For many years, I have read the West Highland Free Press, a newspaper which campaigns fearlessly for the interests of the West Highlands and its people. The paper’s priorities are perhaps best encapsulated in the Gaelic slogan on its masthead: “An Tir, an Canan ’sna Daoine — The Land, the Language, the People”.

The paper was founded in 1972 by, among others, the journalist Brian Wilson and his columns (perhaps the longest running political column by any politician in Scotland?) have always been a highlight of the paper. Frank, well-argued, pointed, and often downright mischievous or partisan, they have always caused me to stop and think about the topic under discussion.

Recently, Brian gave me invaluable assistance in the writing of my book, The Poor Had No Lawyers. After a break of a couple of years, I started reading the Free Press once more and was drawn once more to his column. I take a close interest, of course, in issues of land and power which are topics close to Brian’s heart.

In the lead up to the May 2011 Scottish elections and in their aftermath, it struck me that here was an important political voice which was only available to readers of the Free Press. I thought that it should be heard more widely and am delighted that Brian accepted my proposal to publish his weekly column on a new website, Brian Wilson Writes.

The aim of the website is to publish all of his columns back to 1972. This archive will provide a fascinating insight into the public life and politics of the West Highlands and beyond. What is unique in Wilson’s writing is his roots and passion for the West Highlands and its land, language and people together which his experience as a politician operating at the highest level in UK politics.

At a personal level (and for the record), I should stress that I do not always agree with Brian Wilson’s opinions (life would be rather dull if I did) although that is part of the column’s appeal. Most of the time, however, I find myself in broad sympathy with his arguments. Always, I find his writing stimulating and informative.

Scottish politics needs a quality of debate over the coming years as Scotland makes up its mind on its future. Brian’s writings on topics such as (to take a few recent examples) rural school closures, the Crown Estate, and the politics of the media are informed by his own long career as a journalist and as a politician. They provide valuable and unique insights into topics of very contemporary concern.

Enjoy the collection as it grows.

 

BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme ran a piece on “What is Scotland’s Land” for a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the whole panel were rather uncritical of the current subsidy regime. They were David Cameron (North Harris Trust), Luke Borwick (Scottish Rural Business and Property Association), Jim McLaren (National Farmers Union), Rob McMorran (Centre of Mountain Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands) and Andrew Bachell (Scottish Natural Heritage).

Listeners complained and the BBC invited me to do an interview on the topic. Here it is.

 

One year ago, over 1.2 million Norwegians watched a film that was 7 hours long and that was shot by sticking a camera on the front of the train from Bergen to Oslo. It is wonderful. There’s a 10 minute clip on the link above and the full film can be downloaded in glorious High Definition (be aware though – it is 246g Gb – probably bigger than many computer hard drives).

My advice? Get a big screen and watch it in a darkened room.

Anyone fancy doing this for Glasgow to Mallaig?

 

Amidst all the press coverage of the student demonstration in London on Wednesday, one small question was niggling me as I watched the windows being smashed in Millbank Tower.

Whose windows? Who owns Millbank Tower? As it happens, the same question was ocurring to Alex Barker of the FT. His blog claims that it is the Reuben brothers. However, I am always a bit doubtful of such claims as they tend to be born of popular knowledge. Just as the Duke of Buccleuch does not own any of the Buccleuch Estates (see Ch.29 of The Poor had No Lawyers), it is unlikely that the Reuben brothers own Millbank Tower in their own name.

A 2 minute search of the Land Registry turned up Title Number NGL886677 together with a plan which reveals that the 21-24 Millbank and 25 and 30 Millbank are owned by Basio Holdings Ltd. of 1 Palm Chambers No. 3, PO Box 3152, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

So the Conservative Party (who rent offices in No. 30) are paying rent to a company in the British Virgin Islands. I hope they are aware of the Non-Resident Landlords Scheme.

SUNDAY 14 NOV UPDATE On their website The Reuben brothers claim to own Millbank and claim to run all their activities from Switzerland. The first statement is a lie – Millbank is owned by Basio Holdings Ltd. Reuben brothers may of course have an interest in Basio Holdings…..

MONDAY 29 NOV UPDATE There is a Leasehold interest in Millbank (title and plan here) which is owned by TST Millbank LLC incorporated in Delaware, USA. It was acquired for £1,350,000 in 2001 andruns for 125 years from 2000. The Conservative Party are probably paying rent to the leaseholder. But £1.35 million is peanuts to pay for a 125 year lease especially when the freehold cost £35 million in 2007. Who is behind TST Millbank LLC?

Country Life have published a piece on who owns Britain and appear to be surprised that things have changed quite a bit since 1872! They should get out more often.

The piece was puffed up in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

What is interesting about the Mail article in particular is that much of it is inaccurate. The Duke of Buccleuch, for example, does not own any of the 250,000 acre Bucleuch Estate as far as I can tell. It is owned by a company whose ultimate owners are four lawyers in Edinburgh who head up Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd., a company with total assets of £4, which has been dormant since 1992 and which owns 100% of Buccleuch Estates Ltd., a company with assets of £275 million and a turnover of £64 million (see Chapter 29, The Poor Had No Lawyers)

Now that is a story worth pursuing!

Radio Scotland  asked me to do an interview for Newsdrive with the editor of Country Life which can be heard here.

Weird. There are dozens of issues raised in my book and the first oportunity to appear on our national Radio Station is in response to a Country Life article which is essentially about England.

I habitually waken up to the BBC World Service in the morning. Since returning from a spell abroad in Ethiopia, I have been struck by the massive dumbing down in the output of both BBC television and radio. There seemed to be little other than talent shows and celebrity games on the TV and the radio news had become focussed increasingly on trivia.

Sadly, not much has changed. Go to the front page of the BBC’s News front page today and there are 2 stories about a footballer who has hurt himself replete with clips from BBC TV news shows. The BBC UK news front page has another two stories on the topic and, bizarrely even the BBC’s World news front page carries another 2 stories. The footballer, a man called David Beckham, plays for England I gather, but go to the England front news page and there’s nothing at all!