Let's keep our eyes on just how cheap, clean and positive '˜renewables' are

My friend Irene called me from New York this week to say she's coming to the Highlands this summer. This is a big thing. Riverside Drive in Manhattan where she lives is a long, long way from the Sutherland hills '“ I don't mean necessarily in physical terms, as Irene is widely travelled and has spent a lot of time in Paris and Morocco, and India, following, as so many young people did of her generation, the hippy trail to enlightenment...
We need to preserve and protect  our glorious countryside, not cover it in wind turbinesWe need to preserve and protect  our glorious countryside, not cover it in wind turbines
We need to preserve and protect our glorious countryside, not cover it in wind turbines

No, the distance for her is vast imaginatively, I think is what I am saying. For coming here is going to show her not only a particular part of the country that she’s never seen before, but also another way of actually being in that country. Really being inside it, being part of the whole and not just moving through it in the particular kinds of ways people often move through amazing landscapes, as though on a track. This visit is going to be something quite different for her.

Yes, I know there’ll be some chat about the weather ( I remember years ago her saying to me, one summer, “The thing about all of you in Scotland…You just don’t care about being tan…”) but in general, Sutherland is going to blow her brains. I can’t wait, I really can’t, for the moment when I meet her off the plane at Inverness where she’ll have flown up from London en route from France, following a couple of weeks there, and I see her face, written upon it all that she’s seen while arriving, to my mind, into what is the world’s most exciting airport, with the Moray Firth tipping up on one side of her in a great silvery plate of water as the plane touches down amongst paddocks and trees… And all that she is about to see. She really has never been anywhere like here before.

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Her main Scottish memory is of being over for a week during the Festival when she was a young woman dancing with a dance troupe and staying at B&B with a fierce landlady who made her time, as she puts it, “truly awful”. The woman served her lumpy porridge and required that she be in every night by 10pm after which the door would be locked. “Edinburgh was beautiful but she was a monster,” she still says.

It’s one of those images of the capital a lot of us carry within us, I think, even if we weren’t served cold porridge in Morningside in the 60s. Still, that emblem of wifey-ness, a sort fierce self-righteousness dressed in battleship grey wool and with a prurient interest in the lives of her lodgers, lives on. I met one myself in Morningside in the 80s and, though there was no porridge, she exercised over me the same sort of will regarding my morning Alpen.

My daughters tell me these kinds of people don’t exist any more and they may be right. But that landlady of Irene’s certainly fixed the country for her, and even when she came back to see us many years later and saw a very different Edinburgh, the memory of breakfast rules and locked doors remained.

But that was Edinburgh, and Edinburgh loves rules – as we’ve just found out this week, even more rules now, about how to drive, and at what speed, and where… It’s all a case of: Not here. Not there. In Edinburgh. Be careful. Behave… The psychology of a city drawn out in the strings of held-up traffic across the Forth Road Bridge, and someone winding down his window, as happened to me, a couple of weeks ago, as I was parked on a yellow line, to take a call “GET OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE!” like a young member of the Stasi.

There’ll be none of that nonsense in Sutherland. Yes, we’ll have to avert our eyes as we drive past one of those ridiculous and proliferating LCD displays that are now even on the A9, telling us to check our eyesight and not take drugs or to have a rest, babying us along the road to senility, I think, is the intention of the traffic signalling department of Scotland… But apart from that, it will all be “A-MAZING!” as Irene loves to say.

For what’s ahead for her is countryside as wide as the sky, weather written all over it, and space like we have space here, that is part of our psychology, of who we are. For Irene has never known what it is just to go out your front door and walk…anywhere, anywhere at all. It doesn’t have to be on a “Trail” as they call them over there in America, increasingly “Path” as we see in the Highlands now, as there is a movement, I fear, more and more to control where people go and how they go… Fixing our routes as though we are all a bunch of idiots being shepherded on our way. In Scotland, we must remember, we can walk wherever we want. No rule must ever change that.

Aren’t we all so lucky to have Scotland at our back? All of it? To be able to roam over and lie down on (with a good waterproof beneath us) and sleep out under when the weather is good? To swim in and climb up and shout Hurrah! from when you’ve got to the top of Ben Morven and you can see all the way across Caithness to the West? That’s what I mean about being “inside” a place, not just moving through it on some tourist approved “route” or other. For the reasons of this great store we have, of space and emptiness and loveliness, we need to preserve and protect a way of life that we love.

Campaigning bodies as diverse as our local “No More Wind Farms” and the international lobby “Stop These Things” have identified the important work of Dr John Constable of the Global Warming Policy Foundation who has revealed, in a document entitled “Electricity Generation Costs November 2016”, a number of redactions that attempt to effect a cover-up over the real sums involved, the private gains, and public deficit, of mounting and running and harvesting electricity from wind turbines that, project by project, are turning our beautiful country into an industrial precinct.

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Not only has this document been kept quiet – it is actually dated February, not November, 2016, and was held back from being made public even longer than that in an attempt to fudge the negative impact it would have on the renewables industries and their “markets” – consumers who believe that wind power is cheap, clean and without negative consequences. Let’s keep our eyes on the fine print of the “renewables” documentation. That way we’ll get to keep our eyes on the hills.