Level-headed Scotland forges ahead

From time to time good news comes from Scotland and – after March’s items prompted a document search – 1097 items in which Scotland was mentioned were found. The following news items were selected and arranged simply because the country was named in the title of the file. Due to the lapse of time some links no longer work – these are marked with a cross

2004 – a fairer, less stressful house purchasing system

When you buy a house in Scotland, if your offer is accepted, you are immediately under an obligation to buy that property. This is why an agreement in principle is required before you go house-hunting. By contrast, in England and Wales, you can pull out of buying the property without penalty up until the time when contracts are exchanged. The Scottish vendor is also committed to the deal as soon as he accepts the buyer’s offer. Hence the risk of gazumping (where the vendor later accepts a higher offer from someone else) is removed. http://www.icplanning.co.uk/buying_scotland.shtml x

2004 – unfluoridated water

The Scottish Executive axed the proposal to add fluoride to the country’s water in favour of better targeted dental services.

2005 – taking freight off the roads

Councillor Julia Southcott, Convener of East Dunbartonshire’s Development & Environment Committee said “Reusing the canal for transporting freight is one of the key sustainability options being investigated.” http://www.waterscape.com/news/nid45 x Since then, though constrained by lack of funding, the Scottish government has endeavoured to preserve its shipbuilding capacity and maintain and use its waterways.

The Timberlink project, collaboration between ports, British Waterways and forestry companies, provides a good example of shifting traffic to waterways. 

2007 – fair trade in food

Points made in a report written by The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, focussing on the need for fair trade in food, unusually considering Scottish farmers as well as those in the two-thirds world, included these points:

The major buyers of domestic production are the supermarkets and their suppliers who control most of the food bought for home consumption. Directly or through the food supply chain farmers must sell to large multinational businesses.

The current distribution of resources within the food supply chain is out of balance with effort and risk. The food supply chain represents a market failure. There is need to increase the bargaining power of primary producers if they are to survive.

The power of the multiples and the detached attitude of government seem likely to result in an increasing proportion of UK consumption being sourced from outwith the UK. To pay more for food than the market rate might seem contrary to supermarkets responsibility to their shareholders. However this market rate is determined by these major buyers. Change in practice would require a revision of the current concept of corporate responsibility.

2008 – re-opening a railway

The Stirling–Alloa–Kincardine rail link , which was re-opened for the first time in almost 40 years, is delivering economic, social and environmental benefits to the communities directly concerned and to the wider Scottish economy. The government website adds that there are direct hourly passenger services between Alloa, Stirling and Glasgow Queen Street and peak-time services to and from Edinburgh, Monday to Friday.

The line also offers freight services along the line and provides the option for diverting freight trains from the existing, longer route via the Forth Bridge.

2008 – no more PFI

Other measures were noted. The devolved government in Scotland has acted energetically to improve the lives of many electors. Scottish measures to help the frail elderly and students are well known but far more is being done. The Scottish Government announced that the new South Glasgow Hospital would be publicly funded instead of using the expensive and often unreliable PFI system.

2008 – Scottish food for Scottish people

The government is aiming to see more beef, lamb, pig, chicken, fruit, salmon and white fish processed in Scotland rather than being exported. The Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said “I would like to see more Scottish food ending up on our plates.”

2008 – no more nuclear power

Tidal and wave generated renewable energy, hydropower and offshore wind is being backed. Alex Salmond explained that it has no need to install more nuclear power, ‘a dirty technology’, in which it has no advantage.

More energy is now generated in Scotland by renewables than nuclear power and exports of electricity to UK rose by 50% last year.

2013 – Community land reform

Remote crofting communities are being enabled to flourish and Scots have been given the right to buy land they’ve worked for years. The Agricultural Holdings Review which was launched to examine the situation of land ownership and use, tenant-owner relationships, and the relevant legislation eventually led to Land Reform (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament  passed by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2016. It created a Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development. Like the earlier Crofting Community Right to Buy and the Community Right to Buy abandoned or derelict land, the Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development does not require a willing seller but allows ministers to compel landowners to sell if they decide that the sale will further sustainable development in the area.

2015 – GM crops ban

Scotland banned the use of all genetically modified crops in a move which the government says will preserve the country’s “clean and green brand”. There was “no evidence” of a demand for GM crops among consumers in Scotland, The SNP rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said, adding: “The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.”

2016 – MSPs back fracking ban

MSPs backed an outright ban on fracking proposed by Scottish Labour. There are ongoing calls for first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s temporary prohibition or moratorium on the technology being used in Scotland to be made permanent.

2017 – basic income trial

Four Scottish councils are to undertake feasibility studies and to develop pilot models for the first pilot basic income schemes in the UK, with the support of a £250,000 grant announced by the Scottish government last month. This funding will cover the financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20

2019 – call to recognise state of Palestine

A cross-party coalition of Scottish politicians urges Britain to uphold the rule of law and recognise the state of Palestine.

2019 – dignity in dying

On March 31, The Sunday Times reported that a group of nine MSPs has called for dignity in death for people who face ‘terrible suffering’ called to mind many other reports of beneficial developments in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

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“ECOaction” in Banda

“ECOaction” in Banda was founded in 2012 by Reagan Kandole.  This waste management education project is engaging young people and the rest of the community in collecting waste and creating employment opportunities through reusing and recycling waste. In the capital city of Uganda, Kampala 730,000 tons of waste is produced every day and, at present, only an estimated 1% is recycled.

ECOaction’s goals are:

  • to address high unemployment and the increase in bio and human waste;
  • to stress the benefit of an eco-friendly society beyond trash, where empowered and responsible citizens live in harmony with their environment;
  • to engage the community in environmentally beneficial livelihood activities, increasing community events and activities that can improve the environmental situation and
  • to increase opportunities in welding/carpentry/and using many kinds of waste apron plastics aim to recycle/reduced/reuse.

To this end waste management workshops are conducted and biodegradable and non degradable waste is recycled.

ECOaction’s products include: children’s playgrounds, telephone kiosks, chicken feeders, bathrooms, shelters, bins, chairs, green houses, aprons from plastic, waste composting and public art installations.

Karen Kana visited the project in 2017, meeting single mothers, children, men and some twenty youths from the wider community – over a hundred in all – who are creating a centre from recycled materials, engaging in urban gardening, briquette making from biodegradable waste, composting and exploring other income-generating activities. The community is also working on a project with Uganda Christian University in Mukono to create greenhouses from recycled plastic bottles to improve urban gardening and nutrition.

Project coordinator David Turner writes: “We are going to partner with CYEN, a UK based NGO which has been involved in youth social enterprise projects for last 5 years and want to expand their social enterprise environmental intervention by working with our project”. CYEN’s Ugandan NGO, ChrysalisUganda will be hosting one of our large recycled plastic collection bins and we plan that young social entrepreneurs from their Butterfly project will be learning the techniques of recycling plastic, as part of their training programme.

“We also hope to remove local children from the backbreaking plastic bottle collecting, by incentivizing their parents to recycle higher value bottles, which will enable them to earn more and use this money to pay for their child’s education,” says Ben Parkinson, Director of ChrysalisUganda, who work to reduce child labour in Kampala:

“Companies estimate that only 4% of their bottles come back for re-use and surely we need to address this by improving the amount that recyclers are paid for the bottles or finding some way to subsidise this.  Bottle picking is known as the least well paid work, where adults cannot find even enough for their children’s school fees.  Ecoaction Banda have evolved products which could help address this imbalance.”

 

 

 

 

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In December Ireland became the first country in the world to divest public funding from fossil fuels

The July news that Ireland was set to become the first country in the world to divest public money from fossil fuel assets following a landmark vote in the Dáil was widely reported.

Ireland was to become the first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament on Thursday (12 July). €318m (£282m) shares in 150 coal, oil, peat and gas companies will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’ ­– probably within five years.

Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill, said: “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

The New York Times added that the vote in the Irish Parliament follows a recommendation by Norway’s central bank in late 2017 for its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund to drop its oil company investments and that the Church of England has voted to sell its assets in fossil fuel companies that have not “aligned their business investment plans with the Paris Agreement” to reduce global warming.

In December Ireland became the first country in the world to divest public funding from fossil fuels

We all heard the July news that Ireland might divest, but the September stage attracted little attention – indeed the December news was only found here after a deliberate search.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, the country’s sovereign fund (the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund), is now committed to divesting its holdings of fossil fuel companies within five years and to make no future investments in the industry, in order “to precipitate a timely decarbonisation process in line with Ireland’s climate change commitments under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement”.

Eamonn Ryan Green Party MP speaks on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFSUKMIVsPU

The bill was signed into law by the President of Ireland Michael Daniel Higgins on December 17th 2018.

 

 

 

 

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Olive Picking in Palestine – Keeping Hope Alive

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A reader returned from Palestine after taking part in the Olive Picking Programme organised by the YMCA and YWCA of East Jerusalem. This Joint Advocacy Initiative was from 13th to 22nd October.

On an earlier visit she helped to plant olive trees

She writes:

It was such a wonderful experience that I feel like sharing some of it with my friends and fellow activists in the UK and further afield.

The Olive Picking Programme offers an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Palestine living in the West Bank who are under Israeli military occupation. All aspects of their daily life are controlled, which include access to their own fields. Palestinian farmers often depend upon their olive harvest for their livelihood and it is essential for them to have access to their fields to tend their trees, plant new saplings, and harvest their crops in time.

The presence of internationals deter Israeli settlers from intimidating Palestinian farmers and preventing them from reaching their fields, harming them whilst they are at work, or destroying their property. This also applies to Israeli soldiers who are known to act in this manner. The programme offers help particularly to families who are vulnerable in this respect. Joining it is a tangible way of showing solidarity with the people of Palestine and is a great encouragement to them in their struggle for justice.

This year’s programme consisted of four mornings and one whole day of working in the fields. We had all been issued with sun hats and T shirts bearing the programme’s logo, and most of us had also brought our own light, gardening gloves. Thus equipped, two batches, each of a goodly company of 55 or more internationals from about 20 counties, set off from our hotel or host families at 8am. Before leaving we had to load our bus with ladders, plastic sheets, buckets and plenty of drinking water. By 9 am we reached our field which was in the vicinity of Bethlehem area. We had to unload our equipment and on some occasions walk some distance as the road was not suitable for the bus to drive all the way.

The owners welcomed us and showed us trees which needed harvesting. Our first task was to spread huge plastic sheets around the base of each tree. Then we set to work, attacking the trees at the front of the field and working our way towards the end. As many as eight or ten of us would work on one tree, starting from the lower branches and then working towards the higher ones. Each branch was thickly covered with plump green or dark purple olives, the purple ones being the ripe ones. We were asked to pick them all. It was wonderful to slide our fingers down a branch and see the olives falling effortlessly on to the plastic sheet, with a rhythmic clop-clopping sound.  Some trees were very dusty and a dusty cloud assailed us as we worked. Where the crop was thick, it took almost half an hour for one person to work on a single section, with six or seven others working around different branches. There were others who diligently collected the fallen fruit into buckets and emptied them into huge sacks which would eventually be taken to the local press. As the lower branches were stripped, the higher ones were reached by ladders and some climbed up where the ladders fell short. I confined myself to working on the lower branches, moving on to another tree when one was done.

There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation as we worked together, and at intervals stopped for coffee which came around provided by the owners. We worked until 1 pm when lunch was announced, which was more than welcome. Lunch was provided by the host farmer’s family and was usually a simple dish of rice cooked with lentils – absolutely delicious, salad and yoghourt and plenty of beverages. Only on one day did we work after lunch. Our best pickings in a single field amounted to 100 kg of olives. An average tree produces about 9 kg of olives yielding 2 litres of oil. Most of the oil produced is for family or local consumption and not for export. Trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government make it difficult to do so.

On our half days, we visited places which gave us a better understanding of what life under military occupation is like.  One of our most moving visits was to the Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar which has been in the news. This Bedouin community is semi-nomadic and has been living on its land for generations and centuries. Yet, the Israeli government has issued an order to demolish the school which serves its children. There were Palestinian as well as Israeli human rights activists keeping a 24 hour vigil to prevent its demolition. It was a privilege to meet and talk to these dedicated men and women. The demolition has not gone ahead, although it could go ahead at any time. There were visits to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron, not in the usual touristy fashion, but with a view to highlighting our awareness of life under occupation for its residents.

We had one free day with a choice of visit to either Ramallah, Jericho, or Nablus and people were free to arrange their own programme. I opted to visit my friend of nine years standing in Ramallah and it was a joy to see her twin sons now 5 years old, and the latest addition, a son nearly two years old who I had not seen before.

Evening meals were at our own hotel or with host families, and were followed by a talk or a documentary film. They covered topics such as the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and information about various organisations working for justice and the rights of Palestinian people. Truth to tell, we were often exhausted by the end of the day, but it cannot be denied that they gave us valuable opportunities to learn more about the struggle of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and with dignity and ways of supporting their struggle from our own countries.

On the last evening, we had a splendid meal in a local restaurant, accompanied by folk dancing in which our active participants joined. There was a great sense of comradeship, and of having shared a meaningful experience which would stay with us for a long time. There was sadness too, knowing that the local Palestinian people still had to face the harsh realities of life under military occupation. But we knew that we were leaving with a heightened awareness of these realities.

 Email addresses were exchanged, and goodbyes were said as people had to leave later that night or early next day. I am sure that in one way or the other, each one of us had been touched and many were returning with a renewed resolve for working for justice and freedom for the brave people of Palestine, back in their own countries.

For more information about the Olive Harvesting and Olive Planting Programme, visit their website: http://www.jai-pal.org/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/olive-picking-program. For alternative tours visit their website on www.atg.ps

 

 

 

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Highland Home Industries: a first-hand account

Editor: In 2011, I saw sturdy knitted jerseys and cardigans with the label ‘Highland Home Industries’ in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop – and wanted to know more. Finding out about the work of those long gone – then discovering that the tradition continues – proved to be an effective antidote to gloom.  The story I pieced together from a range of contradictory accounts online, with some links now inactive, has been read by over three thousand visitors to the site. It was top post this week on the statistics page. One of those visitors, E. Mairi MacArthur, has first-hand knowledge of the true story of Iona’s heritage and has kindly sent an absolutely accurate ’insider’ account.   

 Mairi MacArthur is from an Iona family and, from many childhood holidays spent at her grandmother’s house in the 1950s and ‘60s, remembers the Highland Home Industries shop in the Nunnery gardens – run at that time by Mrs MacCormick and Mrs Maclean, who presided over counters full of colourful tweeds, knitwear and Celtic jewellery.  

In the 1980s Mairi was a postgraduate at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh where she undertook a study into the crofting and parish history of Iona; this led to several books on the island’s story, followed by the setting up of the Iona Heritage Centre to house much of this material and, later, by the publication of Iona Celtic Art, Mairi’s book about the life and work of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie (left).  She continues to research and write about aspects of Iona’s story and the lives of its people.

Mairi takes up the tale …

The Highland Home Arts and Industries Association – to become known by the shorter title of Highland Home Industries – was an exhibition network formed in 1889, after a successful Industrial Exhibition was held in Sutherland two years earlier. The aim was to revitalise the skills of home-based textile and other craft workers in rural areas and promote the display and sales of their goods (below right, a galley pendant).  I am indebted for these details to a book ‘Hand Heart and Soul. The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland’ (Birlinn, 2006) by Elizabeth Cumming. This is a fascinating read and I recommend it to anyone wishing to know more about the broader historical context of handiwork at local level. There is a chapter entitled ‘Craft and Community’, for example, plus a comprehensive bibliography.

Information on the Highland Home Industries itself does seem harder to find and I don’t know of a book devoted specifically to its story.  But old sales catalogues occasionally come up for sale online and Companies House would have information on the administration of the business – which, in its earlier form, had wound up by the early 1990s as far as I can gather, although the name has continued.

There were certainly commercial HHI outlets in Edinburgh and Inverness, with depots farther afield to collect and distribute home-produced work – eg the Am Baile site has an attractive illustrated postcard of the depot in Ullapool, a wooden building on Shore Street, later a house.

By the 1930s a Miss Jean Bruce was an HHI organiser who at some point visited Iona and found there the workshop of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie (below right: note the silver belt, buckle and shoulder clips worn by Euphemia). Since 1899, Miss Bruce had been selling their work crafted in metal, wood, leather and textile from a hut entitled Iona Celtic Art.  She ensured that a selection of the Ritchies’ jewellery was included in a Scottish Industries Exhibition in London in June 1937.

The annual Jean Bruce Prize for Best Exhibit in Handweaving, Knitting, Spinning or Crooks from Scottish Crofting counties was presented by The Highland Home Industries Ltd again this year – a cash prize representing the free income of the fund.

After the Ritchies both died, in February 1941, their shop including stock and models was bequeathed to the HHI and Jean Bruce herself oversaw the transfer that summer.

Managing the newly renamed shop was Mrs Hannah MacCormick, married to an Iona-born joiner who had learned his trade on the mainland but then returned to the island with his wife and young family. Their son, Iain, became a teacher of technical subjects in Paisley but also ran a spare-time business as a successful silversmith, creating his own fine range of Celtic designs in the tradition of Alexander Ritchie.

Hannah herself was an adept needlewoman and tutored younger island women in embroidery, as Euphemia Ritchie had done for an earlier generation.

Another enterprise inspired by the Ritchies was Celtic Art Industries, founded by Hamish Dawson-Bowman in Glasgow in 1945 to train disabled or unemployed ex-servicemen in metalworking; Iain MacCormick was employed by CAI in their first few years and the HHI shop on Iona provided some Ritchie designs plus an outlet for finished items.

A further connection – in both the family and artistic sense – came in 1997 when Mhairi Killin (right), a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, first set up a small studio on Iona. She was greatly encouraged by Iain MacCormick, a close relative of her mother, and he also passed on to her some of the Iona Celtic Art patterns he himself had inherited.

Now in larger premises, Mhairi and her staff create and sell fine replicas of Ritchie and MacCormick items along with contemporary jewellery and larger work that draw on Iona’s culture and landscape.  The business is called Aosdana Ltd – a reference to an old Gaelic word for those who continue artistic and family traditions – and is therefore a living link with the Ritchies’ wooden hut at the gate of Iona Nunnery, later known affectionately to many as ‘the Highland Home’. In turn, long before that, it recalls the island’s fame in Early Christian and mediaeval times, as a place that nurtured stone-carvers, metalworkers and the creators of brilliantly illuminated manuscripts.

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Notes: See Mhairi Killin’s informative website (www.aosdanaiona.com) for more on the inspiration behind her work. There is also a small permanent display about the Ritchies in the Iona Heritage Centre, open Easter until October each year and the museum in Tobermory also owns a selection of Ritchie handiwork.  Or track down a copy of Mairi’s book: Iona Celtic Art. The Work of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie – a new edition is in preparation but the 2003 edition should be in some public libraries and a reference copy is available in the Heritage Centre.
E. Mairi MacArthur (mairimacarthur@yahoo.co.uk).
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As government cuts affect public transport in Witney, a community transport co-operative is set up

A year ago there was a post on this site about the residents of Hawes who launched their own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

On 20 July 2016, Oxfordshire county council scrapped all subsidies for bus services and 54 routes stopped altogether while many more were reduced. Dozens of villages in Oxfordshire had no bus service at all.

Witney’s town service had been run by Stagecoach before the subsidies were cut and The Guardian reported that local Labour councillor Laura Price who saw the strength of the opposition to losing the bus service and the distress it was going to cause, began to wonder what could be done.

Laura Price says: “This is about real localism – us doing things for our community who would otherwise be abandoned.”

‘Frantic tin-rattling’ raised £18,000 that bought an old bus and at the start of 2017 West Oxfordshire Community Transport co-operative was set up. People paying £1 become voting members, drivers get a proper living wage, and profits are reinvested in the business.

Like the Hawes initiative, after 16 months it not only breaks even, it’s expanding. The fleet has gone from one to four buses (none less than 10 years old). The town service runs “like a Swiss watch”. Other villages petitioned the co-operative to run a service for them and this February it began running a 210 service to Chipping Norton.

 

 

 

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News from the Environmental Law Foundation

The Environmental Law Foundation Ltd is a charity which promotes the collective, good decision-making which is at the very heart of civilised, democratic and stable societies.

It does this by providing free information and advice on environmental issues to individuals and communities via its in-house and university-based law clinics, and via its network of specialist environmental lawyers and technical experts.

ELF exists primarily to help socially and economically disadvantaged communities which want to address their concerns but lack the resources or information to do so. All, however, are welcome to enquire.

This message from the Environmental Law Foundation focussed on:

  • National Planning Policy Framework Review
  • Third defeat for government on air quality
  • Environmental Crime in Europe

It included information about ELF’s assistance to a residents’ association in Farringdon which represents vulnerable social housing tenants. ELF helped the association to make their case at a Public Inquiry into the proposed building of a 180 room Whitbread run hotel and commercial area by Endurance Land.

The Catherine Griffiths and Clerkenwell Community Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (chair and members left) claimed developers are “land grabbing” Clerkenwell, and the site should be used for “useful” shops and affordable housing.

They felt that the proposals would have significant effects on an already stressed community where development was forcing the indigenous community out. There were serious concerns over the proposed loading area on traffic flows, significant light impacts of building a high rise building and the serious impacts on local historical assets, including the Finsbury Health Centre a Grade 1 Listed Building.

ELF member barrister Jonathan Metzer and Charlotte Gilmartin at 1 Crown Office Row, appeared on behalf of the group who had Rule 6 (main party) status. They led evidence from two expert witnesses and two lay witnesses. They acted pro bono through the Environmental Law Foundation, on the instruction of Emma Montlake. The inquiry lasted 7 days.