Proceedings of the Scottish Parliament on 27 September 2000

A Debate on the Highland Clearances

Colİ700 The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-1004, in the name of Jamie Stone, on the Highland clearances. I make my now familiar appeal to members who are leaving to do so quickly and quietly, so that we can proceed with the debate.

Motion debated : That the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores.

Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I begin by saying two things. First, from the bottom of my heart I thank the members from all four big parties who have been good enough to support this motion. Secondly, I extend on behalf of the Parliament a very warm welcome to our visitors from the Highlands, who are sitting in the galleries.

The Highland clearances were a catastrophic time for the Highlands. Whatever one may think about the reasons for the clearancesãat lunch time today Mr Michael Fry and I had an energetic and interesting discussion of those on the BBCãthere is no doubt that they happened and that they led to the destruction of the Highlands that Boswell and Johnson saw in their celebrated tour of the Hebrides. At the time of their visit to the north, that process was already in hand, but the clearances were responsible for its completion.

I want first to look back and then to look forward. In looking back, I will make two points. The first is that in the Highlands the clearances are still with us. The memory of them is handed down from generation to generation. I will illustrate that with a short story. Five years ago, some of us, including people in the public gallery, had reason to attend the memorial service at Croick church in Sutherland, which was held to commemorate the clearance of Glencalvie in 1845. Many members will be familiar with the story of how the Munros and Rosses were cleared out of the strath and took shelter under a tarpaulin in the churchyard. They were not allowed into the church; there lies another story. It was due to our great press and to The Times -- "The Thunderer", no less -- that the lid was taken off this story. The newspaper sent a reporter to the areaalas, we do not know who he was, although we have some suspicions--who covered the story and, thanks to the then editor, put it on the front page. That shamed the whole terrible process to a halt.

Colİ701 I wrote a column in the local newspaper about the memorial service and about what had happened. I speculated about what might have happened to the people who ultimately left the churchyard. In the books of the time and in modern history books, it is reported that a family by the name of Ross took shelter on a black moor some 25 miles away, up behind Tain. Two or three days after I wrote the column, I was walking in Tain when a gentleman came up to me--I wish I had asked his name, but I was too astonished to do so -- and said, "That was my family; that was my great-great-great-grandfather." Memory of that incident is still with one family today. That is one reason why the topic of the clearances is still with us and is still so important in the Highlands.

My second point is that the picture of the clearances is not as clear as some historians would like to paint it. It was not just the great families -- or, to be accurate, some of the great families -- who were responsible for the clearances. Indeed, my family was involved.

I had occasion some years ago to look back into the title deeds of a small farm of which my family has the remains today. My ancestor was a Fraser from Cromarty, who very likely cleared in the Black Isle. He came to Tain in the 1820s and made good -- it will not surprise some members -- with a drink shop.

Mrs Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): Not a cheese shop?

Mr Stone: No, a drink shop.

He took it upon himself to buy some small parcels of land around the burgh. If we go back in the deeds, we can see that those were small crofts in their day. If we study the history of Easter Ross, round about Kilmuir Easter and Logie Easter, we will see that almost everyone was at it. That is why the situation is not as simple as we might think.

On a lighter note, I point out that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's ancestor, the fifth Earl of Selkirk --although vilified in some of the books of the time -- was a very good man indeed, who almost bankrupted himself trying to take the cleared from Sutherland to Canada. In 1820, having lost his fortune in that enterprise, he died of consumption owing to his labours. He even bothered to learn Gaelic on the boat over. It is worth remembering that the enterprise failed because the fur trade made it its business to see that it did not work and that the settlers would not prosper. What is interesting about that episode is that the ringleaders of the fur traders were two Highlanders by the name of McGilvery. Again and again, we have Highlander against Highlander in this whole episode.

It is for that reason that, in my former existence as a councillor, I always strenuously resisted anyİ Colİ702 talk of demolishing the Duke of Sutherland's statue.
Mrs Margaret Ewing (Moray) (SNP): I am not sure about that.

Mr Stone: The member may boo, but it is an unwise society that destroys its history. Let us remember that it was Nazi Germany that burned books. It is correct that the duke should be there, to remind us of what happened.

I will speak briefly about the future. Mr Dennis MacLeod, who is with us today, was born and bred in Helmsdale but went abroad and made his fortune in gold. He has an extremely imaginative project in hand to establish a clearances memorial and centre at Helmsdale in Sutherland, not just to commemorate what happened, but to act as a genealogical archive and an information centre. It strikes me that, out of the wickedness of the Highlands of those yearsãthe wickedness that affected and was caused by all classes of Highland societyãsome great good could come.

The motion says that we extend the hand of friendship to the descendants of Highlanders across the world. It strikes me that, if we established the centre and those descendants could come back to the Highlands to research their roots -- we know that our American friends are very keen on thatãthat would be of enormous good to the Highlands.

Why not take those people up to Helmsdale? If they discover that their ancestors came from Ayrshire, let them go back down the road. In the meantime, let us get them north to see John O'Groats and to boost the economy of Caithness and Sutherland. I make no apologies -- the scheme is an imaginative one. Out of wickedness in the past, great good can come.

It has been put to me repeatedly by the press today that I am in charge of some sort of apology. The motion reads that "the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores."

To try to bring back everybody is a very noble idea. Surely every child in this country learns about the clearances. We do not apologise -- we were not responsible. However, in our heart of hearts surely every one of us deeply and sincerely regrets that black era in British history.

I close with words -- written with a diamond ring in the window of Glencalvie kirk -- that many will know and recognise and which can be seen today: "Glencalvie people was in the church here May 24, 1845" -- and this is the saddest thing of al -- Colİ703 "Glencalvie people the wicked generation . . . John Ross shepherd . . . Glencalvie people was here . . . Amy Ross . . . Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony . . . The Glencalvie Rosses".

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): Understandably, a large number of members have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. It will not be possible to call them all. I ask those who are called to keep their contributions brief, so that we can accommodate as many members as possible.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): I start by congratulating Jamie Stone on lodging this motion. This has been a joint party effort. The text of the motion invites Parliament to express our "deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances".

I know that there will be no vote, but I hope that at the end of this short debate the minister will say that he personally joins in the spirit of the motion.

Why should this be done? In other countries, the genocide and ethnic cleansing that has taken place, against the Indians in America and the Aborigines in Australia, was acknowledged long ago. Today, the time to acknowledge what happened to those who were cleared from the Highlands has come. We can now acknowledge and regret what happened and perhaps then move on.

The motion also asks us to extend our "hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores."

Although the descendants of cleared people in Scotland today may number only tens of hundreds, the Highland diaspora extends to tens of millions. With Margaret Ewing, I visited Ellis island, off New York, which commemorates the melting pot of America and where the citizens came from -- the countries that they left.

What a terrific idea Mr MacLeod has, with others, to show the country that people left and how they got to Canada, Australia and America. The centre will show the experiences that they had on the wayãthe hardships, suffering and atrocity that they endured, such as show trials and hangings. I join Jamie Stone in hoping that the Executive will support -- in all ways -- the fruition of that project.

As Jamie Stone mentioned the future, I will mention the present. We had one of the most interesting times for reflection today, when George Thompson reminded us of the dangers of exaggerating what we may see as the wrongs and ills of today in comparison with acts of genocide,İ Colİ704 war and suffering on a much larger scale. Although I would therefore not use the phrase "new clearances", I am concerned that voluntary bodies and Government agencies in the Highlands have too much power over the lives of those who live there. I hope that we can deal with the abuse of that power as well as commemorate the wrongs of the past.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I start by commenting on Jamie Stone's reference to the Earl of Selkirk and the Selkirk settlers. The Red River settlement founded Winnipeg, which is today larger than Edinburgh.

I am delighted to support Jamie Stone in this debate. The Highland clearances were a matter of great regret to the people of Scotland. We must never forget the suffering caused to so many innocents. We must learn from history. In the latter half of the 18th century, there was an enormous population explosion, which reached its peak in the 1830s. It was caused mainly by the virtual eradication of smallpox through injection and the introduction of potatoes, which grew easily in poor soil and provided a basic diet.

A social revolution was created in the Highlands and Islands by Government legislation that ended heritable jurisdiction. Formerly, the Scottish kings, without a standing army, had found it necessary to delegate authority to subjects who in return were granted large areas of land. Consequently, the power of a chief lay in the number of men whom he could call to arms. The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 ended that prerogative and landlords, as real money replaced barter, began to make their land commercial through improvement and charging higher rent. The old system of township farming, in which rent was paid mostly in kind, became increasingly uneconomic. Ever-expanding families tried to scrape a living from the land, but they failed. The little island of Inch Kenneth, off Mull, was ploughed from shore to shore, but still there was not enough food to keep the inhabitants alive.

The problem was exacerbated when the Highland regiments raised to fight in Europe were disbanded and all the men came home. The Government tried to help by giving grants towards employment. Many dry-stone dykes remain as evidence of that work. The failure in 1820 of the kelp industry, in which seaweed was burned to make fertiliser, was another blow to the Highland economy. Worst of all, in the 1840s the potato crop failed.

John Ramsay at Kildalton in Islay, where people were on the verge of starvation, paid for a steamer to take some of them to Canada. Later, when heİwent to visit them, he found them in a prosperous condition. At the time, there was no form of national assistance other than parish relief.

Colİ705 There was a huge difference, which still exists, between the native Gael culture and its English equivalent. I quote John Robertson, a southern journalist, who wrote in Glasgow's The National: "A Highlander's soul lives in the clan and family traditions of the past. The legends of the Ingle, the songs of the Bards. The master idea of the English mind, the idea of business, has not dawned on his soul, has not developed its peculiar virtues in his character. He is loyal, but not punctual, honest but not systematic. The iron genius of economical improvements he knows not and he heeds not."

Those are wonderful virtues, which still exist in the Highlands and Islands and which Scotland would lose at its peril. I urge the Scottish Executive to promote and protect the Highland culture and to prevent another Highland clearance by aiding the inhabitants, who now face tremendous difficulties in a UK, which, we are told, is prosperous.

Many people emigrated of their own accord. Flora MacDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie, is a case in point. Some landlords forced whole communities to go. The poor Rosses of Strathcarron at Easter Ross were bloodily evicted, and Strathnaver and the lands of the Countess of Sutherland were cleared by her husband, the notorious Marquess of Stafford. He, incidentally, has one thing in common with Jamie Stone, in that he too was a Liberal MP for Caithness and Sutherland. His two agents -- James Loch, another Liberal MP, and Patrick Sellar -- cruelly and savagely carried out evictions. When confronted by an old lady of 90 who refused to leave her dwelling, Patrick Sellar is reputed to have said, "Burn it down, the old witch has lived too long."

It is worth noting that the so-called progressive policy of the liberal Whig party in those days actively encouraged the clearances, while Conservatives at the time were fighting to keep people in the glens to preserve the rural population and to maintain a source of remarkable foot soldiers who had always served the British Army with extraordinary valour.

While we are rightly horrified by the clearances, and while honouring the courage of the men and women who opposed them -- such as the Skye people in the battle of the braes -- we must pay tribute to the enterprise and initiative of those who emigrated of their own free will and improved the lot of their families. They have since strengthened Scotland's links overseas to the benefit of us all.

It is in that positive spirit that we should encourage a visitor centre in the Highlands, which will welcome people to renew contacts with their ancestors' homeland. I support Mr MacLeod and wish his venture every success.

Colİ706 Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): When I was a child, my grandmother told me a story -- a tale of Highland battle, of sticks and stones and broken bones -- which ended with the complete removal of the crofting population from the township of Sollas on North Uist. My grandmother told that story with such passion and in such detail that it was as if she had been there herself. In fact, it was a story that had been passed on to her by her grandmother, a witness and a participant who was also a seannachie -- a folk historian -- whose job it was to witness and to keep in memory the experiences of her extended family and her community.

The day of the clearance of Sollas in 1849 was the end of that community, but it is remembered in our family as a day of pride as well as a day of anguish. Yes, it was the day on which we lost the land, but it was also the day that the fightback began. The fightback continued. In my teens, I heard another story, from the early days of the Labour and trade union movement in the city of Aberdeen. I heard how Aberdeen Trades Council organised a trainful of townspeople to support the landless cottars and squatters facing eviction from the slopes of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, which they had brought into agricultural production after being cleared from land elsewhere and over which the owners of the neighbouring estate saw fit to exercise their legal rights to possess and to divide the land among themselves.

On Bennachie in the 1890s, as in Sollas in the 1840s, the people resisted and the landlords won. However, those acts of resistance and the solidarity of working people in town and country helped to change the course of history. It is a tradition of resistance and solidarity of which I, for one, am proud.

The laird who cleared Sollas was not a Sassenach or a stranger or a foreigner; he was a man with the title of Lord Macdonald. As a descendant of his victims, I do not want an apology from this Parliament. I do not even want an apology from the current Lord Macdonald. Instead, I want this Parliament to build on the resistance and achievements of the past 150 years to deliver the far-reaching land reform that will secure the future of our crofting communities, to deliver a secure future also for the Gaelic language and culture as part of the heritage of the whole of Scotland, and to deliver social justice and economic opportunity, which are the shared ideals of Uist land leaguers and Aberdeen trade unionists alike.

Mrs Margaret Ewing: I have a brief point -- I am listening carefully to what Lewis Macdonald and others have said. Does he accept that in the teaching of the Highland clearances we mustİseparate romanticism from reality? Is not a responsibility placed on this Parliament to ensure that all the children of Scotland are aware of exactly what happened?

Colİ707 Lewis Macdonald: I support that point. As technically I have given way, I technically have the opportunity to make a further point. It is important that we educate people about their history, but it is also important to recognise that, although many of the descendants of those who were cleared from the Highlands went overseas, many more remained here. Therefore, the responsibility to the descendants of the cleared is not confined to those who are overseas, important though that is. This is also a matter of integrating the cultural tradition of rural and urban Scotland.

Mr John Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): When I hear Jamie McGrigor talking about Strath Halladale and the duke and Patrick Sellar it puts a cold shiver up my spine because of the atrocities that were perpetrated there.

I welcome this debate. It gives us an opportunity to look back on our history, but I am not sure that this Parliament should express regret for the clearances. After all, these events were terrible atrocities that were perpetrated on a vulnerable, fragile and defenceless community, and were controlled from another distant place. I suggest that our clergy and state church of the time were as guilty as anybody of encouraging the scourge of the clearances. Through their pious pronouncements from their pulpits they declared regularly that this was God's will for His devoted people, and as good and decent Christians they should accept His command and leave their shielings and holdings. But for the benefit of what? The great white sheep that were being introduced to the Highlands. They were considered to be more profitable than the indigenous population, and probably easier to manage and control.

As we have heard, these events took place 150 years ago, but attitudes have not changed. Since then, we have had a much more sophisticated type of clearance. We have seen the steady decline of employment opportunities in our major industries. I think in particular of the decline in our coal mining, our steel industries and our shipbuilding. We have seen the decline of our car manufacturing at Linwood, the decline of British Motor Corporation at Bathgate, the aluminium smelter at Invergordon in the Highlands and the Fort William pulp mill. I will not mention Barmac, where 4,000 people were employed some months ago. These companies were all major employers in their day. Where and when will we reverse this decline, and ensure that people are able to exist in their own country in secure, affordable homes, andİwith gainful employment?

Colİ708 In the Highlands at present we are suffering from a more modern malaise. While the clearances removed the people from the land, the new concept removes the land from the people. I refer to the green, creeping sward crawling over every glen and strath in the Highlands, which masquerades under the fancy title of afforestation. That means planting vast areas with foreign tree species of doubtful quality and little commercial value. All of that takes the land away from the people.

In supporting Mr Stone's motion and the sentiments expressed in it, I want to ensure that, when we extend the hand of friendship to our exiled ancestors, they can return to a nation and a people of whom they can be justly proud.

Michael Russell (South of Scotland) (SNP): Among the people whom we should welcome to the chamber today I see the figure of Michael Fry -- it is hard to miss the figure of Michael Fry -- the founder of the clearance-denial school of journalism. I hope that he is listening to the unanimity that is being expressed in this debate as members of all parties describe what happened in Scotland and try to find a way forward.

Mr Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Will the member give way? I would like to defend Mr Fry.

Michael Russell: I know that Mr Monteith is a dining companion of Mr Fry and I hope that they enjoy their pan-fried duck, but I will not accept an intervention today.

In every nation, there are moments of catharsis. Fergus Ewing has referred to the plains Indians in the USA and the Aborigines in Australia. In almost every nation, there is a moment of huge significance that changes that country for ever -- the Irish famines of the 1840s are an example of such an event. Those events do more than change the course of history; they change the landscape and the ways in which people relate to each other. They are a full stop in the history of a nation, after which something different follows on.

Nobody can travel through Scotland today without seeing some evidence of the clearances. In the Highlands, there is physical evidence in the form of deserted towns and villages. In the south of Scotland, there are signs too. In Bute, which Mr Lyon represents, there is Canada hill, a place so named because people would climb to the top of the hill to get a last glimpse of their emigrating relatives leaving Scotland -- their last glimpse for ever.

Colİ709 In this city and elsewhere in the south, we canİsee evidence of the clearances in the Gaelic churches that were founded and in the major industries that were established with the help of labour that came from the north of Scotland. The country was changed -- and changed utterly -- by the experiences of the clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How does Scotland reconcile itself to an event that massive? We have two choices. Jamie Stone has referred to one, which is to blow up the statue of the Duke of Sutherland and to say that the clearances were so terrible that we should blame the victimisers for ever. Indeed, my good friend Dennis MacLeod, who is sitting in the distinguished visitors gallery, told me that he wanted to do that when he was a young man growing up in Caithness.

The other reaction -- into which Dennis MacLeod and many others have grown -- is to reconcile ourselves to our past and learn to understand it. We should consider the benefits of that period, because there were benefits. There are people all over the world who are descended from emigrants who did well and prospered. Nobody thinks that the clearances were a good thing -- I am not practising clearance denial, and I believe that the clearances were an awful event -- but if we can reconcile ourselves to the past, we will learn from it.

That is why the innovation of Dennis MacLeod is significant. As Jamie Stone said, the centre will be a place where we can go and reconcile ourselves to the clearances and where those from the diaspora can go and learn about what happened to their ancestors. I hope that people will not only learn about the clearances in the centre, but will come away with a feeling that that period is over and done with and will pledge, as we should all pledge, not to forget the clearances but to look after, cherish and develop the country that John Munro was talking about, highland and lowland, and make sure that it is worth living in.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Before calling the minister to wind up the debate, I apologise to those members whom we have been unable to call this evening.

The Deputy Minister for Highlands and Islands and Gaelic (Mr Alasdair Morrison): I congratulate Jamie Stone for securing this debate, and all members who have participated in it.

Among the enduring legacies of the Highland clearances, as the motion rightly reminds us, is the enormous Highland diaspora that extends around the world. From the perspective of today's we can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally. Scotland, that diaspora is a valuable resource. It is important that we reach out as constructively asİwe can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally.

Colİ710 When thinking about the thousands -- millions even -- of emigrants who left Scotland in the past two or three hundred years, there is an understandable temptation to concentrate on the success stories. There are certainly many successes to celebrate. They can be read about in Jim Hunter's book, "A Dance Called America", which tells the story -- and does so very well -- of the huge impact that has been made by Highland emigrants, including many victims of clearance, on the United States and Canada. Jim Hunter's book recounts and celebrates the quite remarkable achievements of the numerous Highlanders who, as fur traders, politicians and railway builders, did so much to open up, shape and develop North America.

However, Jim Hunter's book makes another point, which needs to be stressed in the context of today's debate. It is not at all the case that every Highland emigrant family benefited from their emigration. Clearance and emigration shattered an awful lot of lives. Jim Hunter writes that two such shattered lives can be made emblematic of all the others. The lives in question are those of Ellen and Ann MacRae, little girls whose names Jim came across when visiting what remains of the Grosse ‘le quarantine station in Canada's St Lawrence River.

Ellen and Anne belonged to Lochalsh. They arrrived at Grosse ‘le in 1847. Their father's name is given in the Grosse ‘le records as Farre, which I guess is as near as a French-speaking orderly could get to the Gaelic Fearchar. What happened exactly to Fearchar -- in English, Farquhar -- MacRae, his wife Margaret and any other children whom they may have had is not known. Perhaps they died at sea or perhaps, as many others did, they died on Grosse ‘le. If so, they are doubtless buried in one of the mass graves that are still to be seen beside the Grosse ‘le inlet, which, ever since the 1840s, has been known as Cholera Bay.

Anne and Ellen were left parentless. In October 1847, they were admitted to a Quebec City orphanage. Ellen, who was aged 12, was eventually adopted by a Quebec family. Anne, who was aged 10, was found a home in the United States. They probably did not meet again. Even if they did, other than by means of what they might have recalled of their childhood Gaelic, they could scarcely have communicated, as Ellen would have grown up speaking QuÈbecois French, and the adult Anne would have spoken American English.

Jim Hunter concludes his account of Anne and Ellen with these words: Colİ711 İ"Historians have from time to time advanced the thesis -- first propounded, of course, by nineteenth-century landlords -- that the wholesale Highland emigrations of the 1840s and 1850s were in the best long-term interest of the emigrants involved. Such historians, perhaps, should be brought to Grosse ‘le, sat down in the cemetery above Cholera Bay and asked how they would set about justifying their opinions to Ellen and Anne MacRae."

Not all emigrant stories, then, had happy endings. In recalling the Highland clearances, it is vital that we remember that. It is equally vital that we reject the glib, unfeeling notion that what happened to people such as Anne and Ellen MacRae was in some way unavoidable. There was nothing predestined or inevitable about the Highland clearances. They were the result of human choices and actions. Given different choices and actions, the Highlands and Islands might well have followed a very different path to the one that it was made to take by the lairds who forcibly removed so many families from their homes.

That is why the best possible memorial to the Highland clearances will be the successful Highland economy that I hope everybody in the chamber is committed to creating. Coupled with that aim is the desire that Gaelic, the language of the Gael, must triumph. It is not only a jewel to be nurtured and cherished in the Highlands but an asset for all of Scotland.

Sadly, no discussion about the Highland clearances is considered complete until someone, somewhere, trots out the tired old notion that the Highlands and Islands were, and are, intrinsically incapable of providing their people with a good quality of life. That always was and still is a lie; today we are proving that.

I mentioned Jim Hunter. As most members know, he chairs the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Last month, when presenting HIE's annual report, he saidãand he was speaking both as HIE's chairman and as an acclaimed historian -- that it is several hundred years since the Highlands and Islands, relative to the rest of Britain, entered a new century in such good shape and with such exciting prospects.

That is not to say, of course, that there is not still much to do in the Highlands and Islands. There are plenty places where the depopulation that started with the clearances has still to be reversed. However, in the course of the past 30 years -- a period when the population of Scotland as a whole has been static at best -- the population of the Highlands and Islands has grown by some 20 per cent. Parts of the area have seen faster rates of increase. Take Skye, for instance. Prior to the clearances, it had a population of 24,000. By the 1960s, that was down to just 6,000. Today, Skye has around 10,000 people once again.

Colİ712 That has been made possible by a greatly diversified, greatly expanded economy. Our aim is to get that economy extended into those areas where the clearances have still to be decisively reversed -- areas such as Kintyre, my constituency the Western Isles, Orkney's offshore islands and eastern Sutherland. We are certain that that job can be done, and by way of helping HIE to get on with it, we have, as Henry McLeish made clear last week, given HIE additional funding.

Another aspect of our programme is worth mentioning in relation to the clearances: our land reform agenda. I know that Lewis Macdonald knows the area of Sollas well. Sollas, in my native North Uist, is a vibrant and thriving community. Yesterday, it was announced that HIE, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, has been asked to handle a new opportunities fund programme, which will result in £10 million of national lottery money going to rural communities that wish to take on the ownership of land and other natural resources in their vicinity. That £10 million programme will be known as the Scottish land fund. In order to manage it, HIE, in effect, will be beefing up and expanding the community land unit, which it was asked to set up just after Labour came to power in 1997.

I am pleased to be able to announce that HIE is still actively considering establishing a substantial part of its expanded land unit in Lochalsh. That is very much in accordance with our firm view that public sector activity of that kind can, and should, be located in rural areas.

It may be worth underlining, in conclusion, that it was from Lochalsh that there sailed in 1847 the emigrant family whose fate I touched on earlier. When, one and a half centuries ago, that family joined the long, long list of folk who fell victim to the Highland clearances, it would have seemed completely inconceivable that there would one day be public funds available to help Highland communities to take on the ownership and management of the land from which so many of our people had been evicted.

Today, thanks to this Administration's commitment to land reform, such funds are firmly in place. It is no more than a coincidence that they will be administered from Lochalsh, the birthplace of those two orphan emigrants who, back in 1847, found themselves in such terrible circumstances over there in Canada. But as coincidences go, it is a very happy one.

Meeting closed at 17:48.


© Scottish Parliament 2000

Prepared 27 September 2000