Sunday, 22 November 2015

Martinmas in 2015 Scotland

Many excellent blogs and articles have been written regarding the forthcoming eviction of Andrew Stoddart, a tenant farmer who has lived and worked Colstoun Mains for twenty two years. Much has been written and discussed regarding the legal aspects of this eviction but very few cover the human aspect.
Andrew, his wife and three young daughters plus his tractorman, his wife and four children all face a pre Christmas eviction from their homes and workplace. Martinmas, to be precise. (28th of November although research shows that the Feast of St Martin takes place on 11th November).

Who is St Martin?

St. Martin of Tours started out as a Roman soldier then was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The best known legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me." [2]

Whilst Martinmas is celebrated all over Europe in the form of feasting after a gathering in of the harvest, in Scotland it is the day tenant farmers pay their rent or get evicted. Oh the irony of a day when the ethos of a humble and generous man becomes as far removed from the original sentiment.... St Martin, the friend of children and patron saint of the poor.

Many years ago, when I was in an absolute state of despair regarding the conditions on our own farm, Andrew Stoddart was the first person to contact us and offer any help he could. He had never met us nor had we ever spoken on the phone yet here was a man offering unconditional help to a fellow tenant...... nor are we the first people whom Andrew has helped. This quiet, painfully shy man, built like an oak tree, is enduring an agony few of us can comprehend. Even at this late hour with only a few days left on his tenancy, the Scottish Government seem oddly reluctant to come up with a solution whereby the families are not made redundant and homeless.
Yes, the lairds may have won the legal debate, big whoop, but morally some of them appear devoid of humanity, utterly lacking in empathy at the prospect of seven children being thrown out of their homes, having to leave their school and friends in the depths of winter. The landowner of the Colstoun Trust does not have to evict Andrew Stoddart from the land he has worked for 22 years, the landowner is evicting him because he can.

Scotland. Be ashamed.

The tie between a farmer and his land is an extremely intimate relationship, it has taken me years to understand just how intimate, but safe to say every farmer's wife or partner will understand when I say that when you live with a farmer, there are three in the relationship and the farm comes first. How do you begin to describe how a farmer feels about the land he works? How can I illustrate an emotion so deep and unseen, the driving force which compels the farmer to endure sometimes raw and savage conditions, the successes and failures, the births and deaths....I don't like to make a generalisation but some farmers are astonishing in their tenacity and their tie to the soil itself can appear that it is part of their Soul.
I asked a tenant farmer how he would feel if he saw another person working his land, especially land he had worked yet been taken from him. "It would be like seeing another man sleep with your wife" was the quiet reply.

There are human beings behind these evictions, people who are worried sick, probably unable to sleep or eat properly, worried how their bairns will cope. I'm not going to argue the EUHR legal stuff as I don't really understand it but I will ask why the right to own property has precedence over living, breathing human beings.

This eviction, the first of several, need not take place. It invokes a dark, dark time in Scottish history when families were thrown from their homes as sheep were more profitable; humans were seen then as a commodity and now, in 21st Century Scotland, we have never progressed with the rest of the world.
Scottish people are still being used as a commodity, discarded once they have been bled for their achievements, bled dry of their assets. In the place of the small family farms, we are beginning to see an anaemic type of farming arise, huge crops of subsidies being harvested yet the spoils hogged by the powerful and wealthy. Slavery is still alive in Scotland, it would appear.

I urge you to act on behalf of the tenants facing eviction. Please imagine how they feel right now, please try to imagine how you would feel if it were happening to you, how worthless you would feel, how rejected and hopeless a situation, and not of your making.

Richard Lochhead MSP, you are the man who is in charge here. I cannot say that you have shown a proactive stance on any aspect of Scottish agriculture or fishing.
Many of us would fully understand if you were to step down given the difficult personal challenges you face. Whilst many have described you as being a warm and lovely man, we need someone as cold and calculating as the very law which has created a situation of exclusion and inhuman abandonment of tenant farmers.
I urge you to stop this eviction and the other evictions which are forthcoming or watch whilst those who pay your handsome wage evict you.


11 comments:

  1. Thank you, the fly in the web.

    It is beyond belief that in modern times, eviction is the only answer to a situation the Scottish government created. We have not made any progression in 200 plus years. Archaic and unacceptable.

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  2. It's a total disgrace. How can these pond scum types sleep at night?!

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  3. Sarah, I honestly think that some people do not have a conscience. To some, money comes before morals.
    Our worry is where the Stoddarts, their workers and seven children will be sleeping after Martinmas.

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  4. But what will happen to the land. Lie dormant, not worked, become a wasteland (because there are not that many people with the wherewithal to farm these days.

    What is the benefit - to anyone?? It makes no sense at all. Make people homeless so the land can degrade?? That is appalling.

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  5. I'm not sure what will happen to the land, Veronique.
    There is a tendency towards the land being contracted out whilst the landowner claims the subsidy.... perhaps the farm cottages would be rented out, no doubt improved by the outgoing tenant ergo a rent hike for the landowner.
    Mr Stoddart has spent work, sweat and money improving this land over the years, he knows every yard of it like the back of his hand. No contractor could nurture the land like the farmer who knows it so well.

    There is no benefit whatsoever to anyone apart from the landowner. It is morally reprehensible.

    There are seven more families plus their agricultural workers facing eviction under this law yet nothing at all from anybody in authority who could act to help them.

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  6. I would previously have thought those practices had been dealt with, and consigned to 19th century history, in the Crofting Act of 1886. Not so. I have come across a similar situation some 20 years ago elsewhere in Scotland (cannot go into details on an open blog). Hope some form of legal redress can yet be found, but as I type this it is November 27th... Keep us posted.

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  7. Thank you, ADB.

    To date, it would appear that an agreement has been reached between Andrew Stoddart and the Colstoun trust but the reality is that the eviction will still take place and eleven people - four adults and seven children will be homeless and without work in the New Year.

    Eviction is not the answer. I don't know what the answer is but there is an awful lot of work to do on the forthcoming Land Reform Bill to protect tenant farmers from these outdated, unacceptable and frankly, feudal situations.


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  8. ADB, I also feel that we need a combined tenant farmers, crofting and smallholders union.

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  9. Missing your blog posts, hope all is well

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  10. We have not made any progression in 200 plus years. Archaic and unacceptable.


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