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 Shine On... The Kingdom of Fife

Shine On...


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 be shifted.


I heard Robert Balfour of the Scottish Landowners Federation say that “land is a very emotional subject”; people form an attachment to it.


Professor Christopher Smout, the 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 Scotland”.


I 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.


I 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”.


I 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.


We 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.


Look 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.


In 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 to shine.


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 of thinking”.


By such light may this conference help us shine on.











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