Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Feb 21, 2018
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Scotland's Stations - Northern Books

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    Maxwell's Cauld Blast

    IT'S POSSIBLE that you saw our supreme leader at the SNP conference making a big show of how the Scottish Government were backing the buy out of the Hebridean island of Ulva, and good luck to a project of which I very much approve.

    But there are two things that stick in my gullet. The first is the way that the government has manifestly been playing fast and lose over the interpretation of their own laws in the run up to the deal. If anyone doubts that the SNP are prepared to use virtually any duplicity to further their aims they need look no further than the slight of hand on this one. It's been more like something from a banana republic than a developed nation.

    The second has been the debasement of Jamie Howard, the current Laird of Ulva, who has been displayed as some kind of chinless wonder ex-Etonian who has no interest in the place.

    Now I have known Jamie for much of my life, and indeed wrote a profile of him and his work for Scotland on Sunday Magazine. One of the reasons I did so was that he had contacted me and asked for advice on how to evaluate whether the place could be sold into community ownership.

    He didn't much like the idea as his family had owned it since just after the war and he himself was very much the resident landlord, but he recognised that it might be for the best. He's an extraordinarily decent man. I remember him telling me that when he was in the army in England he would sometimes drive all night so that he could sit awhile on Oban pier just to get a sniff of the islands.

    Daft I know, but you need that kind of crazy passion if you are going to take on running a rain soaked island. Good luck to the buy out, but hats off to Jamie. He gave it his best shot.

    NEXT WEEK I'm back in Jerusalem. Nothing very glamorous, just checking the validity, or not, of a story on the Israelis locking up children. Plus ç a change.

    Yet what can be done? I'll tell you what can be done. Make sure that any American friends you know are fully aware in the run up to Christmas that that little town of Bethlehem is losing its Christians.

    One of the big selling pitches of the Americans in their support for the Israeli position is the notion that all the Palestinians are barking crazy Muslims plotting against them. Well, do your online searches and you will find that the number of Christians in The Holy Land is rapidly declining, very much to the disadvantage of the position that the Americans think they are supporting.

    This should particularly engender pathos in Bethlehem, though to be fair the Christians there do have a tradition of emigration to South America, which slightly skews the numbers.

    Let me not trivialise the complexity of the situation. There used to be a cliché in Northern Ireland that anybody who said they understood the politics in Northern Ireland clearly didn't understand the politics in Northern Ireland and much the same may be said of the Middle East.

    It's a snake pit, a spaghetti of lies and innuendo. But some things are true beyond any dispute and that is that the Israelis, for all their many attributes in so much of what they do, are contravening human rights in their treatment of the Palestinians. And we should never let them away with it.


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