The Trust and us

The National Trust for Scotland saved Fair Isle in the 1950s but things have moved on in the interve


Fair Isle stands out among Shetland’s 17 inhabited islands for a number of reasons. One of these is that the island, along with the vast majority of the houses, is owned by a single landlord: The National Trust for Scotland.

The relationship between the National Trust and the island is often cited as reason for Fair Isle’s continuing success as a community, and historically there is much to be said for the part that they have played in this success.

The trust purchased Fair Isle in 1954 from its then owner, George Waterston. Waterston had only been landlord for six years, but had found himself unable to muster the financial strength required to protect the island from the threats that it faced. And these threats were very real. In the 1950s houses here did not have electricity, running water was by no means universal, and depopulation had reached such a level that evacuation was being openly discussed. Things clearly needed to be done, and done quickly, in order to save the fragile community.

In the years after the transfer, improvements were steadily implemented. Modernisation of housing and the provision of amenities were high priorities, as were improvements to the island’s connections with the outside world. Flights to Shetland began in the late sixties, and then became a regular service in the mid-seventies, by which stage Fair Isle had become a very different place.

Since then these improvements have continued. Housing on the island is now of a very high standard, and this ongoing process has helped to create not only a sustainable place to live but also a confident and optimistic community. The 'partnership' that has developed over the years also means that islanders now have, in theory, a much greater say in the running of the island than ever before. Forums and committees, made up usually of elected residents, meet to discuss all of the issues that are important to the community, and in some cases, such as housing and “forward planning”, to make their feelings known to the trust.

The truth is, though, that the island no longer really needs the National Trust. The conditions under which the current arrangement were a necessity have long since passed, and at times that arrangement can now seem like an anachronism, or worse, a barrier to real progress. But while everyone expresses their annoyance at the trust sometimes, many argue that this is better than the alternative: expressing it at each other, which is always a danger in a small place.

If ever there was an island for which community ownership seemed ideally suited, then Fair Isle is it. Yet unlike other islands in the west of Scotland, that is not a route that people here have chosen to take. For me, the benefits of such a move are quite clear: it would give islanders the freedom to pursue whatever ideas they felt would be of benefit to them, and not require them to rely on the trust’s approval; it would remove the potential for a 'dependency culture', where begging to the landlord replaces getting things done; it would also remove the need to deal with a slow and unwieldy organisation, which has a thousand other interests and pressures on both its time and its budget. That said, there are many others – people who have lived in Fair Isle far longer than I – who would passionately disagree. The trust has seen us through the past half century, they would say, so why seek to change what still works? It is a question for which there are no simple, or immediate, answers.

Photo by Dave Wheeler: Jimmy Stout, skipper of the Good Shepherd, with Angus Jack of the National Trust for Scotland, in front of a plaque, recently unveiled at the community hall

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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Turkey's terrifying post-coup crackdown is nearing the point of no return

Horrific stories of rape and torture are emerging from Turkey's jails.

Recently, we have seen Turkey plunge into a full-blown crisis, with its terrifying post-coup crackdown. More than 10,000 people are currently in detention, including soldiers, police, judges and teachers. 

Amnesty International’s team in Turkey has gathered horrific evidence of torture, rape, sexual abuse and beatings of detainees in official and unofficial places of detention. Two lawyers in Ankara told us that detainees had witnessed detained senior military officers being raped with a truncheon by police officers. 

Our researchers on the ground also heard numerous reports of detainees being held in stress positions for over 48 hours, denied food and water and being denied access to their family or lawyers. 

One lawyer working at the Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul told Amnesty that some of the detainees were extremely emotionally distressed. One detainee attempted to throw himself out of a sixth story window and another repeatedly slammed his head against a wall.  

President Erdoğan has remained conspicuously silent over these abuses. Is he condoning this torture and ill-treatment through his silence?

To be sure, public security is an understandable priority in Turkey, but no circumstances can ever justify the level of human rights abuses we are now witnessing. 

This crackdown is of a scale not witnessed in Turkey since the dark days of martial law imposed after the military coup in 1980. 

The Turkish government must now show the political resolve to stamp out these abuses and to follow the rule of law in its investigations and maintenance of public security. Independent monitors, as well as lawyers, should be granted immediate access to the detention centres and family members should be informed of the whereabouts of their loved ones. Transparency and openness are urgently needed. Blocking such requests only fuels suspicions that terrible abuses are indeed happening inside the detention facilities. 

The arbitrary arrests we have seen, in most cases with no charges given, are grave violations of the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in both Turkey’s national and international law.

There now prevails an extreme climate of fear and instability across Turkey, where to criticise the government’s actions or speak out against violations now carries with it the risk of being labelled "pro-coup". 

Arrest warrants issued for dozens of journalists are part of a brazen purge based on political affiliation. Six of these journalists are currently detained. Rather than stifling press freedom and intimidating journalists into silence, the Turkish authorities must allow the media to do their work and end this oppressive clampdown on free expression.

The government has set itself on a perilous course since declaring a state of emergency on 20 July, including extending the amount of time detainees can be held without charge from four to 30 days. And shutting down schools, NGOs and media centres.

It’s absolutely vital that the authorities take some time for calm reflection and ensure they can discern between criminal acts and legitimate criticism, no matter how uncomfortable it may make President Erdoğan.

These are truly dangerous times for human rights in Turkey. And to make matters worse, President Erdoğan has threatened a return of the death penalty. The death penalty was abolished in 2004 as part of a move for Turkey to gain entry into the European Union. If it is reinstated, Turkey will disqualify itself from membership or future membership of the EU. 

Amnesty welcomes the fact that the UK Government has stressed the importance of the Turkish authorities maintaining the rule of law and called for the Turkish authorities to reject a return to the death penalty. 

In a recent phone call, Theresa May underlined the UK’s full support for Turkey’s democratically-elected government and institutions and said there was no place for military intervention in politics. Amnesty hopes that she will also publicly demand that the authorities immediately halt the human rights crackdown and allow immediate access to independent monitors and lawyers into places of detention. 

Kristyan Benedict is Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager