Arran island: Scotland in miniature

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    Waiheke resident and island expert Dr Valia Papoutsaki continues her series on life in small island communities

    Often referred to as Scotland in miniature, Eilean Arainn contains a bit of everything the country has to offer: castles, glens, highlands and lowlands, mountains, islands, deer, paleolithic standing stones in circles, waterfalls, golden eagles, whisky distilleries, microbreweries and, of course, the best fish and chips.

    They say triangulation is the best research method, so after spending some pre-Covid time on Terschelling Island in the Netherlands and the tiny island of Tatihou off France’s Normandy coast, I needed a third one to properly compare islands in Europe (or such was my excuse to return to Scotland). I chose Arran on the west coast of Scotland, or rather Arran chose me (but that’s a long story for another day). 

    Unlike other islands in Scotland exposed to the Atlantic weather, this one is tucked into the Firth of Clyde and sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kintyre peninsula, contributing to the creation of a unique microclimate. It so happened that on this trip, the weather was uncharacteristically “taps aff” (in other words so hot that you have to take your top off). Not that I did – take my top off that is – but I was grateful to escape the standard drizzle.

    As I was in Arran for research and my focus is often on mapping island communicative ecologies, including media, I went to talk to the editor of the Arran Banner, the island’s only newspaper and famous for having one of the highest circulations in the world per capita (in times of record low newspaper circulations). It reminded me of the Gulf News. All islanders read it, with many subscribers among those who have left the island or come here just for their holidays. Apparently, it is renowned for the heated discussions in its letters to the editor section, which had recently included debates on climate change, the state of Arran’s roads, toilets and the new ferry service to the island. When the paper was sold to a mainland newsgroup, they did not bother to have a reporter on the island, which caused much discontent, leading to the paper placing two reporters locally to cover the whole island and just about everything and anything that matters to the island inhabitants. 

    One of my interviewees summed up life on the island, and how media needed to pay attention to island community relations, with this expression: “You spit on someone, they all get wet.” I loved the way it encapsulates small island life, reciprocal relationships and relational accountability. When the paper made the cardinal mistake of naming those who had committed some crime (not much on the island, often petty theft), it didn’t go down well. 

    Full story in this weeks Gulf News… Out Now!!!

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