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Good food or what?

Scotland has many firsts in her history. Many inventions, many developments. One in particular which will be exercising many who are in business right now is the overdraft.

Yesterday saw me participating in a couple of meetings online. The first was a very lengthy and wide-ranging meeting of the Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. And in the afternoon I spent an hour with my friends from Scottish Land and Estates.

Big landowners are not universally popular in Scotland. And I reserve the right to be critical when required.

The history of how some of the big estates came into being is not a happy one. And not one where there is necessarily unanimity about how it happened. They are, however, part of our economic and social infrastructure today.

Essentially my mind thinks of it thus. Ownership of land in the time when the clans occupied much of the land area of Scotland was not something that occupied much of their thinking time. The land to which they were attached, was so deeply embedded in their sense of self through many generations, as to be subject of a story rather than of written record. Their culture was an oral one rather than a legalistic one.

The Sassan (anyone not part of the Gaeltacht, which includes three-quarters of me) had a very different culture. One based on written records. Indeed Scotland has the world’s oldest system of recording what we call land ownership-The Register of Sasines. It essentially derives from the Registration Act of 1617. And the word Sasine, derived from the Old French seiser, "to seize", tells it all.

More properly, it is a record of land rights. Because, lawyers tell me this, all land is the Crown’s land, and our rights derive from that. To this day the Crown retains the mineral rights of all land in Scotland. That is reflected in the oldest piece of legislation which I have referred to in our Parliament. The Royal Mines Act of 1424. It’s still there on the statute book although stated as no longer having any effect. I know some who disagree. Here's the whole text:

"item gif ony myne of golde or siluer be fundyn in ony lordis landis of the realme and it may be prowyt that thre halfpennys of siluer may be fynit owt of the punde of leide The lordis of parliament consentis that sik myne be the kingis as is vsuale in vthir realmys"

But of course, the Crown serves only at the pleasure of the people of Scotland. That is one of the essential messages of the Declaration of Arbroath, which was a letter sent by the nobles of Scotland to the Pope in 1320.

It has remained an influential document, which it had been intended would be on exhibition in this year of its 700th anniversary. It won’t be. Plans postponed. Another COVID casualty.

The Declaration informed the United States actions and future Constitution from 1776 when they broke with the UK and took the bold step of becoming independent. It remains important now, as then.

In the USA we saw much of the same clash between the historic tribal occupation of land and legalistic incomers as helped underpin the creation of many of the big estates we have in Scotland today.

Over the Atlantic, the clash of cultures led to the intensely marginalised existence of the historic Americans today. Forgotten; languages and cultures extirpated.

I found myself speaking to a meeting of the International Comanche Society in Edinburgh in 2018. They are not anything to do with the tribe of the same name. Rather it is a family of light aircraft designs from the Piper Corporation. The Society represents the owners of these vintage aircraft.

I thought it would be neat to open my remarks with a multi-lingual welcome to Scotland in Gaelic, Comanche and English. So diminished are the numbers and historic culture of the Comanche today, that I could only find one extremely limited source of their language. And no help at all even to construct that simplest part any language, a friendly greeting.

I had not realised how completely the Comanche, and all the rest, had been all but written out of modern life in the USA.

While in Scotland, we still have Gaelic as a living language and a culture respected by all of Scotland, and beyond, the land to which it was once pinned has long been in the hands of others. Modern land reform Acts have effected some transfer back to communities in residence. At a cost. The pen stilled the voices.

But however dubious the establishment of some of our land ownership might be when judged through the prism of history, it is a part of modern Scotland with which other Parliamentarians and I regularly deal.

In our modern legal canon, if a transfer of land and property is recorded in the Register of Sasines and not challenged for five years it is permanent.

One particular problem we discussed with which I readily identified was that of fly-tipping. It seems to be on the increase, perhaps because it is currently difficult for citizens to get their big rubbish into the rubbish tips. I was able to point to my having spoken out about the subject last week. But I came away with a couple of actions.

We also talked about Scotland's food. With the disruption of supply chains around the world, it's clearly even more important than ever that we grow our own when we can.

We agreed that we are a country of high-quality producers rather than the cheapest in the market. They stressed to me how important it is that we do not allow our market to be flooded with low quality, low welfare standard, products from countries like the USA. They are keeping a very close eye on the UK's Agriculture Bill as it makes its way through Westminster. It presently offers no protection from these threats. I am definitely standing with all our farmers on this one.

Our Rural Committee did, however, agree earlier yesterday with our Government that it would be most effective that the Westminster Bill legislates in some respects on our behalf using powers that reside with us. That's efficiency and effectiveness. Occasionally we do the same for them.

The public doesn't hear much about collaboration, quite a common activity. The media will always seek out confrontation, or more often, a legitimate difference that they choose to describe as if it were confrontation.

Across the world, we need collaboration in the face of COVID-19.

This morning has been a wee bit different than most. Our weekly shop meant leaving home at 0730 and finishing my diary writings later than usual.

But the cupboard is now full again with necessary provisions.

And many from our own producers.

Good stuff.


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