This article is an update of one that first appeared in the November 18, 2002 issue of this newsletter. It seems that little has changed in past four and a half years.
Clett Island is situated on Loch Dunvegan in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. The island has a long history, witnessing several of Scotland's historic events. Previous owners of the island include Olave the Black (a Norwegian warlord) in 1200 A.D., the MacDonald clan, their rivals the MacLeods, as well as popular 1960s folk singer Donovan. There is no source of fresh water on the island. There is no regularly-scheduled boat service, and there is no place to land an airplane, other than perhaps a helicopter. The island remains deserted today.
Richard Haigh, the present owner of the island, decided to sell the uninhabited island. Claiming that he wishes to preserve the past, Haigh is selling small plots on Clett Island as "Heritage Land Plots." His advertising is mostly aimed at Americans and Canadians, apparently appealing to those of Scottish descent. However, the Scottish National Parliament (SNP) claims that the deeds issued are not worth the paper they are written on.
The land sale description says "small plots," and you can believe it. Each "plot" is one square foot. Then, to complicate matters further, the plots are deliberately unmarked. The deed of sale specifies that each buyer is granted an "undivided" interest in the island as a whole. This means that everyone who buys a Heritage Land Plot is equal and can enjoy the whole of Clett Island, not just a one square foot piece of land. Each owner gets souvenirs: a Celtic-styled "legal deed" confirming their part-ownership of the island, historical information on Clett, and a picture showing Clett Island with Isay and Mingay islands in the background. The one-foot-square plots cost $35.00 (U.S. funds) each. Haigh claims to have sold more than 1,000 plots at that price.
The sale of Clett Island has been publicized on the seller's Web page at http://www.clett.com as well as in Scotland Magazine and other publications that appeal to those interested in Scottish genealogy and heritage.
While the advertising sounds good, the Scottish National Parliament (SNP) doesn't seem to be as enthusiastic. In fact, SNP media and culture spokesman Mike Russell is furious, claiming the scheme exploits Scotland's culture. "This is a cynical exploitation of Scottish history and culture and I want it stopped," said Russell.
Russell brought the matter before the Scottish Executive and received a definitive answer in 2002 that says (in part):
Section 4(2)(b) of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979 provides that an application for registration in the Land Register of Scotland shall not be accepted by the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland if it relates to land which is a souvenir plot, that is a piece of land which, being of inconsiderable size or no practical utility, is unlikely to be wanted in isolation except for the sake of mere ownership or for sentimental reasons or for commemorative purposes.
The Island of Skye, being in the County of Inverness is subject to that act and accordingly the plots in question could not be registered. The operation of the Land Register will be extended to all the remaining counties of Scotland on 1 April 2003 at which point in time registration of souvenir plots will be impossible anywhere in Scotland. Inability to register a souvenir plot means that the purchaser can only get a personal right of ownership. He or she cannot get a real right protected by the state guarantee that underpins a registered title.
The position of the Scottish Executive on the purported sale of souvenir plots is reflected in the terms of the above mentioned legislation. The Executive would advise that any individuals participating in transactions of this nature should be aware that there is no true purchase involved as no title can be obtained to the plot of land.
It would appear that the Celtic-styled "legal deed" isn't worth the parchment paper it is printed on. As stated by the Scottish Executive, "...there is no true purchase involved..."
In short, the hapless buyer spends $35.00 and receives a picture, a piece of paper telling the history of the island, plus a so-called deed that has already been declared worthless by the Scottish government. Because the deed has no legal standing, the present owner of Clett Island is free to sell the island again and again, unencumbered by the $35,000 already received for the sale of Celtic-styled "legal deeds."
You can see the advertising on the Clett Island Web site at: http://www.clett.com. Note that, while the SNP issued the findings several years ago, the Clett Island Web site still proclaims, "Our site is a world first and offers you the opportunity to legally become part-owner of an historic Scottish Island, the isle of Clett, located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands."
"Legally become part-owner"???
The web site apparently has not been updated for a long time. In fact, the order form at http://www.clett.com/unique-celtic-gift.htm states, "Heritage Land Plots are attractively priced at US$35 dollars (approx £23)." Thirty-five dollars U.S. probably was equal to twenty-three pounds four and a half years ago. However, the American dollar continues to be devalued. $35 U.S. today is only worth £17.64, a significant change from the web site's (aging) claim.
There are many ways to honor one's Scottish heritage. I suggest you can find a better use for thirty-five dollars.