My wife recently bought another copy of the “Sunshine on Leith” CD which is full of The Proclaimers songs. We saw the show at Dundee Rep a good few years ago as a family and thoroughly enjoyed it so the CD sits in the car waiting for a longer road trip. It’s one of those few CDs that everybody enjoys listening to and singing along with. I had it on when I was driving to and from Edinburgh the other day and one song above all the others keeps going off in my head since then, and has a refrain – “and I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land, cap in hand.” I remember discovering that it was about Scottish Independence at some point after I moved to Scotland and being surprised, because as a teenager I presumably had never really listened to the lyrics, it was just a really catchy unusual song to me.
One of my friends shared on Facebook recently a poster citing a number of things and saying there is no democracy in Scotland. There is one particular “fact” which stuck out to me “perks of having oil, none, it’s stolen”. I don’t want to get into the whole oil debate here, and apart from the strange interpretation of “stolen”, what struck me was the claim in essence that Scotland “owned” the oil presumably because it owns the land that the oil comes from.
When I was out cycling this morning, I spent a lot of the time looking at the countryside around me. I looked at the verges beside the road and tried to identify the wild flowers I saw. I looked in the trees and hedges for birds. I looked in fields for deer and rabbits. I looked at the views and appreciated that I can get out on my bike and see them. And I wondered what it is like to own a hill top, south facing house overlooking the River Tay, and to see the same view as the seasons change throughout the year. I thought about making a time-lapsed film of one of those views. Later on in the ride, I see paths sign posted across the hills, and farm tracks leading into the hills and disappearing, and I think that I must try to explore these areas and look at more views, or perhaps familiar views from different angles. I acknowledge my appreciation of the “Right to Roam” law in Scotland that guarantees my access to these places.
Later on still, I am riding alone after saying goodbye to my companions. It occurs to me that it is rather arrogant of people to claim ownership of the land. The Earth is over 4 billion years old, and we humans have spent hardly any time on it and only live on average say eighty years (now do I look that up? – you get the gist). Yet we claim ownership of plots of land all over the surface and under the sea, merely because we or our ancestors have lived there for a short time (or near there in the case of the sea). If anything we are the property of the planet, we are a product of its evolution and I hope that it will still exists long after humans don’t live here anymore.
I believe the standard understanding our human development was that we were nomadic savannah dwellers until agriculture was discovered and farming allowed the storage of grain food over the Winter months. Long term food supplies allowed communities to stay in one place and grow. I assume with agriculture came the concept of land ownership and because of the resources that could be grown and harvested on (and under) the land, being a landowner meant being wealthy. The land became property that was to be protected and guarded and if necessary fought over.
Humans are group formers. We are psychologically pre-dispose to form groups, we identify with others, we will support those that identify with that group and defend that group. Other groups become the not-group, and the not-group will be seen as inferior of the two, and if necessary attacked. Groups came be formed from any characteristic; religion, hair colour, skin colour, the scarf you were around your neck, and including where you live. If we are born on a particular land, then we belong to that land, and the land belongs to us. We own that land. But we don’t really, do we?
I was born in England, but I don’t own it. My kids are born in Scotland, but they don’t own it. The ground my house is built on, do I own it? How can I own something that doesn’t depend on me? Sure, I can maintain my house, I can landscape the garden, but it will all be changed by the next person to live here. And the next. And the next. The ground will still exist when no-one lives here, and it will keep changing.
What would the world be like if we were still nomads? I am sure that we would understand that the control we seek in our lives is an illusion. I am sure we would still fight and kill each other, but I wonder if maybe we would have more respect for the Earth we live on? Perhaps my nomadic friends can let me know.