Despairing over what’s become of large swathes of the rural Scottish landscape has brought me a lot of friends. Up in Sutherland, our own “No More Windfarms” group, established to protest, as we put it in our campaign literature, “yet another wind turbine development in this part of the Highlands”, gifted me with a great number of letters and emails of support – from handwritten cards to links to blogs and related sites. One of my ex-pupils at Dundee, where I teach, started up her own campaign in Perthshire when she realised she was starting to feel “hemmed in” as she put it, by the giant turbines that were predating upon the land all around the base of the Cairngorms, and realised then how many in her community felt the same way.
Other friends, over in Beauly, managed to reverse a decision to place a giant development on the hills there – there was a great picture of them all, the day the good news came in, on the front cover of The Northern Times, breaking open a bottle of champagne – and though they have to keep up the hard work in order to protect what they’ve achieved, it’s made them a close-knit band indeed.
The will by the Scottish Government in tandem with the energy companies to overturn communities’ wishes in these matters is ferocious – as was reported in the case of the Monadliath development in this newspaper – and often makes enemies of friends, as one party stands to gain in a subsidy while others fear of speaking out against that gain. In addition, we at “No More Turbines” are aware that just because we were able to have our voices heard by our local council in protesting one particular development, on the Tressardy Estate, the kind of democracy that was enacted in that instance is increasingly under threat in this newly independent-styled country we are being made to inhabit with its plans to centralise all rural activites through offices in the Central Belt.
Does a bureaucrat in Holyrood know anything about local priorities? As my friend in Perthshire put it, after inviting an SNP environment officer to come and visit the site of their protest, “We knew he didn’t know what he was talking about by the way he was dressed. He came up on the hills with us wearing a thin suit and city shoes with slidey soles.”
Someone who works tirelessly to expose the corruptions and below-the-parapet political activity that is turning Scotland’s hills into giant electricity-generating site is Ian Terry. Ian started up “Communities Against Turbines”, holding their first national conference in Ayr five years ago. He updates those of us who deplore what’s happening to our landscape as a result of the nationalist vaunt of a so-called Renewable Energy programme that can be shown off to the rest of the UK – despite the fact that it doesn’t bring down our energy bills one penny – in independently sourced information and statistics that we rarely get to hear about in the national news.
A recent missive, via the fact-finding centre Variable Pitch, detailing the expansion of a massive existing site near Hadyard Hill also included information showing the increased energy bills we can expect to pay should we end up independent. He’s also just sent a map sourced from the Highland Council by National Wind Watch, indicating where all the current and projected wind turbine developments are located. The picture is horrifying – a flurry of red and blue dots representing the so-called “farms” in thick clusters all the way down the east side of the country, in particular, concentrating more fully in the sparsely populated North East.
This is the part of the Highlands not designated “wild land” by our Government. It is not deemed as “wild “ as the Western Highlands for the simple fact of it not generating quite as much tourism as that side of the country. And so it’s alright to turn it over into industry land, they’ve decided. Turn the whole place over to the turbines. It’s not “wild” because “wild” means, increasingly, being a designated wild area, a National Park or recreational area where we can all be rounded up and made to walk on, and be recreational in...
“Wild” is a politically loaded word. Just look at what the politicians have made of a few wild campers in Loch Lomond this past week, taking the example of a couple of idiots who probably don’t even spend that much time outdoors and using them as an excuse to drive everyone into campsites. It’s political. Ask the RSPB what they mean by “wild”, or a geologist or environmental scientist, and they’ll tell you it’s nothing to do with designated areas. Making some land wild, and the rest not, is to have a landscape treated by the same capitalist principles as exist across the rest of the UK and in every western country I know of – including New Zealand where I was born. New Zealand seems rural enough – just like Scotland, everyone says – until you want to go walking somewhere and find you’re on someone’s “property” as they’re always calling it, and you’re told to get off. They have National Parks there, places where you’re allowed to walk. But we have Right to Roam in Scotland – and that’s because we regard the land, irrespective of who owns it, whose “property” it is, as belonging to all of us.
Why would we ever want to give that up? That feeling of open country in your sights, hills at your back? Ian Terry turned 70 earlier this year, and told me that “after a few flat years of being told ‘Why do you bother?’ I have the buzz back again that there are still a lot of things I can be involved in.” He campaigns against decisions made in Westminster and Holyrood, pings emails hither and yon that are helping educate me in all the ways we need to protect ourselves and the things we love. Knowing there are people like Ian Terry all over Scotland makes me feel I am inhabiting the country I recognise, not the version of it the political rhetoric has generated with its windy but powerful nonsense.