Social justice, land reform and a bit of Brexit

I was at a fascinating event at Strathclyde University this week: A Social Justice Approach to Community Land, Energy and Forestry. which touched on many of the topics that I write and rave about – land reform, hydro schemes,  tourism, the NC 500’s impacts, and tax, along with the state of local democracy.

Massed campervans at Gairloch on the NC500

The speakers were uniformly excellent – Angela Riddoch and Andy Wightman are always good value, with excellent points about one of my pet subjects, the lack of local democracy in Scotland and the way community trusts and companies are filling that gap.

There was a blast of reality from Angela Williams from Knoydart, who fuelled the idea that all the noble community efforts which lead to community power generation schemes and buyouts have to happen because people in often remote areas don’t get the stuff that we all take for granted. If we had to make that effort just to get electricity or secure tenancies in cities most of us would be permanently exhausted, or give up, so don’t expect that it doesn’t happen to volunteers in the less-privileged areas of the countryside.

Engineer Paul Tuohy from Strathclyde came up with a remarkable observation about Kinlochleven where he has been looking at energy use.  There are huge amounts of power generated there by the hydro scheme, originally installed for the bauxite smelter and now feeding power into the National Grid, yet local people still pay normal rates for electricity, often burn wood to heat their homes and have to travel 13 miles to Glen Coe and back to fill up their cars. Why can’t they just tap into the turbine stuff, and use a small fraction of it to run electric cars, heat their homes and make the world a wee bit greener?

Agricultural subsidies came up, and a member of the audience asked the question about whether they could be reformed as a result of  Brexit, with EU subsidies being replaced.  I think we all agreed that this at least might be a benefit from Brexit (probably the only one…) and I was reminded that some time ago (almost two years, I fear) I sat down with Jonny Hughes, who just a month ago stepped down as the chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The result was a tape setting out the Trust’s pans for reform of agricultural subsidies, and I still think it bears a listen, I think.