Barra from the Castlebay Hotel
Barra may have
An island parish has been compulsory viewing in this part of the world. In recent weeks if you couldn't chat about Angus John Morrison's campers, Scraggy Aggie's knitting and The Wedding of the Year, you were a social pariah.
On Monday, the BBC2 series came to an end – not a good start to the week. We're not a water cooler community that chats about 'I'm a Celebrity' and 'Strictly'. It's within living memory that mid Argyll had its own Gaelic speakers, its crofts and the silver darlings landing at a dozen piers the length of Loch Fyne. So there was a bleak little moment at the beginning of the week – but we didn't do bleak for long. Now we're all on Facebook and Twitter trying to find the best petition to sign to save Barra's economy.
Did the powers-that-be at the BBC vet this series, or did the Dibley-esque theme music, the emphasis on the quaint, and all that breathtaking scenery lull them into a false sense of security? The sub-text was a political bombshell.
Every programme had brief references to an ongoing fight with Scottish Natural Heritage, who want to turn Barra and its neighbouring islands into a conservation area. Fishing – life-blood of the island – is threatened. Even ferries would be scuppered in case they disturb seal and mollusc populations. Beaches and hillsides will become no-go areas to conserve rare plants and wildlife. Instead of Angus John's wee sign directing international tourists to the beach, there'll be a plethora of SNH back-off barriers. The final programme, filmed last year, featured flustered officials fending off angry islanders' protests.
The Scottish Government has turned down the Barra folk's petition, saying it can't interfere in another body's affairs. That wasn't my understanding of the parliament's petitions system. One of the priests said: 'It's too precious a community to disappear'. Between the Island of Barra Diaspora and the Island Parish fan club, we’re going viral to stop that happening. Barra may have independence before Scotland does.
I do wonder what Miss Marion Campbell of Kilberry would have thought about the turn of affairs at Holyrood. As author of a 'life' of the lady, I've been invited to talk about her to the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Mid Argyll and I've been working on it this week as we wait for Mr Cameron to arrive in Edinburgh for referendum talks.
Miss Campbell had many strings to her bow. She was (sometimes all at once) a farmer, writer, historian, antiquarian – and the woman who made nationalism respectable in Argyll. Born in 1919, this local laird spent most of her life keeping the wolf from the castle door and was only able to plug the leaking roof late in life when an American film producer shipped up at Kilberry determined to film her children's books. In the 1960s and 70s, when her fortunes were low, she travelled throughout Argyll with a history road show financed by Glasgow University's extra-mural department. She was paid a pittance and petrol money for her beat-up banger. Her passion for history fuelled the arduous journeys and led her to support the Scottish National Party.
The late Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, who campaigned in Argyll in those heady decades, told me that support from a respected laird like Miss Campbell gave an emotional 'permission' to the people of Argyll to return an SNP candidate to Westminster.
Instinct says she would have been as excited by the imminence of independence as her friend Ian Hamilton QC. Would that excitement have influenced us here in 21st-century Argyll? The sight of a spinster laird up a ladder sticking posters over those of her opponents (yes, she did) might be just the thing to convince us that this is a worthwhile game.
Miss Campbell picnicked with Willy Wolfe, wheedled promises out of the then Duke of Argyll (she needed his support to launch the innovative Auchindrain outdoor museum), and knew most people in high places. She would have ignored advice not to treat Michael Moore as Cameron's 'warm-up man' and put her acerbic wit and well-honed wisdom to use in referendum negotiations. Wish she were here.
They're going to spend £1million studying the Rest and Be Thankful, the pass through Glen Croe that links Argyll to the rest of Scotland. It will take them until at least the end of the summer to do it.
In 1724, in the wake of the 1715 Uprising, George I sent General George Wade to do a similar study. I haven't got details of the costs to hand. The result of General Wade's study was that proper roads and bridges would help to control the wayward west of Scotland and between 1725 and 1737 he caused 250 miles of road and some very nice, sturdy bridges to be built. One of those roads was through Glen Croe. It followed the bottom of the glen, then rose rather spectacularly at the north-western end to reach Loch Restil before swooping down towards Loch Fyne.
The wiggly bits going up the hill at the end of Glen Croe caused bigger and better cars and buses a lot of bother and so in the middle of the 20th-century they built a road half way up the side of the mountain. The one down in the glen survives some 260 years on. The new one spends a lot of its time closed because of landslips. The £1million will allow the experts to look at such solutions as a roof over the road so that the tonnes of water and rubble could safely slip over our heads.
While they're studying, we face more and more frequent detours that add many hours and pounds to our journeys to and from the central belt. Hospital patients, retailers and tourism outlets suffer, to name but a few. We have our own petition – we need a wee series on the telly to help it go viral.
Marian Pallister is a writer and tutor