Bunhill: Taking the high ground

SHADES of the 1745 rebellion. The Highland clans are gathering again to oppose those pushy lowlanders in the pay of the 'foreign government' in London. But this time the crown at stake in what promises to be a multi-million-pound struggle is control of Scotland's tourist industry.

With tourism in trouble all over Britain, it's rum to see tourism chiefs fighting among themselves. But the Highlands and Islands Enterprise network - which spends pounds 15m a year on development in the region - has warned the Scottish Tourist Board: 'Hands off our holidaymakers.'

It believes that the Edinburgh-based STB wants to grab more business by adding the Highlands to its pounds 16m worldwide marketing effort.

Up in Inverness, Bonnie Prince Charlie - better known as HIE chief executive, Iain Robertson - warns: 'This is an attack from the South. We will not lose.'

But Butcher Cumberland, in the shape of the STB chairman, Ian Grant, is undismayed by the outbreak of Highland hostility. 'We have to make sure that we aren't wasting budgets or duplicating efforts,' he said.

If reforms don't come, he says, the Government will force them on Scotland. And as he was appointed by the Government, he presumably knows what he's talking about.

But the HIE believes that its tourism voice is essential at a time when rising unemployment threatens to empty the region faster than the Highland Clearances.

Unlike 1745, time could be on the Highlanders' side. Twenty per cent of the STB's budget comes from the tourist industry, and as members feel the pinch, they are increasingly reluctant to pay their annual fees.