There is, in Scotland, a little island called Ulva, one of 790 Scottish islands, almost all very beautiful. Most are situated in four archipelagos, but there are also groups of islands in the estuaries and in the many fresh water lochs (the Scottish word for ‘lakes’). Only about 100 are inhabited, because of the lack of services such as post, health centers and schools.
Ulva was put up for sale in July 2017 for £4,250,000 (4,770,000 euros), by a member of the aristocratic family to which the island had belonged for many decades. He was the 6th of the surviving inhabitants of Ulva. When rich magnates from Russia or the Middle East landed by helicopter on their island, the other 5 inhabitants feared they would see it fall into foreign hands and that their way of life would come to an end.
They therefore decided to buy the island themselves.
Having formed their own local organisation, they made use of the law granting them the right of first refusal.
Passed by the nationalist government of Nicola Sturgeon, this law gives local communities the right to make the first reasonable offer, which must be given serious consideration, in every case of sale of private land. This law is very popular, in a region where half of all properties belong to 500 people. Many of these landowners own castles and vast rural properties, but don’t live there. When the sale was launched, the owner, Jamie Howard, had described it as “one of the most beautiful islands of North Europe”. The little island of Ulva, with its own immaculate beaches and also views of the mountain Ben More and the spectacular waterfall Eas Fors on the neighboring island of Mull, is indeed an idyllic place, a Scottish jewel.
At its peak, this island had more than 800 inhabitants. Its decline began in the 18th century, when the landowners carried out mass evictions of tenant farmers to transform their fields into pasture for sheep. A good number left at this time for Australia and Canada. Having become owners of the island, the local organisation began to do everything possible for its ‘social and economic development’ and its ‘re-population’. They are inspired by the example of the neighbouring island of Eigg, bought by its inhabitants in 1997, after a series of capricious owners. Since then, its population has almost doubled; the island possesses its own network of renewable energy, a fast internet connection and a music festival.
Scotland is one of the rare countries in which the population has remained stable for 100 years. She has never recovered completely from the First World War when she lost a greater percentage of her men than any other combatant country. You can see everywhere in the country war memorials with long lists of names of those fallen. Perhaps that partially explains why immigrants are quite welcome here and why Scotland voted massively against Brexit. All of that makes more realistic the dream of the new owners: “When we take control, our immediate priority will be to renew the houses. We have also always said that a priority would be the re-population of the island,” they explain.
The island was bought “at a price fixed by an independent evaluation ordered by the Scottish Government,” says the organisation, which managed to raise the funds thanks to a subsidy from the Scottish Government and donations from 500 people. The inhabitants have been pleasantly surprised by the support they have received not only locally but also from abroad. “We have received donations from people who have never set foot in Scotland but who support the property reform,” the group said.” For our community, it is hardly credible!” When a people is proud of its national inheritance, its capacity to defend itself and to take on independence almost always succeeds.
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO,
with consultative special status at UN