Siol nan Gaidheal
They create a desert and call it civilisation.
The Castaway 2000 Project

Imagine the scene; a windswept Scottish Island, uninhabited since the 1960s, a few sheep here, some grass and a bit of beach there. There are no trees on the island; they tend not to survive the 100mph plus winds, which gust here during the long and dark winter months.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly out of the sky a helicopter looms, landing lights blazing, rotor blades whirling. The machine lands, the blades slowly stop turning and out steps a man. (Cockney accent) “This ain’t like Hackney is it! Where’s the noight loife?”

In a bizarre attempt to mark the millennium a group of 36, ‘chosen to reflect a microcosm of British society’, have been ‘cast adrift’ on the Island of Taransay, near Harris in an experiment to see how they interact with each other and how they cope with the hostile environment they now find themselves in.

The project has not gone without its problems. Plagued by flu, meningitis, Daily Rectum journalists and a fear that they may not have a roof over their head when they arrived have all led to the project deteriorating into farce.

It appears that this particular microcosm of British society had not fully mastered the intricacies of the English language and had not appreciated the full implications of words like castaway, and survival. This ‘poor’ band of souls now resident in a year-long project for a BBC documentary, have yet to harvest carrots and potatoes. They have no Tilley lamps or peat fires, no thatched roof to attend, not as much as a plug of Bogey Roll or a barrel of good salt herring. They do have deep-freezes, wind turbines, a back-up helicopter and a prefabricated pigsty.

The 36, ‘the cream of around 4000 volunteers’, god only knows what the others were like!, include four children, a few teachers, a doctor, a butcher, a bender but as yet, no candlestick maker – the instant community. None of the group was resident in Scotland prior to the start of the project. Not surprisingly most have middle England backgrounds. Even more unsurprisingly is the producer of the programme, who has to be constantly reminded to stop saying ‘my island’ when referring to Taransay, shares a similar background. It is becoming apparent that this project is more about self-deprecating, self-indulgent, imperialist fantasies, rather than the billed ‘anthropological study into human relationships in a hostile environment’.

The week before they were to be ‘castaway’ a group of these ‘survivors’ was sighted by our local SnG man at the Macleod Motel in Tarbert, where they enjoyed a last taste of disco and contributed to the dodgy Karaoke. Even when they attempted to take part in real island community life these lanky enthusiastic people still managed to portray that air of dishevelled idealism, worn by those who went to really good schools.

All have signed gagging contracts, which forbid them to say anything to anyone who is not directly related to the project.

The first major setback came in the first week when a storm hit the island with wind speeds exceeding 130mph. Hundreds of homes lost power in the Western Isles. On Taransay the ‘survivors’ had their first real taste of the forces to be reckoned with, and they didn’t like it. The pigsty was neatly demolished, the toilet de-roofed and a sleeping pod stripped.

The second setback came after the Group Doctor infected half of the ‘adventurers’ with the flu. Instead of roughing it out with his victims however, the Doc decided to jump ship, with the rest of his family, and went back to a hotel in Tarbert to sit it out. All this after just four days.

The seriousness of the illness became apparent when challenged at the block of four modern flats; a stones throw from the pier at Tarbert, the various occupants refused to answer questions about who they were or why they were there. One of the ill families emerged from the flats but refused to discuss why they were there. The husband and wife and their two young boys got into a car, presumably one they had made themselves, and drove off without saying how badly the flu-virus was affecting them!

The BBC documentary was slowly deteriorating into a genre, which would have Terry and June rubbing their hands with expectation of a full series re-run for themselves.

The third major problem the project encountered came from the media. Ironic really given how much the project was trailed prior to it beginning for real. The Stornoway ‘Island Post’ has staked out the secret hiding place of the Doctor and his weans. The Macleod Motel receives calls all day from the Sun newspaper. The Motel’s owner has the Daily Record phoning his mother continually. The Sunday Mail spend their time sailing around Taransay in a chartered fishing boat. In Tarbert’s Main Street a TV crew spend their time running up and down seeking vox-pop interviews with the locals. Many more reporters are expected over the coming months, no doubt handing out strings of beads.

Local islanders can now fully picture the scene; a child cries behind drawn curtains, and a dishevelled young man, in his mid-twenties opens the door to grin bemused and unsurprised at the Island Post. “Still here? Oh, I see, you’re just having a snoop, fair enough.” The question is how did that exchange lead to ‘Killer Bug Stalks Terror Island’ or ‘Taransay Tornado Ate My Pigs’.

All of this points to one glaringly obvious fact; the experiment is a very sick joke. This adventure will cost TV licence payers 2.4 million plus the added cost of flying individuals off the island with the merest hint of a sniffle. Economic arguments aside, this project is ideologically unsound and indefensible. One local paper has called it a ‘bogus exercise in survival’. The colonists will not live off the land. They will not have to deal with the very harsh reality of living on this island for the foreseeable future. They know that in less than one year they will be gently plucked from this ‘wilderness’ and taken back to all the comforts they cited as the reason for coming on the Island in the first place.

They are not self-sufficient. The community will not be permanent; they are not even marooned, in any meaningful sense. Apparently some of the castaways were seen at the millennium dance at Tarbert.

This merry bunch of souls enjoy luxuries which amount to an insult to the former inhabitants of Taransay, the other lost communities of the satellite islands of the Outer Hebrides and all who remember them.

At first it was thought that the colonists would have to resort to killing the deer and sheep on the island in order to survive. It is now known that they will have weekly food deliveries from shops on mainland Harris, a computer, radios and even a washing machine. The English certainly have a perverse sense of roughing it.

What is worse is that that just 30 years ago the last inhabitants of Taransay left the Island because of lack of funds to supply them with hydroelectric and repair the phone line.

In Harris, the people have been battling to raise enough cash to pay for a sports centre and swimming pool. Whilst few locals would wish the colonists ill, fewer still would mourn if this offensive and tasteless experiment were abandoned. The Western Isles are littered with the wrecks, ruins and bones of those who belittled the power of her elements and the might of her long winter, on nave and optimistic minds.

The mindset, which instigated this ill-thought-out scheme, pervades English society. It is this ideology, which has attempted to trample over our country, our people and our culture without recourse by and for its victims.

It is a mindset, which degrades, humiliates and reinforces the thinking of a people who have long sought to commit our land to the wilderness it now is. The more poignant questions of what happened to the community that lived there before, and what happened to all the other communities in Scotland, which now lie desolate and silent will not be raised in the next or any future episodes. Wilderness is only a relative concept.

In comparative terms Taransay is a wilderness, as is much of the Gaidhealtachd now, but that wilderness has come about after the deliberate and systematic assault on our people and culture by a nation driven by hate.

To have this group, this microcosm, these particular colonists, these so-called visitors come and patronise our people in the same way our ancestors were patronised by red-coated Saxons, who derided their culture and their language, is utterly repugnant.

We need to build our communities; not with starry-eyed yuppies from the cesspit orifice we charitably describe as England, but with our own, enlightened youth, proud of their heritage and culture and with a genuine vision to build upon the beliefs and the ways of the Gaidheal.

Alba Abu.

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