On the day that the prorogation of UK Parliament was announced, we visited the house that poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), author Valda Trevlyn Grieve (1906-1989) and their son Michael lived in for nine years from 1933, on the Shetland island of Whalsay.
Brian Smith writes, in the excellent MacDiarmid in Shetland (1), that the poet had been poor in health and economy. Friends made arrangements with a Whalsay doctor for MacDiarmid and Trevlyn’s arrival. After a period of temporary accommodation, ‘…they heard news of a cottar’s house at Sodom, near Symbister, vacant because a child had died there of an infectious disease. No-one wanted to live there.’ (2)
The house, present day, sits in a field, with drunken thistles growing in clusters at the side of the track leading up to it. The high position of the house affords views over the island, down towards the distant harbour. MacDiarmid himself had sailed out with Whalsay’s herring fishers, with an ear to borrow their dialect for his poetry. The connecting outhouses at Sodom (Norn for sud-heim or south house) are rusting and ruinous. However the dwelling, now called Grieve House, after the poet’s real surname, is watertight and used as a Shetland Böd.
In his 1934 poem, On A Raised Beach, MacDiarmid wrote,
‘It makes no difference to them [the stones] whether they are high or low, / Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace or pigsty. / There are plenty of ruined buildings but no ruined stones.’
From the humble stones of Sodom to the limestone of Augustus Pugin’s (1812-1852) Houses of Parliament. On the 28th August 2019, the Prime Minister announced that he had asked the Sovereign for the prorogation of Parliament to be from 9-12th September, until the beginning of the new session on 14th October 2019. This was to allow the government time to set out legislative plans for the UK’s departure from the European Union, scheduled for 31st October 2019. As the announcement was made, the stones of Breiwick Beach shimmered.
Down at Symbister harbour, the berth for Whalsay’s pelagic fleet, there are signs, worn by weather and by hand, that evidence EU funding. This is nothing unusual. Signs across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands stand testament to monies from the European Regional Development Fund invested in the infrastructure of Scotland. Here at Symbister, the EU provided part-funding for the ‘Berthage and Net Handling Area’.
With only seventeen days for Parliament to assess and debate any drafted legislation before Brexit, three separate cases were lodged as to the legality of prorogation, with the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruling it unlawful. On 24th September 2019 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the prorogation be annulled.
Under the European Union, The Common Fisheries Policy sets quotas for pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. This is under review as part of Brexit negotiations, with UK and EU to reach agreement on future fishing rights by July 2020.
(1) MacDiarmid in Shetland, P.43, eds Graham, L and Smith, B, published by Shetland Library, 1992.
(2) P.45, Ibid.