I should like to write a few words in memory of the Kilchoan mouse, an animal whose death has probably done more to evoke discussion on the Highland question than many a supposedly pertinent Phd, and indeed is possibly the most famed of its species since the poor timorous beastie that Rabbie Burns disturbed with his plough.
This mouse was mercilessly killed sometime around 1972 after the resident in a Kilchoan council house (Kilchoan is at the end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula) where the mouse lived, complained to Lochaber District Council, who then sent a Fort William man out the 104 miles round-trip to destroy it. This led Iain Thornber, their deputy chair, to complain that the several hundred pounds this had cost the council might have been better spent, perhaps even by sending the poor tenant a mouse trap in the mail and a tenner for their trouble.
The story of the murdered mouse made the papers big time and the argument went on for weeks. The lefties said that given that the tenant had paid their rent they had every right to demand a pest-controller, whilst the right-wing said that the story epitomised how taxpayers' money was wasted when nobody gave a damn as it wasn't their cash, and that it highlighted how socialism was hardly the panacea so frequently suggested.
Many said nothing at all. It's not fashionable to ask about how much those living in the central belt subsidise those living on the edge. The reticence to speak is perhaps something to do with Clearance guilt, or a sense that the Gaelic culture ought to be saved, so a few million thrown in that direction shouldn't be questioned.
That remarkable polemicist Iain Thornber then went on some time later to pour petrol on the fire by saying that, should the bullied people of Hong Kong be needing somewhere new to live, there was plenty of room in Ardnamurchan, and that given their reputation for entrepreneurial endeavour, they might even kick up a bit of busines. He was, of course, being tongue in cheek and was amazed to later find himself on breakfast television in Hong Kong being interviewed about what Ardnamurchan might offer the Hong Kong resident.
I was thinking of the dear Kilchoan mouse this week when three major issues began to circulate online The first was the perils of salmon farming. The second, the amount of camper vans in the Highlands at present. And the third was the intention of the Scottish Government to bring about some of the heaviest legislation against Airbnb in the world.
Many of the arguments against salmon farming, camper vans and Airbnb are perfectly valid. Salmon farming is indeed a filthy industry run by multi-nationals. The mess being created by many camper vans is indeed disgusting. And Airbnb has indeed caused mayhem in the housing market.
But any fool can diagnose a cold – the difficulty is in curing it.
I first became interested in the Highland question when I was 17. I did a case study on the economy of Iona for my A level geography and went on to run over 20 field trips in the area. Now that I am old and getting past it, the time has come for me to stop listing the pros and cons of everything. It's time to infuriate many by finally spitting out my conclusions (to give my enemies a chance to have a pop at me).
The way I see it, can best be defined by reference to the Kilchoan mouse. Yes, indeed Iain, my friend of 50 years, is right. It's ridiculous to be running the mouse management of small villages from 50 miles away. The control should be local – an elected central person with mouse traps in a drawer and an envelope full of tenners.
The same principle applies to salmon farming. The original concept, as pioneered in Lochailort, was for small-scale farms properly run by local people, again with capital being distributed from a local base. Not the notion that cash is king and whatever makes a bob is fine. If badly produced salmon are destroying the market, then bring in tariffs. Brexit, for all its faults, does have its advantages.
Airbnb likewise. It's all very well for Holyrood to bring about fierce legislation against Airbnb for the damage it's doing in our cities, but spare a thought for how it is now the backbone of the economy of many a Highland household. Again, local control is the answer.
Camper vans? Yes, the mess they are leaving is indeed disgusting, but the main problem is lack of both mobile toilets and local wardens. Both could be solved with a few hundred thousand pounds being invested through local community councils.
None of these solutions can be actioned until we resolve the issue of lack of affordable housing to facilitate communities, but that's another essay. So let's just stick to things relating to the Kilchoan mouse. May he, or she, rest in peace. A pebble to its cairn.