Shine On... The Kingdom of Fife
A "keynote listner" response from Alastair McIntosh to the European Social Fund sponsored WECAN! conference, The Kingdom of Fife: Our Land and Its Peoples, 9 October 1999, published in the Summary Report by WECAN!, Falkland Estate, Fife, 2000, pp. 26-28. Click here to view the website of WECAN! (Working for Environmental Community Action Now!).
In passing through the many workshops as a listener today, I brought
with me a particular interest in terms of the land and its people. My concern
was to listen for indicators of health in the widest sense of that word - health
of the land and health of its inhabitants.
It seems to me that if our activities as human beings are to be judged a
success, a good indicator of that success is the extent to which we “shine”
from within. Indeed, some of the leading lights of early Celtic mythology were
called “the shining ones” for just this reason. It furthermore seems to me
that such shining usually comes about when three things are in right
relationship - the inner environment that lives in our hearts, the social
environment that we live amongst, and the natural environment that we live
within. In other words, the human spirit needs to have a full and balanced
relationship in community with other people and with the natural world in
order to shine. That is why, today, I set about listening for indications of
what restricts human happiness in Fife, and clues as to how such blockages might
heard Robert Balfour of the Scottish
Landowners Federation say that “land is a very emotional subject”; people
form an attachment to it.
Historiographer Royal, drew attention to the way in which agriculture this
century has reflected a deteriorating relationship between the people and
their land. In the year 1900, he said, agriculture in Fife was organic,
sustainable and prosperous. Today, it is chemical, environmentally destructive
and shows a widening gulf between poor and rich farmers. There is a danger in
this, he warned, of Fife losing its culture: of becoming “the Essex of
heard Robin Harper MSP set these
issues in the context of global social and environmental forces. He concluded
that we must create a change of culture. If in doubt where to start, he
suggested, start by caring more fully for the needs of the children. Let the
little ones shine first and then watch what happens to the rest of us.
heard Andy Wightman, author of “Who
Owns Scotland” speak to the need for land reform. This aims at tackling the
dysfunctional relationship that has come about between people and place. Andy
was uncompromising, and necessarily so in my opinion. “Land reform,” he
stressed, “is about redistributing power through our society”.
heard Robert Balfour say that “a
lot of people are not interested in land reform unless it affects them
personally”. He gave the Carbeth Hutters, who are here today, as an example.
It’s probably not very well known that Mr Balfour, in his capacity as
Vice-Convener of the Scottish Landowners’ Federation, has actually been giving
the Carbeth Hutters considerable help in their negotiations with the landowner
who is trying to evict them. It remains to be seen whether that help proves
sufficient. But it is worthy of note that Scotland is a place where unexpected
alliances can push us constantly to examine our prejudices about what we each
stand for. This openness to surprise is important if we are truly to build community
and not box one another in to entrenched positions.
were all moved, I think, by the remarkable carvings produced by The GaIGaeI Trust of Govan, including their replica Hebridean
longship. This is a group that has struggled to be heard by the powerful. It
is a group which came together in the despair of unemployment and faced the
reality that life was offering very little to shine about to the likes of them.
Down most of the corridors of power that they turned they hit glass doors.
However, one which opened was that presided over by our chair today, Dr
John Markland - namely Scottish Natural Heritage.
what has happened! SNH gave this group £2000 to buy tools for a project about
the River Clyde called “The Nature of the River”. You now see folk who,
through building community between themselves and relating more richly to their
environment by the River Clyde, are fair shining and have brought a shine to the
eye of many of us.
the GalGaeI’s workshop I heard much discussion about the importance and the
difficulties of doing radical community development.
I heard a Fife
ex-miner’s wife say to our friends from Govan, “You shouldn’t be ashamed
of saying that you are radical”. Indeed, the very word, “radical” means to
be concerned with the “radix” - the roots. And look - here behind me in this
church is a banner that proclaims, “Rooted in Love”. Aye ... that is the
depth of rootedness to which our radicalism must aspire. It must be rooted in
love for our community, in love for the land, and in love even for our own need
I heard Colin MacLeod of
the GalGael say that “you can’t deal with community without dealing with the
whole nation”. He added that in embracing our democratic traditions “people
have got to see they’ve got a pedigree that goes way back”.
It is no coincidence that the word “GaIGaeI” is actually a 9th century
Scottish term that integrates the “Gall” or “stranger” and the GaeI”
or “heartland people.” It’s another way of saying we’re all Jock
Tamson’s bairns. It’s about giving expression to our Scots tradition that
offers hospitality as a sacred duty to visitors, and offers fostership as a
bond warmer than blood to the migrant who wishes to cherish and be cherished by
this place and its peoples.
Such a “Scots internationalism” is perhaps how Scotland can move
forward as a distinctive place and people in a global world. Of course, we
don’t always live up to the ideals of our nation’s highest vocation. But
that’s where we need our visionary figures. They help to keep our eyes out of
the mud. They remind us to gaze at the stars which we’ll never reach, but by
which we can at least chart a course.
Let me close, then, with a remark I heard made today by Canon
Kenyon Wright of People & Parliament: “You don’t so much think
yourself into a new way of acting,” he said, “as act yourself into a new way
By such light may this conference help us shine on.