Friday 30 October 2015

Of cabbages, and kings

King Alexander I: reverse of seal.
I don't know if you recall King Alexander the First. Personally I don't; he lived a long time ago. I certainly don't know what signal service Walterus Brown, a French mercenary, performed for King Alexander. He may have been his right hand man, his most trusted general; he may have been his enforcer, his personal thug; he may have been his bum boy. I don't know.

What I do know is that, by the time Alexander died, eight hundred and ninety one years ago, Walterus Broun had possession of the rich lands of Colstoun in East Lothian. I know this also: his descendants live there still, as their reward for that far-off, unremembered service. They have lived there, and grown fat on the backs of other mens' labour, for almost nine hundred years.

And over that time they've turned off a lot of tenants. They turned off a Mr Walker in 1817; a Mr Brodie in 1838; William Hay in 1872; David Smith in 1880; William Gibson in 1896; and so on. As their present tenant says, 'no one has ever left Colstoun Mains voluntarily, most have been bankrupted or very close to it.' Their present tenant is, of course, Andrew Stoddart, whom you'll all recall as a doughty campaigner for the rights of tenant farmers, and for land reform.

Andrew is to be evicted in three weeks' time, from land he's farmed and improved for twenty years, into which he's poured quarter of a million pounds of his own money, and the obvious suspicion must be that Andrew, like Brodie before him, is being forced out of his home and livelihood because he holds the wrong political opinions and has the courage to express them.

William Hay in 1872 was driven to suicide. I've corresponded with Andrew a great deal over the past few weeks, and I'm extremely anxious about his mental state.

And the question I have to ask is this: in what sense is it just, equitable, efficient or rational to allocate the management and benefits of a scarce resource, Scotland's land, on the basis of heredity? How can we build a better nation while the undeserving rich still fatten off the backs of ordinary working folk? And how are we to have open debate in the polity of Scotland if folk can be thrown out of their homes for having the wrong opinion?

King Alexander lived a long time ago, I'm not sure that any of us can remember him. How long are we going to allow him to rule over us?

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