While workers across the world are facing uncertain incomes or being forced into work by bosses with little regard to safety, workers in the Scottish Highlands are also facing another threat to their safety. There has been a huge influx of people into their remote communities, many paying for luxury ‘isolation holidays’ or returning to their second homes, putting what little services exist in these areas under enormous strain. This reflects a broader pattern of the ruling class viewing the Highlands as their playground, leaving locals with a lack of housing, poor economic opportunities and a severe lack of vital services.
By Clara McGill, Glasgow Marxists
On the 22nd March, CalMac ferries finally responded to calls from residents and the Scottish government to close their ferry services to people seeking to spend the Coronavirus lockdown in holiday homes in the Highlands and Islands, risking an increase in the spread of the virus as well as putting the already under-resourced NHS in the area under immense strain. The owner of the Nevis Range Centre in Fort William had to turn away over 30 caravans in one day, finally having to barricade the car park to stop people entering and living there for the duration of the lockdown.
Meanwhile landlords across the Highlands and Islands ran adverts and made videos advertising their ‘luxury self-isolation properties’, expensive apartments with private cinemas, gyms and a private food delivery service. Once again we see the rules of the lockdown being one thing for the workers and another for the ruling class, with individuals being fined for going on drives yet bosses being allowed to keep large non-essential workplaces open with immunity from the law, or in this case, the government telling people not to leave their houses, yet these landlords being freely allowed to advertise their apartments which would obviously break those rules.
This is a particularly severe problem because of the lack of services and amenities in the Highlands and Islands. The fact that capitalism is driven to deliver services based on where they will be profitable, rather than on where they are needed, has resulted in lack of transport, shops and amenities in many rural communities. This obviously places these communities under immense pressure in times of crisis, even without the added influx of those seeking a luxury self-isolation holiday. Some islands have already reported a severe lack of food and petrol, as the few small food shops which exist are overwhelmed. The NHS across the UK has faced brutal attacks by the Tory government, and this can be clearly seen in Highland and Island communities too. There are currently no intensive care units and very few ventilators outside of Inverness. MP Angus MacNeil tweeted a picture of Barra village hall, where the sick will be forced to sleep on camping beds with no ventilators, no testing facilities and a very limited supply of oxygen, proving how ravaged the NHS has been by Tory austerity. This is particularly concerning as 27% of people living in the Highlands, and 30% of those living in the Western Isles, are over the age of 60, much higher than the Scottish average and making the NHS in these areas very likely to become quickly overwhelmed.
This pressure is just another example of the ruling class viewing the Highlands as their playground, while workers and small farmers in these communities struggle to survive. Half of all rural land in Scotland is owned by just 432 people, a number which has stayed around the same for over 100 years. The Scottish Land Commission has highlighted the devastating impact this land ownership has for people living in rural areas – with land mostly being used for large-scale high-profit conifer forests, deer and grouse, playparks for the ruling class and luxury holiday homes, despite there being a severe shortage of affordable housing. As a result, many people find it difficult to eke out a living in the seasonal holiday business, despite many having a wealth of skills in agriculture which could be put to use if the land was in the correct hands.
Community land ownership in Scotland lies at only 3%, and these communities who have bought out their land had to pay the landowners for the privilege of getting their land back. The landowners should be content with the years they have spent squeezing the land dry in their thirst for profit – if anything they should be the ones paying the community, not the other way around. The ruling class have used the estates of the Highlands and Islands to gain vast profits for years, having attained the land in the first place when their ancestors forced the people living there off the land in the Highland Clearances. All rural land should be nationalised and placed under the control of the communities who live and work there who can then make democratic decisions on how it should be used. Only then will we see affordable housing being built, an end to the grouse-parks and cash forests, and instead the land being cultivated to provide for those who live and work on it and for wider society.
Many are rightly feeling shocked and scared at the prospect of an influx of people into vulnerable communities in the Highlands and Islands, treating the lockdown as a luxury holiday and endangering an underfunded and under-resourced NHS. But as long as the Highlands and Islands remain in the hands of a few wealthy landowners we will continue to see the area being exploited in the thirst for profit, at the expense of communities who live and work there. We are fighting to build a revolutionary movement that can nationalise all of Scotland’s land under democratic community ownership and as part of building a society runs in the interest of all instead of in the cold pursuit of profit.