In July 1970 an intrepid band struck out from a caravan in Crieff on holiday touring Scotland, mode of transport a Dormobile. The next two weeks created lasting memories of single track roads on clifftops and hillsides, running out of petrol, freewheeling with screams and laughter. Sights wheeching past Inversneckie, highland cattle brown and black, heather and gorse, spying dolphins and seals up Dornoch Way, open mouthed at Dunrobin and John O’ Groats, landmark with a signpost never before beheld or to be forgotten.The first and last house in Scotland, cherished ornaments of mice built with shells and snacks of caboc cheese, first butteries encountered.

Tearing along the North coast then across the west over rocky ground and winding roads, huge forbidding mountains, spotting eagles, weasels and stoats, red squirrels, majestic stags, wee baby deer; digging and splashing on Achiltibuie beach, midges and shooting stars. All eclipsed of course by the piper at Mallaig – playing into the night as we queued for the ferry to Skye. Around us Dads grunted at each other as they stepped out of the Cortina for a puff, Mums nodding as weans needed the toilet, the chip shop, a packet of crisps or a piece on jam. 

The piper played tunes, as adults tossed pre decimalisation coppers into his box, we young yins neither knew nor recognised, though we wondered why mums and dads seemed a bit gruff or girny, only to learn years later the poignance of those events, the meaning of words and tunes. “Scotland the Brave,” “Flower o Scotland,” “A Scottish Soldier”  “The Battle’s O’er.”  Little did we understand that our parents’ parents knew too well the significance of those notes, the sacrifice, pain and hope bound up amongst them. We did long after come to learn our own days of striving to build a better world, safe though we remained from the wars and privations of our grandparents.

But in summer 1970 the ferry took us to Armadale, with a chorus loud and teary across the waves, perhaps amplified by a few Skols and Babychams, memories in the DNA spanning centuries then we all went our own ways, some of us to get new wellies in Portree and a couple of fishing nets in Broadford. I suspect Drambuie may also have featured there before we stared in terror at Dunvegan’s dungeons and saluted in awe Flora MacDonald’s grave.

Now so many of those friends and family are gone and still we see Scotland damaged yet hopeful; there remains a ferry, sometimes, to Mallaig, and nae doot there’s a laddie learning the pipes which he’ll play to his tearful admiring queue. I’ll be there soon, 50 years later.

This time though I’m heading to Skye, not as a tourist, but to try to promote the hopes of the youth of that misty, mystical isle who deserve so much more than that on offer; busking for tourists, selling sandwiches, serving at bars ought not to be their only ambitions. The isle’s traditions, values, culture demand respect, investment, not lip service from those with expansive expense accounts and a taste for gravy. 

Ferry provision remains ashamedly poor despite a devolved administration; holiday homes proliferate; locals born and bred struggle to find well paid work and a permanent home at a reasonable cost; rural poverty seems a permanent fixture, all because we have governments who fail to adequately promote and protect the interests of those who elect them.  It is past time for a dynamic comprehensive plan for Skye where those who choose to make a life there spell out their needs and demands – they require low cost affordable housing, including for rent, an equitable land policy, greater investment in education and training, cessation of the brain drain and blue sky thought on fishing, wind and wave power, whisky and tourism – and much more.

Skye is Scotland in miniature – land of potential, with bounteous harvest – deserving provision of the tools for the people to get the job done. Those previously elected have mainly become the past;  it’s time for action by local folk, whose integrity and love for this island are famous and honest; those in possession of a soul not for sale backed up by national politicians prepared to make a commitment to island life and to recognise its importance should represent this beautiful place. I hope that soon they will.