The Angry Corrie 8: Jul-Aug 1992
And they call it democracy...
Further to TAC7's brief note on the trials of Gigha, useful background was recently screened in the shape of a This Week programme which ran the island's erstwhile and errant owner to ground. You may recall Malcolm Potier (brother of the more famous Sidney) recently having been declared bankrupt, with his island tenants consequently left in financial and proprietorial limbo. The TV crew tracked down the allegedly skint Potier in an openair London restaurant. Here he was stuffing his penniless face with lobster within sight of Canary Wharf, temple of Thatcherite mammon and symbol of all the Baron of Gigha represents. Cut to the humble McSporrans, genial souls and general workhorses in Gigha. They tell of Potier having run up a slate at the island postoffice. Well, what do you expect: if a man owes £30 million to Swiss banks he can hardly be expected to cough up for milk tokens, can he now? It also transpires Potier owns Glasgow's least loved and most ugly building: Tay House, the salmonpink officeblock recently built atop the fabled 'bridge to nowhere'. Again the symbolism strikes home. Tay House is, of course, lying empty - it's a recession, innit? - but the TV unearthed murky lease agreements involving a dummy company based in the Caicos Islands. Potier seems to like dealing with islands: his accountant, John Solly, operates out of wellknown taxhaven the Isle of Person - but of course denies any shady goings-on. Meanwhile, back off the Kintyre coast, local residents gather in the community hall to watch the tape of their absentee laird. Postmatch comment is brief and bitter. Not that Potier cares: cook lobsters alive in boiling water, leave the islanders to flounder in a financial Corrievreckan, it's all the same to him.
TAC hits the big time! Well, not quite, but we're invited into the audience for an access debate sponsored by Scottish Conservation Projects at the Royal Highland Show. The Show itself is something of an eyeopener: Barbour jackets, shootingsticks, roll 'n' Belted Galloway, horsejumping, the queen, nine quid to get in to see what Lamborghini made before they started playing about with sportscars. And virtually every Tory voter in Scotland all on the one site. The debate is less exciting. Landowner John Grant of Rothiemurchus, cherubic Antacid and Highland Toffee magnate Rennie McOwan, gaunt Rambler Dave Morris and Magnus Magnusson's SNH gangmember Alan Blackshaw spend an hour or so being rather too pleasant to each other. Part of the trouble lies in Grant being too reasonable a landowner: what's really needed is a 'ban them and flog them' merchant like Lord Burton. There's also a predominance of tweedy farm types in the audience, too many preplanned questions (does Sissons do this on the real Question Time? One fears so), and, almost inevitably, not enough women: none on the panel apart from the chair, Frieda Morrison, and only 5 out of 40-odd in the assembled throng. Even one of these dozes off midway through. But there are some interesting quotes, points initiated if not carried through. Morris reveals Ben Nevis is now 'owned' by a Birmingham accountant. Blackshaw suggests stalkers could teach walkers about the virtues of 'The Long Walk In'. This is laughable: your TAC editor has twice in his life been hauled up before a kangaroo court of stalkers on the hill, and on both occasions they were crammed slothfully inside a landrover. McOwan posits his now oft-heard line about making access more difficult, then more relevantly suggests understanding of how estates and farms are managed should be regarded as part of hillcraft every bit as much as navigation skills and iceaxe handling. From the floor, journalist John Ritchie points out that from the time of Malcolm II till the '45, concepts of landownership didn't exist in Scotland: estates were run on a caretaker basis, and a return to this is needed. Mary Connor from the Scottish Canoeists Association speaks of the need to educate incoming landowners, and there's general sad agreement with McOwan's comment that 'land can be bought and sold as one would a jacket'. The nearest sparks get to flying is over exactly how much walkers and their like contribute to local economies. But it's mainly just semantic manoeuvring: we leave with the impression that were everything really so polite and civilised, there would be little to worry about. The reality, of course, is hinted at in Grant's assertion that hills should be funded as a public service like, say, the NHS. He means it well, yet given the latter's present uncertain future it perhaps won't be long before forestry and waterboard privatisation allows landowners, like hospital managers, scope to 'opt out' from the public domain.