My 2018 in review

Another year, another reflective blog post.

I begin with a bit of a confession. I wasn’t sure whether to bother with such a reflective post this year. I have not had a massively productive blogging year. I decided to press on with it though. Even with my relative lack of blogging, I think the practice of reflection can still be a useful one, so here goes.

As with previous reflective base drones, this post is mainly about the posts I uploaded here and elsewhere in 2018, and some of the other things I got up to. I am going to strategically restrict this post to retrospective matters. I toyed with offering a few words on the Brexit project that is worryingly careering to the Article 50 legal deadline in, eh, less than serene fashion, although I really don’t know what else I might say about that that I have not said already, plus (somewhat fatalistically) I am not sure what difference I can make. I suppose that latter point is part of the problem, but there we go. I’ll leave it at that for now.

In terms of the academic stuff I was up to in 2018, after my research leave the previous year I returned to a pretty busy teaching load – I can’t complain too much, given the aforementioned research leave, and even though it was a busy time I have enjoyed a lot of the teaching and also picking up a role with the University of Aberdeen’s Diploma in Professional Legal Practice again. It did make for a second term where I did not do as much writing (in blogged and academic form) as I might have wished to, but so be it.

Over and above my regular day job activities, I was also involved with my semi-traditional mixture of law/land reform/law clinic type events, including an event at the University of Aberdeen’s May Festival on access to land, an event about wildlife crime (particularly raptor persecution) and attempts to combat that, a presentation at the BILETA conference organised by my colleague Professor Abbe Brown, a Law Society of Scotland conference on rural law, and the Scottish University Law Clinic Network’s annual conference at the University of Dundee. With my public engagement hat on, in addition to that May Festival event I also had a cameo on BBC Radio Scotland speaking about “hunting” goats and sheep; yes, I am still not entirely sure how that happened either. Unrelatedly, I also accidentally appeared on BBC Radio Shetland after I was interviewed at stupid o’clock in the morning sounding very sober and singing the praises of the Shetland Folk Festival. I share that broadcast for comic effect.

Publications-wise, two pieces of work for the Scottish Land Commission that I was involved with were published, one on interventions in land markets and another on the effectiveness of community ownership mechanisms in Scotland. Another commissioned bit of research I was involved with, this time for the Scottish Government, related to small landholdings and it is available here. Academic article-wise, over and above ongoing editorial matters at the legal journal the Juridical Review (a reminder contributions to that are welcomed – get in touch if you have any ideas or questions), I managed to get a few things published, most notably a piece with Dr Colin Mackie on using property law and securities (charges) over land as a means of ensuring environmental liabilities are not dodged was published in the Journal of Environmental Law (online version here). I had a short article on abandonment of land (with Malcolm Rudd) in the Edinburgh Law Review and I really do hope to finish a bigger article on the point soon, honest. Other short notes appeared in the Scots Law Times (on access to land and succession (see below)) and the SCOLAG journal (with Dr Richard Whitecross, on the Scottish University Law Clinic Network). I also had a couple of notes for the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, on pro bono expenses orders and a couple of court cases access to land. Access to land also formed my biggest hit of the year, with the new ScotWays Guide being published in November. Finally, in 2016’s reflective blog post I noted that I had finalised two chapters in edited collections, but that neither was quite out yet, then in in 2017’s reflective blog post I noted they were still not out. They are now. Phew. Here is a blog post with an open access link to one chapter (on an owner’s right to exclude) and here is a link to the Oxford University Press collection edited by Ting Xu and Alison Clarke.


The top three base drones of 2018 (excluding the blog’s churning home page) were as follows.

In 1st place, this post about the Scots law of succession (inheritance) when someone dies without leaving a will. This later became a Scots Law Times (News) article.

In 2nd place, a post on an access dispute in Penicuik, which (owing to the names of the pursuers) allowed me to channel a Therapy? track in the title.

In 3rd place, a post about the Scottish University Land Unit. This initiative, allowing student volunteers to support the Community Ownership Support Service of the Development Trusts Association Scotland, has offered some help to community groups in 2018 but could maybe benefit from a bit of a relaunch in 2019. Watch this space for that.

Reference might also be made to these posts which I published on the School of Law blog, one on crofting and developments on common grazings, and another on the (non-)reform of inheritance law in Scotland as it applies to land.

Some reflections on what I have not written about

Another couple of quick points, as followers of my blog might notice two topics did not feature at all, namely: health; and Gaelic. There was also only brief mention of a recurring theme on this blog, that of souvenir plots. Hopefully I’m done blogging about them.

And hopefully I am done blogging (for the time being anyway, touch wood) about another topic, namely health. Mercifully this was another boring year health-wise. Last year I almost did not bother mentioning that boring fact. This will probably (and, I repeat, hopefully) be my last year nodding to this at all, as the end of January 2019 will mark five years since the end of my treatment. Here’s to this year being boring and a shout out to anyone who is struggling with any challenges or missing anyone that has been lost. Rather than warble on any further, I will link to the late Simon Ricketts’ powerful final Tumblr post. I never met him, but I’ll miss his Twitter presence, and I’ll miss his writing posts like that last one.

Another topic I ghosted this year was Gaelic. Not because there has not been anything to say about this boringly perennial topic, it’s just that now I have probably written about it enough to be able to select one of my past contributions off the shelf to try to stave off the most recent person who has decided to punch down at Gaelic, and if my most recent correspondent is not interested in engaging with what is presented I tend to shrug and move on. Maybe that should be my 2019 ambition: be more sanguine.

A final reflection

I will end with one last reflection, not from my blogging year but about an event 100 years ago, albeit it does link to the Gaelic topic I just mentioned. This post has been typed on the Isle of Lewis, a place I have family connections to. My winter trip to the island was brought on by the happy occasion of a family wedding. By chance, it has also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the loss of HMY Iolaire, a boat sailing from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway that was (over)loaded with people returning from service in the Great War. This tragedy brought together a horrible mix of chance, incompetence and poignancy, and wrought such damage on communities already bruised by that war. Others have written about it – in Gaelic and English – with far more style, detail and even anger than this post will manage, so I’ll conclude this post by noting how lucky I am to be pontificating in a blog, and in the meantime inviting you to read up on the Iolaire tragedy if you have not already. I recently attended a talk by John MacLeod, who wrote When I Heard the Bell, which filled in many gaps about an event I had heard snippets of yet never fully understood. (I am not sure the tragedy can ever be fully understood, but there we go.) To that can be added a new book by Malcolm Macdonald and the late Donald John MacLeod, Call na H-Iolaire: The Darkest Dawn – The Story of the Iolaire Tragedy which I have glanced over and already learned from. For the non-readers, plenty coverage of the event is available online. The programme of events in Lewis relating to that tragedy that I have been lucky enough to attend certainly made for a more sombre tone of Hogmanay than I have been used to, but I am absolutely not complaining with my lot when I think of the terrible events of that New Year’s Day and the lasting effects on the communities affected.

Thanks for reading. All the best for 2019.

Post scriptum (added 3 January 2019)

There have been various contemporary artistic responses to the Iolaire tragedy, including this installation next to No. 1 Pier in Stornoway called Sheòl na Iolaire. It has staves to represent everyone who was on the boat and is to scale.

The next artistic response is currently housed at An Lanntair, a multi-purpose venue in Stornoway. There are portraits by Margaret Ferguson of some who were on the boat, then there is a feature with one pebble for each victim placed around a cart. (The cart was the means of transport for the bodies: Lewis ran out of coffins in the aftermath.) Each stone has details of a victim, including where there are from. Most of the 201 stones list a place in Lewis or Harris, but there are some from further afield such as Penzance and Sunderland. The youngest victim was from Aberdeen.

About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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