the Bonds of the Island's Core Community
Alastair McIntosh suggests that the Lottery Fund needs cultural education about Eigg
in The Scotsman, 13-12-96, p. 18. For more on Eigg click
week’s Scotsman revealed that the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF)
attempted to compromise the islanders’ buyout on Eigg. They would have given
the money that might by now have secured the island from Maruma, but only in
return for constitutional change. This would have brought the Eigg Trust’s
community representation to below 50% and forced an arranged marriage with the
am concerned about media misrepresentations sown by interests hostile to
community empowerment that might have contributed to this decision. Perhaps I
may dispel some myths.
speaking about Eigg I have taken to asking audiences what percentage of
residents they think were born on the island or in the nearby Fort William
hospital. Most people guess around ten percent. The actual figure is just over
broad brush picture is that about a third of the sixty-five strong population
are indigenous Hebrideans, a third are from elsewhere in Scotland and the
remainder mostly English. Six of
the eight trustees of the Isle of Eigg Trust are Scots, five of these are
Hebrideans, four are indigenous to Eigg, three are native Gaelic speakers and
all are community elected. We are pleased to have two resident English trustees.
least 90% of the residents of Eigg are in favour of a community partnership of
ownership. To effect this a new Isle of Eigg Heritage
Trust has been set up as a company limited by guarantee. As soon as charitable
status is granted, this will subsume much if not all of the work of the old Isle
of Eigg Trust that Tom Forsyth, Bob Harris, Lis Lyon and I founded in 1991.
Power in the new trust will be divided equally to reflect both local and
national interests. Four trustee places will go to the community, two to the
Scottish Wildlife Trust and two to Highland Council. Thus not just residents
will benefit, but also wildlife, the broader cultural heritage and thousands of
warmly welcomed visitors.
unsympathetic to community land ownership have repeatedly attempted to place us
in a Catch 22. If indigenous Scottish voices speak, questions are raised about
their experience in managing such an asset. On the other hand, if resident
incomers’ voices are heard, absentee incomers like ex-laird Keith Schellenberg
are quick to tell the press that “none of them are true Hebrideans.”
needs to be understood that there is a good reason why it is often incomers who
do much of the public speaking in controversial Highland issues.
the BBC went up to Eigg after Mr Schellenberg re-asserted his feudal superiority
in 1992, only one resident, the late Dr Hector MacLean, felt secure enough to
was famous for quipping that living under Eigg’s lairds was “like living
under enemy occupation ... except you’re not allowed to shoot the buggers.”
what if you have less pension or
tenancy security than the retired doctor? What if you’re amongst that 11% of
the island’s population, including six indigenous people, who were issued with
eviction notices for no apparent reason just two years ago (The Scotsman, 17-10-94)?
an implicit culture of silence is imposed. This is why much of the running in
contentious Highland debate is often made by those who might be thought of
respectively as “outside insiders” and “inside outsiders.”
That is to say, people from outside who now live inside the community,
and others who are indigenous to the community but are now resident outside.
insiders” - the indigenous residents - tend to be relatively silent. They know
that their most important role is to maintain the bonds of core community.
Better to allow the thin ice to be stepped on by individuals who have more
external buoyancy than become vulnerable to divide-and-rule tactics of outside
his recent visit to Eigg the Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, told the media
that he was “rather appalled” because, “The present situation is pretty
shocking and is not sustainable. The islanders have a right to a degree of
security.” This is apple pie and motherhood; not revolution. Only with
security can businesses and self-reliant ventures be started and can help be
fully forthcoming from the local authority, commercial banks, the Scottish
Office and Europe.
Board of the NHMF next meets on17th December. Perhaps they were not previously
in full possession of the facts. Let us hope they will think again.
Alastair McIntosh is a community elected trustee of the Isle of Eigg Trust. He grew up and was educated in North Lochs, Isle of Lewis, and is a fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology.
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