By Cara Sulieman
A CLAN chief is plotting to take back land that he claims once used to belong to his family.
Ranald MacDonald, chief of the MacDonald’s of Keppoch branch, is hoping to use an ancient law to regain ownership of the entire area of Lochaber.
And he claims that the law stands in his favour – with the government failing to abolish an Anglo-Saxon system of ownership.
The chief wants to use Ur Duthchas – Gaelic for clan territory – to achieve his aims and has now submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament in the hope that they will agree with him.
Mr MacDonald became the chief of the clan after a legal battle that he took all the way to the Court of Session in 2004 where the judges decided that he was the rightful successor.
Part of his aims for the group is to regain the land that he believes was unlawfully taken away from them when the feudal system was introduced by the Normans after their 1066 invasion.
And he claims that an entire 2000 square miles of land that makes up Lochaber rightfully belongs to him.
But he only expects to be able to reclaim some of the land.
On the clan’s website, Mr MacDonald writes: “We can reclaim it, at least some if not all of it. Although that is a complex subject, and riddled with spurious obstacles.
“My contention is on firm legal ground, and is further strengthened by the Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act 2000.”
He claims that as a result of the abolition of the feudal system, the clan can step in and take their land.
A similar law to ‘clan territory’ – Udal Law – exists in Shetland and Orkney where it was brought over by the Vikings.
When the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act was brought in, it did not supersede Udal Law, which is still used in some parts of the islands.
And Mr MacDonald thinks that ‘clan territory’ – which was never discussed during the writing of the bill – should be given the same standing.
He even compares the MacDonald of Keppoch clan to the aborigines of Australia, who have won back ownership of land since it was taken from them by the British colonists.
He said: “There are parallel examples of indigenous peoples successfully reclaiming there ancestral lands – the New Zealand Maoris, the Australian Aboriginals and the North American Native Indians.
“Take Australia for instance. The British ignored the original inhabitants of the land – the Aborigines and Common Law Ownership known by its legal term ‘native title’ and claimed the land for the British Crown under the British legal term ‘terra nullius’ – implying that nobody owned the land.
“In other words, the Aborigines land was seized by force by the British Crown.
“The legal term ‘native title’ is equivalent to the Scottish legal title ‘an dutchas’, and can be used to challenge the Crown lands in Scotland today.”
Mr MacDonald, 79, also points to examples of communities who clubbed together to buy land.
The island of Gigha was bought from the laird by its 107 residents in 2002.
He adds: “The Act has meant that communities in Scotland, especially the Western Isles area, have already been able to purchase the lands of their ancestors where they were born and lived in all of their lives.
“An dutchas is an ancient form of land tenure and is hereditary for the clan. It is the very basis of what a Clan means. The clan lands and the clan, the family are inseparable.
“It is the original legal form of land tenure and was and still is hereditary. That legal form of land tenure has never been abolished.
“Our clan has not had someone to stand up for them, and be counted in a fast changing world of commercialisation and corruption.
“The sooner our clansmen with legal expertise in Scottish & International Law bring their expert knowledge and skill to bear on this vitally important question the more likely that a successful outcome will be the result.”
The Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament considered Mr Ranald’s petition last week.
They have now asked for advice from the Scottish Government, Registers of Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Land Court and writer Andy Wrightman before they re-consider it in the New Year.