Brendan Hamill's concern about the wholesale windfarmisation of Scotland's hills became so great that he decided to stand for the European parliament. Here's his election diary.
Three or four weeks ago, I spoke to people in several of the campaign groups in the Perth area about the possibility of fighting the European elections on 10 June on an anti-wind power ticket. The response was sufficiently encouraging to persuade me to send in an application to the electoral commission to register a political party with the name Scottish Wind Watch (SWW). Keir Hardie didn't have to bother with such formalities!
Today we received official confirmation of our registration, so we can go ahead and put up candidates. Just two problems. One, we don't have any members; and two, we need to put down a deposit of £5000 by 13 May.
Having launched an appeal for 500 people to put £10 each towards the deposit, we've now signed up 30 people in two days and are hoping for more.
At least 700 people turn out on a bank holiday Monday evening for a meeting in Perth city hall organised by the Glenfarg action group. The speakers are David Bellamy, Hugh Sharman (an expert on Danish wind power) and John Campbell QC, arch-opponent of wind power but better known for his role in the Holyrood inquiry. The turnout shows how concerned people are, but in the questions after the speeches everyone is asking basically the same thing: "How do we stop the unstoppable?" I ask the panel if they agree that we need to fight this politically. John Campbell says yes - but unfortunately, as this is a "non-political" meeting, I don't get the chance to go into detail.
A week to go before nominations have to be in, and we have raised barely £1000 towards our target. Nevertheless, I start ringing round our membership looking for volunteers for the six candidates apart from myself. This election will be fought across the whole of Scotland as a single constituency, with seats allocated to parties roughly in proportion to their share of the vote. There are seven seats to be allocated, so we can put up seven candidates.
Following strenuous efforts by Blairgowrie-based Sylvia Thorne, our deputy leader, a last-minute benefactor steps in to cover our shortfall for the election deposit - although it's in the form of a loan rather than an outright gift. Sylvia thinks we should accept it as we are getting a steady stream of donations and subscriptions coming in every day. I agree.
To Edinburgh with the nomination papers. The returning officer and his assistant meticulously check the spelling of each candidate's name and address for errors. There aren't any. We are fighting this election!
Spend a couple of trying hours on the internet investigating options for my campaign tour of the northwest Highlands and the Western Isles. I plan to do this entirely by public transport and mountain bike, to demonstrate our "green" credentials and to expose some of the problems of public transport in Scotland. Eventually I go into Perth railway station where a nice lass helps me trawl through the options. The main problem is the return leg from Kyle to Perth - all the bicycle spaces (a princely two per train) are booked up solid. Eventually I have to add a day to my itinerary in order to find a train with space for my antique Rock-Hopper.
After a couple of days of frantic activity, we finalise the text of our election leaflet. This will be delivered free to every household in Scotland by the Royal Mail, but we have to pay for the printing and handle the logistics, which will include splitting the leaflets into bundles of 100 and delivering them to the appropriate Royal Mail centres.
We can't afford to cover all of Scotland - this would require 2.5 million leaflets - so we opt to exclude the major urban centres. This brings the number down to 1.1 million. Even so, the only printer able to meet the 28 May deadline (when the leaflets have to be with the Royal Mail) is in York. We place the order. Simultaneously, I send out an appeal to our membership to support the printing costs.
Meet Graeme McAulay of the BBC's Politics Scotland to film a piece for their show later in the week. I've suggested Rumbling Bridge as a venue as it has good views of the proposed Mellock Hill wind factory in the Ochils and of the Earlsburn site on the plateau of the Gargunnock hills. Also, you can see the Wallace Monument: this gives an idea of the scale of the turbines, which will be twice as high. We spend a lot of time filming me cycling up and down the hill on my mountain bike.
Day One of my campaign tour of the northwest. Sylvia and a photographer from the Courier see me off at Perth station. Four hours later I'm at Garve, sheltering under the footbridge. Two minutes after the train left, the heavens opened and the platform turned white with hailstones. Fortunately this is the heaviest shower of the day, and I make slow progress up the road to Ullapool against a stiff headwind.
Eventually arrive in Ullapool nearly five hours after leaving Garve, to meet fellow SWW candidates Jenny Scobie and Richard Hammock, and Sylvia, for the campaign launch on the pier. The evening is taken up by a meeting organised by the local SNP councillor at which representatives of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) unveil their plans for a 400kV overhead line connecting with the proposed submarine cable from Lewis. The line will run underground inland to an as-yet unspecified site where the interconnector will apparently be twice the size of Hampden Park. The pylons will then run across the hills northeast of Ullapool to the head of Loch Broom and follow the road across the Dirrie More to Beauly. This is the only possible route as both the Beinn Dearg massif to the north and the Fannaichs to the south are designated Special Areas of Conservation.
Not surprisingly, these tidings are not well received by the audience of more than 200 packed into the village hall, and the SSE men beat a hasty retreat. I then give a more relaxed discourse on why wind power is a waste of time and money, and answer questions from the audience, most of whom are very aware of the issues and receptive to our argument that the way to stop the pylons is to oppose the wind power schemes on Lewis which are the root of the problem.
Aboard the ferry to Stornoway with the hills from Applecross to Cape Wrath stretched out along the eastern horizon on a crystal-clear morning. Cycle the 18 miles to Pairc to meet local SWW member Martyn Imrie who has arranged an evening with residents at Barvas, where one of the larger wind power projects is planned. All told, there are plans for about 600 turbines on Lewis, and the AMEC men who are proposing the largest project of 300 turbines are behaving as if it is a fait accompli. It's clear from the articulate and well-informed people at the meeting that they may not get the easy ride they expect here.
Wake much later than intended - must be the island air. Thankfully accept a lift from Martyn to the highpoint of the road over Clisham, without which I would certainly miss the ferry from Tarbert to Uig. The descent to Tarbert is as exhilarating and stunning as ever. Another beautiful crossing of the Minch, which makes it only too clear how obvious the proposed wind factories in north Skye, at Edinbane and Ben Aketil at the head of Loch Greshornish, are going to be. There's also the prospect of another 400kV overhead line being put in here to replace the existing wooden-pole line and carry more power from Harris and Lewis to the mainland. The existing line supplies power to the islands and caused much protest when it was put up, as the original route would have gone through Glen Sligachan.
In Uig I meet Ben Palmer, another SWW candidate. Ben and his wife Rhonda are crofters and also run the campsite at Loch Greshornish. We planned to hand out leaflets in Portree High St - but there are no people! It dawns on us that the Scottish cup final is in progress, so we reschedule our walkabout for later.
Another evening meeting of local activists: it's clear that the community is split down the middle on this issue, with some crofters being promised payments of several thousand a year from the wind company (AMEC again). The landowner, of course, is going to make much more and is said to have engineered the removal of two anti-wind campaigners from the community council by putting pressure on his tenants to vote against them in the recent elections.
Near disaster. After a long day's cycling, I pop into the village shop at Broadford for a bar of chocolate. Then cycle on to find a bed for the night. Two hours later, after checking into a B&B, I discover my wallet is missing, complete with rail tickets home, credit cards and all the cash I have with me. After painstakingly retracing my steps through the village, I find the wallet, untouched, where I had left it on top of the dustbin outside the shop while fiddling with my panniers. Maybe nobody noticed it was there, but I like to think that the folk of Broadford have a different sense of values from those of the world most of us inhabit.
A leisurely ride to Kyle, with a toll-free crossing of the bridge, gets me to the station in plenty of time. However, I still almost manage to miss the train since I am talking on the phone to our Aberdeenshire candidate Richard Hammock when I suddenly realise all the people who were on the platform have vanished. Hurriedly pushing the bike to the end of the station buildings, I peer round the other side to see my train just about to depart.
An email from the printers in York: they can't find a carrier to deliver the leaflets before the afternoon of 27 May - which will be far too late for us to split them into bundles of 100 for the post office. After a couple of hours of frantic phoning, I arrange to hire a van and drive to York early Wednesday morning to collect half of the leaflets - they are on four pallets and weigh three tonnes in all. One of our Alyth members will drive a second van to collect the remaining pallets. Bob and Helen Pass offer the use of their house for counting the leaflets.
After rising at 3:30am, I arrive back in Kinross 12 hours later with 600,000 leaflets. Sylvia and her helpers have worked out a system for batching these, so we work through the evening and into the night. The second vanload arrives at about 9pm. The conservatory is now piled high with boxes.
The first shipment of bundled leaflets is ready to go to the Glasgow delivery office. When I get there, nobody knows what to do with them. A few more phonecalls and I find the right person to speak to. One down, three to go. About 12 hours later, we are in Perth, unloading the second shipment.
Richard and Lynn arrive at 9:30am to take the third shipment to Inverness. We have already been up counting leaflets for more than three hours. At 3pm, I head from Aberdeen to Perth to take the van back after handing over the last batch of leaflets. Now comes the sting in the tail. Somebody had scraped the side of the van while it was parked on the farm road outside Bob and Helen's house. Probably a farm trailer or something similar - there's green paint involved. The repair ends up costing us another £200. Ah, the joys of political campaigning.
To Moffat for a meeting on the proposed Harestanes / Ae Forest project - 126 turbines or thereabouts. The Green Party list MSP Chris Ballance has challenged Labour's local MSP Elaine Murray to a debate on wind power, although it turns out to be mostly about whether the life of the Chapelcross power station should be extended or the station replaced with another nuclear installation. I get the chance to put in my tuppenceworth from the audience, but a Greenpeace member objects after I've been speaking for a couple of minutes, so things deteriorate from then on. Chris Ballance alleges the leaflet I've been handing out at the door is based on distorted data, so I'm delighted to inform him that the figures come from the International Energy Agency and Danish government websites.
After two weeks of badgering the TV companies, the BBC and STV/Grampian finally offer us a five-minute slot for an election broadcast next Monday evening. Problem is, we can't do it live and have to deliver a prerecorded tape by noon on Friday. We also find it will cost over £4000 to produce this - so, since we don't have anything like that in spare funds, we have to turn down the offer. I ask if we can have a Gaelic radio broadcast in the Western Isles instead, but am told they are not offering any radio slots in this election.
Sylvia and I go to Amulree in the evening for a meeting with local activists who have five wind projects on their doorstep. Spend much time discussing how to wake up the people of Crieff, but don't come up with the answer.
Ullapool again, to hear what John Swinney has to say on the pylons. Ewan Scobie has distributed copies of our map of the 200+ current wind power projects in Scotland. Swinney says he would be horrified if the situation ended up looking anything like this, and maintains that just a few large windfarms would provide 10% of UK electricity requirements. Can't help thinking he doesn't grasp how little electricity you get out of the average wind turbine. I could give him a hard time but decide to let it pass, as the locals are clearly grateful that he is at least taking an interest.
Try without success to phone my wife Anne to check on the condition of my father-in-law, who fell down steps in the round church in Bowmore on Islay yesterday. Fortunately Anne was on the island at the weekend.
Back to Stornoway for a public meeting in the Nicolson Institute. Spend a couple of hours handing out leaflets in the town centre during the afternoon. Most people are politely receptive, but one large and prosperous-looking gentleman tells me, not very politely, to go back to the mainland and goes on at length about the job prospects of wind power for the islands. He doesn't give me the time to tell him that the nearest haulage contractor capable of transporting turbine mast sections is based in Brora.
At the evening meeting, one of the main topics turns out to be not wind but nuclear power. The suspicion is that the true agenda is to build a nuclear station in Lewis, and that's the real reason for the planned submarine cables to Ullapool and Skye. This makes sense: without some baseload generating capacity, these power lines are never going to be economically viable. It's also exactly what Brian Wilson would advocate. The plot thickens.
Anne phones to say her father has been transferred to the Southern General in Glasgow and is not too well. Also, my last remaining aunt has died. Anna was 90 in January and still hale last time I saw her. I remember her telling how they used to camp near Glencoe in the 1930s. Uncle Benny worked on the railway and they got free tickets. At that time the railway still ran to Ballachulish and they used to camp at Kentallen, long before the days of lightweight tents.
Our eve-of-poll meeting in Ullapool high school attracts a modest but articulate audience, including a couple on holiday from England who can't understand why the people of Scotland aren't out marching in the streets on this issue. Tell me about it.
Polling day. Jenny and Ewan Scobie have been up for hours sending last-minute emails to B&B owners and hoteliers. I head back to Kinross to cast my vote. At Braemore, I stop to repair some of our posters which have been turned back-to-front and the message "Wind Power - Yes Please" scrawled on them.
At the polling station in Glenfarg, I'm not surprised to discover the turnout has been low. I bet as soon as the 115-metre turbines start sprouting on the Ochils, you won't be able to move for people demanding to know how this was allowed to happen.
Anne hasn't voted. She must still be in Glasgow with her mum and dad.
The main news is Tony Blair's announcement that the next G8 summit is to be at Gleneagles. I fire off letters to the papers pointing out that this will not only give the politicians an excellent view of the 113 turbine sites in the Ochils, and the Beauly-Denny overhead power line, but the aircraft and vehicle movements associated with the summit will put more CO2 into the atmosphere in the next year than all the lifetime reductions claimed for the Ochils wind factories.
Anne phones again: her father's a bit better, but will probably be in hospital another week.
To the count in Tullibody civic centre. This is strong SNP territory and it shows. We are getting a modest number of votes in the rural areas, but the urban population clearly doesn't see wind power as an issue. Yet. As we leave to head for Perth, I notice the fine view of the west side of Dumyat from here. The preferred route for the new 400kV Beauly-Denny overhead line cuts right across this face of the hill and down to the flat ground south of Blairlogie.
At the Perth count we are obviously doing better than in Tullibody, but the main battle is between the Tories and the SNP. Quite a few people tell us they support our stance on wind power even though they are active in other parties. I wonder whether the SNP leadership has cottoned on to the fact that this may well be the only issue which will persuade natural Tory supporters to vote for independence, if it would guarantee a halt to further wind projects.
To the city chambers in Edinburgh for the last few results. The main interest for the other parties is who is going to get the last seat. In the event, it goes to the Tories, but the media interest seems to be the drop in the SNP vote.
We end up with 7255 votes - not as good as 72000 but a whole lot better than 720. Considering we didn't even exist two months ago, this seems like a good first effort. One particular result gives me hope: we polled nearly 5% of the vote in the Western Isles, which rather gives the lie to the assertion that Lewis folk are wholeheartedly behind wind projects.
I'm speaking in a debate on wind power at Scone Palace organised by the Natural Environment Research Council. A lot of the audience are academics who have been at a conference earlier in the day. The consensus which emerges is more or less identical to ours: wind power alone is not enough, so why is it being presented as the only option? I'm particularly pleased when the chief executive of NERC endorses my comment that if there is one single energy technology we should be looking at very seriously, it is not wind power but somehow harnessing sunlight through photosynthesis. If we can crack that, we've got it made.
Scottish Wind Watch: http://www.saveourhills.org/
TAC 62 Index