A picture-perfect Hebridean island

The Economist: Scottish islanders are buying out their lairds. “But remote settlements will need more than new owners to survive.”

“In June Ulva was bought by its residents, a result of sweeping land reform by the Scottish government. “For the first time, the people who live on the island will get to decide what happens to it,” declared Rebecca Munro, an islander.

When Ulva was put on the market last year, Mrs Munro and her family feared that a new landlord might terminate their tenancies. A brochure portrayed the island as a private playground, they said, listing the dates when tenants could be evicted. Community ownership, by contrast, suggests security and self-determination. But the fate of fragile and marginal places depends on more than land changing hands.

Who owns what, and why, has a particular emotional pull in Scotland. Half the country’s private land is owned by fewer than 500 people. Nationalists view this as a legacy of English colonialism, which saw the appropriation of land that under the clan system had been mutually owned. The clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when rich landowners forcibly evicted poor tenants to make way for sheep farming, loom large in the cultural imagination.”

Huffington Post: Meet The Island Communities Fighting Back Against Wealthy, Absent Landlords. “These tiny Scottish communities are taking control of their own destinies.” (Includes a 10min video worth watching.)

“Eigg is one of the Scottish Small Isles, an archipelago of islands a few miles off the country’s west coast, and when Fyffe arrived, the population was at an all-time low of 39.

The island was owned by businessman and former Olympic bobsleigher Keith Schellenberg. Schellenberg had bought Eigg in 1975 for the equivalent of $360,000 (274,000 pounds), and despite some initial investment, things had progressively declined. In an interview with the West Highland Free Press in 1991, he enthused that under his ownership the island had kept its “slightly rundown … Hebridean feel.”

Fyffe and her neighbors saw it differently. “We were in extreme circumstances,” she says. “With no security of tenure, no one was investing; the community hall was falling apart; the only shop was in a corrugated shed with no water or electricity.”

Fed up and desperate for change, the community decided to do something about it. When Schellenberg’s divorce led to the island being put on the market, Eigg passed briefly to a German artist, before the newly formed Isle of Eigg Trust raised $1.97 million to buy it ― one-third from hundreds of small donations and two-thirds from a woman who has remained anonymous to this day. Last year, Eigg celebrated its 20th anniversary of community ownership.”

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