Landed Power versus Scottish Democracy
When we received the Scotland in Union data dump in December 2017, revealing the financial backers of the ongoing and active body desperately defending the Union, we were astonished to see it was made up overwhelmingly of old money, and specifically landed aristocracy. We called it “a huge cache of information about networks and money being channeled into politics by big business and the landed rich.”
At the time we wrote that “The Scotland in Union data dump isn’t just about that single organisation, it’s about political support from the super-rich and landed classes to the parties and movements that sustain their power. This is the Anglo-Scottish aristocracy and their nexus of friends and stenographers laid on a table for dissection. It details donations to the Labour, Conservative and Liberal parties and to Better Together and to Scotland in Union. It details who met with who and who lunched who, their media contacts and their personal details. It outlines the donations, communications, meetings and points of contact for hedge-fund managers, ex-military, retired businessmen and the filthy rich. But most of all it’s like Debrett’s on speed-dial.”
Our lawyers at the time advised us that we couldn’t release this information to the public and warned us that we would be facing “highly litigious people” with very deep pockets.
Such is power.
I was remembering this while considering the plight of Andy Wightman who has been served with a summons by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC. It is a defamation action in which the pursuer is claiming £750,000 damages. The action relates to two blogs he wrote In September 2015 and February 2016.
An elected MSP is being threatened by a powerful group. This is a direct threat to Scottish democracy.
In February 2017 Wightman wrote:
“In the event that an MSP becomes personally insolvent (through, for example, losing a £750,000 defamation case) and sequestration is awarded to the debtor, the MSP is disqualified from being a member of the Scottish Parliament under Sections 15 and 17 of the Scotland Act 1998 read with Section 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986. During a period of 6 months following sequestration, an MSP may not participate in proceedings of the Parliament. This disqualification ends in the event that that award of sequestration is recalled or reduced. If the award remains after 6 months (ie the MSP still owes the sum awarded but cannot pay and remains insolvent) then the MSP loses their seat and a vacancy arises.”
An 8 day trial has been scheduled for 15–18 October and 22–25 October 2019.
Andy Wightman has been the stand-out campaigner for land reform for the past twenty-five years, alongside others like Lesley Riddoch and Alastair McIntosh, but he has been very active in a great many other campaigns and causes including on: tenants rights; defending common lands and assets; the Crown Estate; cycling, and on the decentralisation of power. Notably he has led the campaign and forged the legislation against the blight of Air BnB and short-terms lets that is destroying communities in our cities.
Land and Power
The importance of land reform can be seen in the power manifesting itself through Scotland in Union and through this defamation case.
It’s completely wrong to see land reform as a rural or highland issue.
Although high profile cases such as community buy-outs such as Eigg, Knoydart and Assynt are prominent, the issues is really about power and democracy. As Wightman wrote in Scotland: Land and Power (Luath Press, 1999): “To frame the debate as a Highland issue reinforces the stereotypical view generated by the media and allows politicians to contain the issue in a part of the country where it can be safely handled.”
Wightman is what the Scottish Parliament was set up for, and what an independent nations parliament should aspire to: elected representatives with a healthy dose of disrespect — MSPs who are fearless, tireless and committed in challenging power.
Andy Wightman is fond of quoting Tom Johnston, the historian and former Secretary of State for Scotland, who described Scotland’s noble landowners in 1909 in his book, Our Scots Noble Families like this:
“ Show the people that our Old Nobility is not noble, that its lands are stolen lands — stolen either by force or fraud; show people that the title-deeds are rapine, murder, massacre, cheating, or court harlotry; dissolve the halo of divinity that surrounds the hereditary title; let the people clearly understand that our present House of Lords is composed largely of descendants of successful pirates and rogues; do these things and you shatter the Romance that keeps the nation numb and spellbound while privilege picks its pocket.”
You don’t have we to be a Green or an independence supporter to back Andy, you only have to be concerned about the abuse of power being displayed here.
We need urgently to support him today. Go here here now to pledge your support.
Originally published at https://bellacaledonia.org.uk on June 11, 2019.