Author Archive

Dec 30, 2022

The Mother of Parliaments, Corruption and a Shitting Unicorn

Corruption in politics has never gone out of favour. Jiggery-pokery and power have always been attractive to lousy seedy characters. For a long time political power and the seedy were the male prerogative but sex equality has brought political bribery and corruption to the pockets of dames, too. I think you know what I’m referring to.

Ladies and gentlemen the story you are about to read is true only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Great Britain, the mother of parliaments; the exact quote is “England is the mother of parliaments.” John Bright said that on 18 January 1865. He was a Liberal MP. He believed parliament needed reforming. It certainly did and it certainly does.

Back in old John’s day buying your way into parliament was normal. Bribing politicians to get access to influence government ministers was also normal. Some things don’t change in the mother of parliaments, though at times there might be more discretion used than straight cash bungs into the hand – of the you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours variety – and so-called ‘golden showers’ that fall on a constituency as thanks for being obliging to a minister of state. Just where will HS2 that meandering white elephant of a railway line eventually end up? All depends, pal. What’s it worth to you? Scotland? Don’t make me laugh.

The year of the horse, 2014, more like the year of the unicorn. Promises, promises. That unicorn was shitting promises out of its arse. Reject independence and vote to retain the union and Scotland, that once invisible northern bit of the union, would be given its voice. Within the union. Those golden showers would drench Scots with love and respect. Lucky Scotland. So said the vow. Wow! A vow! But by the end of the year that unicorn had bolted. The stable door was shut. Bolted, too. Leaving behind a giant pile of shit. 2014 instead of golden showers Scotland got incessant blizzards – paper propaganda – nothing but promises and more promises – and a few threats. There were a lot of those – that the elderly would lose their pensions, the unemployed their benefits and the young would be denied hospital treatment. Union or else! Carrot and stick. Except the unicorn had buggered off with the carrots. Buses arrived filled with campaigners from England, some had cash pressed into their greedy unionist hands, to peddle their unicorn promises. Or threats. Lies. Nothing new. Back in the 1880s, in England, the Tory and Liberal parties paid folk 5 shillings a day to parade with banners and placards, each one carrying political promises. Political promises. Short shelf life. If they outlive an election (or referendum) they’re doing well.   

Back then most voters were better off or wealthy men. Same groups of guys running for power in the mother of parliaments, where that power was used to pass legislation that maintained men like them in power. A cruel joke on the term – mother of parliaments. Father would be more honest. But honesty and politics are like water and oil. Mismatched.

Westminster, the mother of parliaments, was so corrupt it occasionally passed laws to prevent its own acting criminally. But it’s a game that’s played. Doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Doesn’t stop the corruption. Never has. She’s one bad dame, that mother of parliaments. While most folks were denied a vote, universities had their own MPs – Cambridge and Oxford each sent two to the Commons until 1950. Aberdeen and Glasgow universities got to send one between them, till 1918. All universities were represented to some degree. At Oxford, regarded by those who went there as the ‘very flower of the intellectual class of England’, 4,500 people had voter rights and over a third of them took bribes to vote for particular candidates. Sometimes the bribes didn’t materialise. A bit like PPE. Usual story of paying one set of guys to rip down opposition posters, flags and banners and other fellas to hang about to protect the candidate’s ones. Shelling out to swing elections was how the mother of parliaments operated. A favoured Tory ploy was to persuade pub landlords to have free booze on tap as an incentive to vote for them. A filthy game.

In Macclesfield, England, corruption was well-organised with votes going for as little as 3s 6d but could be as high as15 shillings (around £2,000 in today’s money). The practice obviously open to bargaining. Five out of every six votes were bought. Only 300 out of 2,000 voters at Sandwich in Kent, latish 19th century, didn’t accept bribes from either Tory or Liberal candidates, with 800 pocketing bribes from both lots!

Buying votes was supposed to be a serious criminal offence but few cared, least of all parliamentary candidates because there was so much to gain personally by becoming an MP. And palm-greasing was just the means to an end. In the cathedral city of York voting rackets were rife with as much as £650 paid for a single vote (that is over £64,000 today in bribe shekels). In 1880 the Liberals and Tories spent about £15,000 on dirty tricks. Personation – where some dude claims to be someone else to cast votes was another dodge that no-one was ever prosecuted for.

The law invariably favoured the great and the not-so-good. And God, was brought into the grubby world of politics with the Bishop of Wakefield urging the Church of England to pray for the Unionists (Tories). The 20th century had begun as the 19th ended with the stink of political dirty dealing pervading every corner of British politics. An election in Worcester was declared null and void because of the level of corruption. There some of the skulduggery took place in a motor car. As one bloke entered through one door another left by the other. Every man passing through the car left with a handful of cash. Mr Moneybags behind that chicanery was George Henry Williamson, the Conservative parliamentary candidate and about-to-be elected MP for the town. George’s dishonesty was so blatant even the law and parliament couldn’t shut their eyes to it indefinitely so old George was booted out of Westminster – after two years. That was all. No fines. No hard labour. Being an MP, he landed sunny side up.

Don’t let it be said only the Tories were corrupt but the most corrupt government in the mother of parliaments is reputed to be a Tory one, under PM, Robert Walpole in 1855. How Walpole’s lot would have compared with today’s political crooks it’s hard to say. It would certainly be a close-run race. Attempts at cleaning up Britain’s duplicitous politics have gone down like a bucket of sick with politicians in the main. The author and MP Hilaire Belloc, in 1907, urged the then government to ‘set an example against corruption that was prevalent in public and private life.’  Political corruption he described as –

“ …a disease of motive having for its symptoms material consideration, preference of private to the public good, and an element of secrecy.”

Shady. Yes, we know, Hilaire. Who can reform British corruption? The very place that’s mired in it. And there’s the rub.  

“Everybody knows that earldoms, viscountcies, baronies, baronetcies, and knighthoods are now habitually sold for hard cash to gin-distillers, brewers, newspaper proprietors, bankers, brokers, successful swindlers, multiple shopkeepers, “philanthropic” sweaters, and similar low-grade creatures. The object of these sales is that prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Under-Secretaries, and other political tapers and tadpoles of both factions may draw heavy salaries out of the pockets of us common Englishmen.” (Justice, 1917)

For Englishmen read a’body in the UK. The previous year Pontefract’s MP, Frederick Booth, said this in the Commons –

 ‘…there never has been so much secret bribery in the history of England than during the last twelve months.’

Thanks Fred but maybe aye and maybe naw. Bribery and corruption has proved a way of life for many MPs in the Commons but the Lords was seen as the more corrupt of two houses in the mother of parliaments. None of those sitting in the Lords is elected – the very basic principle of democracy. Placemen and placewomen with not a single vote between them yet a substantial role in governing the UK. What could possibly go wrong with that sort of low-down setup? Back in 1917 it was assumed this underhand form of government would soon stop when the bleeding obvious was stated –

 “No nation ever long submitted to the publicly exposed corruption of all its representatives.”

“Our plutocracy is rotten to the core. Time democracy had its chance.”

Such misplaced optimism. At least during the 19th century, it was openly recognised the House of Lords was rotten to its core. Its bishops seen as the most corrupt of all. Members of the Upper Chamber didn’t even have to go to the expense of bribing anyone. Though they probably did if they weren’t hereditary peers. There was an unhealthy traffic in titles – honours and peerages. In 1922, the dam broke when the Liberal prime minister Lloyd George was caught out openly selling seats in the House of Lords (and titles to the rich) for about £10,000 a pop. It was an outrage! Some said. Others were more concerned that too many Scots were included in the Cabinet and too few men from Oxford and Cambridge and ‘the great public schools.’ An ensuing ruckus resulted in the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, 1925 that made selling peerages and honours illegal. Which is funny because it wasn’t illegal before then. But did that fix dodgy representation in the Lords? Did it pick.

Did it clean up politics generally? Did it pick. Four days before the general election of 1924 the Daily Mail (what else!) published a fake letter, the infamous Zinoviev letter, calculated to link the Labour Party with communists in the Soviet Union. A gullible public swallowed the hoax. The Tories stormed into government.

Bribery, corruption and politics are inseparable. And sex. Can’t forget sex scandals – de rigueur in politics. One in 1963 involved a Tory minister, John Profumo, a teenage model, a Soviet naval attaché and a notorious racist, misogynist judge. And lots of lying. From just about everyone. But the judge, Lord Denning, concluded there had been no breaches of security despite the involvement of many establishment figures and foreign Johnnies. A scapegoat was put up in the figure of osteopath, Stephen Ward, who went on to commit suicide, although the whisper was he was killed by agents of MI6 for becoming an embarrassment to parliament and the royal family. Profumo would later be described as a ‘national hero’ by Margaret Thatcher.

Commenting on the Profumo affair, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote,

“The Upper Classes have always been given to lying, fornication, corrupt practices and, doubtless as a result of the public school system, sodomy.” (Sunday Mirror, June 1969)

Old Fred Booth would have been gobsmacked by the 1970s. If you’re a Tory look away now but I suspect you’ve long since stopped reading this. John Poulson was an architectural designer and businessman who bribed his way to winning building contracts. Several Tories were up to their dirty necks in the affair. He and one or two other participants were jailed but none of the top Tories, including then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling was sent to chokey. MPs escaped through a ‘legal loophole’. Several scandals later Labour PM, Harold Wilson, came up with his Lavender List; a generous distribution of knighthoods and assorted honours to wealthy business associates he thought would benefit his party. These included Lord Kagan who went down for fraud while another committed suicide while under investigation for the same crime.  

Members of the mother of parliaments are just very good at avoiding jail. Take the former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe in yet another ‘70s political scandal. This one involved sex. And politics. With Liberals and Labour furiously scratching each other’s backs. This was Rinkagate – a murder plot that had national security implications. But MPs being MPs (surely the most protected species on the planet) it was the dog that got it. Rinka the hound took the bullet. Thorpe was brought down not because of being charged with conspiracy and incitement to murder his ex-boyfriend but for his sexual predilections.

 “There is also clear evidence that leading politicians over the past 15 years, together with civil servants, the police and the security services, have been party to a cover-up surrounding the affair. Most of the politicians involved are Labour.” (National Archives)

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/10/jeremy-thorpe-scandal-labour-cover-up-peter-hain

The 1980s were no less disreputable at Westminster with corruption and outrages coming thick and fast. One tawdry incident involved a leading Tory, Cecil Parkinson. He initially denied an affair and paternity of a child with his lover. Public revulsion at his disgraceful behaviour did his political career no harm at all and up into the Lords he went to carry on with his life. He fought maintenance of the badly disabled child through the courts, grudgingly submitting to paying for her until she reached eighteen. This rascal refused ever to see her and never sent his child a birthday card. Think we have his measure. Of his shameful behaviour his fellow Tory colleague, Edwina Currie, herself involved in an extra-marital affair with the prime minister, John Major, said this

“I feel very very sorry for Cecil and his family. Most of my thoughts on Sarah Keays are unprintable. Perhaps the most polite thing to say is she’s a right cow.” (Currie was later reported in the Daily Mirror, 1 October 2002)

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/’A+RIGHT+COW+’+EXCLUSIVE%3A+What+Edwina+called+Sara+Keays+for+kissing…-a092259742

And then there was Jeffrey Archer, Tory MP and later Peer in the Lords. He was unusual in being jailed – for perjury in a court case over a prostitution scandal. He’s still a Lord.

There’s no space for all the corruption of the eighties – just a mention of the homes for votes scandal in which the Tory-led Westminster City council in London physically moved out the homeless and sold off council homes to create an area more likely to vote Conservative.  At the centre of this abhorrent episode was Dame Shirley Porter. She was found guilty of wilful misconduct and ordered to repay £36.1million. She didn’t. She paid a fraction of that. The dame was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by John Major following a Tory victory in Westminster in 1990.

If there’s no time for all the bent political goings-on of the 1980s there definitely isn’t for the 1990s. Back alley wheeling and dealing was like a malignant disease in the mother of parliaments such as arms-to-Iraq, MPs accepting gifts for business and political favours and Monklandsgate.  1994 – North Lanarkshire, Scotland – the Labour Party. Well, it was the 1990s. Lanarkshire. Had to be Labour. Oh, and accusations of sectarianism that led to council splurging dough on catholic areas and being grippy in protestant ones. And nepotism. The Monklands West MP was Labour’s Tom Clarke, a former provost and former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. The Monklands East MP was also Labour – the party’s leader, John Smith. Allegations of sectarianism were never proven against any of the folk accused. Nepotism within the council was. Tom Clarke was knighted in 2021 for public and political service.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-optomistic-despite-final-split-over-monklandsgate-lastminute-byelection-poll-points-to-narrow-defeat-for-snp-candidate-1425784.html

A century on cash for votes converted to cash for questions in the 1990s. In 1994 two Tory MPs were exposed in a newspaper ‘sting’ operation and later the same year further allegations of bungs to MPs to ask questions in the Commons on behalf of a private individual. It caused a big stink

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash-for-questions_affair#:~:text=It%20began%20in%20October%201994,owner%20of%20Harrods%20department%20store%2C

 In 2006/07 two shillings pressed into the hand was never going to hack it when it came to cash for honours under Labour’s Blair government. Several men nominated by Blair for life peerages were found to have loaned large amounts of money to the Labour Party. Life is full of coincidences. The Tony’s Cronies affair may have hastened Blair stepping down as PM but in the end the Crown Prosecution Service decided against bringing charges against anyone. If you are unfamiliar with this tawdry episode, I urge you to go and read about it; a right hornet’s nest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash-for-Honours_scandal

What changed in a hundred plus years was the direction of cash flow. Politicians paying people to vote for them so they could obtain the power being in parliament provides them with to MPs agreeing to trouser cash for favours. In 2015 two prominent MPs, Labour’s Jack Straw and the Tory Malcolm Rifkind were caught on camera in a TV sting agreeing to accept money to arrange access to influential people  …

‘The report alleged that Straw boasted to undercover journalists that he had operated “under the radar” to use his influence and change EU rules on behalf of a firm that paid him £60,000 a year. A recording obtained with a hidden camera shows Straw saying: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge.”

Rifkind reportedly claimed to be able to gain “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world. He was recorded describing himself as self-employed despite being paid £67,000 as MP for Kensington: “I am self-employed – so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income.”

That’s a sentiment that hasn’t died with MPs and some dissolute ex-prime ministers. The outcry following the sting broadcast forced the parliamentary commissioner for standards to investigate the two men but, surprise, surprise, found neither was in breach of the code of conduct or the rules of the House. Which suggests that the mother of parliaments’ standards have the bar set bloody low.

Scandals, corruption, lies, nepotism – a day in the life of far too many politicians. I haven’t mentioned any of the major disgraceful episodes of recent years, we’d be here all day. As that dude Aristophanes once said –

‘Under every stone lurks a politician.’

The guy understood a thing or two. And it’s a funny thing that MPs are referred to as honourable members that can’t be called out for lying when that’s exactly what gets many politicians out of bed in the morning. I’m sure a few are decent enough folks but let’s not kid ourselves, as former US president Harry Truman observed

‘you can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.’

Yes, there’s a lot of it about. The story you have just read is true. The names were changed to protect the innocent – hang on – there aren’t any innocents, so the names are all there.

Dec 13, 2022

The Labour Party: House of Lords, Scotland and Wales – a saga of our time

A cold January in 1910

The Labour Party

Promise to banish feudalism.

To represent working people.

Pledges to abolish the irresponsible body

Of the House of Lords.

***

Years pass.

The desperate twenties.

The hungry thirties. For working people.

The pledge of 1910, repeated.

Then quietly forgotten.

1945 Labour ‘will not tolerate obstruction of the people’s will by the House of Lords.’

But nothing about abolishing it.

Labour Lords spread like a rash over the red leather benches of the House of Lords.

***

1951: Labour urges working people to work harder.

‘For a just society’.

A just society that includes the undemocratic House of Lords at the centre of UK government.

Chin, chin, old man.

***

1955: Ban the bomb generation.

H bombs. Cold War.

Still no just society.

‘Working people still struggling’.

Especially in Scotland and Wales: greater unemployment than in England.

Labour pledges ‘full employment in Scotland and Wales’.

***

1959: Labour says ‘Britain belongs to YOU’

To everyone: ‘the haves and have nots’.

Not it seems in Scotland and Wales.

In Scotland and Wales increasing economic decline.

Labour publishes plans: Let Scotland Prosper and Forward with Labour-Labour’s Policy for Wales.

Unemployment grows.

Labour’s numbers in the House of Lords grow.  

The have nots and the haves.

***

1964: The swinging sixties.

New Britain. Scientific revolution.

More meaningless slogans. Slogans are now de rigueur for manifestos.

Stagnation and unemployment in Scotland and Wales.

Labour publishes plans: Signposts for Scotland and Signposts to the New Wales.

***

1966: ‘Britain in Crisis’

Slogans are Labour’s preferred form of communication.

Prices soaring. Economic disaster. Financial collapse.

More pledges to Scotland and Wales: Wider democracy in New Britain

Labour talks of the House of Lords having powers restricted.

Only talk.

***

1970: ‘Let’s make Britain Great’

By ‘spreading prosperity and opportunities more evenly’.

Repeats House of Lords must be reformed.

Industries and jobs ‘drain out of Scotland’.

Growing discontent in Scotland and Wales.

Proposal for devolution for Wales, Scotland and English regions.

Up to a point. ‘Preserve the union’.

Scottish Labour reject a Scottish legislative assembly.

***

1974: February. ‘Labour’s Way out of the Crisis’

What crisis?

North Sea oil revenues.

Labour welcomes opportunity for extra tax from oil company profits.

Promises assemblies in Scotland and Wales.

***

1974: October. ‘Britain will win with Labour’

Oil in Scottish waters welcomed as ‘transformatory’ for the economic future of the UK.

Labour pledges to ‘remove the House of Lords’ in the ‘first session of a new parliament’.

Talks of assemblies in Scotland, Wales and English regions.

***

1979: ‘The Better Way’

Labour will increase England’s regional powers.

Act of 1978 for referendum for a Scottish Assembly to go ahead

But with stipulation to succeed at least 40% Scottish electorate vote yes (not 40% who vote).

Labour stresses how North Sea oil offers a ‘golden prospect for wealth’ for the UK.

Labour pledges to ‘review the Honours system’.

And ‘restrict the power of the House of Lords’.   

***

1983: ‘Britain back to work. Rebuild shattered industries’

Labour will ‘introduce an early Bill to abolish the House of Lords’.

Another plan for Scotland.

North Sea oil riches Labour complains are being ‘poured down the drain’.

Labour complains that ‘unprecedented advantage of North Sea oil and gas’ are squandered.

***

1987: ‘Britain will win with Labour’

Pledges to ‘create a British Industrial Investment Bank’

With ‘strong base in Scotland, Wales and English regions’.

Talks of Scottish Assembly for Edinburgh.

Vast oil revenues still being wasted.

***

1992: ‘Time to get Britain working again’

Perpetual problem of unemployment in the UK.

Repeal Thatcher’s poll tax in Scotland.

***

1997: ‘New Labour because Britain deserves better’

Pledges to ‘end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords’

Pledges to ‘create a modern House of Lords’.

With party appointees as life peers. Not at all cronyism.

Devolution not federation.

Westminster parliament must be ‘sovereign’ power in UK.

The ‘Union strengthened’. ‘Separatism’ to be ‘banished’.  

***

2001: ‘Ambitions for Britain’

Five pledges: economic, schools, health, crime, families. (Four out of Five England only)

Separate Scottish manifesto: increase role of PFI (that left Scotland shelling out £bns to private companies)

Pledges to ‘half child poverty by 2010’.

No word of abolishing the House of Lords.

***

2005 ‘Britain Forward Not Back’

‘Decentralise power’.

‘Strengthen’ Welsh Assembly.

Complete ‘reform of the House of Lords’.

***

2010: ‘A Future Fair for All’

Pledges high speed rail ‘London to Scotland’.

‘Union will be protected’ at all cost.

‘Fairer partnerships’.

‘New Second Chamber to replace House of Lords.’

‘Fully elected’. ‘Senate of the Nations and Regions’.

***

2015: ‘Britain Can Be Better’

Labour/Tory/Libdems agree Smith Commission proposals and Gordon Brown Vow for greater powers to Scotland.

Labour vows to implement the Vow in full.

Greater powers for Scotland.

‘Safeguard the future’ of offshore oil and gas.

Scotland will ‘continue benefitting’ from the UK.

Wales will ‘have devolved powers similar to Scotland’.

‘Unless specifically reserved’.

Commitment to ‘replace the House of Lords with elected Senate’ – see 2010.

***

2017: ‘For the Many not the Few’

Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum.

Labour will ‘establish a Scottish Investment Bank’.

Pledges to ‘reduce size of the House of Lords’. To ‘abolish’ it.

Repeats pledge to run ‘HS2 as far as Scotland’.

‘Protect North Sea assets’ .

***

2019: ‘Real Change’

Labour will give referendum on Brexit.

HS2 will run to Scotland.

Increase pay to workers in Scotland.

Jobs for Wales.

Tax oil companies.

Pledge to ‘abolish House of Lords in favour of Senate’ – see 2010/2015/2017.

***

2022:

Labour ‘backs Brexit’.

Vow Mark II to Scotland

Labour promises ‘biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster’.

House of Lords to be ‘abolished’ – see 1910.

Labour ‘will consult’ on abolition of House of Lords.

Denies majority independence government in Scotland is a mandate for an independence referendum.

Labour still sends members to the House of Lords. Currently there are about 200 Labour members there. Labour continues to claim to speak for Scotland although it has not been in power there for twelve years, is the third party in the Scottish parliament and repeatedly goes into power sharing with Tories in councils across Scotland. Labour supports Brexit. 

Nov 29, 2022

This was once such a brisk little village: the northeast’s lost communities

The window is nailed and boarded through which I saw…

and will strike the deer that goes dizzily, sniffing at the grass-grown ruined homes…

(Hallaig, Sorley MacLean)

One by one northeast Scotland’s wee fishing communities gave up their struggle to eke a living out of the sea for the battle was proving hopeless – up against bigger, better equipped vessels that encroached on the waters off their townships. A separate battle, too, of the young’s discontent with their parents’ and grandparents’ way of life. A life of constant danger that gave little back in return.   

Before the days of the northeast’s millionaire trawler dynasties thousands of northeasters were dependent on the sea for a modest living. Their little brown-sail vessels were a common sight, bobbing up and down on the German Ocean (now north sea) fishing for skate, ling, turbot, whiting, flounders, cod and haddock.  But come the twentieth century those days were numbered. The old were left to maintain the tradition as best they could but penury drove many of them away from the place that had been home for generations. So, they stood to look out one   last time through the windows to the sea and sky not fearing the stirring of a storm, that harbinger of death, but to a capture a memory of times past. Those tiny windows in a wall of stone that engaged a stranger to peek into from outside when walking by deserted home after deserted home.

There was still hope in the 1920s among some in fishing communities that their decline might be stalled. But no. The family fishing boat crewed by fathers and sons and brothers and nephews and cousins could not compete with the big boys from bigger ports. Women were essential, if unacknowledged partners (junior, of course), in the family enterprise through their roles scranning for bait, baiting hooks on fishing lines, cleaning, curing and selling the fish – hard, hard work. Younger women increasingly chose to look for jobs elsewhere, with better pay and didn’t involve being half frozen to death. Women’s work. Traipsing mile upon mile over rough country, back straining under a wicker creel heavy with fish that had to be sold – to country folk. Little wonder, then, given a choice of a different life, there were women who opted for that – emancipation became a dirty word in the opinion of their older menfolk despairing over their lost source of cheap labour.   

Young men, too, were off. Some with a mind to carry on fishing lacked the disposable income needed to buy a share in a boat with gear constantly needing replacing. They also moved to towns, perhaps to the monotony of industrial labour or learn new skills such as quarrying.

Simple, tiny cottages with hardly a stick of furniture, their inhabitants bearded men in blue ganseys, caps and long boots and women in coarse skirts, long aprons, shawls and bonnets – as poor as church mice – yet so appealing. So picturesque. So quaint. They created a charming scene that was a novelty to toonsers from Aberdeen; day-trippers who would come to gawp at these curious natives. As more homes emptied some of the richer folk even bought up a former fisher’s cottage going for a song as a holiday home.

In the gran’ hooses in th’suburbs o’ Aiberdeen ye’ll find th’ money that should ha’e gaunt ae th’ line fishermen.

Bonnie Muchalls (formerly Stranathra) became a popular weekend resort – and Skateraw, now Newtonhill. From fishing villages to holiday resorts and in time they became dormitory towns for Aberdeen. In 1855 twenty-six Skateraw families fished out of the village. Thirty years later the decline set in. Findon, too, suffered the same fate. Findon where smoked haddock originated, Finnan haddies.

Nearby Downies perched above the cliffs with its tiny rocky shore once sent forty fishermen to sea in seven or eight boats but by the start of the twentieth century that life faltered and soon ceased entirely. Portlethen rubs up against Downies and here crab and lobster catches lingered after the village’s ten yawl fishers were forced to turn their backs on the sea.

Cowie, now absorbed into Steenhive (Stonehaven), operated twenty-three boats including nine herring vessels in 1855 but by the 1930s this has dropped to a single yawl. Stonehaven with its substantial harbour was the area’s centre for landing catches -boats from Cowie, Crawton, Skateraw, Shieldhall and Cove landed and sold their catches there, sometimes having them processed in the town before being sent to be sold in the south. Up to two hundred boats landed at Steenhive in the mid-eighteen hundreds providing plenty work for the town’s eight curing businesses. Stonehaven’s own fleet of fishing boats included sixty line boats in the late nineteenth century before the coming of steam trawlers put a lid on that.

Even at Steenhive the young looked to alternatives to the fishing. When unemployment benefit was introduced in 1920 older men in the town complained that the ‘cursed dole’ provided an alternative to youths otherwise compelled to carry on the fishing tradition. Steenhive’s line fishers were making between £2 and £5 a week – hardly a king’s ransom and while the ‘cursed dole’ was little enough (15 shillings a week for men, 12 shillings a week for women for a maximum of 15 weeks) it didn’t involve risking your neck every time you launched a boat into the north sea.

Most older folk had few expectations beyond scraping by on a paltry living. Days when prices were good were welcome bonuses. Sometimes catches exported to England made ‘a fabulous price’ – ten shillings a stone and for a year or two around the turn of the twentieth century. Stonehaven could probably have absorbed more fishers from its neighbouring villages where the trade was dying fast but for a shortage of housing in the town, but even here by 1928 the port was home to a mere twelve boats, providing work for about fifty men. Twenty years earlier there had been thirty-two big yawls each crewed by five men, eight small yawls and twenty-five herring drifters. Then they were gone.

The Great War of 1914-18 that changed so much in the world accelerated the decline of northeast fishing and the stagnant state of European markets pushed more men and women away from fishing and away from fishing villages. Echoes of the dead hand of Brexit.

The foonds of once thriving Crawton survive battered by a coarse wind off the north sea. The stones howked from the land to make homes for fisherfolk sink slowly back into that same ground. Crawton, about four miles south of Stonehaven, a waterfall dropping down to the sea on one side and a steep path leading down to the water’s edge at the other end of the ghost village. In the best of times Crawton provided a living for forty fishermen and their families with about twelve boats pulled up on its tiny shore but by 1900 the fleet was no more than six or seven yawls and three herring drifters for now larger vessels sailed into Crawton’s ‘turf’. By the 1920s the last of Crawton’s fishermen left, taking themselves off to Steenhive to live out their lives at Dawson’s Buildings. And the village fell into ruin.

The tiny village of Catterline with its white washed cottages strung out in a line along the clifftop, high above the small harbour, became home to farm hands not fishers by 1928. As with Crawton, being a distance from the main road became a costly stumbling block when adding transport costs to the margins made from selling small amounts of catches with boxes of fish and shellfish having to be sent for processing to Stonehaven (6d a box of fish, 4d a box of crab and lobster) and then to England by rail for marketing. Catterlines’ rocky coast made it ideal for lobster and crab fishing but the village also had fourteen line boats and seven herring vessels supplying work for forty men and innumerable women at one time.  But in common with other fishing villages the tradition died, the boats were sold and villagers left and the population dropped from about 100 at the start of the century to about thirty people in 1928, and the bulk of those left were aged over fifty.

Farther north lies Newburgh. Now a bird and seal sanctuary, famous for its long stretches of sandy beach, Newburgh once was a thriving fishing port at the mouth of the river Ythan. The river provided fisherwomen with plentiful supplies of bait for line fishing and the Braidsands a good source of mussels and lugworm. In the late 1880s a dozen boats each with a crew of five fished out of Newburgh, their catches carried deep into the countryside by women, to sell to cottagers and farmers around the area of Tarves, Belhelvie and Dyce, some fifteen miles away and buy farm produce, butter, eggs etc in return. Newburgh’s fishers complained about the encroachment of large vessels sailing in close to their village for its decline that begun around 1880 before a three-mile limit was introduced so there was nothing to prevent trawlers from as far afield as Hull gathering ‘like a forest along the coast.’ Large scale fishing by wealthy skippers was blamed for destroying Newburgh’s fishing grounds and lines and several legal disputes were fought between locals and English fishing companies. The imposition of a three-mile limit and ‘exclusive right to fish’ was enacted in 1883 and expanded in 1889 to ban trawling within three miles off the coast over concerns about dwindling fish catches, not declining villages.  However, next along came seine-net fishermen from Aberdeen, Gourdon and Montrose, again encroaching on inshore fishing.  

Collieston with its haphazard arrangement of tumble-down cottages was once a thriving fishing community. In the opening years of the new century Collieston sent out sixteen line vessels with crews of over sixty men to provide for their families from what they took from the sea – and some fifteen herring boats. But as catches fell away the young left for Aberdeen or to live abroad. Women stopped carrying fish inland, instead most of the fish caught here was transported to Auchmacoy railway station for export to England. Soon enough that trade dried up and as was happening elsewhere, Aberdeen folk, taken by the bonnie setting of the village bought up abandoned houses as second homes.

The name Slains lives on as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Under the shadow of the old castle of Slains a village dependent on fishing for a living emerged. At one time twelve boats fished from here but only two remained by the late 1920s and the village suffered a similar fate to its illustrious castle.

Whinnyfold is perched above a little creek to the south of Cruden Bay. The railway station at Cruden Bay kept the village’s fish trade alive for a while into the twentieth century when it cost four shillings for a box or four, a substantial rate from a box of fish that might fetch ten or twelve shillings. The numbers of men willingly continuing to make a thin living from the sea waned. Where in 1900 there were eight crewed boats by the 1920s there were no more than four. The village’s young men with a taste for the sea looked farther afield, to Shetland, Lowestoft and other bigger ports.

In 1928 a fisherman from nearby Port Errol lamented the end of an era

Fishing will soon die out here . . . this was once such a brisk little village.

And so it was – fifteen big yawls manned by seventy men before WWI as well as up to thirty herring boats. By 1928 there were six motor boats with three or four crew each remaining. Aberdeen and Peterhead absorbed some families while others chose to emigrate.

If they would only give us a six-mile limit, we would make a success of it

observed one younger fisherman in the 1920s. But they didn’t. And Port Errol’s fishing paid the price.

Eighty-five herring and twenty haddock boats used to fish out of Boddam. The village supported thirteen curers. By the 1920s some twelve boats remained. Again trawling was seen as a major cause of their downfall. And what a downfall. On one day in 1928 a Boddam fisherman held up his catch for the day, he and his two crew having fished for two and a half hours – one small codling. A day’s catch usually comprised of one or two boxes of codlings worth thirty shillings – divided between three families.

A County Council report looking into the decline of fishing in the northeast’s coastal villages found that in the eleven places they investigated between 1890 and 1911 the number of fishing boats fell by about forty percent, and tonnage of catches by sixty percent. At Skateraw thirty-four boats catching 599 tons of fish in 1890 dropped to five boats taking in only 36 tons of fish in 1911; Downies eighteen boats dropped to five and fish from 133 tons to 23. At Stonehaven the drop was from 110 boats to fifty-two and about 1700 tons fish to 760 tons.

Were I but young an’ feel again –

An’ that can hardly be,

I’d like to mak’ a change or twa;

I widna seek the sea.

(The Choice, Peter Buchan)

Nov 10, 2022

The land of lies: Britain’s Chinese indentured labourers

The land of lies – Winston Churchill (1905)

He was talking about South Africa. The lies were bad enough but the truth was worse.

They were kept like dogs in a kennel; they were treated as very few men treated their beasts, and if you treated a man as a beast, he became a beast.

Greed and racism. A despicable mix of attributes levelled at Britain’s proud empire and its insatiable pursuit of vulnerable areas of the world to exploit for profit. Profit to the capitalist is an addiction that’s never satisfied as we see today with oil and gas companies up to the gunwales in yields undreamed of even by them – but they’ll hold onto them despite the impact on the poorest of the world’s citizens reduced to spending the winter in freezing cold, damp homes – unable to afford to turn on a heater or cooker. It’s a funny old world.  

Simply put profit is the difference between what a business earns through manufacturing, mining or whatever and what is left after its costs, including wages. The less a worker is paid, the greater the profit. Slavery was the ultimate turn-on for business owners; no pay just basic upkeep of labourers yielded immense profits. Look around Britain at those country estates with their ginormous homes paid for by obscene profits made off the backs of slaves – or indentured labour and workers of every description.

Indentured labour – a person is forced into servitude for a specified time for tiny wages. Sometimes this involved being shipped to a different continent, to one of the British colonies. And sometimes the colonies came to Britain, in a sense. And sometimes we’re not talking about centuries ago, but the last century.

In southern Africa rivalry over control of land intensified between the British and Boers with the discovery of diamond deposits in 1868. In 1877 Britain annexed the Transvaal further antagonising the Boers resulting in their declaration of independence from Britain. On the outbreak of war the Boers defeated Britain, nevertheless, the peace settlement accommodated British sovereignty over parts of the Transvaal.

Matters might have rested there but in 1886 gold was discovered. A lot of it. And that ignited British greed. Already brittle relations between the UK and the Boers worsened over fears of a total British takeover and loss of Boer independence. The racist imperialist, Cecil Rhodes organised an armed raid, the Jameson Raid, to claim back the Transvaal with its immense gold wealth for Britain. This smash and grab attempt failed but so desperate were both sides to benefit from the region’s immense underground wealth a second war broke out between Boers and the UK during which Britain established the world’s first concentration camps, to contain their enemy, the Boers, and this time Britain came out on top.

War depleted the large numbers of native workers available or willing to go into the goldmines. This was dangerous, hazardous work excavating, blasting, drilling and extracting the ore. It was mostly unskilled labour that was needed but it was physically exhausting and the accident rate extremely high, deaths ran to thousands through accidents and sickness. Blasting, drilling and cave-ins resulted in crushed bodies and severed limbs, noxious dust led to slower death from lung disease. And because profit was always the motivating factor there was no compensation paid to victims. Survivors who couldn’t work were dismissed.

Alfred Milner, Lord Milner, a Liberal, was High Commissioner for Southern Africa at the turn of the century. In 1903 he and the Chamber of Mines were behind turning to China’s population to supply work gangs for the mines. Trafficking of ‘Chinese coolies’ was looked on as any other trade arrangement.  

Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, would say of Milner –

 “Having been for many years, or at least for many months, the arbiter of the fortunes of men who are ‘rich beyond the dreams of avarice’, he is today poor, and honourably poor.”

Milner had created a midden. Took decisions that caused deaths. Then simply vanished into whatever paradise awaits peers of the realm once their active years destroying lives is over.

Lives are not wrecked by UK peers alone. South Africa’s religious organisations were right behind this devilish commerce and viewed the Chinese, like South Africa’s native population, as barely human and certainly not civilized making their exploitation all the easier to stomach among whites attending church. The Bishop of Pretoria and other religious leaders stood firmly behind the ‘white working man’ and saw the importation of Chinamen as –

“…a great opportunity for Christianising effort.”

In March 1904, the British parliament debated this controversial policy. The quality of speeches might be summed up by these examples –

“Members who talk about shutting out white labour might turn their attention to the injury done to white labour in this country by the dumping down of 80,000 foreign aliens, the riff-raff of Europe” …[who take] “the bread out of the mouths of our struggling working men.”

I am reminded of Keir Starmer’s comments that the UK is recruiting too many foreigners to work in the NHS. (6 November 2002)

While some MPs likened the indentured Chinese workers to slaves thereby risking “Britain’s reputation as the mother of the free” others disagreed, insisting they were having ‘the time of their lives”.

“The life of a Chinese indentured labourer will be a paradise to what some of our fellow-citizens go through.”

Strange conception of paradise. In the real world the Chinese in the Transvaal were largely confined to their camps when not underground in the mines. The mainly very young men grew bored and increasingly frustrated by so many restrictions on top of the dangers inherent in their work. Diseases were rife and often fatal. The food was poor. It was a miserable existence with little hope of a way out before the end of their three-year contract. Many resorted to opium to relieve stress of their hazardous occupation and the tedium of their contracted existence. Where did the opium come from in such tightly controlled conditions? The whites supplied it. Opium was used as a device to control the Chinese. It was sold to them at sky high prices, leading to debt, borrowing to pay off debts or theft from fellow-workers or breaking out of camp to rob members of nearby communities. Lurid newspaper stories created fear of a Chinese menace threatening law-abiding white farmers and communities. A law was passed that allowed whites to arrest any Chinese person found outside their compound – a £1 plus expenses was paid for every Chinaman detained. Not all of them lived long enough to be arrested, with whites shooting dead any suspected of theft.

In the House of Commons in November 1906, Donald Smeaton, MP for Stirlingshire, stated –

“two pounds of opium allowed to each Chinese coolie under the recent Transvaal Ordinance is enormously in excess of the maximum consumption and leaves a large surplus in the possession of each coolie…”

Churchill contradicted him –

“I would point out that it is not correct to say that two pounds of opium are allowed to each Chinese coolie under the recent Ordinance …coolie not allowed any opium …unless he can obtain a permit signed by an Inspector of the Foreign Labour Department …”

Smeaton asked if the government was aware of the harmful impact of opium at which point the Speaker shouted him down –

“Order! Order! The honourable member is making a speech.”

Straight out of Alice and the rabbit hole. Speakers don’t change their spots.

Officially, opium smoking by the Chinese in the Transvaal was condemned and was certainly punishable by flogging – between five and fifty lashes, according to Aberdeen People’s Journal. A man found guilty got his ‘gruel’ or ‘licking’ after being stripped, held face down and soundly whipped. Then he was literally booted out the door. Not everyone was flogged. A man might be confined in jail, handcuffed to a wooden beam and forced to squat for up to eight hours.  But flogging was commonplace in the goldmine camps to impress upon the Chinese workers who was ‘top dog’. This was humane British justice in practice. A motion in the House of Commons in 1906 condemned Milner for failing to outlaw corporal punishment for minor offences in the compounds.

Over 60,000 Chinese youths and men were shipped into South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century – one of the practical exigencies of the British Empire was its ability to raise labour gangs and move them to wherever industries were short of workers. China with its large and mainly impoverished submissive people was attractive to industries within the empire. British society’s ingrained racism a useful adjunct to the Empire’s insatiable demand for cheap labour. And so their agents in China scoured the countryside for workers, or ‘coolies’ as they referred to them. ‘Coolies’ were not regarded as quite civilized so could be confined within camps, like dogs, as was pointed out at the time.  That one of the compounds was formerly used by the British as a concentration camp during the Second Boer War was further testament to the British disregard for life and a signal of the brutal nature of the indentured system.  

British and American companies with strong trading links to China enabled this official twentieth century people trafficking – simply another column in their registers of interests along with opium, tea, silk, cotton etc. Scottish companies such as Jardine Matheson & Co. and Gibb, Livingstone & Co. in conjunction with American William Forbes & Co. whose name alludes to the Scottish roots of its founder and the English Butterfield and Swire swung into action to supply the goldmines of South Africa with thousands of young workhands.

Controversial from the start, opposition to the policy grew and for as many arguing the men were volunteers there were others who documented the less than voluntary recruitment of them in China and the appalling working and living conditions that confronted them in South Africa.

In March 1904 Lord Coleridge said –

“The idea of importing Chinese, under conditions of servitude seems first to have occurred to the mind of Mr Rhodes, who desired to introduce them into Rhodesia…”

Mr Rhodes being, of course, Cecil Rhodes, once a great British hero, now seen for the wicked racist imperialist he was. For the likes of Rhodes and Milner, the ‘not quite civilized non-whites’ were appealing because of their cheapness to hire and the ease by which they could be manipulated and exploited, unlike white workers used to organising themselves to protect wages and working conditions.  As Milner said in a speech to the White League –

“We do not want a white proletariat.”

Henry Forster, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks in Kent said in the Commons on 22 February 1906 –

“Gentlemen opposite were wrong in asserting with so much confidence that the conditions were tantamount to slavery. Business men, working men engaged in the mines, trade union officials, ministers of religion, the members of the British Association visiting South Africa last autumn, and even some supporters of the present Government themselves who had been out there, all said there was no element of slavery in the conditions under which the Chinamen worked, and that the arrangements were healthy, humane, and admirable in every way.”

He was objecting to descriptions of this kind from the President of the Board of Trade, David Lloyd George (Liberal)  

“They were kept like dogs in a kennel; they were treated as very few men treated their beasts, and if you treated a man as a beast, he became a beast.

Those who argued that treatment of the indentured Chinese was remotely like slavery pointed to a clause in their contracts that said any man could return to China for a payment of £17. 10 shillings, the equivalent of £1500 today. As the average wage paid was about 35 shillings per month out of which they had to pay for their keep and the many fines imposed on them by mine management – e.g. in July 1905 fines among the  Chinese amounted to £2,000 (today’s £157,000) and in October were the equivalent of £400,000. Churchill (Undersecretary for the Colonies) said he calculated ‘a coolie could save by the most rigid self-denial …20 shillings a month” meaning it would take a labourer eighteen months to earn his passage home, barring accidents, illness or whatever.

Transvaal’s white proletariat added to the growing condemnation of the policy. At the same time resistance from the Chinese (and Indians) in the Transvaal over their employment conditions led to the system of indentured labour being abandoned by 1910.   

For far too many Brexit has lent legitimacy to British society’s inherent racist attitudes. It is abhorrent. Vilifying foreign people is abhorrent but both the Tories and Labour have leapt onto this vile bandwagon – and that of Johnson’s repugnant opinions of British exceptionalism – the best in the world. Windrush? In the past. Send them home has been the slogan coming out of Westminster for several years. Soon it will be – get foreigners in to do the work we don’t want to do. But don’t let them stay here. 1904 or 2022 nothing much has changed.

Oct 2, 2022

Levelling up, trickling down and a right royal payout

Who pays for the royal family? That shouldn’t be a question. After all nobody pays for my family. Or yours. And the royal family is one of the richest in the UK; estimates of their wealth vary from £28 billion to £67 billion, so obviously they can afford to pay their own way.

The Windsors own land. A lot of land – some is rural and some urban. It owns a share of London’s west end, including part of Regent Street. Beyond land they own much of the seabed surrounding the UK. These holdings, except now in Scotland, are bundled under the title Crown Estate and the family earn a percentage of profits made from enterprises in its Crown Estate. We’ll come back to this.

The royals cost us a lot of money. Their supporters argue they are worth it. These same supporters are often free and easy with figures suggesting the popularity of the royals such as the preposterous figure of 5 billion people said to have watched the late Queen’s funeral. Total fiction.

Figures are important. They certainly are to the royals. The bigger the better. Much like their names and titles the more the merrier which is why we have Charles III, the erstwhile Prince Charles of Edinburgh, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew. Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Prince of Wales. Titles that lay claim to places whose populations have no say in who flaunts them as idiosyncratic perks. Now that he is plain Mr King, Charles’ titles have magically and effortlessly been passed to his son, Prince William aka Prince of Wales etc – with all the insensitivity we associate with royal privilege.  

With the shift up the ranks, Charles loses his lucrative income from the Duchy of Cornwall which passes to William. The Duchy of Cornwall set up in 1337 by the English king Edward III now has assets worth north of £1.05 billion and surplus of £23 million. Nowadays there are taxes paid on this income, just not in the automatic way the rest of us are taxed. Royals are given a choice over whether to pay tax and at what rate. This also applies to inheritance tax. Royal privilege means their private holdings, such as Balmoral and Sandringham, are exempt from inheritance tax as are other privately held assets such as jewellery, the royal stud, rare art and stamp collections (the late Queen’s stamps are valued about £100 million) so can be passed down the generations in a way not possible for ordinary families.   

But don’t worry about Charles III’s lost Duchy income. There is another Duchy and this comprises the monarch’s main income from a vast portfolio of land, property and assets – the Duchy of Lancaster – it is also exempt from capital gains and corporation taxes. Nice perk if you can work it. And just to turn the screw on the disparity between us punters and royals – they benefit from bona vacantia – cash and property that belonged to people who died without leaving a will or whose heirs cannot be traced. These go to that worthy cause – the Crown. Back it 2000, The Guardian reported that the Queen profited by more than £2.1 million from the proceeds of the intestate. In the same article was an unsavoury revelation that her Duchy of Lancaster fund made a killing from the deaths of widows of soldiers killed in WWII.

The royals, some of them, are immensely rich. And some of them receive public money to carry out public duties and to cover their household expenses – which can come to a lot given the number of properties they elect to live in. Of course, questions have been raised over why tax payers have to fork out at all to boost the incomes of this mega rich family, especially during periods of austerity, such as now. The death of Queen Elizabeth might have created space to discuss the role, if any, for a monarchy in 21st century UK but the family’s seamless transference of roles didn’t allow for that. And that is obviously deliberate. There is so much that is concealed surrounding palace behaviour and its relationship to the state; negotiations over the family’s public funding and tax affairs is highly secretive and entitlement appears to run deep in the royal psyche. In the 1970s Prince Philip complained about the family’s financial hardship.  

We are in the red and we might have to move out of the house next year.

He didn’t say which of their several houses he was referring to but there was at the time a dispute between them and government over the possibility of absorbing the royals and their public personae within a government department to enable their public funding greater scrutiny. The Queen got all bolshy. Her spokesperson said,

It is not clear that the Queen would wish to continue to occupy Buckingham Palace on these terms. If the palace were in effect a government department she might well wish to live elsewhere in a private capacity and appear at the palace only for official functions.  

As with so many wealthy egos who threaten to leave this place or that – they’re doing it now in Scotland over independence – they rarely follow through their emotional blackmail. However, in 1971 the government did not call the bluff of the Windsors and maintained the traditional secrecy surrounding their finances.  

How did the royals get to this coddled position? It all began a long time ago, back in 1649 with another Charles, Charles II, at a time monarchy and government were more intertwined. For services rendered he was the first monarch to receive what was called the Civil List – a useful payment of £800,000 which is equivalent today to nearly £110 million. Annually. In addition, Charles got revenues from Crown Lands. I assume Crown Lands were property sovereigns won through battles fought mostly by poor people against someone else’s army of poor people. From the money supplied by the state the king was meant to pay salaries for the likes of judges, ambassadors, courtiers, state officers etc but not the very expensive game of war hence the term Civil List, distinguishing it from military and naval expenses which were funded through specifically raised taxes.

James II in 1685 received £1,500,000 a year on much the same terms as Charles. Like Charles he was expected to pay government expenses from the Civil List but neither of them did.

William and Mary came in, in 1689.  They were a bargain compared with the profligate James and Charles. They got £1,200,000. Out of this, £700,000 was set aside for the royal household only; the first time such a distinction was made.

In 1697 parliament fixed the king’s payment, in times of peace, at £1,200,000 per year (£170 million today) in the reign of William III. £700,000 (£99 million today) of this from the Civil List. The national debt was instigated under William III, with funds raised through the sale of state securities. Its popularity flourished. War now, pay later meant easier funding of war and at the end of the Napoleonic wars the national debt stood at 200% of GDP.  

Queen Anne in 1702 was paid the same amount as William and Mary but like the rest of her feckless family, Anne ran up debts. Not just any minor debts, she accrued debts of £1,250,000 (£198,000,000 today). Parliament, tax payers, picked up the tab, in effect paying for her twice over. Her excuse? William had given away so many Crown lands. Given away – not in terms we would understand, you understand, royals don’t give anything away.

George I in 1714 saw a ‘mere’ £700,000 (£105 million) go to him to cover his household expenses. This was raised from taxes on liquor. The Westminster government now included Scotland. A tax on malt (used to make whisky and beer) caused riots ending in deaths and transportations for beer and whisky were everyday drinks at a time drinking water was often contaminated and dangerous.

George II in 1727 couldn’t get by on his £800,000 so parliament paid his debts of £456,000 (£72 million) while he didn’t pay for much of anything he was supposed to. Because George II played fast and loose with public money and failed to part fund government George III in 1760 was forced to surrender some profits from the Crown Estate which were redirected to the Treasury. He still enjoyed income from Duchy of Lancaster holdings. He also benefitted from revenue from excise duties, the post office, wine licences and miscellaneous taxes which might have been renamed – the extravagant sovereign fund and an increased Civil List of £1,030,000. You do the maths.

George IV’s annual Civil List was set at £850,000 in 1820. In addition, he pocketed hereditary revenues of Scotland (£110,000) and Ireland (£207,000). And since that wasn’t enough for him, an additional £225,000 from the public purse.

By 1830 the Civil List was restricted to the cost of upkeep of the royal household, separating this from the monarch’s civil government responsibilities. William IV was given £510,000 annually while the revenues of Scotland and Ireland were now paid to the Exchequer instead of the king’s coffers; Scottish hereditary land revenues were switched from the management of the Barons of the Exchequer to the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings and their successors under Crown Lands (Scotland) Acts of 1832, 1833, 1835.

Victoria was next up, in 1837. She received £415,000 annually (£36 million today) with parliament specifying how the funds should be spent. It should be said that other members of the royal family also received public cash but here I’m mostly dealing with the sovereign.  In 1848 the revenue from the Duchy of Cornwall was £67,000 (£6 million). The Prince of Wales, whose revenue stream it was, was 7 years old. An additional award of £7,000 was provided by parliament for his education and maintenance – an annual amount that soared within two years to £39,000 (£4 million). The value of the Crown Estates greatly increased in value over Victoria’s reign.

Ever since accession of House of Hanover, kings of England, as a rule, never lived within their income, and a Sovereign of habits no less simple and unostentatious than GEORGE III, was repeatedly obliged to apply to Parliament to pay his debts. Instead therefore of continually paying sums of money to eke out an income of which a large part was derived from estates of which the rental was unknown, and which were possibly mismanaged, it was obviously an economical course for Parliament to take the landed property of the Crown into its own hands and to settle on the Sovereign for life at the beginning of a reign a revenue sufficient, according to contingencies, calculable at the moment, for a liberal Court expenditure.

(The Mall Gazette, 31 July, 1871)

Prime Minister, William Gladstone, explained in 1871 that the Crown Estates would be transferred to parliament in return for maintenance of the royal family which, he said, gave parliament a moral control over the royal family and was in the long term the most economical. Disraeli argued that the Crown provided as much as the Civil List so defraying their state private expenses but not for providing for the whole of the royal family which begs the question about the size of the royal family and its inability to live within its means.

Edward VII’s initial £470,000 in 1901 crept up to £634,000 by the time he died and was the Civil List paid to George V in 1910. Out of this sum £125,000 was allocated to royal household salaries, £125,800 for pensions and £193,000 for other household expenses.

Into the 1930s, that period of desperate poverty and hunger though not among the royals although George V did give up £50,000 as a token gesture towards what was happening outside his coddled circle.  

Edward VIII, the fascist king, in December 1936 was awarded a Civil List of £370,000. This was due to rise to £410,000 on his marriage. Just not marriage to a fellow fascist. When he was forced out his brother, George VI, got the £410,000 per year.

His daughter, Elizabeth, followed him, in 1952 with the Civil List initially set at £475,000.

The 1972 Civil List Act included provision for a review of royal payments every ten years – but only to allow for increases, not reductions – a result of more secretive negotiations between civil service and palace. So ended a tradition that the Civil List was negotiated once at the beginning of a monarch’s reign for their lifetime.

In 2000 PM Tony Blair told the Commons an agreement struck in 1990 was so generous that the Civil List account was £35 million in the black. But, of course, this did not result in a pause in payments to the palace – because, it was said, of the provisions of the 1972 Act. It transpired the Act never intended any such thing but incredibly the Blair government and the palace agreed on an additional £7.9million a year until 2010.

In 2012 the Civil List was abolished. Not so state benefits to the royals. It was now called the sovereign grant. The sovereign grant in 2020-21 amounted to £51.5 million; a figure calculated at 15% of profits of the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate was valued at £15 billion in 2021 but as royal spending knows no bounds additional claims on the Treasury occur such as £34.5 million for ‘reservicing’ of Buckingham Palace. To cover such costs the palace has been allowed to claim 25% profits until at least 2027 when it is envisaged the rate of income will return to 15%. These extras known as grants-in-aid for unexpected costs such as property maintenance and travel often amount to large sums of cash – in 2017 replacement doors at the orangery at Windsor Castle cost £1.2 million. Where royals are concerned there are always extra costs – policing for royal events, royal weddings, royal celebrations, foreign travel, military parades, RAF flypasts, local government costs during royal visits – it goes on.  

The official expenditure of the Queen 2021 -22 was £102.4 million, a mark-up of 17% from the previous year’s £87.5 million.

It’s costly being a royal. It’s costly not being royal. The sovereign’s personal fund of the Duchy of Lancaster was recently valued at £580 million generating around £20 million in profits annually. The Duchy Cornwall is worth about £960 million and generates something in the region of £20 million. The Queen began to pay tax on the Lancaster income only in 1993. Charles also volunteered to pay some tax. There are other taxes they do pay, VAT and council tax. Council tax on Buckingham Palace is £1,500. A lot of bang for the buck, so to speak.

Things are looking up for the Crown Estate with the surge in renewables on and offshore. Twenty-five percent of current and future profits or even 15% of profits amounts to a huge boost in income. The same applies to future gas and carbon storage to the tune of £billions. the sovereign’s rights to profits from wind and wave power is recent – granted by the Blair/Brown government in 2004.

In 2016 Crown Estate Scotland was created by an act of parliament devolving Crown Estate interests in Scotland from those in other parts of the UK. Crown Estate Scotland is run as a public corporation on behalf of the Scottish government. This means the crown’s economic assets in Scotland, including seabed, mineral and fishing rights have been transferred to Holyrood’s control and revenue is paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund. They remain the property of the monarch but cannot be sold by him or her. However, the palace stuck their heels in over the majority of its Scottish holding worth 60% of the Crown Estate in Scotland – a 50% stake in Fort Kinnaird, a retail park in Edinburgh, which was retained by the queen and soon sold off privately for £167.25 million. The proceeds were used to buy Gallacher Retail Park in Cheltenham. Which is pretty bloody cynical and exposes the disdain this immensely wealthy family holds towards the well-being of Scots and Scotland depriving causes of much needed funds.  

King Charles III is worth an estimated £538 million and £25 – £38 billion in assets including the Crown Estate, palaces and those lucrative Duchies. So who pays for the royals? We all do. There is nothing certain in this world, except death and taxes – to misquote Benjamin Franklin – except in the case of royalty where death is certain, paying taxes – not so much.

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/moray/1504741/uk-crown-estate-accused-of-167-million-cash-grab-from-scottish-purse/

Sep 20, 2022

Africa has been the footstool of colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and degradation – one small incident in a land far away

Bechuanaland (Botswana) in Southern Africa once was a British protectorate. That means that for intents and purposes not much happened in Bechuanaland without permission of government in London. This was during the period of the British Empire, of which many in the UK are so very proud, when the continent of Africa was divied up between the more powerful European powers to be plundered, and Bechuanaland was brought to the notice of that rapacious old coloniser, Cecil Rhodes, for its potential as an economic link north and south, the fact it was not already coloured pink on world atlases as a British possession but most importantly, Rhodes believed it contained gold and diamonds. So, Botswana – renamed Bechuanaland by the British because of their laziness (and indifference) over mastering the pronunciation of the name of its native people, the Tswana, was made a British protectorate in September 1885.

Before the country had the union jack run up on its flagpoles British influence was at work. Education, that great moulder of character and opinion was making an impact. In Bechuanaland as in so many other places across the Empire, schools were set up by missionaries and many of them were started and run by Scots teaching Church of Scotland values. John Mackenzie from Knockando in Moray was an early missionary in southern Africa, from the 1830s, and while in Tswana territories he encouraged the British government to adopt the region as a protectorate in order to defend its people from racist Boers settling there. Mackenzie was made a Deputy Commissioner by the British government and he was replaced by Rhodes.

Students at Lovedale in 1892

At Lovedale in Cape Province, Tshekedi Khama attended the Missionary Institute secondary school that had been educating children of all creeds and including rescued slaves from its inception in 1841. A Church of Scotland missionary school, it was a non-sectarian and non-racial and open to all boys, including rescued slaves. This open policy continued until 1955 when South Africa’s apartheid system kicked in. A girls’ school followed much later, in 1868.

Scottish doctor and missionary, David Livingstone, lived and worked in southern African from the 1840s until his death in 1873, along with his family. He became a close friend of Shehele, an ancestor of Tshekedi, and when a memorial was planned to Livingstone in his home town of Blantyre, the Banangwato people in Bechuanaland were invited to contribute towards it. They gladly obliged and sent £150 that was used to create an illuminated tableaux, called the Last Journey, The Last Journey depicts Livingstone’s corpse being carried by native Africans to the east coast, a distance of 1500 miles, from where his body was shipped home to Scotland.

Bechuanaland was one of several African regions where horses were bred and when Tshekedi and a group of his fellow countrymen visited the Blantyre museum they asked to see the cavalry horses at Redford Barracks. For whatever reason they weren’t given access to the Barracks but instead were taken to Edinburgh’s Corporation Cleansing Departments stable of Clydesdales. The visitors were much taken by these large, docile animals – far larger than the horses bred in their own country – and spent a long time with them, stroking them and whispering into their ears, to the consternation of their British hosts.

Back in Livingstone’s day in Bechuanaland, mistreatment of native people by European settlers was rife. Livingstone detested this behaviour and that of the Boers in particular for they were infamous for outrageous acts of oppression and cruelty perpetrated upon peaceful villagers and he warned that people were arming to defend themselves from such assaults. Gun traders were everywhere so weapons were relatively easy to get hold of. Livingstone observed that attempts at halting the purchase of weapons was a failure.

…might as well have bolted the castle gate with a boiled carrot.

Boer leaders resented Livingstone and threatened to have him kicked out of their region. Livingstone explained in a letter to his brother, Charles, in 1849 –

The Boers or Dutch emigrants oppress these tribes and treat them almost as slaves. They would have contrived to do so to Sechele (his friend) too, but I succeeded in freeing the Bakwains (Bakens.) A considerable number of guns were purchased, and as this is the source of power of the Boers over the other tribes they began to be afraid that the other tribes would follow his example.

In 1850, Livingstone wrote to his father-in-law, Robert Moffat –

Can you get the bullet mould (perhaps 2, & ramrods to fit) of 8 to lb. or rather fit 8 to the pound bore but conical, from Birmingham? Those which have an indentation behind fire much further, the dotted line marking the indentation. Sechele is very anxious to get the seven-barrelled gun. You seem to have forgotten it.

   He was helping arm his friends among the Batswana.

*

By the 1930s Botswana’s younger people had become frustrated with Britain’s grip on the country, with all that entailed with racist views of superior and inferior races and, consequently, lack of respect for native rights.

Tshekedi was already in power, having been made regent of the Bamangwato in 1926 following the death of his brother, Sekgoma II, whose son was too young to become chief. Twenty-one-year-old Tshekedi set about consolidating his authority as leader. Alarmed by this, the British commissioner in the area, Sir Charles Rey, attempted to rein him in. When in 1933 two white men were taken before the native court accused of assaulting (raping) native girls, Tshekedi sentenced them to be flogged in public, as any native perpetrator would be. Rey was outraged by a black man overstepping himself and judging a white person.

Top – Vice-Admiral Evans arrives to conduct the inquiry into the actions of Regent Chief Tshekedi, accompanied by a hundred marines and another hundred seamen from Cape Province.
Bottom left -The inquiry. Evans announces the suspension of Acting Chief Tshekedi of the Bamangwato, he’s the small man on the right of the group of Africans facing the whites.
Middle bottom – Phineas McIntosh, left with pipe, and McNamee, right.
Bottom right – Tshekedi a year or two earlier
 
 

The British government reacted with a show of strength. A Vice-Admiral Edward Evans was sent in to investigate the incident. He arrived with 200 royal Marines and seamen brought in from Cape Town along with howitzers to make it crystal clear to the natives that their laws were one thing but Britain was in charge and no native chief had a right to judge any white person.

Buglers bugled as representatives of the British Crown and government assembled under a fig tree. Before them, unshaded from the sun, stood 15,000 native men and women, to witness legitimate justice. Under Britain’s superior justice Tshekedi was not permitted to have anyone speak in his defence. He was found guilty of overstepping his power by not providing the white men accused of assaulting native girls, McIntosh and MaNamee, a choice over which type of court judged them. Tshekedi was stripped of his powers and banished from Francistown by the Acting High Commissioner, Vice-Admiral Evans. During the proceedings several white women in the crowd shouted, “Stop this” and they and other whites rushed to shake Tshekedi’s hand. Tshekedi’s removal proved fairly short-lived. Evans had him reinstated following a public outcry.

The British press were predictably racist – ridiculing Batmangwato’s ‘comic opera’ army. A sneering W. J . Makin of The Sphere (23 September, 1933) wrote –

500 members dressed in cast-off uniforms of Drury Lane and other musical comedy shows of London …Some even wear kilts, with dirty white spats over their black feet.

More serious journalists, especially among the South African press, ridiculed Britain’s high-handed actions of sending in marines and howitzers, calling it –

…a mere melodramatic gesture as useless as it must have been expensive.

Around this time the British government was getting jittery over the rise of nationalism in South Africa. That a black leader took it upon himself to flog a white man was unacceptable to many in Britain. Tshekedi was a symbol of the growing confidence of black Africans and so he had to be put in his place. He argued that both of the white men were notorious for their brutal behaviour and they had lived among the Batswana for some time and this was the reason he thought it appropriate to deal with them as he would any native guilty of a similar crime. One of the men, Phineas McIntosh had, in fact, accepted his punishment but Commissioner Charles Rey was determined to drive home the message of Britain’s supremacy over him and his people. Britian’s play of strength was considered far more important than the rape of native girls and punishment of the perpetrators. The British moved the convicted men, McIntosh and McNamee, to Lohatsi to the dismay of its resident white people who petitioned to have them removed, over fears for their daughters’ safety.

The Batmangwato army

The flogging episode and its aftermath highlighted the tensions that existed between native autonomy and British control. Tshekedi was never antithetical to the British, his own father having accepted ‘British protection’ in the late 19th century under threat from the Boers but those times had gone. His son Tshekedi having had a western education became the acceptable face of a native chief and trusted by many whites but he was no British lackey. Tshekedi was proud of his people and his country. He was a nationalist who well understood the injustices at the heart of colonialism – the leash that could and would be tightened as a reminder of where power really lay. He recognised that the protection offered to his father in the nineteenth century came as a double-edged sword – protection on the one hand and threat on the other. Westminster passed the Foreign Jurisdiction Act in 1890 that legalised the British monarch’s supremacy over native laws, rights and obligations. The British Crown’s agent was, of course, the British government. In other words, the British Crown was superior to any native power in its Empire and could countermand any court decisions. And given that the area fell under total control of Westminster, it could decide its future – whether that meant retaining Batswana chiefs or handing their country over to the British South Arican Company – and always racism was at its core.

Clearly when the protected territory is inhabited by native tribes the amount of internal sovereignty assumed by the protector is much greater than in cases where the protected State has a civilised government.

(Justice Watermeyer. A Boer judge and supporter of British imperial control in southern Africa).

So, Tshekedi was reinstated because of a backlash but his movements were restricted and he had to accept he would not act in any cases against whites. The autocratic Rey was replaced as Resident Commissioner in 1937 but his career was not harmed. Tshekedi’s Rengentship ended when the nephew he was acting for, Seretse Khama, became chief in 1949. That’s another story involving racism that resulted in both Seretse Khama and Tshekedi being exiled by the British in 1950, and subsequently banned from participating in politics.  

A correspondent to the Perthshire Advertiser in April 1952 complained about the harsh treatment meted out to Seretse and Tshekedi by the British government as a

… blot on our British sense of justice and fair play.

In 1952 Tshekedi was allowed to return to Bechuanaland as a private citizen and he helped organise the return of Seretse. The pair plus a third man eventually brought about Bechuanaland’s independence, as Botswana on 30 September, 1966. Tshekedi was dead by then. He died in London in 1959, following treatment there for kidney failure. He was 54 years old.

The title of this blog is a quote from Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, 1960,

Sep 8, 2022

The Day the Music Died – on the BBC. Glasgow Orpheus Choir.

It caused a great stooshie that got a mention in the UK parliament – the BBC’s practice of censoring opinions it doesn’t like. This has nothing to do with Emily Maitlis but occurred back in the 1940s.

Today, the BBC is far more unpopular in Scotland than it is in England with 13% of Scottish households choosing not to buy a BBC licence compared with 7% in England, 6% in Wales and 10% in Northern Ireland. In Scotland it is criticised for reflecting the corporation’s southern metropolitan bias and for its determined and continuing promotion of unionism that flies in the face of at least 50% of Scottish opinion.

We should not be surprised after all the BBC is unionist – it says so on the tin and is British establishment to its core. There is a pretence is that it reflects life in these islands. Of course, it does nothing of the kind. It does nowadays what it has always done – represent a tiny section of ‘British’ society and stuffs its management with dependable British establishment types to ensure it upholds the values of people like them.

Back in the 1930s, the choral master of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, Sir Hugh Roberton, seemed like a dependable chap. The choir, his choir, had a reputation second to none in the UK and were frequent performers on the BBC. However, come the Second World War it was drawn to the BBC’s attention that Roberton was not one of them. He was a socialist and pacifist and member of the Peace Pledge Union.

 War and art is an impossible combination, impossible as hate and love. War is in an insidious position. It scars and brutalises us unconsciously…Oh the vanity and hypocrisy and brutality of the world, oh the ignorance of the people.

The words of Hugh Roberton during World War One.

Come the Second World War, they banned him and his choir from broadcasting on the BBC.  

Roberton was portrayed as a disloyal citizen by Corporation – that moulder of opinions.  During the Second World War the BBC was the government’s powerful medium for disseminating government propaganda – George Orwell was part of that structure between 1941 and 1943 and used his experiences at the BBC in his portrayal of the propaganda arm of government, the Ministry of Truth, in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Roberton wasn’t alone in being proscribed by the BBC which has a history of denying access to mics to people it regards as not one of us. Michael Redgrave was among a number of actors whose services were not required during the war. Redgrave accused the BBC of –

…an unwarranted infringement of the civil liberties of the individual.

The BBC’s defence was that anyone with views ‘opposed to the national war effort’ as they described it – would not be allowed on the BBC. That members of the Orpheus Choir were on active service abroad or in the Home Guard or ARP carried no weight which drew this comment from one choir member –

 Joan of Arc has been a long time dead, but it appears that the English heresy-hunter still runs to type

It was not only his pacifist beliefs that made Roberton a thorn in the flesh of Britain’s most conservative elements. The custom was that concerts would close with the national anthem. Roberton would have none of it, and always ended the Orpheus Choir concerts with a rendering of Auld Lang Syne. Such behaviour enraged a Colonel W. Mellis from Aberdeen who wrote to his local newspaper, the Press & Journal, expressing his disgust that at a concert he attended God Save the King was not performed. For those of you too young to know, the national anthem used to be played at the end (and sometimes the start) of every public activity or performance and the audience was expected to stand up to listen to it. But people increasingly ignored this custom so it was stopped in cinemas in 1974. It carried on elsewhere until recent times and is still played at the end of BBC Radio 4 daily broadcasts. Mellis deplored that ‘a man like Sir Hugh Roberton’ (I think he meant such as Sir Hugh Roberton) be allowed anywhere near a microphone.

Ian Shaw MacPhail of Aberdeen, wrote a response to what he called Mellis’ ‘hysterically loyal support of the recent childish attitude of the BBC to the Glasgow Orpheus Choir and its pacifist conductor.’ He added that a man who ‘cannot enjoy a choir when it is conducted by a pacifist’ is no music lover and argued that music cannot be controlled by government, laws or opinions and asked if Mellis thought the choir would lure the public to their moral doom by the exquisiteness of its singing? He wondered if Mellis understood what the war was being fought for –

…men have died and are at this very moment dying in the belief that their sacrifice is made so that we may retain these precious rights of mankind – liberty of conscience and freedom of citizenship and speech

MacPhail, about to join the armed forces after graduating from Grey’s School of Art in Aberdeen, backed Roberton’s right to his opinions –

This black-balling of the musician is reminiscent of the unforgivable and dishonest attitude of the B.B.C. to that immortal animal lover Grey Owl* whose crime was that in his script he made a very pertinent indictment of the ‘sadistic cruelty’ of fox hunting.

He called the BBC doctrinaire – selecting who it allowed to broadcast and who it did not. For his part MacPhail wrote he was not concerned with whether –

…the milkman is an admirer of Stalin, whether the butcher has a moustache like Hitler’s or whether Sir Hugh Roberton is a pacifist.

(Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The BBC’s ban on the choir was raised in parliament. A Mr McGovern, MP for Glasgow Shettleston, raised the issue of ‘partiality of the propaganda and choice of propagandists by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the way in which it is being directed on totalitarian lines’ so eliminating different views on the BBC and instead of the BBC being ‘an instrument of democracy’ it was ‘one for the creation of an authoritarian regime in this country.’

Another Glasgow MP, Mr Stephen for Camlachie, said he noticed that after the ban on the Orpheus Choir had been lifted following the matter being raised with the prime minister, the BBC seldom put it on air. He described this as the BBC’s ‘victimization of this choir because of the anti-war views of the conductor.’

So, the BBC reduced its engagements of the choir after the ban was lifted. It was noticed it didn’t even merit a place on Scotland’s bit of the BBC, the ‘Scottish Half Hour’ which represented the BBC’s impressions of Scotland. The BBC’s regional director in Scotland was Melville Dimwiddie who in 1934 had issued a denial of an accusation from Hugh Roberton that the BBC was ‘an English institution with a branch office in Scotland.’ Dinwiddie’s denial was disingenuous since it most certainly was and is.

When the B.B.C. was formed it was formed with a charter akin to autocracy. Today the position of the governing body is that Scotland has no voice and Ireland had no voice. In two years’ time the charter is to be reviewed. I hope when this is done that Scotland will be given a certain measure of Home Rule.

(Sir Hugh Roberton, 1934)

Dinwiddie said there could be no better Scotsman representing Scotland than the Director General of Broadcasting, Sir John Reith. Trite nonsense and offensive to Scots with a brain. It was Dinwiddie who a decade later who told Roberton that if he changed his pacifist views he would be allowed to broadcast. Roberton insisted his views were his own business and not the BBC’s.

Hugh Roberton was unbending over substituting Auld Lang Syne at the end of concerts which he regarded was more in keeping with Scottish sentiment.  

We have a history, a tradition, all of our own … and I am sure it comes out in our singing…English choirs on the whole are probably more competent than Scottish ones: they are also more facile…their work wants root.

Roberton’s own roots ran deep in the soil of Scotland. He recognised the value of Scotland’s rich folk song tradition and rearranged many for his choir as well as writing his own songs based on old Gaelic and Scots ones.

All this happened between 80 and 90 years ago. A lot has changed at the BBC since then. Oh, wait: no, it hasn’t.

*Grey Owl was a Canadian naturalist who spent time in the UK giving talks on wildlife in the 1930s. He was the son of a Scottish father and Apache mother. One-time trapper, Grey Owl deplored hobby slaughter of animals and swapped his rifle for a pen.  “It took civilisation to teach us that killing was a sport” he said, which along with his condemnation of fox hunting, did not go down well with BBC chaps.

Jun 8, 2022

Cynicus: the first comic postcard artist and a biting caricaturist – Fife’s Martin Anderson

Political cartoonist Martin Anderson sounds like a great guy who would have gone down a storm on Twitter. Born in Leuchars in Fife in 1854 Anderson honed his creative skills at Glasgow School of Art but finding Glasgow Art Club too snooty for his liking he set up an alternative  – St Mungo Art Club. Several members of the GAC, nevertheless, became his friends, including painters James Guthrie and John Lavery and charismatic journalist, adventurer and supporter of Scottish nationalism, R.B. Cunninghame Graham, whose doppelganger he was.  

For a short time Anderson worked as a calico printer before moving to London to

 to study art proper

That lasted only a little while before he headed back to Scotland to take up work with Dundee publishers John Leng and Co. as its staff artist and set up home at Broughty Ferry.

Forever on the lookout for fresh opportunities to bring his talent with pen and pencil to a wider public Anderson contributed to Quiz, a Scottish rival publication to Punch magazine, using the pseudonym, bob but soon bob gave way to the name that would forever be associated with him, Cynicus. It was in Quiz in 1888 that his famous series of sketches was first published, The Satires of Cynicus; biting satires on politics and contemporary society.

Sales of his sketches failed to sell in the numbers he hoped and so Anderson once more took the road south to London where he chanced on a redundant fish and chips shop in Drury Lane which was turned into a studio for his Cynicus Publishing Company. He was giving it the finishing touches, adding its name to the studio window, when a fellow from Dundee happened to walk past and recognised Martin who had just completed CYNICUS PUB. The Dundonian returned home and reported that Martin Anderson had opened a bar in London. Once Anderson completed painting the name CYNICUS PUBLISHING COMPANY on the outside of the shop he set up a display inside the window with a number of his caricatures and one Monday morning he drew up the blind. In no time the police were at the door.

You’ll have to take those pictures away

Anderson’s window display was stopping passers-by in their tracks. Even street traffic was grinding to a halt. A policeman ordered him to remove his cartoons to free up the streets but Anderson sent the policeman packing, telling him it was a police problem, not his. No sooner had the copper left to sort out the horse and wagon chaos than a bunch of reporters turned up – to the cartoonist’s delight. At last, his caricatures would receive the attention they deserved. And so they did. Cynicus’ print series of 1000 copies of his cartoons all but sold out in no time.  

Anderson’s popularity spread in London’s political and artistic circles. His little studio became a mecca for many – among them Canadian poetess, author and performer, E Pauline Johnson, who took the stage under her Mohawk name of Tekahionwake. She appeared in native costume to recite Mohawk poems or as the press described them, “barbaric war songs” that reportedly “scared Keir Hardie stiff.” Hardie became a friend, as did Ramsay MacDonald, George Bernard Shaw, Jerome K. Jerome, James Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, William Morrice and a host of others. Several of these people, including Anderson, were members of a private and exclusively male club called Vagabonds.  

Cynicus’ studio shop was remembered as being always very untidy but homely with the tea-kettle always boiling and ‘no one was allowed to go away without a cup, with food as well pressed on them.’  Anderson was a kindly man who lend money liberally.

Outlets for Anderson’s drawings expanded as his reputation grew. His drawings illustrated many articles and opinion pieces in magazines and newspapers. In 1891 he published The Humours of Cynicus as a book with revisions of several of his early cartoons first seen in Quiz. He also created a series of new cartoons which he called Symbols and Metaphors. The final edition of his Satires of Cynicus was published in 1926 and two years before he died Martin Anderson published Memoirs of Cynicus in 12 instalments in the Glasgow Evening News.

Always looking to increase exposure of his caricatures, Anderson went into postcard production. Postcards were new in the late 1890s and quickly caught on. Anderson’s initial output was for a company called Blum & Degan. These early postcards were court-sized, that is smaller and squarer than later and more familiar rectangular postcards. By 1902 the Post Office cleared the way for postcards to be produced with a split back for message and address and a picture front. And the public loved them. Martin Anderson, Cynicus, was the first person to produce comic postcards.

A postcard studio was set up at Tayport, across the river from Dundee. There at the Cynicus Publishing Company Anderson trained and employed disabled boys and girls who found it difficult to get employment to hand-colour individual cartoons. The Tayport studio opened in 1902, turning out coloured postcards and for a time they sold well but as demand dried up debts increased and by 1911 the North of Scotland Bank insisted it be shut down to pay off creditors, selling off the stock for less than its value.

Anderson went to Leeds where postcards were being produced and he set up there but not for long. The Great War put an end to the enterprise and he moved back to Scotland, to Edinburgh’s York Place which surprised many of his friends but he explained,

I was country bred, and I wanted to be back in Scotland.

That was in 1915, the year he created his powerful anti-war allegorical poster, War! In War! he depicts society as a pyramid with Mammon sitting on top, on a throne, frittering away the nation’s wealth whose main beneficiaries are greedy, unscrupulous war barons. A figure of Lust is there with famine at her feet. Government and Justice are bound and gagged and the Lamp of Truth has been extinguished. Anderson was scathing about the Church, disliked the hypocrisy of those professing to be Christians. In War! the Church is shown supporting the obscene slaughter of war that leads to the blood of soldiers running like a river while rapacious Bankers claim their assets.  

War! was regarded as provocative and dangerous by the state and Anderson was threatened with internment without trial under the government’s strict emergency powers, Defence of the Realm Act or DORA, for displaying the poster in his shop window. Anderson duly removed it from the window and reproduced it as postcards which were lapped up by the public.  

In another poster entitled, Dictator (I can’t track down an image of it) Cynicus addressed another broken government promise – the one that promised any who enlisted in the army would return from war to homes fit for heroes. Some homes were built but for many, post-war brought homelessness, hunger, unemployment and humiliation. Government promises don’t change. Dictator shows demobbed soldiers being met by the bloated figure of Capitalism sitting pretty on a sack stuffed with profits made from selling arms to all sides in the war. The British press are portrayed as a megaphone disseminating government propaganda and lies. The Police who imposed DORA are brutal suppressers of Liberty and Freedom that lie dead and buried. A bloated Lloyd George represents Government as the maker and breaker of promises, and the hypocritical Church with a banner, “Britain’s welcome to the Troops” – that in fact leads to the poorhouse. Britain’s government’s brutal anti-independence policy in Ireland is represented as Black and Tan dog.  

Despite his successes, ill-luck dogged Martin Anderson’s life. In 1924 fire destroyed his shop in Edinburgh and with it, all its contents. There was no money to start up again from scratch so Anderson retired to his native Fife. He had a large house, Castle Cynicus, built on Lucklaw Hill above Balmullo overlooking St Andrew’s Bay which he called Liberty Hall. Carved into the lintel over its main door was the word, Truth.  

His ‘castle’ was tastefully designed and built of red sandstone with yellow Caithness stone roofing and walls of glass windows so that light flooded its spacious interior. A hall ran the length of the building; a huge pipe organ at one end and a grand piano at the other. There were expanses of polished floors, winding staircase, water colour painted wall panels, hand-painted ceiling, large potted plants, studio, tower and lift. A museum was packed with all sorts of rare artefacts Anderson had collected over his lifetime – a chair dating back to 1622, an ancient copy of the Koran, a purple coat that belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Chinese jade carvings, precious stones, crystals, fossils, coins, ancient weapons, many rare books and a lot of stuffed animals and birds – a jaguar, reindeer, fox and wild cats and the remains of an Inca princess from 1500 years ago.  

On 14 April 1932 the popular charismatic Cynicus died suddenly, aged 80, a generous man in his lifetime, he died in poverty. A brief death notice appeared in the Dundee Courier four days later – of the ‘artist and author’. A service was held at Liberty Hall and he was buried at Tayport Old Churchyard. Among the wreaths was one from the ILP Cycling Club in Fife. The funeral was never paid and the man who was the first designer of comic postcards and produced biting satires on the dishonesty of life in the UK lies in an unmarked grave.  Two of the pall-bearers were, unusually, women – Miss and Miss A. Peden of Dundee.

Following his death there was an auction of some of Anderson’s belongings to pay off debts. Much of Anderson’s wonderful and rare collections remained in the beautiful empty mansion. Almost inevitably vandals turned up at the empty property. They smashed the large picture windows and gained entry. What remained of the museum collection were destroyed – rare books ripped apart and scattered around. Anderson’s paintings were torn off walls and slashed. His painted wall panels suffered the same fate. Stuffed animals and birds were pulled to pieces. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s purple coat was trampled and thrown down amidst the devastation. The mummified body of the Inca princess had a leg ripped off and the rest of the body pulled apart.

A sad end to the life of a talented and humane man who made a significant contribution to popular culture with his mockery of the establishment – of government, church, military and the whole capitalist structure of Britain’s unequal society. At his death Anderson was remembered in Reynold’s News as a man at

the birth of the modern democratic movement

no living cartoonist is more able to preach a sermon in a minute

bold and profound thinker, with a thought in every line he drew

Martin Anderson provided sketches for newspapers and periodicals and drew for postcards that sold in their millions. In his later life he established a school for disabled children at Liberty Hall where he taught them to make a living by drawing and hand colouring. He was an accomplished musician and a man with shrewd powers of judgement that saw right through the duplicity and pomposity of the British establishment.

May 13, 2022

The First Scotsman to carry an Umbrella

Johnny Macdonald’s peaceful revolution.

I don’t think I knew any man who carried an umbrella when I was young. Not sure I know any now. Scotsmen are not given to wielding umbrellas, except perhaps on the golf course.

Scotsman John Macdonald aka Beau Macdonald aka the Scotch Frenchman is said to have been the first Scot’s bloke to walk about with an umbrella in Britain. This was in the 1770s when it was considered unmanly to carry an umbrella.

Umbrella from the Italian word ombrella from the Latin umbella, as in clustered blossoms at the extremities of grouped spokes radiating from a stem.

From Urquhart near Inverness, Johnny Macdonald was one of the Keppoch Macdonalds; his father was a cattle grazier. When young Johnny was two years old his mother, a Mackay, died in childbirth. Heartsick the father, already inclined towards adventure persuaded a number of his cattle drovers to join him and off they went to join the forces fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Their Jacobite cause took them down through Scotland into England and back. A letter arrived at the family home from the father in Edinburgh – at Goolen’s Inn and Livery Stables in the Canongate. A reply sent by the children went unanswered – mail sent to and from Jacobite supporters was routinely intercepted by government spies.

In mid-September 1745 young Johnny’s fourteen-year-old sister, Kitty, set off for Edinburgh to search for the missing father. She took her three youngest brothers with her – Johnny aged four, Alexander, two and Daniel seven years old. Ten-year-old Duncan was already working and remained at Urquhart. The youngsters had fourteen pounds Scots with them (twenty-three shillings and four pence English) and their father’s letter. They set off after dark to evade their neighbours who would have tried to stop them undertaking such a hazardous journey. They walked through the first night, some twenty miles to Inverness with Kitty carrying Alexander on her back.

From Inverness the children headed south towards Edinburgh. They were at the mercy of strangers – some hostile but most kind who willingly shared what food they had with the children and sometimes provided an indoor place for them to sleep. The young Macdonalds were well-dressed in woollen plaids which they used as blankets when sleeping, with additional warmth provided by branches of broom picked by Kitty and essential when they slept in the open.

The route they took across country avoided main thoroughfares and entailed them having to cross many bodies of water; still and moving. Then Kitty would have to carry the smallest boys, one at a time, and hold Daniel’s hand to guide him safely across. Once she and two-year-old Alexander were swept into a whirlpool and only saved from drowning by a man who happened to be working his potato patch nearby and witnessed their predicament. He took them home so they could dry their clothes and fed them and put them up in warm straw beds in his barn for the night.

The longest the children stayed anywhere on their journey was at Dundee where they waited for three weeks with a blacksmith and his wife who provided them with food and shelter. By the time they got to Edinburgh the Jacobite army had left for the south. They found Goolen’s Inn run by Jacobite sympathisers who put them up but they were keen to find their father and walked on in pursuit of him. They failed to track him down for the Jacobite army was moving quickly and by April of 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie’s bedraggled force was close to the Macdonald’s home in the north of Scotland. The children remained in Edinburgh where Kitty and Alexander were involved in an accident with a coach and six horses owned by the Countess of Murray. The Countess was herself a Jacobite supporter and she arranged for little Alexander to be fostered and Kitty found with work as a servant. Daniel and Johnny continued their itinerant life; begging and sleeping where they could. Many of Edinburgh’s tenements had spaces under stairs that were popular with the homeless at night but for young boys they were dangerous places and the brothers took it in turns to sleep and lookout when they used them. Their predicament was all the greater because they were Highlanders and so despised by many Lowlanders around Edinburgh. In addition, orphan children were frequently kidnapped in Scotland and sent overseas to work on plantations in British colonies and the boys were careful to avoid this fate. They got to know one or two fellow Highlanders, older youths and men, enlisted men who were part of the city guard. The troops arranged with Mr Goolen of the Inn to provide the boys with safer shelter which worked out better until a woman stole their 6-yard-long plaid which deprived them of clothing and their night blanket.  

The boys found odd jobs. Johnny was hired to rock a cradle which he hated and took his resentment out on the baby so was sacked. He then was taken on to turn a roasting spit and that satisfied him for a while – remember he’s only about four-years-old. After this he spent four months as the eyes of a blind fiddler walking from place to place so he could earn money playing at fairs and events. When he left that role little Johnny was offered a job as a postilion by another Jacobite family. As a postilion the boy rode on the back of one of the leading horses pulling a coach or carriage. He was given a uniform of a green jacket, red cape, red waistcoat and a leather cap. He loved horses and enjoyed the work that took him out and about across the country. In his journal he writes proudly of being ‘the littlest position in Scotland or anywhere.’ So began Johnny Macdonald’s working life.

The children kept in touch with one another and Johnny discovered through a message from his older brother, Daniel, that their father had been killed at Culloden. In the aftermath of battle it was highly dangerous to be a Highlander or live in the Highlands, then and for years to follow. Jacobite sympathisers or those suspected of being sympathisers were hunted down and brutalised. Many, many were summarily killed and others arrested and removed south for execution or to await transportation to one of the colonies. Homes and farm steadings were set alight and crops destroyed or stolen. The Macdonald’s neighbours rallied round to protect their late father’s farm still worked by Duncan, to prevent their house and its belonging being stolen and wrecked by government troops under Prince William, Butcher Cumberland. With Cumberland’s men pillaging and attacking everywhere Duncan decided to escape and followed his siblings to Edinburgh (where Highlanders were no less despised it has to be said) where the ever-dependable Mr Goolen arranged for him to be apprenticed as a stonemason at Falkirk.

Johnny Macdonald moved from employer to employer, mostly fellow-Scots – landowners with private wealth and businessmen involved in overseas trade. It is clear there was a Scottish web of contacts in south Britain, on the continent of Europe and elsewhere in the world. Wherever his masters went, for business or pleasure, Johnny went along too. James MacPherson of Ossian1 fame was Johnny’s master for a time. They met through a mutual friend, Colonel Alexander Dow, originally from Crieff. Dow had fled Scotland after killing a man in a duel and ran away to the East India Company in Calcutta which in turn led him to making translations of Persian literature. Macdonald and Dow spent two years together in India.

Despite having lived a huge chunk of his life abroad Macdonald did not forget his home. When with Sir John Stuart in Spain and Stuart waxed lyrical about the Spanish countryside ‘I never saw a finer sight; such a fine country and fine river’ Macdonald turned to him and said, ‘Sir, there is a finer sight in Scotland.’

‘Where, for God’s sake!’ asked Stuart.

‘Sir, from the castle of Stirling.’

The Irish author, Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), did not employ Macdonald but at the end of his life, in 1768, he and Johnny Macdonald were living in London. Macdonald was a servant to John Crauford of Errol, a vile toadying man, a Scot who hated his native country but was content to use it to further his political career. As a MP he represented various constituencies – although representing communities is not what being an MP was about in the 18th and early 19th centuries. MPs rarely or never went near their constituencies; they were just names on the political map that ticked a box of frogs called democracy. Anyway, when Crauford sent Macdonald to Sterne’s lodgings to ask about his state of health Macdonald found the writer at the point of death. He waited with him, later reporting that just before he died Sterne raised his hand ‘as if to stop a blow’ and with his last breath gasped, ‘Now it is come.’

A more usual duty for Johnny Macdonald was to prepare food for his employers. Queen of Scots soup was a dish he frequently made. And here’s the recipe. Cut six chickens into small pieces, rinse out hearts, gizzards and livers. Place the meats in a pan and cover with water. Stew until the chicken is cooked. Season with salt and cayenne pepper and add finely chopped parsley then stir through eight beaten eggs and serve immediately. Macdonald’s varied his soups and his herb seasonings and sometimes substituted barley with rice.   

From when he was a tiny boy, Macdonald led a colourful life, mixing with some of society’s most illustrious characters. He absorbed some habits and dress from places he visited around Europe such as tying back his long hair with a silk hanger and wearing lace ruffles at his neck – and, of course, carrying an umbrella, the very mark of effeminism in England and Scotland. Umbrella’s were for women. In the eighteenth century when it rained men who could afford it hired a carriage. Those who couldn’t, got wet.

Beautifully turned-out and ready for all weathers, Johnny Macdonald attracted cat-calls in London’s streets because of his appearance. Being rude and opinionated has a long pedigree among taxi drivers – Hackney coachmen didn’t shrink from voicing their narrow prejudices, more so for taking him for a foreigner, a French man.

What, Frenchman, why do not you get a coach?

Frenchman! take care of your umbrella.
Frenchman, why do not you get a coach, Monsieur?

At these times if his sister Kitty was with him she would be embarrassed by the attention he attracted but Macdonald took it in his stride, answering back in French or Spanish, as though he didn’t understand their mocking calls.

Johnny was in his own way a kind of revolutionary. Although not a ‘gentleman’ he and a handful of other men led a change among that class in Britain influencing them to carry an umbrella in place of a walking stick which had replaced swords as the well-dressed gentleman’s accessory when out in town. By 1780, shortly after Macdonald took to London streets under his umbrella the first patent to manufacture umbrellas in England was taken out, in 1780. They were not initially very popular and much caricatured in the press.  

While Johnny Macdonald seems to have been the first Scotsman to brave carrying an umbrella the man attributed as the first male umbrella user in London was Jonas Hanway – ‘friend of chimney-sweepers and the foe of tea’. Like Macdonald, Hanway was well-travelled. A merchant, his trade took him as far as Russia and Persia, not without incident. After his merchandise was stolen by a Turkish Khan, Hanway was attacked by pirates. Unsurprisingly, he decided this life wasn’t for him and settled in London where he railed against drinking tea which he claimed caused bad breath, ugliness and nervousness and consequentially made Britons who drank the stuff ugly, halitosis-breathing wrecks. In the umbrella stakes Hanway may have beaten Johnny Macdonald to opening his ombrella in rain-swept London but as a role-model for men he can’t hold a candle to the charismatic and handsome Johnny Macdonald.  

Being considered effeminate did not bother Johnny Macdonald. He was proud of his dandy-like appearance and the attention he got from women such as happened a lot in Edinburgh. So much so he asked a friend why young women were so attracted to him. Her reply was,

Johnny, there is nothing in it further than this – they think you have so good a temper, and never hear you say an ill word…But you are always praising their beauty.” However, she added, “If you don’t take care women will be your ruin.

Johnny wasn’t ruined by his attractiveness to the opposite sex but it’s very possible some of the  women he encountered in his life were through their encounters with the beguiling Johnny Macdonald. That said, he was a decent man by the sounds of it. One time when in Spain he had a relationship with the daughter of an inn keeper in Toledo called Malilia. On his return the following year he discovered she had a baby four months earlier. She was relieved to see the child’s father again and he was equally happy to discover he had a family there. Despite the age difference – Malilia was eighteen and Macdonald thirty-eight they arranged to live together in Britain. However, Malilia’s mother dissuaded her daughter from following her husband so Macdonald eventually returned to Toledo where he was surprised to find she had given birth to a second son. A happy Johnny commented,

The Macdonalds grow in Spain.

And they lived happily ever after. Or so I assume as I’ve read nothing to the contrary. And that’s the tale of the first Scotsman to walk under an umbrella in Britain – and one of a very few who have since.  

1Macpherson published The Poems of Ossian he claimed came from ancient Gaelic poetry. This body of work is linked to the emergence of the Romantic movement and interest in Gaelic. Macpherson was only a few years older than Macdonald and also from a Highland Jacobite family. After going into hiding as a child post-Culloden, he studied literature at Aberdeen’s two universities.

Travels published in 1790, later republished as Memoirs of an 18th Century Footman in the Broadway Travellers series (London: George Routledge & Sons, 10s 6d).

Internet Archive Hints to the Bearers of Walking-sticks and Umbrellas. John Shute Duncan, 1769-1844

Mar 24, 2022

Paper roses, Imperialism, Fascism, Franco and a Mysterious Scotsman

It was the 26th of June 1924, Alexandra Rose Day. One or two women were gathered outside London’s swanky Ritz Hotel selling paper flowers to raise money for charity when they were approached by a well-dressed man who handed one of them a large sum of money. “For the hospital,” he said, and walked on as he had done each Alexandra Rose Day for several years, promising to see the flower sellers again the following year.

The women told a reporter who turned up they had no idea who the generous benefactor was – “He looked like a traveller to Russia or Africa or somewhere” one of them said.

I was curious. Who was this mysterious Scotsman? I began scranning through newspapers and books and found myself transported into a world of which I knew next to nothing. Did I uncover the identity of the Scotsman? If you have a few moments to spare I’ll explain what I found out.   

1924 London and the Rif

Staying in London at the time, in a west end hotel, was a Scotsman who was a technical adviser to Muhammad ibn al-Karim al-Khattabi, known as Abd el-Krim or Krim. Krim was President of the Republic of Rif – a mountainous region in northern Morocco. His people were Amazighs, a tribal group among the Berbers. Krim was one of several tribal leaders in the Rif and all were at war with the European power of Spain that held the Rif as a protectorate, having been granted it by France that colonised Morocco in 1912 and governed to the south.   

Why had Spain been attracted to this inhospitable though beautiful area on the other side of the Mediterranean? Not its stunning beauty, hills sweeping up from the sea washed yellow with corn and green from banks of olive trees and everywhere giant prickly pears. No, that wasn’t it. The Rif region of Morocco was rich in easily extracted high-grade iron. And Europe couldn’t get enough cheap iron. Britain and Germany were interested. So was Spain.

Extracting the iron ore was physically damaging to the landscape and to sites that were sacred to the Berbers. It also meant the eviction of people from their traditional homelands. What did the Berbers get in return? Nothing. No compensation although some were hired to mine the ore at half the rate paid to Europeans – 4-5 pesetas per day against European wages of 7-8 pesetas. Mining was carried out under American management.  

The people of the Rif resited the incursion of Europeans onto their land. But European powers still believed the world belonged to them and claimed territory they thought would be beneficial to them, if they had the power to impose themselves. So war came to the persecuted people of the Rif. A dreadful war of great cruelty and loss. The events in the Rif in the 1920s had consequences for mainland Europe over the next sixty years.

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli was another Berber leader, of the Jebala in the north-western territory. To some he was the Desert King and to others the Rob Roy of Morocco. Raisuli’s early life seemed to promise a quiet existence. A teacher of law and theology, Raisuli’s love was books and writing. That all changed on the day he chanced upon a woman who had been assaulted by some men, apparently Europeans. Raisuli decided it was his duty to rid his country of the European Christians – the Spanish, British and Americans whom he regarded as his country’s oppressors. The Rif’s jails were filled with Rifs – put there by the Spanish colonists – beaten and denied trials Rif people were simply locked away for challenging Spain’s authority. Rifs were ordered to carry passports to move around their own country. The war that disrupted farming created Rif starvation on an immense scale. People were dropping down in the street from hunger so the Spanish authorities opened camps to contain them – picking them off the streets ‘like refuse’ to die away from the public eye. Spain complained of the cost of keeping their piece of Morocco. And yet they held it.  And taxed the people. Everything sold carried a tax and people were encouraged to pay up by tax collectors armed with machine guns. Resentment against the Spanish among the Rif tribes was huge. 

Raisuli used kidnap in his campaign of resistance to European colonists. In 1903 he kidnapped Walter Harris, a journalist from The Times, and exchanged him for fifteen of his Rif fighters held by the Sultan of Morocco who had submitted to France in a treaty that allowed him to retain his titles and position so becoming France’s puppet ruler in Morocco. When Spain came knocking on Morocco’s door France divied up Morocco under which France retained the southern portion and Spain was given the north. Raisuli’s men snatched a wealthy American and his son-in-law. Almost immediately British and American warships anchored in the Bay of Tangier. A deal was struck and the pair released but the guns were out for Raisuli and his people were driven deep into the mountains from where they pursued a guerrilla war against the European colonists. One of the intermediaries negotiating between the Berbers and the Europeans was a Scotsman called Kaid MacLean.

Kaid MacLean aka Sir Harry MacLean aka General Sir Harry Aubrey de Vere MacLean born in England to Scottish parents entered military service and served in Gibraltar and Tangier. Reputedly a debonaire larger-than-life character who was said to have ‘walked straight out of the pages of a novel’ MacLean came to the attention of the Sultan of Morocco who made him his counsellor, business adviser and envoy. MacLean lapped up the Moorish life except for its food. In the grand residence the Sultan provided for him MacLean employed a French chef and his musical needs were supplied by his own Italian orchestra. Classical strings can satisfy a Scotsman to a degree but a piper, himself, MacLean returned from a visit back to Britain with Aberdeen piper, John McDonald Mortimer. Soon the Sultan was won over and established his own Moroccan pipe band, attired in the MacLean tartan.

In his role as the Sultan’s envoy, MacLean was occasionally required to undertake long and arduous journeys including on horseback for up to fourteen hours a day for hundreds of miles. But he had less challenging missions. The Sultan, a shopaholic, bought a hansom cab that nobody could or would drive so MacLean took the reins and took it for a 120 mile trip to Fez. Roads in the Rif mountains were practically non-existent and mostly the cab’s wheels were removed and the cab of the hansom slung between two camels to negotiate the rocky terrain. Among the Sultan’s other purchases from Britain were several Coventry bicycles for the women in his harem to cycle. Apparently, they were none too keen.

In July 1907 the Sultan’s envoy, Kaid MacLean, was kidnapped by Raisuli’s men and held captive for seven months on demand of a ransom of £20,000 – about £200,0000 today. In the end Raisuli was only paid £5000 up front with a promise the remainder would be banked to ensure he ‘behaved’ over the next ten years. He never did get the remaining cash. In April 1922 an air bombing campaign in conjunction with a land attack by a Spanish force of 30,000 men forced his surrender. Raisuli later escaped captivity and made an uneasy alliance with Abd el-Krim to resist Spain’s grip on northern Morocco.   

By this time, Kaid MacLean, Scottish soldier of fortune, was dead. He died in February 1920 at the age of 72 so he could not have been the mysterious Scottish traveller who beguiled the paper flower sellers in 1924.

In September 1924, three months after the mysterious Scot donated a large sum to charity on Alexandra Rose Day British newspapers were reporting a plot to buy weapons and recruit former officers for the Berber campaign to oust the Spanish from Morocco. Two submarines from redundant stock were sought from an armaments company in the north of England at a cost of £30,000 to use in the Straits of Gibraltar to torpedo Spanish vessels supplying their Moroccan forces with food and arms. Payment for the submarines was being put up by Abd el-Krim.

The man who had Krim’s ear was Scottish – a former officer with the Scots Greys and fluent Arabic speakers – a “daring professional soldier to whom war and adventure is life itself” and perfectly placed to recruit British men, officers, fairly recently demobbed from the Great War. The Scot offered his mercenaries 30 shillings a day plus extras dependent on “the results they obtained, together with a big gratuity when the war was over.” As well as the submarines and men, Krim’s man was authorised to purchase machine guns and aeroplanes. The Scot was confident as he knew of plenty British former pilots keen to get involved.  

Despite talk of large arms the Berbers mainly depended on guerrilla tactics against Spain and later France. The Rif war reintroduced the medieval war craft of tunnelling into modern-day battle arenas – later picked up by Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.

By now Spain’s military force included the fascist Francisco Franco Bahamonde who took control of the Spanish army in Morocco. Franco and his legionnaires were notoriously savage. They delighted in mutilating Berbers and exhibiting their body parts to terrorise the local people into losing heart.

But still mighty Spain failed to overcome the Berbers of the Rif on their own and appealed to France for assistance. France provided large numbers of men under Marshal Pétain. Pétain would later become notorious for collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France during WW2 and be convicted of treason but back in the 1920s he was a French hero who led a joint French/Spanish force against the tribes people of the Rif. France recruited sixteen American pilots to reinforce their air attacks on the Berbers in the summer of 1925. Their leader was Charley Sweeny, son of a rich industrialist who had served with the French foreign legion in WW1. Gertrude Stein criticised him for fighting on the wrong side in Morocco and for the bombing raids he led on people armed only with rifles to defend themselves with. The air action was widely condemned in the USA, especially by black groups, and 1925 became known as the year of the airplane.

Failing to make fast progress the western forces resorted to chemical warfare – attacking the Berbers with mustard gas, phosgene and diphosgene – deliberately targeting civilians shopping in markets and poisoning drinking water. This despite Spain and France having signed up to a ban on chemical and biological weapons in 1925. There was little outcry from the rest of the world over Spain’s use of chemical weapons since they weren’t used against white people.

Spanish atrocities against the Rif

But what of the mysterious Scotsman?

Captain Robert Gordon Canning, descendent of the Gordon’s of Cluny in Aberdeenshire, supported Arab nationalism. With strong links to Germany he organised German arms and field supplies be sent to Krim’s forces. He became Krim’s peace envoy when it was clear the Berber’s were losing the war against the combined powers of France and Spain and he left Morocco for Britain at the end of the war, in 1926.  Ten years later he was best man at the wedding of the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, and Diana Mitford. A fellow fascist, Canning was imprisoned for three years in 1940. Canning’s German connections included an Anglo-German organisation called The Link – a pro-Nazi group particularly popular in London. The Link was banned at the outbreak of war in 1939 but reportedly resurrected in 1940 by James Bond author, Ian Fleming, to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain in 1941.  

The combined forces of Spain and France and their dirty war spelled the end for the Berbers of Rif. On 26 May, 1926, Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French and was exiled. The Rif war of 1921-26 was regarded as a harbinger of the Algerian war and independence in 1963, which Krim just lived long enough to witness.  Morocco achieved independence in 1956 with the submissive role of its Sultans still being much criticised by the people of the Rif. While in exile in Cairo Krim had again appealed for help for his fellow Rifs but none came and many were slaughtered by the Sultan’s forces for their continuing opposition to him. Little has changed. The people of the Rif are still persecuted – by the Moroccan authorities. They still resist. They are also still dying too young of cancer, believed to be a legacy of Spain’s illegal used of deadly chemicals in the twenties.

The surrender 1926 – Krim is fourth left in the first picture

As for Franco – he and his legionaries gained valuable battle experience in the Rif mountains and within ten years they crossed the Med into Spain to carry out atrocities there in the Civil War of 1936 -39. Of that encounter the American journalist, Webb Miller wrote of Spain’s fascists –

I came out of Spain badly shaken by the atmosphere of blood, tears and terror, and profoundly discouraged about the future of Europe. What I saw and heard of the wide development of the use of terrorism as a definite weapon in warfare was sickening. Never in modern times has there been such a holocaust of cold-blooded slaughter of prisoners, of wounded and of helpless hostages in thousands. Terrorism of civilian populations by indiscriminate bombing from the air had largely wiped out the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants. Amongst the dead and wounded on both sides were many thousands of women and children. “We are fighting an idea,” and officer told me. “The idea is in the brain, and to kill it we have to kill the man.

(Waterford Standard 8 May 1937 )

And the Scotsman? Well I can’t say for certain. There was an Englishman, a photographer and trader called John Arnall. He was a socialist who sympathised with the Islamists of the Rif. Arnall formed the Anglo-Ottoman Society in 1914 and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (but later turned against communism.) He and his wife lived for a time in Tangier and in early 1922 he visited the Rif with a plan to make money from selling mineral rights which is how he came to be involved as a spokesman for the Rifs in London, attempting to drum up support for their cause. Arnall was also a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and his various activities made him a target of the British Special Branch who intercepted his mail and generally kept an eye on his movements. It is believed he was killed by the Spanish in Morocco in 1924.

John Arnall extreme left, front row with members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

In 1977 a British film was made based on the Rif war of 1921-26. Called March or Die it starred Gene Hackman as a heroic white man fighting for the heroic French against the villainous Berbers. Ian Holm played el-Krim.

In 2017 a film called Iperita was made about a former Spanish pilot, guilt-ridden because of his part in the bombing of Rif villages and his return to the area to find the landscape almost obliterated and its people gone. You can watch it here –

The Scotsman outside the Ritz in 1924? I don’t know. None of the above. But there are roses still – mentioned in a contemporary song aimed at informing the young of the Rif of the cruelties of the past which have never quite left them –

We know the whole truth
But we want you to confess and reveal everything
Just as the pain in my heart speaks of the many torments it has endured
Just as roses grow on the graves of the victims who fell from your crimes.