• James MacDonald (Tatties)
Location:
Brogaig
Date:
Saturday 13th September 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/003

Simon:

Let's go back to 1884 and the time of the Land League, what was the particular experience of people in Staffin of the events at that time?

     

James:

Well, a thaobh Stafainn air an taobh sear an seo, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh ‘s dòcha gur e an rud as motha a thachair agus an rud as motha chaidh a sgrìobhadh ann an eachdraidh, ‘s e mar a chaidh dà cheud gu leth saighdear a choiseachd tro na bailtean ann a sheo. Thàinig iad à Ùige. Chuir an Sheriff Ivory bàta gu ruig Ùige leis na saighdearan tha sin, agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh den a bheachd gur e an rud a thachradh, gun gabhadh sluagh, gun gabhadh na daoine eagal ‘s gun sguireadh iad dhen anarcair agus dhen mhì-thoileachas a bha a’ dol air adhart mun fhearann aig an àm. Ach mar a tha mise ga thuigsinn agus am beagan a tha mi air leughadh ma dheidhinn, ‘s e rud a thachair nach do chuuir na daoine sùim mòr sam bith annta. Tha mi a’ cluinntinn gun do choisich an dà cheud saighdear a-nuas tron a’ bhealach agus gu ruige Stafainn, tron a’ bhaile seo ‘s a-null tro Staidhseal chun an loidse. Bha iad a’ fuireach a’s an loidse, Quiraing Lodge mar a th’ aca air an-diugh tha mi a’ smaoineachadh. ‘S ann anna shin a bha iad a’ fuireach aig an àm agus cha robh sgeul air duine. Cha deach duine a-mach air doras no cha do sheas duine a’s an rathad orra ‘s tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur e facal a leugh mi ann an aon rud gur e, gun do ghlèidh na croitearan mar a chanas iad ‘am propaganda war’. ‘S e buille mhòr a bh’ ann dhan iomairt a rinn na h-ùghdarrasan agus an Sheriff Ivory aig an àm airson smachd a chur air na croitearan. Ma bha iad a’ feuchainn ris na croitearan a phiobrachadh no toirt orra a dhol a shabaid riutha na gum biodh blàr no càil dhen t-seòrsa sin ann, cha do thachair e. Cha do ghabh daoine sùim mhòr sam bith annta. Tha cuimhne ‘am a bhith a’ leughadh gur e an aon rud a chunnaic na saighdearan gur e corra leanabh beag a’ coimhead a-mach air na dorsan ‘s daoine cìcearachd air cùl chùirtearan ‘s a’ coimhead a-mach air an uinneig ‘s rudan dhen t-seòrsa sin ‘s cha do ghabh daoine gnothaich sam bith riutha. ‘S mar sin, mas e ‘g iarraidh blàr a phiobrachadh a bha iad, cha do dh’obraich.

     
 

As regards Staffin on the east side here, the most that happened and the most that was written in history was that 250 soldiers came through these villages. They came from Uig and Sheriff Ivory had sent a boat with these soldiers as far as Uig, and I am of the opinion that they thought people would be frightened and stop their anarchy and discontent about the land at the time. But how I understand it and the little I have read about it, what happened was that the people did not show much interest in them at all. I hear that the 250 soldiers walked down through the pass to Staffin, through this village and over through Stenscholl to the lodge. They were staying in the lodge, Quiraing Lodge as it is called nowadays. That is where they were staying at the time and there was no sign of anybody. Nobody went out of doors and nobody stood in their way. I think the little I read about it said that the crofters won the ‘propaganda war’. That was a big blow for the campaign led by the authorities and Sheriff Ivory at the time, to control the crofters. If they were trying to instigate the crofters or make them go and fight them or battle with them or something like that, it didn’t happen. People didn’t take much interest at all in them. I remember reading that the only thing the soldiers saw was an occasional child looking out the door and people peeking out behind curtains and looking out the window and things like that. Nobody took anything to do with them so if they were out to instigate a battle, it didn’t work.

Simon:

What kind of significance do you think those events have for people in Staffin today?

     

James:

Chan eil mi cinnteach a bheil cus buaidh aige air. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh ann an dòigh gu bheil buaidh aige air daoine chun an latha an-diugh ann an dòigh ‘s dòcha nach eil iad fhèin a’ tuigsinn. Tha fios aca gun deach strì a dhèanamh airson an fhearainn agus ‘s dòcha nach eil iad ag ràdh riutha fhèin bho latha gu latha gu bheil cuimhne aca air an rud a thachair, ach tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil e annta ‘s gu bheil e annainn fhathast gu bheil làn fhios againn gun deach strì mhòr a dhèanamh airson an fhearainn a tha seo. Agus mus deach Achd na Croitearachd a stèidheachadh a tha a’ toirt dhuinn mar gum biodh grèim fhathast agus còir air an fhearann, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil na h-uimhir ann fhathast a tha ag aithneachadh agus na h-uimhir de na seann daoine aig am bi deagh chuimhne. Nuair a smaoinicheas tu, bhiodh athraichean mòran dhe na seann daoine a tha beò fhathast, bhiodh an athraichean agus dha-rìribh an seanairean agus sinnsearan, bhiodh cuimhne aca air an àm ud. Mo sheanair fhìn, mar a tha mi ga thuigsinn le bhith a’ coimhead air na census agus rudan dhen t-seòrsa sin, bhiodh mo sheanair fhìn na leanabh òg aig an àm a chaidh na saighdearan a’ caismeachd tron a’ bhaile far an robh e a’ fuireach agus chan eil sin cho uabhasach fad às nuair a choimheadas tu air eachdraidh. Chan eil ann ach trì linntean nuair a choimheadas tu air eachdraidh ‘s chan eil sin cho uabhasach fad às. Mar sin tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil, mura h-eil ‘s dòcha daoine le aithne aca air, tha tuigse air choreigin aca air an t-strì a chaidh a dhèanamh airson an fhearann a tha seo a ghleidhead.

     
 

I don’ t think it had too much impact, I think in a way it has had an impact on the people of today in a way that they perhaps don’t recognise. They know that there was a struggle for the land and maybe they are not saying to themselves from day to day that they remember what happened. But I think it is still in us, that we know full well that there was a huge struggle for this land before the Crofters Act was passed. It gives us possession and a right to the land. I think there are still some people who still recognise that and some of the old people who will well remember, when you think that the fathers of many of the old people who are still living, their fathers and indeed their grandfathers and great-grandfathers would remember that time. My own grandfather, as I understand it from looking at the census and suchlike, my own grandfather was a young child when the soldiers marched through the village where he was staying. That is not so far back when you think about it. That is only three generations when you look at history and that is not so far back. Therefore, I think that even if people don’t know about it they have an understanding of how this land was retained.

Simon:

The development of crofting seems to have gone from very difficult circumstances in which people took a stand for themselves and what was theirs, and to a period of relative ... a period in which it worked, it was a good life, and it seems over the last twenty years, thirty years, that it is declining in different ways. What do you feel are the different factors contributing to that?

     

James:

Well, ‘s e cùisean eaconomaigeach a tha air cùlaibh sin, chan eil teagamh mu dhaidhinn sin. Ma tha thu a’ dol air ais, can fiù ‘s trì fichead bliadhna, ceithir fichead bliadhna, ceud bliadhna, cha robh beòshlaint sam bith eile aig daoine a bha a’ fuireach san àite tha seo ach a bhith ag obair an talamh, agus a bharrachd air abhith a’ dol gu muir, cha robh gnìomhachas eile mar gum biodh ann san deigheadh iad an sàs. Cha robh na rudan a th’ againn an-diugh coltach ri turasachd no obraichean eile sam bith ann, agus cha b’ urrainn dhaibh a bhith siubhal mar a tha sinne an-diugh gu àite eile airson obair. Cha b’ urrainn dhaibh a bhith air ais ‘air adhart mar gum biodh. ‘S mar sin, cha robh roghainn aca. Dh’fheumadh iad a bhith ag obrachadh na talmhainn, agus nuair a chì thu seann dhealbhannan timcheall an seo, bhon a’ bhaile seo fhèin fiù ‘s, bha a h-uile mar gum biodh oisean mu dheireadh den a h-uile pìos talamh air obrachadh. Bha cocannan ann ‘s bha iad a’ dèanamh feur ann ‘s bhiodh iad a’ dèanamh, a’ cur arbhar ann ‘s bha iad a’ buain. Cha robh pìos talamh idir air fhàgail gun feum air choreigin a dhèanamh dheth. Ma bheir thu sùil air an sin an-diugh, chì thu mar a tha pìosan nach gabh tractar mòr a dhol ann no uidheamachd mhòr a dhol ann, tha e air a sheachnadh agus tha luachair is rud a’ fàs ann. ’S mar sin, dh’fheumadh iad mar gum biodh, a h-uile criomag dhen talamh obrachadh air neo cha bhiodh iad beò. Cha robh roghainn aca. Ach dh’atharraich sin can suas ‘s dòcha o chionn dà fhichead bliadhna. Thòisich daoine air faighinn a-steach do dh’obair eile coltach ri turasachd, ‘s bhiodh feadhainn a’ falbh do foghlam mar a beairtiche a bha na teaghlaichean a’ fàs.

     
 

Agus bhiodh iad a’ cur clann air falbh gu foghlam. Bha beagan a bharrachd saidhbhreas is beairteas aca ‘s bha clann a’ dol dhan àrd-sgoil ann am Port Rìgh ‘s bhiodh iad an uair sin a’ dol air adhart gu foghlam, ‘s bha feadhainn dhiubh sin a’ tilleadh agus mean air mean bha cùisean ag atharrachadh. Bha daoine air chomas obraichean eile fhaighinn. Bhiodh iad ag obair aig obair eile a bharrachd air croitearachd ‘s tha mi a’ creidsinn aig an àm bha prìsean matha air stoc, ‘s bha rud ann ris an canadh iad an ‘cropping grant’. Bha daoine a’ faighinn airgead airson a bhith a’ cur bàrr, arbhar is feur agus rudan dhen t-seòrsa sin. Tha mi a’ creidsinn aig aon àm sna leth-cheudan agus na trì ficheadan, gur e rud a bh’ ann an croitearachd a bha a’ toirt airgead a-staigh aig an àm. Agus bha rud ann aig an àm ris an canadh iad an ‘cropping grant’ agus bha daoine a’ faighinn tha mi a’ smaoineachadh ‘s dòcha prìs mhath air an stoc. B’ fhiach dhaibh a bhith a’ cumail stoc is caoraich is crodh agus bha iad a’ faighinn airgid airson a bhith a’ cur bàrr, arbhar is feur. Agus bharrachd air an obair a bhiodh aca taobh a-muigh na croitearachd, b’ fhiach dhaibh a bhith ris agus ‘s dòcha gur e sin na h-amannan a b’ fheàrr tha mi a’ creidsinn airson croitearachd. Bha an dà dhòigh beatha ann. Bha obair latha eile ann agus bha daoine an uair sin ag obair air a’ chroit ‘s bha beagan de dh’atharrachadh ann. Ach o chionn ghoirid ann an seo, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur e an rud a tha air tachairt gu bheil daoine air mothachadh gu bheil croitearachd air fàs doirbh. Chan eil prìs ann. Mar eisimpleir, chan eil a’ phrìs a tha daoine a’ faighinn air uain san latha an-diugh, chan eil e dad nas fheàrr na bha e o chionn deich bliadhna fichead, agus ma tha càil idir ‘s ann a tha e nas miosa. Tha laoigh air an aon dòigh, agus tha feadhainn fhathast a tha ris agus tha e a’ sìor fhàs doirbh. Agus canaidh cuid gur e ‘s dòcha an fheadhainn as urrainn a bhith ris, gur e an fheadhainn aig a bheil an t-airgead airson a bhith ris gur iad a tha ris agus gu bheil feadhainn eile ag ràdh riutha fhèin, uill, chan fhiach e a bhith ris agus tha sinne dìreach a’ dol a sgur dheth. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh sa cheàrnaidh a tha seo gu bheil barrachd dhen òigridh fhathast an sàs ann an croitearachd na ann an sgìrean eile.

     
 

Well, it is economic matters that are behind that without a doubt. If you are going back even sixty years, eighty years, one hundred years, nobody who lived in this place had any other livelihood but working the land, and apart from going to sea there was no other industry in which a person could be employed. There were not other industries like tourism and other jobs like there is today and they were not able to travel to places to work the way we do nowadays. They were not able to travel back and fore as it were, and so they had no choice, they had to work the land. And when you see old photographs around here, even from this village, every last bit of every last corner of land was being worked. There are haystacks and they would be making hay and they’d be planting corn and harvesting. There was not a piece of land left that was not used. If you look at that today, you will see pieces of land that will not take a tractor or big pieces of machinery, it has been left untilled with rushes growing there. Thus, they had to work every little bit of the land or they would not survive. They had no choice. But that changed maybe about forty years ago. People started getting work in other industries such as tourism, and people were leaving to go through education.

 

And they used to send the children away for their education, they had a little more wealth then and the children were going away to the secondary school in Portree and then they were going on to further education, and some of them returned and bit by bit things were changing. People were able to get other jobs, they would have another job besides crofting. I suppose at the time the prices of livestock were good, and there was a thing called the ‘cropping grant’. People were getting money for planting crops, corn and hay. I suppose at that time in the 50s and 60s crofting was something which brought in money at the time. And there was a thing at the time which was known as the ‘cropping grant’ and people were maybe getting a good price for the animals. It was worth their while keeping livestock, cattle and sheep, and they were getting money for planting crops, corn and hay. Apart from the job they had outwith crofting, it was worth their while to keep at the crofting. Perhaps these were the best times for crofting, they had both livelihoods. There was another day job and then people worked the croft and things were changing a little. But recently, I think what has happened is that people have noticed that crofting has become difficult. The prices are not, for example the prices people get for lambs nowadays is no better than they were thirty years ago. If anything, the situation is worse. Calves are the same, there are people who still stick at it but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. People might say that it is those who are able to pursue crofting, those that have the money to do it, are the ones who do. And others might be saying that it is not worth pursuing and they are going to stop. But I think in this area more of the young people are still involved with crofting more than in other areas.

Simon:

One of the things that seems to have been an important factor in the wellbeing of the crofting community, how it worked in the past, is its quite strong communal nature and that's one thing that seems to be in decline, partly due to the impact ... The kind of nature of the economy and types of work people have to go for.

     

James:

Chan eil teagamh nach e rud sòisealta a bh’ ann. Bhiodh teaghlaichean is daoine anns na bailtean a’ tighinn còmhla. Nuair a bhiodh cruinneachadh ann airson faing, trusadh airson faing, bha muinntir a’ bhaile uile a’ dol a-mach ‘s bha iad a’ tighinn còmhla. Bha daoine a’ dèanamh rudan còmhla agus bha iad ag obair fad an latha còmhla. Bha daoine a’ dèanamh rudan còmhla agus tha sin air atharrachadh. Tha daoine ‘s dòcha nach eil iad cho càirdeil ‘s a bha iad ‘s tha diofar cosnadh aca tron latha agus chan eil iad a’ faicinn uimhir dhe chèile. Rud eile a tha a’ tachairt, tha coigrich a’ tighinn a-staigh. Tha an eaconamaidh a-rithist a’ ciallachadh gu bheil, nach eil taighean aca dhaibh, nach tèid aig daoine òga air taighean a cheannach ‘s nuair a thig taighean air a’ mhargaidh, chan urrainn do mhuinntir an àite a bhith a’ farpais mar gum biodh ri daoine beairteach à deas agus tha na taighean a’ dol a-mach gu coigrich agus mean air mhean tha a’ choimhearsnachd ag atharrachadh. Chan eil teagamh mòr sam bith air an sin. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil an taobh sòisealta dheth fhathast, gu bheil e ann ach nach eil e cho làidir ‘s a bha e. Chan eil teagamh sam bith. Nuair a thèid thu gu faing san latha an-diugh sa bhaile sa bheil mi fhìn, ‘s dòcha gum bi triùir, ceathrar air a’ char as motha aig faing. Tha cuimhn’ ‘am a bhith a’ faicinn dealbh dhen fhaing a tha sin, bho chionn tha mi a’ creidsinn o chionn trì fichead bliadhna, agus bha deich duine fichead ann co-dhiù chanainn, agus tha sin air atharrachadh gu mòr. Chan eil, chan e rud cho mòr sòisealta a th’ ann ‘s a bh’ ann aig aon àm.

     
 

Well, there is no doubt that it was a social thing. Families and people from the villages would come together when there was a gathering for a fank. All the people from the village would go out and they would gather together and then were working together all day, people did things together. But that has changed, perhaps people are not as friendly as they were. They have a different employment during the day and they don’t see as much of each other. Another thing that is happening is that strangers are coming in and the economy means that there are no houses, young people are not able to buy houses and when a house goes on the market the people of the place are not able to compete with rich people from the south, and the houses go to strangers, Little by little the community is changing, there is no doubt about that. I think the social side of it is still there but it is not as strong as it was. When you go to a fank nowadays in my own village there might only be three or four people there at the most. I remember seeing a photo of that fank perhaps sixty years ago and there were thirty people there anyway, I’d say. That has changed a lot, it is not such a big social occasion as it was at one time.

Simon:

When something like that dies away, do you think it's possible to renew it or do people have to find other ways to kind of make up for what that contributed to society?

     

James:

Tha eagal orm, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nach gabh e a thoirt air ais chun na h-ìre aig an robh e a thaobh daoine a bhith an sàs ann. ‘S e a-rithist, ‘s e cuirm coimearsalta a th’ ann, rud eaconomaigeach. Ma tha duine airson prothaid a dhèanamh, ‘s e an rud mu dheireadh a dhèanadh e a dhol an sàs ann an croitearachd. Chan eil ann ach rud mar gum biodh, ‘s e rud a bhios mise a’ canail nuair a bhios duine a’ faighneachd dhìom ‘s e expensive hobby an rud a chanas mise ris. ‘S e fìor chorra dhuine tha mi a’ smaoineachadh leis an fhìrinn, a chanadh riut gu bheil iad a’ dèanamh mòran airgid às, ach tha rudeiginich ann mu dheidhinn far a bheil thu a’ fuireach ris ‘s tha thu fhathast an crochadh ris agus tha thu ga dhèanamh, ged a tha e a’ cosg airgid dhut tha rudeiginich ann a tha ag ràdh riut, uill tha mi a’ dol a chumail a’ dol leis an seo. Ach tha mi a’ smaoineachadh mar a tha ùine a’ sìor dhol air adhart gur e nas lugha ‘s nas lugha a tha ris. Tha sinn a’ faicinn sin a’ tachairt, tha seann daoine a’ falbh agus chan eil daoine a’ tighinn nan àite agus chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh, bheireadh e leasachadh uabhasach mòr air choreigin tha mi a’ smaoineachadh airson rudan a chur ceart oir tha sinn a’ cluinntinn diofar bhuidhnean, Aonadh nan Croitearan, Bunait na Croitearachd ‘s a h-uile seòrsa buidheann a’ feuchainn ri leasachadh a thoirt air an seo, ach tha e uabhasach doirbh leasachadh a thoirt air anns an t-suidheachadh eaconomaigeach a th’ ann. Nuair a thig mar eisimpleir croit air a’ mhargaidh, croit ga reic no taigh ga reic, chan urrainn daoine san sgìre a tha seo farpais ri daoine beairteach à deas no à sgìre air choreigin eile agus tha e cho sìmplidh ri sin. Mura h-atharraich na rudan a tha sin tha eagal ormsa gu bheil sinn a’ dol a dh’fhaicinn rudan a’ dol mar a tha iad agus croitearachd a’ sìor bhàsachadh às.

     
 

I’m afraid, I really don’t think it can be brought back at the level it was at as regards people involvement. It is a commercial event, an economic thing. If anyone wants to make a profit, the last thing they would do is become involved with crofting. It is an ‘expensive hobby’ as I say to people. It is a very occasional person, I think, who could tell you truthfully that they are making money out of it. But there is something about it, where you stay and you are still depending on it, and you are doing it although you are spending money on it, there is something that tells you to keep going with it. But I think as time moves on it is fewer and fewer who are involved in it, we are seeing that happening. Old people are dying off and there is no one to replace them. I think it would take some sort of huge development to set things right. We hear of different organisations, Crofters Union, Crofters Foundation and every other sort of organisation who are trying to make a change, but it is very difficult to bring about improvement in the current economic climate, when for example, a croft goes on the market or a croft or house is being sold, people in this area cannot compete with rich people from the south or from any other place. It is as simple as that. If these things don’t change, I’m afraid that we are going to see things continuing as they are and crofting increasingly dying off.

Simon:

In many ways crofting represents a model of farming that's farming as it should be and also is the best ... or the good example of how models of farming should evolve. How ...? From the point of view of the actual practical day to day croft, how do you feel about the feasibility of that and if it's the way to follow?

     

James:

Uill, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil sin ceart. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nuair a choimheadas tu tro na bliadhnaichean cho comasach ‘s a tha croitearachd air atharrachadh agus dèiligeadh leis na diofar riaghailtean ‘s na diofar chùmhnantan ‘s na diofar shuidheachaidhean a tha ga chur ma choinneamh. Tha sinn air ar riaghladh ‘s air ar cuingealachadh gu mòr le rudan a tha a’ tighinn bhon Riaghaltas agus bho Roinn an Àiteachais. Bidh iad ag ràdh rinn, feumaidh sibh siud a dhèanamh agus feumaidh sibh seo a dhèanamh agus chan eil duine air cunntais a chur air an àireamh de na tha de dhiofar riaghailtean ‘s de dhiofar rudan air tachairt a thaobh na dh’fhaodas tu a dhèanamh a thaobh croitearachd thar nam bliadhnaichean. Ach a dh’aindeoin sin, tha croitean air chomas atharrachadh agus obrachadh an taobh a-staigh sin. Agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil fiù ‘s an luchd-gleidhteachais a tha sin agus na h-ùghdarrais ‘s an Riaghaltas, tha iad air mothachadh agus air mar gum biodh, tha iad a’ tuigsinn a-niste gur e dòigh obrach a th’ ann an croitearachd a tha math dhan an àrainneachd agus nach eil e a’ dèanamh cron air àrainneachd. Tha iad tha mi a’ smaoineachadh, chaidh an dòigh obrach a dhealbh thar ceudan bhliadhnaichean, chan e rud a th’ ann a thachair ann am beagan bhliadhnaichean ach rud a bha a’ dol thar ceudan bhliadhnaichean, agus sin na cleachdaidhean a th’ ann fhathast gu ìre mhòr agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad a’ mothachadh a-nist nach eil croitearachd na dhòigh fhèin a’ dèanamh cron air an àrainneachd, gu bheil e math dhan àrainneachd seach can gnìomhachas mòr, tuathanas mòr sa bheil ceithir mìle acair ‘s far a bheil iad a’ cleachdadh todhar Gallta mar gum biodh, fertilisers agus stuthan ceimigeach airson a bhith a’ cumail smachd air an fhearann ‘s rudan dhen t-seòrsa sin. Chan eil croitearachd mar sin idir agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad a’ tuigsinn a-niste nach e droch rud a th’ ann an croitearachd dhan àrainneachd ‘s gu bheil croitearachd dha-rìribh math dhan àrainneachd ‘s gu bheil e mar gum biodh a’ cumail rian air an àite sa bheil sinn beò ‘s a’ fuireach.

     
 

I think that is quite correct. I think when you look back over the years, how crofting has had the ability to change and deal with the different rules and regulations and contracts and the different situations presented to it. We are governed and limited to a great extent by rules that come from the government and the Agricultural Department. They tell us that we must do this and we must do that and nobody could count the number of regulations and things happening over the years regarding what you can do with crofting. In spite of that, crofts are able to operate and change within these confines. I think that these preservation people within the authorities have noticed and understand now that crofting is a way of life which is good for the environment, and that it does not spoil the environment. That way of life was designed hundreds of years ago, it is not something that happened over a few years, it has been going on for hundreds of years, and these were the methods then and are still here to a great degree. And I think that they are noticing now that crofting as it is, is not spoiling the environment, that it is good for the environment rather than a big industry with 4000 acres, where they use fertilisers and chemicals to maintain control of the land, and things like that. Crofting is not like that, and I think that they understand now that crofting is not a bad thing for the environment and that crofting keeps control of the place where we live.

Simon:

Going back a bit, we were talking before about the time of the Land League and you felt that ... Even if people don't directly identify with the Land League as such or the issues as they were placed at that time, in terms of spirit, people still have that ... A counter side to that is that if you look at the government reports and the reports from other people, the Gaelic speaking people in Glasgow, they were seen as a kind of migrant workforce and treated as a kind of ... well, the way, for example, migrant workers today are treated. Do you think there's a ... First, do you think there's a comparison? Is that valid comparison, of what they experience in the nineteenth century was and do you feel there's any kind of remains of that in terms of how the Gaelic community in a wider sense see their place in Scotland or perceive their position?

     

James:

Uill, ‘s e mo bheachd air an sin gu bheil a’ Ghàidhealtachd ‘s na h-Eileanan air an t-uabhas dhe na daoine as fheàrr a chall. Tha siostam an fhoghlaim againn a’ ciallachadh agus dìreach an t-àite sa bheil sinn a’ fuireach, a’ ciallachadh gu bheil tòrr dhen fheadhainn as fheàrr, aig an robh an eanchainn as fheàrr agus aig an robh na comasan as fheàrr, gun robh iad a’ faighinn an oideachadh ‘s am foghlam ‘s gun robh iad a’ falbh ‘s a’ dol dhan cholaiste no an oilthigh agus leis an fhìrinn cha robh cosnadh ann dham b’ urrainn dhaibh tilleadh san àite san d’ rugadh ‘s a thogadh iad. Cha robh gnìomhachas ann, cha robh saidheans ann, cha robh agus dh’fhuirich na daoine sin air falbh agus gu ìre mhòr chaill na Gàidheil ‘s chaill a’ Ghàidhealtachd ‘s na h-Eileanan, chaill iad an t-uabhas dhen bheairteas a bha sin agus tha sgìrean eile a’ faicinn a’ bhuannachd a tha sin air feadh an t-saoghail an-diugh. Nuair a thèid thu do cheàrnaidh sam bith dhen an t-saoghal agus nuair a chì thu adhartas sam bith a chaidh a dhèanamh no leasachadh sam bith a chaidh a dhèanamh, ‘s e Gàidheal air choreigin a bh’ air a chùlaibh. Ach chan eil sin a’ dèanamh dìmeas sam bith air an fheadhainn a dh’fhuirich agus a tha an seo fhathast oir tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gun robh mòran den spiorad a bh’ anns na daoine a sheas agus a rinn strì airson an fhearainn aig an àm, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur e sin a dh’fhàg an fheadhainn a tha fhathast an sàs ann, ‘s e gu bheil mar gum biodh an spiorad agus an neart a tha sin anns na daoine a tha sin fhathast.

     
 

My opinion of that is that the Highlands and Islands have lost the majority of their best people. The education system and also just the place where we live means that a lot of the best people, of those with the best brains, with the greatest abilities, were educated and received their education and then went away to college or university, and to tell the truth there is no employment for them in the place where they were born and brought up. There was no industry, no science, and these people stayed away and to a great extent, the Gaels and the Highlands and Islands lost a lot of that richness and other countries are reaping the benefit of that now all over the world. When you go to any part of the world nowadays, and you see any progress or improvement that has been done, you can be sure that some Gael or other was behind it. That is not demeaning the people who stayed and are still here in any way. I think that a lot of the spirit of the people who stood and struggled for the land at the time, I think that is what leaves some people still involved in it, as though that spirit and strength is still in these people.

Simon:

Following from that is this idea of Gaelic people and crofting as an indigenous culture that should be respected as such, and there are people who very much see their place in crofting, like Alan Macrae in Assynt ... people like Iain Mackinnon who look to what the Sami people have done in Norway, the idea of a Sami Parliament and greater political autonomy. Two questions for that. First, broadly do you feel that people in the Gaelic and crofting communities share ...? Is this a widely shared view or is it seen as a kind of minority view within the Gaelic community? And then secondly, what do you feel about these kind of proposals, perhaps in comparison to the changes that are in the air at the moment?

     

James:

Uill, tha dà bheachd agam air an sin. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nan robh thu air a’ chiad cheist a tha sin a chur orm aig aois far am biodh tuigse agam bho chionn leth-cheud bliadhna, chanainn gun robh gu leòr Ghàidheil fhathast agus a’ Ghàidhlig làidir gu leòr aig an àm agus dòigh croitearachd làidir gu leòr aig an àm airson a dhol chun na h-ìre far am b’ urrainn dhaibh a bhith mar gum biodh gan riaghladh fhèin. Ach tha an t-uabhas atharrachaidh air tighinn anns na sgìrean sa bheil sinn beò anns an àm a tha sin, agus tha measgachadh mòr de dhaoine a’ fuireach anns na coimhearsnachdan sa bheil sinn a-nist, ‘s tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil sin air atharrachadh chun na h-ìre ‘s nach gabhadh an rud a tha thu ag ràdh an sin a thaobh mar gum biodh fèin-riaghladh no smachd a bhith againn air ar cùisean fhèin coltach ris an Sami air an do bhruidhinn thu, chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh gun gabhadh sin dèanamh a-niste. Ach tha mi a’ smaoineachadh air dhòigh air choreigin gu bheil na Gàidheil fhathast, tha facal làidir aca ‘s tha ar ùghdarras ionadail fhìn againn, tha Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd againn an seo air tìr-mòr ‘s tha Comhairle nan Eilean Siar againn ‘s tha Comhairlean Arcaibh is Shealtainn againn còmhla cuideachd, ‘s tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil fiù ‘s taobh a-staigh an Riaghaltais fhèin gu bheil mar gum biodh iad sin a’ seasamh leotha fhèin. Tha e mar gum biodh an aithne fhèin aca agus chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh a bharrachd air an sin a thaobh riochdachadh poilitigeach aig an ìre sin no fiù ‘s aig ìre croitearachd gu bheil mòran a bharrachd a ghabhas dèanamh. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil feadhainn ann a tha uabhasach dìcheallach agus a’ strì ‘s a’ dèanamh nas urrainn dhaibh a dhèanamh agus nach gabhadh mòran an còrr a dhèanamh. Canaidh duine sam bith, dh’fhaodadh seo a bhith nas fheàrr no chan eil siud cho math agus a bu chòir dha a bhith, ach tha mi a’ smaoineachadh anns an t-saoghal sa bheil sinn beò gu bheil sin, ged tha trioblaidean ann ‘s ged tha duilgheadas ann ‘s ged nach eil rudan mar bu chòir dhaibh a bhith ‘s ged a tha leithid riaghailtean Eòrpach gan sparradh òirnn ‘s duigheadas ann ‘s croitearachd, ‘s e saoghal doirbh a th’ ann. Ach air an làimh eile, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil a thaobh riochdachadh aig ìre poilitgeach tha daoine dìcheallach ann ‘s tha iad a’ dèanamh nas urrainn dhaibh, ‘s chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh gum b’ urrainn dhut a thoirt gu mòran a bharrachd air an sin. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil daoine dìcheallach, tha daoine a’ dèanamh nas urrainn dhaibh, tha riochdairean poilitigeach againn, tha deamocrasaidh againn, faodaidh sinn na daoine a tha gar riochdachadh fhìn a’ riochdachadh na sgìre seo, ‘s tha fhios ‘am dithis a tha a’ riochdachadh nan Eileanan an Iar, gu bheil iad a’ dèanamh an dìcheall ‘s gu bheil tuigse aca dha na rudan a tha a dhìth air croitearachd agus an saoghal sa bheil sinn beò. Ach a bharrachd air an sin, chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bhheil mòran a bharrachd ann a ghabhas dèanamh.

     
 

I have two trains of thought on that. I think if you had asked me that first question at an age of understanding fifty years ago, I would have said that there are still a lot of Gaels in the place and Gaelic strong at the time and crofting methods strong enough at the time for arriving at a level they could be at, as it were governing themselves. But a lot of change has taken place over time in the areas where we live. There is a huge mix of people living in our communities now and I think that has changed to the point where what you are talking about i.e. self-government as it were, or control of our own matters like the Sami which you spoke about, I don’t think that could be done now. I think that the Gaels in some way or other still have a strong voice, we have a local authority, we have Highland Council on the mainland, we have Western Isles Council and we have Orkney and Shetland Council. I think within the government itself, they stand by themselves with their own identity. I don’t think as regards political representation at that level or even at crofting level, that there is a lot that can be done. I think that there are those who are very hard-working and striving to do the best they can to the point where not a lot more can be done. Anybody can say that this could be better or that is not as good as it could be, but I think in the world we live in although there are trials and tribulations and although things are not as they ought to be, although we get European rules thrown at us, there is difficulty with crofting, it is a difficult world. But on the other hand I think with regard to a level of political representation, there are hard-working people doing as much as they can, and I don’t think you can do more than that. I think that people are hard-working and doing as much as they can. We have political representatives, we have a democracy. Our political representatives – there is one representing this area, and two representing the Western Isles – they are doing their best and they have an understanding of what is required in crofting and the world in which we live. Apart from that, I don’t think there is much more that can be done.

Simon:

One dimension of the transformation that happened in Gaelic culture in the nineteenth century was also a different kind of sense of that relationship to the land, in terms of notions of property. I think with Gaelic they're not tending to say: “This is mine,” but rather: “This is with me.” And then within Gaelic law the notion of land is more something you are responsible for.

     

James:

For a short time, yes.

     

Simon:

Rather than a property that is there to be treated as an asset.

     

James:

That's right, yes.

     

Simon:

So in some ways what happened was a kind of ... So what in a way you had was ... both in a language at a cultural level but also a legal level in terms of ... Because Scots laws derive from Anglo Saxon and Roman models. There was a kind of ...

     

James:

There's this ... What do they call it? The Kinsman Bond, yes.

Simon:

So there's a kind of clash in transformation created through that. Do you feel that that is part of ... or that there's elements of that that affect the understanding of crofting today in many ways? Was that significant, firstly for ... if we go back to the 1880s and how crofters saw their own situation, the Gaelic people saw their own situation in terms of what was happening and secondly, again, is this something which has any significance for people today? Even if it's at quite a removed level? It's kind of tied to what we were talking about earlier.

     

James:

Tha e doirbh tuigse a bhith agamsa air cò ris a bha e coltach aig deireadh na naoidheamh linn deug nuair a bha an èiginn a bh’ ann a thug air daoine a dhol chun na h-ìre far an robh iad a’ strì airson an fhearainn san dòigh anns an robh iad ach tuigidh mi carson. Agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh ann an dòigh ged nach eil e buileach uimhir a dh’èiginn ann, gu bheil rud caran dhen an aon t-seòrsa a ‘ tachairt san latha a th’ againn an-diugh. Tha daoine a’ faicinn gu bheil feadhainn eile a-mach brath a ghabhail air an fhearann ann an dòigh, tha iad a’ coimhead air an fhearann mar rud coimearsalta, tha iad a’ reic fearainn ‘s tha iad a’ faighinn cuibhteas pìosan fearainn an siud ‘s an seo ‘s tha iad a’ faighinn sùim mhòr airgid air. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil daoine a’ gabhail dragh gur e an rud a thachras gun tèid am fearann, gun tèid dìmeas a dhèanamh air an fhearann ‘s gun tèid a chosg ‘s nach bi dad air fhàgail dheth. Agus chan eil mise ag ràdh nach bu chòir do dhuine a bhith a’ feuchainn nas urrainn dhaibh a dhèanamh dhen fhearann anns an dòigh a tha sin, ach air an làimh eile bho mo thaobh fhìn dheth gu pearsanta, chan eil mi a’ smaoineachadh gum bu chòir daoine a bhith a’ reic caoibean mòra fearainn idir airson beagan prothaid a dhèanamh. ‘S e seo an rud air an d’ rinn ar sinnsearan agus ar seann-sinnsearan strì airson an fhearainn a tha seo, airson gum biodh beòshlaint aca air. Agus ged nach urrainn dha beòshlaint a chumail rinne san latha a th’ ann an-diugh, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil dleastanas air choreigin òirnn feuchainn ri sealltainn às dèidh an fhearainn agus nach e idir, nach e mar gum biodh rud coimearsalta a th’ ann a ghabhas reic agus airgead mòr a dhèanamh air anns an ùine ghoirid.

     
 

It is difficult for me to know what it was like at the end of the nineteenth century, when the difficulties that took place made the people go to the length they did of fighting for the land. But I understand why. I think in a way, although the situation is not quite so difficult, that something of the same is happening nowadays. People see that it is worth taking advantage of the land. They look on the land as a commercial thing. They sell land, they get rid of pieces of land and get a large sum of money for them. I think people are worried that the land will be demeaned, mishandled and spent and none of it will be left. And I’m not saying that everybody shouldn’t be trying to get whatever they can out of the land in that way. On the other hand from my own personal point of view, I don’t think people should be selling large pieces of land to make a little profit. Our ancestors strove for this land so that they would get a livelihood out of it. But although it cannot give us a livelihood nowadays, I think we have a duty to look after the land. It is not at all a commercial thing that can be sold and a lot of money made out of it in a short time.

Simon:

You could relate that distinction to the distinction about communal work and how the model of economy is affected.

     

James:

Uill ‘s urrainn. Ann an dòigh tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil thu air d’ fhàgail leis am pìos fearann a th’ agad, a chaidh fhàgail agad airson sealltainn às a dhèidh. Tha sinn a’ pàigheadh màl air, chan ann leinne a tha e mar sin idir nuair a smaoinicheas tu air san dòigh sin. Buinidh e dhan Riaghaltas fhathast, ach tha sinne a’ pàigheadh màl beag air choreigin air agus tha e mar gum biodh air fhàgail agad airson sealltainn ris nuair a tha an cothrom agad. Agus tha e mar gum biodh taigh agad air màl, ‘s ann leat a tha e ‘s tha thu a’ sealltainn ris airson a chumail dìonach agus sealltainn ris gus am bi thu seasgair cofhurtail leis. Ach tha fearann air an aon dòigh tha mi a’ smaoineachadh. Tha e air fhàgail agad airson ùine ghoirid, chan ann leat fhèin a tha e, thig cuideiginich às do dhèidh ge ‘r bith gu dè a nì iadsan leis. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil feadhainn fhathast ag aithneachadh gur e sin an dòigh sam bu chòir dhaibh a bhith a’ sealltainn ris an fhearann.

     
 

Well yes. I think in a way that you are left with a piece of land which was left to you to look after. We pay rent for it. It is not ours at all when you think of it that way. It still belongs to the government and we pay some small rent or other for it. It is as though it is left to you to look after when you have the opportunity. It is as though you have a house on rent. It is yours but you have to look after it to keep it watertight and you look after it to make it safe and comfortable. Land is the same I think, it is left to you for a short period. It is not yours, someone will claim it after you whatever they do with it. And I think that some people still recognise that that is the way the land should be seen.

Simon:

And then, following this kind of line about, the idea of crofting being a more ecologically viable model for crofting. One of the things you'll hear from crofters is one of the current bureaucratic ways of handling the current environment issues is partly counterproductive.

     

James:

Yes, doesn't have an understanding of what's actually needed. It seems to be fighting against ... You're struggling to actually convince people that this is what we want, this would help us: “Why don't you use this money in this way and we could help you, you could help us?” Is that what you mean, yes?

     

Simon:

Yes.

     

James:

Chan eil teagamh nach eil fìrinn an sin. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil feadhainn a tha a’ dealbh riaghailtean ris a bheil sinn a’ strì bho sheachdain gu seachdain. Tha fhios ‘am a h-uile latha a thig mi dhachaigh tha bileag mhòr gheal air mo bheulaibh le riaghailtean ùra air choreigin no rud air choreigin ùr a dh’fheumas tu a dhèanamh. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nam biodh tuigse na b’ fheàrr aig na daoine a tha a’ suidhe air cùl deasg ann an Dùn Èideann no ann an Lunnainn no sa Bhruiseal no ge ‘r bith càite a bheil iad, air cò ris a tha e coltach a bhith an seo agus an dòigh sa bheil iad a’ cosg an cuid airgid, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nam biodh tuigse na b’ fheàrr aca gum b’ urrainn dhaibh a bhith ag obrachadh na bu dhlùithe air a chèile agus na b’ fheàrr, agus gun gabhadh an t-airgead a tha sin cosg ann an dòigh a bhiodh gu feum dhuinne agus gu feum dhaibhsan. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nach eil mar gum biodh tuigse ann dha na sgìrean beaga a tha seo idir. Bhruidhinn thu fhèin air an Sami na bu tràithe ‘s mar a tha iadsan mar gum biodh air cùisean a chur air dòigh, ach chan eil tuigse idir ann. Chan e na h-aon riaghailtean a tha a’ beantainn òirnne ‘s a tha air tuathanach mòr a-muigh anns an Eilean Dubh air taobh sear na h-Alba no meadhan na h-Alba no an ceann a deas Shasainn. Tha diofar riaghailtean a dhìth an seo, agus ‘s e an rud a tha a’ tachairt gu bheil na h-aon riaghailtean a’ tighinn a-mach às a’ Bhruiseal agus chan eil iad idir freagarrach airson an rud a tha a’ tachairt an seo. Nis, le beagan tuigse tha mise a’ smaoineachadh gun gabhadh an t-airgead a th’ ann agus an structar a th’ ann a chur air dhòigh ‘s gum biodh fad a bharrachd airgid ‘s fad a bharrachd taic ann, taic airgid airson leasachadh is eile dha na sgìrean a tha seo, ach mar a thuirt mi na bu thràithe tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad a’ tuigsinn a-nist gu bheil na dòighean sa bheil sinn ag obrachadh an seo, gu bheil iad a rèir ‘s an rud a tha iad fhèin ag iarraidh, agus tha mi an dòchas gum faic sinn beagan de dh’atharrachadh a’ tighinn air an sin fhathast.

     
 

Well I think that is true without a doubt. I think that those are the people who design our regulations that we have to cope with from week to week. I know that every day I come home there is a big white envelope in front of me with some new regulations or something new that you have to do. I think if the people who sit behind a desk in Edinburgh or London or Brussels or wherever they are had a better understanding of what it is like to live here, and the way in which they spend their money, I think if they had a better understanding that we could work better and closer together, and that money could be spent in a way which would be more beneficial to us and to themselves. I think that there is no understanding of small places like this, as it were. You spoke yourself earlier about the Sami and how they have organised matters but there is no understanding. The same rules do not apply to us as do to a big farm in the Black Isle in the east of Scotland or in the middle of Scotland or in the south of England. Different rules need to be applied here and what is happening here is that the one set of rules comes out of Brussels and they are not at all suitable for what is happening here. Now, with a little bit of understanding the money that is there and the structure could be organised in such a way that a lot more money and a lot more support would be available for development and suchlike in this area. But as I said earlier, I think that they now understand that the ways in which we work here, that they are in line with what they themselves want. So I hope that we might see some changes taking place there yet.

Simon:

The idea of the future of crofting, how it continues. You see things like Assynt and Eigg and the community buy-outs and land as a viable model and also there's one in ... Again, also kind of thinking back to the Land League ... (inaudible) ... in comparison to back then, you could say that the aims of the Land League were never fully achieved.

     

James:

No. In a way, yes. Total ownership, yes.

     

Simon:

I'm going to tie this into the fact that some people are saying that they're the last generation of crofters, that they feel like they're the last generation of crofters. Do things like Assynt and Eigg represent a model that could enable crofting to continue? And are they a way of working back towards the original aims of the Land League or are they actually a kind of halfway house?

     

James:

‘S e rud uabhasach doirbh a tha sin a fhreagairt. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil e a rèir ‘s càite a bheil thu a’ fuireach, dè an seòrsa fearainn a th’ agad, dè an seòrsa talamh anns a bheil thu ag obair, dè an seòrsa siostam croitearachd a th’ agaibh agus tha e gu mòr cuideachd a rèir dè seòrsa daoine a th’ anns an sgìre a tha sin. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil feadhainn a tha air a dhol an sàs ann, gu bheil lèirsinn aca ‘s gu bheil iad a’ coimhead romhpa agus chan ann dhaibh fhèin a tha iad a’ dèanamh seo ach dha na ginealaichean a tha a’ tighinn às an dèidh. Ach a thaobh na ceàrnaidh tha seo fhèin, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum biodh e uabhasach doirbh urras dhen t-seòrsa sin a chur air dòigh. Chan eil mi ag ràdh nach gabhadh e dèanamh ach tha mi a’ smaoineachah gum feumadh mar gum biodh an sgìre a tha seo a bristeadh ann an diofar earrannan. Tha sinne ann an oighreachd mhòr an seo a thaobh an dòigh sa bheil Roinn an Àiteachais a’ riaghladh ‘s ga rianachd oighreachd Chille Mhoire, diofar bhailtean ann. Chan eil fhios cia mheud timcheall a’ cheann a tuath a tha seo, cia mheud baile croitearachd sa bheil thu. Dh’fheumadh e a bhith air a bhristeadh suas ann an earrannan, agus leis an fhìrinn innse tha mi a’ smaoineachadh ma tha a’ mhòr-chuid an-dràsta anns an sgìre sa bheil sinne, gu bheil iad riaraichte gu leòr leis an dòigh sa bheil Roinn an Àiteachais a’ sealltainn às dèidh chùisean, tha thu air màl glè bheag, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad a’ sealltainn às ar dèidh glè mhath nuair a thig e gu bhith a’ dol gu oifis Roinn an Àiteachais sa bhaile as fhaisge òirnn an seo am Port Rìgh, tha iad cuideachail, tha iad gad chumail ceart a’ lìonadh bhileagan ‘s a h-uile càil dhen t-seòrsa sin, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gun toireadh e an t-uabhas – dh’fheumadh rudeigin a dhol fada ceàrr tha mi a’ smaoineachadh san sgìre a tha seo, dh’fheumadh ana-ceartas air choreigin a bhith ann mus deigheadh a’ mhòr-chuid de dhaoine a dhol cho fada ri ràdh riutha fhèin gum feumadh iad a dhol mar gum biodh chun na h-ìre far an robh iad a’ dol a stèidheachadh urras agus a’ dol a dh’fheuchainn ri smachd a ghabhail air an fhearann iad fhèin.

     
 

That is a terribly difficult thing to answer. I think it depends on where you stay, what sort of land you have, what kind of land you work, what sort of crofting system you have, and it also depends, I think, on the type of people in that area. I thank that people who have become involved in in it have foresight and vision and that they are looking ahead. They are not doing this for themselves but for the generations to come. But as regards the areas here, I think that it would be very difficult to establish a trust like that. I’m not saying that it could not be done but I think that this area would have to be broken down into different sections. We are on a huge estate here according to the way the Department of Agriculture has distributed it, the Kilmuir estate. There are different villages in it. Round about the north end here, I don’t know how many crofting villages there are. It would have to be broken up in sections. And to tell the truth, I think that the majority of people in this area are happy with the way the Department of Agriculture is dealing with matters. You are on a low rent, and I think that they are looking after us very well when it comes to us going to the local office of the Department of Agriculture here in Portree. They are helpful and they keep you right about filling in forms and suchlike. I think it would take a lot – something would have to go far wrong in this area, some sort of injustice would have to take place before the majority of people would convince themselves that they were going to go to the extent of establishing a trust and try to take over control of the land themselves.

Simon:

Do you see yourself as the end of the line or a point in a line that's going to continue?

     

James:

Uill, ‘s e ceist dhoirbh eile a tha sin. Tha mi a’ creidsinn nam biodh tu air a ràdh ri m’ athair no ri cho-aoisean, bha iadsan air a ràdh gur iadsan deireadh na linn, ach air dhòigh air choreigin tha sinn an seo fhathast agus tha e na mhisneachd mhòr dhòmhsa a bhith a’ faicinn an fheadhainn a tha ag èirigh nar n-àite, a’ chlann agam fhìn agus clann mo nàbaidhean ‘s feadhainn bheaga agus gu bheil ùidh aca ann an caoraich ‘s ann an crodh ‘s ann an sprèidh, ‘s bidh iad a’ dol gu faingean, agus doirbh a ràdh ach tha mi a’ smaoineachadh mar as fhaide air adhart a tha sinn a’ dol gu bheil sinn a’ faicinn cùisean ag atharrachadh. Tha e doirbh a ràdh, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum faic sinn fhathast ‘s dòcha dithis no trùir an siud ‘s an seo a bhith ris, ‘s tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum bu chòir an cothrom a thoirt dhaibh. Mura h-eil daoine a’ cleachdadh fearainn, mura h-eil iad a’ dèanamh bàrr dheth no ga leigeil fo luachair no a’ dèanamh feum dheth, bu chòir dhaibh an cothrom a thoirt do fheadhainn a nì sin. Agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil feadhainn ann a chumas a’ dol leis oir tha e annta gu nàdarrach.’S e rud a th’ anns an fhuil a th’ ann agus tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum biodh e uabhasach tàmailteach mura faigheadh iad an cothrom. Oir bidh daoine a’ fuireach san sgìre a tha seo, tha daoine a’ fuireach ann agus chan eil mi a’ faicinn gum bi duine a’ falbh às an sgìre mar sin, agus bidh fhad ‘s a tha daoine ann, bidh feadhainn ann a bhios airson am fearann obrachadh agus a chì gu bheil buannachd air choreigin ann no gu bheil toileachadh air choreigin aca às a bhith ag obrachadh an fhearainn. Mar sin, tha mi a’smaoineachadh gum bu chòir a h-uile cothrom a thoirt dhaibh.

     
 

Well, that is another difficult question. I believe that if you had said that to my father or his counterparts, they would have said that they were the end of the line. In some way or other we are still here and it is a greatly encouraging to me to see those who are growing up after us, my own children, my neighbours’ children and others, that they have an interest in cattle and sheep and livestock, and they go to fanks. It is difficult to say but I think the further on we go we see things changing. It is difficult to say but I think that we will yet see one or two people here and there who will be involved in it. I think they ought to be given the opportunity. If people are not using the land, if they are not planting crops or allowing the land to be overgrown with rushes, if they are not making use of it they ought to give the opportunity to those who would. And I think there are people who will keep it going. It is something that is in them naturally, it is in the blood and I think it would be a great pity if they didn’t get the chance. People will live in this area, people are living here and I don’t see that people will be leaving and there are people, there will be people who wish to work the land, and who will see that there are some benefits in it and will gain some pleasure from working the land. Therefore, I think they should be given every opportunity.

James:

Yes. One of the things that really annoys me is that people nowadays see land as like a gold market, like a gold mine. Sell a site here, sell a site there ... What's happening with that is there's the breakdown ... I mean Gayle's kids, in my dad's time, used to be in and out of each other's houses. They had no secrets, they were more or less all family you know? You could go in twenty seven houses from one end to the other and they could run in and out of each other's houses. It's like a huge extended family and that's broken down to a large degree and I think what's happened there ... You see, I'm less ... I struggle with English more than I do with Gaelic. Gaelic was my first language, I could rabbit on all day in Gaelic. But I think what's happening is people have come to the end of the ... a lot of people that are involved in crofting have said: “Right, we're not making any money off it. It's not ...” It's what I call an expensive hobby. Fiona was doing my books there the other day and she said ... I was saying: “I think we'll get a slightly bigger boat, just a wee fourteen foot thing for going fishing.” “It makes sense,” she said. “The amount of money you spent on crofting in the last year you could have bought a flipping motorlaunch!” “I suppose I did,” I said, “but would I have enjoyed it as much as I did out of a motorlaunch or a boat or whatever?” And she said: “Well maybe that's true as well because you're in touch with people.” Because it's a huge social thing, you know? And just earlier on here Angus came in and gave me a hand with ... I gave him a hand with his cows and with his dad's cows, Blondie's. That's Blondie's son that was in, Angus, and John, my brother in law ... It is a big social thing. They'll come in, have a tin of beer and a dram and a cup of tea. But I think it will ... The bureaucrats and people who sit behind desks in Edinburgh suddenly realise that ... I think they're looking at what they're doing, they're spending huge chunks of money on somewhere that isn't hugely productive in terms of supplying calves to the market or meat market or whatever market. They're seen as an expense and I think part of the move behind, say ... I don't know if you're aware in the early 90s there was a big push towards ... The government tried to push people towards buying their own estates. There's a big move here in the early 90s when James Douglas Hamilton was Scottish secretary to try and get the Kilmuir estate, to get the people to take it. But I mean there's over four hundred crofts, going on to five hundred different crofts, in the whole Kilmuir estate and you can't get five people to agree on a fank so how the hell are you going to get the five hundred people to come to a uniform sort of ...? Because, you know, it's so diverse, not in terms of what they're doing or anything but it's just because it's five hundred people. You can say it happens everywhere else but ... I don't know, there's something about land. It's a personal thing. I don't know ... And the last thing I was saying when you asked about: “Do you see it carrying on?” Well I do, but what I see is there'll be less and less people involved and I think the less and less people that are involved, if others are willing to let them use their land they could make it really viable instead of ... It's happening already. I mean I'm not the worst example. This croft here is just five acres but I have my auntie's croft which is my grandfather's croft really and I've had it on sublet for the last twenty years and I've got eighteen acres over there and I make almost all my winter feed of silage, bales across the road. If it wasn't for that I couldn't be involved in crofting but I've got a cousin, Ally, along the road, he ... People let him use their crofts and whatnot and it's viable for him. He's a self-employed joiner as well but I think if they were allowed ... People who don't use their crofts or old people or ... Instead of selling them off for sites or whatever, if they let people use them, if people are allowed to use larger chunks of land you'd have instead of maybe at one time there's forty people scraping a livelihood you could have four making a very good livelihood out of it, you know what I mean? And another thing I never touched on is I think the way the markets are changing as well and what people are looking for, they're looking for organic food and something guaranteed. I don't think we're making enough of our brand up here because we're more or less organic. You can sort of say organic. We use of course dips and drenches and doses, we use synthetic stuff and whatever you want to call it you know? But we're more or less organic in terms of the way we grow the food and whatnot.

Simon:

I was chatting a bit about that with Ned and he was saying: “Well yes but the situation now is you have to sell on to these middle companies ...”

     

James:

Oh yes. The people that make the money out of it, yes. We need to cut that out.

     

Simon:

Even though you start off organic, by the time it's been through them it's not ...

     

James:

It's not organic, no.

     

Simon:

And that seems to be one of the biggest hurdles. If you could have a different infrastructure to sell through ...

     

James:

What we need is a slaughterhouse, an abattoir, a local abattoir where it's killed at the point of being organic and goes away packed and processed as organic. It happens in other areas because there's 1,000 ... I think there's 1,200 calves being sold on Portree on Monday and there's more elsewhere in Scotland. I checked this up because someone was asking me about it, he was saying: “I want to do a piece.” He does television stuff and he says: “That seems a huge amount of calves!” And I said: “I don't think you can go to anywhere else in Scotland on a one day sale and find as many calves,” because the likes of Dingwall where they have regular marts sell them in smaller batches as they're finishing them. People here only have a couple of bites a year you see? And two weeks ago, two weeks ago this Monday, there was ... I think 6,000 lambs through the mart and very rarely will you find that amount of lambs going through the mart in one day as well. The raw product is there, the material is there, but other people are exploiting the profit now.

Simon:

Is that also partly the problem of costs? I can't remember who was saying this but it's like when you have a lamb for it's first year the mother feeds it but if you keep it a second year you have to feed it so in terms of like ... The economy of it is you're forced to sell them at a much younger ...

     

James:

Well I think part of it is you're also going to make a profit on your first crop, you sell a lamb, because there's a market for lamb. What's happening now is there's more and more people coming into it. You've got your ... First person who buys it is probably some big farmer in Aberdeenshire or Stirlingshire who really fattens it up because very rarely do you get what they call store coming off, you're ready to kill what they call this store. They're ready to go straight to market, fat stock. They take these lambs away, they stick them on to their big parks where they're taking grass off, hay off, already and they fatten them up and they get them ready for market and they pass them on. They go through the market again. At that stage they're probably bought by somebody who wants to take them on to the ... They've got ground to eat, grass to eat, and will pass them on or they're bought by a supplier to a butcher or a supplier to big superstores. So they've already been through three sets of hands. Then they go to the abattoir, that's your fifth person. Then from the abattoir they probably go through the processor. Most abattoirs probably do that now but they've gone through six profit margins by the time they then end up on the shelf and you can see why it costs so much by the time it gets to the shelf. A wee leg of lamb ... what, £10, £8 for a shoulder of lamb? Whereas a couple of years ago you weren't even paying £8 for lamb. I mean the prices are better now right enough but the prices ... I said that in my thing as well, the prices are no better now than they were twenty five, thirty years ago for lamb.

Simon:

Is there more importation of lamb from abroad? Does that impact on ...

     

James:

I don't know what's happening. I don't know what's happening. The sort of lamb we have up here apparently is lamb that goes abroad to Spain, Italy ... They like a small rack of lamb you see? They don't want the big Finnish stuff and the sort of stuff that the British market wants is big shoulder for roast which comes from New Zealand so they pass each other, yep. But it's all to do with the balance of economics because these French farmers and a lot of French farmers and Spanish and these countries that have come into the EU, Greece and that, they've probably got the same sort of sparse ground that we have and they're probably breeding lamb to suit that market as well, you see? Cos there's money in it now because they've come into the EU and they're getting their subsidies. It's just being spread more ... Och, I don't know. I see what's happening now a lot is ... Maybe twelve years, twenty years, ago somebody had a fat lamb on the fank towards the end of the year and said: “Och we'll just get it up to the lassie on Portree and get rid of it.” They were saying: “Oh stuff that, I'm keeping it! I'll kill it myself. Why should I pay? For the equivalent of what I've got there, I'd probably pay about £120 in the shop for it, bits and pieces, and I've got it sitting there in front of me.” There's a lot more of that going on. Still a lot of local butchering going on, what they call ‘home kill’. You're not meant to do it but still goes on, you know?