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3 October 2018

Culloden no more

Last weekend at Wigtown Book Festival, the historian Sir Tom Devine spoke about his latest book on the Scottish Clearances. Slightly off script, he also launched into a tirade against what he described as a fundamental injustice in the planning system. He was referring specifically to the case of a developer who plans to build luxury housing on the Culloden battlefield despite widespread objections from communities from all over Scotland. His scathing criticism of the appeal system brought spontaneous applause from the 200+ strong audience. A good piece by Kevin McKenna in the Observer.


 

By Kevin McKenna, The Observer

The site where Jacobite forces made their last stand faces a new threat. Protesters hope a change to Scottish law could save it, reports


For nearly three centuries the bones of Highland soldiers who fell defending their land, language and faith have lain undisturbed on Culloden Moor, a few miles east of Inverness. On 16 April 1746, these Jacobites had fought to the death with their Bonnie Prince Charlie in a bloody and brutal battle against the Duke of Cumberland’s Hanoverian forces. It was the final act of the third Jacobite Uprising.


Culloden is anointed, a war grave sanctified by the blood of 1,500 Jacobites and their Hanoverian foes and the last land battle on British soil. Kingdoms and governments have come and gone but they all respected this place, its dead and the cause they died to defend.


On the battlefield yesterday, groups of tourists stooped to examine the obelisks that marked the places where the clans fell with their chiefs. Among them were Americans wondering if they might be related to the names commemorated here: the Stewarts, the Camerons (the first to declare for their prince), the Mackintoshes and the McGillivrays.


There are no saltires or lions rampant in this place, no gaudy tartan or wailing bagpipes. There is no strident patriotism or manufactured resentment; there is only peace amid what poets might call a terrible beauty. One of them, Aonghas MacNeacail wrote: “We followed you, Prince, to this ocean of flatness and bullets.”


Yet, under a Nationalist government that has pledged to uphold Scottish sovereignty, this place will be disturbed once more, not by the ring of swords and battle-axes but by JCBs and pneumatic drills.


A development of 16 luxury houses by Kirkwood Homes has been approved despite pleas to the Scottish government by conservation groups to have the plans called in for further scrutiny. Several other planning applications are in varying degrees of progress.


The developers maintain that the new buildings will be on the periphery of the ancient battlefield, and that the site itself will not be disturbed. Opponents, though, are aghast at the prospect of the hallowed site being eventually hemmed in by an extensive multi-use development that, they say, will alter drastically the fundamental character of the place. Less than the length of a field away from the scene of battle a digger can be glimpsed amid mounds of earth as a building site begins to take shape.


A demonstration against the development is to be held at Culloden Battlefield on 13 October, while a petition on Change.org has attracted close to 100,000 signatures.


If the construction goes ahead, the petition reads, the area “will lose its ability to convey a sense of historical and cultural significance, as a memorial, in which to sit and contemplate, as a place of connection for millions of people around the world.”


Professor Sir Tom Devine, one of Scotland’s foremost historians, has now added his voice to those of the protesters in urging the government to halt the development. This weekend he said: “The Battle of Culloden spread into the surrounding fields as English dragoons chased the remnants of the Highland army and cut them down. Their bones are scattered all around the periphery, which makes this, too, part of the Culloden war grave.


“It’s a national disgrace that these plans are being waved through. Scotland has a wretched record in preserving its sacred battle sites, but this would be the worst cut of all.


“The defeat of Jacobitism on that moorland was followed by a ruthless and systematic onslaught by the British state to extirpate clanship and the religion, identity and culture of Gaeldom, the society which was seen by the Hanoverians as the poisonous root of political disaffection.”


At the heart of the struggle to preserve the integrity of Culloden is Scottish planning legislation, which community groups say works in developers’ favour. In the case of Culloden, the original planning application was rejected by Highland Council only for the housing firm to make an appeal. The government official who assessed the builders’ appeal upheld it.


Opponents of the Culloden development are bitterly disappointed that while planning laws allow for cashrich developers to appeal decisions, local objectors have no such rights. Thus, they say, any party intent on seeking to exploit Scotland’s natural beauty or vivid history for profit can appeal against a decision while those affected by it cannot.


Campaigners are urging MSPs to use a new planning bill currently going through Holyrood to redress fundamental inequalities in the planning system between developers and communities. The Scottish parliament’s local government and communities committee has been assessing amendments to the bill, including one that would establish a crucial right of appeal for communities.


The vote on equal rights of appeal will be taken on 31 October. The group Planning Democracy, which is leading the campaign for equal rights of appeal, is calling for MSPs to support amendments to the bill which would give communities a right to appeal controversial planning decisions.

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