Loch Lomond – Where democracy is dead in the water and the electorate ignored
By Bruce Biddulph, Alexandria
3 JAN 2018 — In Scotland the peoples’ voice was heard and acted upon in the shape of the much vaunted Freedom to Roam legislation. This is a proud achievement for Scots, as it mirrors precisely their gut instinct, that every citizen has the right to access any part of his or her own country without having to answer to someone who just so happens to ‘own’ the land.
This freedom was also what is said to make the kings of Scotland different from the kings of England, the king was not a majesty who commanded the land, the king was his Grace who headed the people, hence the title King of the Scots, never King of Scotland.
Even in our feudal days the notion that anyone could outright own the land was a thing detestable. Freedom is in the very makeup of Scotland. But that is looking more and more like a thing of the past, even with the legislation of Freedom to Roam.
There is also legislation in Scotland that seeks to address land ownership. We are meant to be mindful at all times that the people should have first say in what happens to land. There is legislation that is geared to enabling communities to purchase their own land and keep it in trust for ever more. If such a policy was widespread, it could mean that Scotland once more was not to be owned by any single person to dominate it and do as they please.
Such is the spirit of legislation.
But in practice, it falls, very short.
Just as lip service is paid to the environment very often, so lip service is paid to Freedom to Roam and Community Ownership.
Because the awful truth is, money still talks, and money can buy silence. That is the base line here, and that rule, that spirit, is stronger than the great emotional spirits of egalitarianism and freedom.
And on Loch Lomond we see this all too starkly.
The sale of over 40 acres of Lomond’s southern shores and its river’s banks at the village of Balloch is nothing more than the greatest challenge yet to both principles. It is a sale that is protected by the laws of commerce and has been conducted wholly and purposefully to subvert the spirit of what you would call the Peoples’ legislation.
Loch Lomond is a battleground of ideologies now. We who live here now live under a quango, an imposed quango that seems more thirled to commerce than to protecting our loch and its heritage. It’s very basis is the marriage of opportunity with lip service paid to protection of its natural assets and clearly, the promotion of its heritage is so far down the pecking order as to be invisible.
Yet the people who live here have been for all their lives the best guardians of this place. They themselves have always known when a thing has gone too far, they themselves know and have understood their heritage, often in their gut, and always able to remind each other of what the loch is for, or rather, that we are mere guardians and ambassadors. Even our greatest landowners were mindful of their guardianship, and sought not to over exploit, having been here the best part of 900 years as custodians.
But now, it is changing. And things are being done that a generation ago would have been thought criminal minded. Restrictions on the freedom to roam are now par for the course as a body who have no real roots here seek to impose their imperialist natures on all of us, and it is they who say whether a thing goes or not – no longer is our elected representatives. We as the people who live here cannot vote this quango out. Yet this quango, the National Park, can tell us how to live.
This would be fair enough if we were then to trust the quango to look after our best interests, but since the forming of this body and the ability of our local councils to approve or reject applications for building and development have been taken away from them, the loch has seen an explosion of relentless commercialisation of the loch, covered by the fig leaf of conservation.
This cannot be stressed hard enough. We who live here cannot vote out the people who control our lives. Imagine that if you will in your area. It seems that our area is to be controlled by Scotland the nation but in the form of barely accountable people. Therefore, you the nation of Scotland are responsible for what happens here – not us locals.
Now consider this. In our main township, Balloch, our council cannot be the accountable body when it comes to the sale of a huge tract of our lands, much of which were former public lands in the hands of our council. These lands take in the very rights of freedom to the river and shore of the loch that are so taken for granted as to be considered natural law. But we can do nothing, because the lands are in the gift of yet another government quango that we cannot approach or question.
Despite a freedom of information request, this quango has refused to divulge any details of the sale ongoing to Flamingo Land, citing commercial sensitivity. Yet this sale has been driven through the spirit of our major laws like a cart and horse. This was even admitted to me in a phone call to Scottish Enterprise, and I quote “Yes, it would be very concerning if this agreement had been signed contrary to the spirit of legislation.”
Despite this being accepted as a good reason for my request for information to be made public, on the Exclusivity Agreement between Scottish Enterprise and the Purchaser, it is also deemed now that the need for commercial protection of the purchases over-rides the need of the public to know whether or not that agreement was signed before all other due processes were followed.
This is not just a scandal, this is crucially a test of our laws.
And it is because of this all of our main political parties do not want to make a song and dance of it. They are frit. They do not want to open the Pandora’s box at all.
This sale then is a true test. If it proceeds, then all of our legislation that we thought was put in place to protect the heritage of Scotland and the principles of our nation, indeed democracy, is sham legislation.
Democracy has now ceased to exist on Loch Lomond, in the name of Scotland’s national interest. Secrecy is now acceptable if it protects commercial companies over democratic accountability. And the people of Loch Lomond are now to be treated with contempt, led by the nose through a meaningless charade of charrettes.
I lay this charge to ALL politicians. They are complicit in the destruction of local democracy twice, through your quangos. And they are hiding behind the letters of national legislation that are in effect useless and to be ignored when they think it best.
And they choose because they do not want to upset friends in Scottish Enterprise and business, or be seen to stand up for the people where it may be a party-harming stance. And this applies to all the parties of Scotland because all of them have had a hand in this from beginning to end via inept handling at local and national government level down the years and by showing favour to two quangos that BOTH have commercial interests at the centre of their being.
Democracy has died on our loch, and is now threatened with a coma of quangos at a national level.
As the locals have been patronised and our guardianship of the loch and our own village been taken out of our hands, so the politicians are being complicit in their own legislation’s annulment. Like us they are reduced to useless bystander.
Perhaps democracy itself is not safe in their hands. It seems the hands of the unelected and the rich are to be the hands of our future kings of Scots and Loch Lomond. Hands that shake in secret no less.
On Loch Lomond, democracy is now most definitely dead in the water. Please sign the petition.