Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi

Scotland finds itself blinking in the spotlight of international attention. The land of tartan, whisky, clans and castles suddenly has a role on the world stage.

So how did this unusual situation come about?

Well, it all goes back to the Union of Scotland and England to form a United Kingdom in 1707. Scotland was very much the weaker party and was out-negotiated on the all the important issues such as trade, tax and political representation. We did however hold on to institutions that were important to us: our own education system, our own established church and our own legal system.

Until Prime Minister Tony Blair gave Scotland its own parliament and a degree of devolution, justice here was in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland, a member of the UK Government. But since 1999 we have elected our own Scottish administration to deal with health, education, prisons, environment ... and justice.

'And so', I am asked, 'is all this going to affect tourism?'
Well I really cannot imagine so. I fully understand the strong feelings expressed, but this release does not reflect any groundswell of pro-Libyan opinion in Scotland. Far from it. This is one man's decision, flowing from a long established and compassionate legal system. Right or wrong, it is now a fait accompli and the Scottish Government is unlikely to have a similar decision to take in the next 500 years.

In my view the big loser in all of this is Libya: that country has missed a unique opportunity to raise its standing in the world by demonstrating dignity, gratitude and respect for the dead.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Château de Grimaud

We had just under two hundred people in Edinburgh during The Gathering - a busy time for our small company. And once everyone was safely back home, I took a few welcome days off in the South of France. Castles continued to call though, and I climbed up to the Château de Grimaud, dramatically overlooking the Gulf of St Tropez. I had thought it was a Saracen fortress, but it was actually built by the king's grand sénéchal, Jean de Cossa in the 15th century. Essentially a medieval castle, it has massive towers with firing slits and high walls surrounded by a long stretch of crenelated ramparts up to seven metres high. In 1791 the French Revolutionaries confiscated and then demolished this aristocrat’s residence and it has been a noble ruin ever since. There are great views but the lack of maintenance and any interpretation made me realise what an excellent job Historic Scotland do for us and our visitors.

But the charm of Grimaud village with its colourful alleyways and a game of boules in the shade of the plane trees is something we may struggle to match!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Funeral by Loch Ness

The redcoats stopped when they saw the funeral. A troop of six was escorting the bread wagon to Inverness and any gathering of Highlanders was worth a look in 1746 - there might be a wanted man, an illegal weapon. If nothing else, there was no harm in emphasising who controlled the food supplies, controlled the Highlands, following the Battle of Culloden earlier that year.

The ragged group around the coffin huddled closer, guarding what dignity remained to them. The priest looked up, paused and continued. Dismounted troopers were moving round for a better view. As they did so, an old woman swept a loaf of bread from the back of the cart into her dark shawl. Someone shouted. The woman ran. Troopers cocked their weapons. The funeral party dived behind gravestones. A shot rang out. Then another. Someone was hit…

It wasn’t a major incident in that incident-rich year. But it left its mark. Three marks in fact – the pits made by bullets on the gravestone of a James Fraser, buried in 1730.

It is not easy to bring the past to life, but last week my Outlander Tourists (fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books) were able to touch some little marks of conflict, unchanged, unrepaired, largely unnoticed since that fateful year of suppression.