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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Eigg: An island of opportunity?
Iain MacDonald
BBC Scotland

Islanders on Eigg staged celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of their community buy-out.

They were joined by BBC Scotland reporter Iain MacDonald, who looks at the impact that move has had on the residents and the implications it may have for other Scottish communities.

It's 10 years on and most of those concerned have voted it a success.

Norah Barnes, Bob Wallace and their son Murry. Picture by Iain MacDonald
Islanders Norah Barnes and Bob Wallace with their son, Murray

But while the islanders of Eigg were celebrating the anniversary of the community buy-out of their island, the question on some minds was: what next?

For the island once owned by such exotic characters as Olympic bobsleigh competitor Keith Schellenberg and the self-styled "fire artist" Dr Maruma, it's probably more of the same, and moving onwards.

Later this year the energy released by the buy-out will be made manifest with the electrification of Eigg.

An electric grid variously powered by wind power, solar energy and two hydro electric schemes will take advantage of the island's resources to put all 83 inhabitants on mains supply for the first time ever.

This is part of the greening of Eigg.

And there's another. At the 10-bedroom 1920s lodge once used by Keith Schellenberg to entertain summer visitors, Norah Barnes and Bob Wallace and their three children are hard at work turning a building which is an icon of the bad old days into a symbol of the future.

They bought the mansion, once Eigg's estate office, after even the islanders' trust decided it could do nothing with it.

But it wasn't exactly bargain of the year. The roof leaked. The water system didn't really deserve the name. And dry rot was moving through the building like a forest fire.

For two years, they lived on a boat in the bay, working on making the place habitable.

The Millars. Picture by Iain MacDonald
It was a dream fulfilled to come back and plan to stay
Kathleen Millar, pictured with her husband Stuart and their children Catriona and Breagha

Now courses on eco-building and sustainable life styles will follow and they believe their Earth Connections business will boost the island's economy.

As parents of the island's youngest child, one-year old Clyde, as well as Murry who's five and three-year-old Logan, they're investing in the future.

"This is our home," said Norah.

"We didn't plant a hundred different kinds of fruit trees in the old gardens to up and leave," said 42-year-old Bob.

But away from Eigg, what of the wider future for communities like this one?

Brian Wilson was the Scottish Office minister who turned up to bestow ministerial approval on the buy-out 10 years ago - and to use it as a launch pad for the community land unit, which powered and supported 150 subsequent buy-outs, from North Harris to Gigha.

Now he says there's another radical step that would make political sense.

At the moment, only crofting communities have the right to buy their own land, whether the owner wants to sell to them or not.

Now, he says, any community anywhere should have that right.

The majority of the Western Isles is under community ownership... but if we look to the east, examples of community-owned land are just fireflies on a very dark horizon
Michael Foxley
Highland councillor

Eigg was not a crofting island 10 years ago. Today's land reform law would not have prevented any private laird exploiting the island for his or her own ends and neglecting the islanders.

"I don't care what party does it," said Mr Wilson, "but the next radical piece of legislation should ensure that in cases where private landlordism is unacceptable to people who live in a place like this, then there should be an absolute right to get out from under it."

The island's councillor Dr Michael Foxley backs that up.

"The majority of the Western Isles is under community ownership. But if we look to the east, examples of community-owned land are just fireflies on a very dark horizon," he said.

It is advance notice of a campaign that could send a shiver up the spines of all of Scotland's landowners.

Way ahead

Their representative body the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, formerly the Scottish Landowners' Federation, had no-one available to comment.

Certainly if you listen to 49-year-old Eigg resident Stuart Millar, who's restored the house at Howlin where Lord of the Rings writer JRR Tolkien once holidayed, it's the way ahead.

"If it hadn't been for the buy-out," he said, "none of this would have happened."

He has one of four new crofts, created here after the buy-out where he runs pigs, sheep and cattle - many of them rare breeds.

And this native of Bishopbriggs has been here 19 years. He knows what it used to be like.

'A dream fulfilled'

He married his partner Kathleen here just over a week ago and they and their two daughters plan a long-term future on Eigg.

Kathleen's mother was born on Eigg but had to leave.

Today she can contemplate the rest of her life here, if she wants. And she does.

"It was a dream fulfilled to come back and plan to stay," she says. "And now our children can decide to do the same."

It's a future that, in darker days, did not seem likely on Eigg.

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