washed away. He replied that if the political will was really there, solutions could be found that do not require handing over our countryside to multinational corporations.

We could all be using low energy light bulbs and switching off unnecessary appliances. And we could enforce high building standards so that the built environment, consuming one third of energy production, ceases to be so profligate. Looking at the success of community wind farms on places like Gigha, it is evident that alternative energy, as well as energy conservation, is part of the solution. However, it must be handled on a scale that is managed by communities rather than for the enrichment of large corporations and private landowners.

As with taking medicine from the doctor, a solution is only the right solution when applied with due sense of proportionality and on the right scale. Local communities of place, rather than foreign corporations of profit, are the proper arbitrators of this. I am strongly in favour of wind energy in areas where communities control their land and they have made the decisions in full knowledge of the costs and benefits.

But landlord-driven proposals, such as Eisken, are quite another matter - especially in uniquely beautiful landscapes that should be the inheritance of created life as a whole and, especially, of the descendents of those once cleared from such areas.

If community windfarms produce more power than local needs and what can be exported with modest infrastructure, is there not a case for saying that industry should come to the islands, rather than trying to set up energy export on an all-or-nothing industrial scale? And on the question of compensation for people who might find themselves in a position like my Eaglesham plumber friend, has anybody thought of bringing in professional property valuers for a full economic study of the costs and benefits to communities and their members?

Only then can compensation be justly handled. Such questions concern the future cohesion of our communities. As such, they are more than economic questions. They are also spiritual ones, for the bottom line is how we all choose to live our lives. Or should we be attempting to live within the benevolent constraints of the very motto of the town of Stornoway? Personally, I feel divided within myself on the practicalities of many of these questions.

After all, in living memory many of our people lived within the means of Providence for their energy requirements.

With the aid of modern materials and technology, and with a love of the beauty of our people and place, is the same not possible again? Published in The Herald , 12 April , p. David Ross similarly quotes the pro-Sunday ferries councillor from North Uist, Archie Campbell, as declaring, "I don't believe it is possible to undermine an individual's observance of the Sabbath… People observe the Sabbath in their own way.

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of having a collective day of rest, be it a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, what distinguishes such arguments is their profound emphasis on individuality. No consideration is given to the fact that much Hebridean religion takes place in the context of whole communities, largely indigenous at that. As probably a majority of these communities see it, if some people are expected to work in a 24 x 7 economy and if some businesses plan to gain competitive advantage by so doing, community cohesion will suffer because the weekly balance between inner and outer life will be disturbed.

It is true that Article 9 is subject to "the protection of the rights and freedoms of others", but these are cast in the context of "democratic society". If it is truly the democratically demonstrable wish of a majority of the people of Lewis and Harris to retain their understanding of Sabbath, have they not a case? Published in The Herald , 31 March , under the heading, "Land reform is an ongoing process.

You reported last week that the upper-crust estate agency, C K D Galbraith, has launched an estate values ready-reckoner Sporting estate returns outstrip the stock market, March 24 , presumably so that our social betters can work out their rewards for the land that they, in the words of a former convener of the Scottish Landowners' Federation now the SRPBA , "provide us with".

These presumably do better when re-stocked with transitory species more prolific than threatened indigenous incumbents, some of whom display growing tendencies towards ingratitude and audacity to question and, thus, to embarrass, power. Most striking of all have been media stories making out that the CKD-G figures signal the failure of land reform. The CKD-G study as reported spans a time horizon of 20 years. This conveniently sets it right back into the boomtime speculative era of Thatcherism when the natives had not yet woken up to the possibility of becoming restless and applying principles of market spoiling to open up community claims of right.

The Land Reform Scotland Act was only passed in It can have had but the slightest impact on the CKD-G study. Why should there be such interest in doing down the flagship introductory legislation of Scotland's restored parliament? Whose interests could that inflate? On the basis of material disclosure I trust that CKD-G will be informing all prospective investors of a pararagraph prominently set into the Foreword of Lord Sewel's January green paper from the Scottish Office, namely: The parliament will be able to test how this early legislation works and how it effects change.

They will then have the opportunity to revisit and refine their initial achievement. Published as the centrepiece letter in The Herald , 6 March , p. I accept this origin, but it does not alter the fact that Henry subsequently carried it over into what became a Protestant British constitutional formulation, as is made very explicit, for example, in Article 2 of the Acts of Union, which addresses succession to the British throne and thereby roots sectarianism into the constitution.

For further exploration of this arcane point and how it relates to Britain holding nuclear weapons, see: Contrary to much comment over the weekend, it is entirely fitting that Tony Blair should factor the Christian God into his political decisions Blair: God will judge me on Iraq, March 4. Whether we like it or not, Britons currently live under a constitutional theocracy. A journalist with the Iranian News Agency who phoned up for a comment on nuclear weapons last week was rather astonished when I explained this to him.

Britain's bottom line is that Tony Blair serves as first minister to a sovereign who is proclaimed, by Divine Grace, to be Defender of the [Protestant Christian] Faith. The question in British constitutional law is not whether Mr Blair ought to turn to God; it is whether he does so devoid of heresy. And there's the rub. By using God to legitimise war, he for whom Guantanamo Bay is but "an anomaly" misrepresents the testimony of Christ and so draws Christianity into disrepute.

Like the genocidal prophets Moses and Joshua before him see Numbers 31, Joshua 6 and Deuteronomy 20 for evidence of the war crimes , Tony Blair's version of God blesses war. The heresy charge he faces yes, we have to talk medieval here! Whether we are Christians or not, the constitutional position of Christianity within Britain makes the theology matter. By renouncing the option of violence even when faced by the brutality of empire and the false cry of "peace" from Judas, Jesus made the Cross a supreme symbol of non-violence.

Such Christianity, costing nothing less than everything, has rarely been tried, meaning that Christianity remains a young religion. Meanwhile, Heaven continues to suffer the violence of suchlikes as Bush, Berlusconi and Blair. And somewhere in the direction of Iran, a disturbingly satisfied state-sanctioned young journalist has put down the phone and writes that Britain has no moral right to single out his theocracy for sanction as long as its own continues to rattle nuclear sabres daily up and down the Firth of Clyde.

Published as the featured letter in The Herald , 6 February , p. When I was a boy on Lewis in the distant sixties, most people had no student loans and no pension investments. You grew up in something that was called a community — a living membership one of another.

Today a system has been engineered that no longer values such community. It is a system condemned by most religions because it works by siphoning off life-energies from the relatively poor to the relatively rich. We if I might speak collectively as one who holds to community, warts and all are the people who have voted for this canonisation of avarice.

We have been blinded by our greed, albeit partly with eyes put out by manipulative men. Well, the whole point of ancient infant sacrifice to Moloch was the procurement of economic gain.

Think about it as you turn now to the money pages to watch that pension fund. After all, we have failed the coming generation. What astute analysis of proposed crofting reform from Brian Wilson and Roger Hutchinson recently. I vividly remember meeting a rather stunned Andy Wightman after the launch of the land reform Green Paper.

Is it not time to start asking pointed and personalised questions about some of the gatekeepers to this debate? Consider them as a social class. But why should crofting now be a target for loyal functionaries when landed power has learned to put up with it since ? I suspect that the reason, perhaps unconsciously smelt by those with a nose trained to the interests of their social reference group, lies closer to Borders fiefdoms and the Home Counties than to the crofting ones.

Crofting sustains strong communities precisely because it provides a legal framework where individual land holdings are held within a wider order of interest.

But now instead, with the Land Reform Scotland Act , it can be the whole community through a democratically elected and therefore socially accountable land trust. The infectious principle at its core is that a crofting-style land transaction is a double-barrelled process. In principle this allows for vetting, regulation, and potential dispossession if in serious default of agreements, as well as offering a potential income flow from peppercorn rents by which the community land trust might become self-financing.

From the security and dignity of living with if not entirely, from the land such a model permits individual family entrepreneurship - but within a community-held regulatory framework. In short, I suspect that crofting is under challenge neither because it has been forced into an agricultural box it no longer fits, nor because it has outlived its cultural and tourism potential. It is under threat from those who fear that, if more widely understood, it could get contagious.

And why should that trouble landed power? The property columns of one Welsh newspaper expressed it nicely last year: Published in The Herald, 28 Nov , p. Thank you for such a forthright leader stating that torture flights through Scottish airports are "morally repugnant, evil and probably illegal" November Imagine if we, the ordinary citizens of Scotland, had been decent law-abiding German citizens during the gradual erosion of human rights by the Nazis.

What should we have done then? And what ought Scots today do about "rendition" via our doorstep? Should we hide behind the figleaf of "reserved matters", thereby appeasing the rendition of our core cultural values?

Or are we, as a nation, today challenged to engage with our morality? Hopefully, in solidarity with other European nations, we can depend on due legal process from our police, judicial and political authorities speedily to wash this blot from Scottish airports.

But what if those structures fail us? Could we then be called to the practical defence of our values? Could we be in a situation that is morally similar to that of law-abiding German citizens in the s? If this be where stands Scotland, and if the appropriate statutory authorities accept being compromised, what alternatives might be left to ordinary Scottish people?

What might be expected of those of us who do not want to stand condemned before history; of those who do not want their children to ask: I do hope not, but I fear otherwise.

Here is the literary reference to William Shakespeare's Macbeth 4: I deliberately used the subjunctive "be" to stimulate archetypal resonance with the shadow side of the Scottish psyche, as something we must face in order to address. See also Kevin Franz's commentary on Macduff's question from a Scottish churches perspective. Published as the centrepiece and featured letter in The Herald , 23 November , p. But no nuclear arms.

Once more today our braggarts crousely craw over the grave they would dig for multiculturalism How London bombs have left One Scotland divided, August 6. The same people who have caricatured racial, gender and class justice as weasel-sounding "political correctness" now relish the prospect that multiculturalism may fail.

My God, you can palpably feel their lavatory-pan-like gloating grins flush to a choir of hissing cisterns: But where might Scotland stand in all this? What is her history? Can we, as a Scottish peoples, hold fast in seeking to understand the forces, history and, indeed, the very holiness of those ethnic minorities that have chosen and been chosen to become a part of who we are in this community of place? Are we ready and willing to put our noses out of joint to see that these, our dear and diverse neighbours, feel safe, equal and valued in "One Scotland; many cultures"?

I do hope so, because a racist Scottish identity would be a fascist one. And in a Scotland that constitutionally rests upon the Declaration that affirms "neither weighting nor distinction" of religion or ethnicity under the Community of the Realm, such fascism would betray the most sacred meaning of being Scottish.

Published as the featured letter in The Herald , 14 July , p. Published as the lead letter in The Herald, 14th April , p. Sarah McLeod is right about "mindless officiousness" in security at some airports Letters, April I have even witnessed a Chinese man being dispossessed of a tiny pair of tweezers which, as he tried to demonstrate to the security officers, were merely for whisking whiskers out of his nostrils.

Meanwhile, everybody else streamed past carrying duty-free bottles, the lethal potential of which, if smashed one against another, is legendary. Security to reassure the punters is fine provided it does not affect the profits of a duty-free industry that allows the relatively affluent to dodge tax on their booze while glamorising an environmentally unsustainable industry. By the way, who pays for this "security" that increases, exponentially, the closer one gets to little Scottish islands?

Are the half dozen or so security staff typically visible at, say, Stornoway airport, really financed out of the revenues from a few flights with a few dozen passengers? Or is such job creation, like the lack of taxation on aviation fuel, yet another example of taxpayer generosity to support the mores of the relatively better-off?

Published in The Herald, 18 March , under the heading, "Scotland's open door to those who want to belong. In consequence, the last three paragraphs are a bit disjointed, and I have restored some of the original in [brackets] for greater clarity in this version. I was born of an English mother in Doncaster.

Alongside my Scottishness, I take pride in many deep and often hidden roots of English radical culture, some of which I alluded to in my literary references Letters, March The more significant point begged by Mr Thorpe's letter is the question of where Englishness can sit within "one Scotland; many cultures".

His answer, which revolves around Britishness, is one approach. However, this carries an unresolved colonial and sectarian legacy such as the English historian Linda Colley draws out in her book, Britons. It also carries a demographic asymmetry, the English outnumbering Scots by The plot thickens if we ask why national identity matters at all. Is it not a backward notion? Can't we get on with being human? That is what globalisation says, and its effect is to force us all down the road of a homogenised Anglo-American "new European" order.

Many of us value our national identities because they reflect communities of place writ large; areas where certain values have been built up historically and with which people are identified either by birth or through fostership by choice. This is what makes it possible for those who are wholly or partly English to belong fully in Scotland.

This is why the English and other peoples who value Scottish culture and are willing to cherish and be cherished by it can earn a real sense of belonging here. The bottom line is there are marked differences between mainstream English and mainstream Scottish culture. For example, most of us do not value the class system, our education rests on democratic intellectual principles, and we predicate co-operation over competition as a basis for human relationship.

Such values find political expression when, for example, the English voted for Thatcherism but we didn't. What's wrong with having these differences? What matters if we value the human is that we celebrate such values [inclusively]. We hold the door open so those who want to belong to such a culture can learn how to do so while bringing their own cultural gifts.

This is not to suggest we are good at achieving such a goal. The reality of racism in Scotland shows we are not. But it does mean that we can attempt to continue forging the nation around our highest values. Published in The Herald , 16 March , as the lead letter under the heading, "The tragedy of mainstream English identity. I read Melanie Reid's article March 15 on English identity shortly after returning from speaking at schools in Jersey, where a majority of the children seemed to identify themselves as "southern English, I suppose".

I had been invited by the island's education department to speak about the importance of community to island life. But frankly, my presentation missed the mark. One of the teachers said of his A-level students: Such dislocation encapsulates the tragedy of mainstream English identity.

Globalisation obliterates cultural anchor points in history and place. This makes it difficult for children to understand in others, or even to become in themselves, what Iain Crichton Smith so magnificently documented in his essay, Real People in a Real Place. I believe that is why, in the words of the Economic and Social Research Council study from which Melanie Reid quotes, the affluent classes in southern England describe "a profound sense of insecurity and loss" related to "the perceived decline of village-scale community, where people knew each other and helped each other.

And why did it come? Because money bought deprivation. Because globalisation as the successor to Empire cauterised the cultural soul by what it required people to do and be. Until England and, indeed, a wider Britain faces up to the psychological implications of having been a colonial power and having colonised many of its own people through the enclosures, racism and the class system, the possibility of creating identities that are strong, inclusive, richly diverse and life-giving will never be realised.

Anomie, disempowerment and, ultimately, the roots of fascism will haunt the national psyche. That is why Melanie Reid's summation that "The English just are" is no longer acceptable. Power denied is power abused, and the unconscious abuse of cultural power is something that has sold short the great majority of decent English people. Published in The Herald , Glasgow, 25 February , p. Perhaps he failed to understand my metaphor. By referring to the Biblical "mote" in the eye, I acknowledged that the Scots clergyman in question had, by his own admission and unreserved apology, committed minor errors of fact as we all do.

What I deplore is this being used to kick a man who has merely stumbled. One commentator urges the BBC that he "should not be on the air, but removed". Such critics fail to distinguish between honest error and duplicitous lie. Jeremiah is a wholly appropriate reference point. Here is a prophet who tells his people that by betraying their own Jewish core values they have brought terror upon themselves.

The only hope, Jeremiah says on God's behalf, is that "if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.

But instead, the Israelites accuse him of treachery and lying Mindful of his own human frailty, Jeremiah laments, "I have become a laughing-stock [and even] my close friends are watching for me to stumble" Precisely because the Jewish scriptures are so honestly self-critical, the world owes such a debt to Hebrew culture.

The world needs its vision of potential justice and peace wrought anew from ruins and despair. Foremost among those saying so are the great Jewish liberation theologians who condemn Israeli state violence, like Professor Marc Ellis of Baylor University.

It would be much more comfortable if this debate could be conducted without recourse to the Bible. But unfortunately it is not possible to understand today's Middle East crisis without understanding Jeremiah. Published in The Herald , 22 February , p. Well done, Sandy Gemmill, for defending Scotland's foremost modern liturgist, the Rev John Bell of the Iona Community, against character assassins who pick at the mote in their neighbour's eye.

As Tony Benn's mother used to say, "The Bible can be understood as a confrontation between the kings who loved power, and the prophets who loved righteousness. John Bell may have been knocked down on a technicality. But he can take comfort that Jeremiah was thrown into a pit by much the same people and for much the same reason: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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