Archive for ‘politics’

November 5, 2017

The Making of the NHS: from Tannochbrae to the Highlands and Islands

dr finlays

Dr Finlay’s Casebook, a hugely popular television series in the 1960s and ’70s, had something of a reputation for being a bit twee with a good dollop of Scottish sentimentality rolled in; human interest stories of everyday people and a heroic doctor who tried to turn their lives around; except, of course, he couldn’t.

The stories were set in a fictional Tannochbrae somewhere in Scotland during the 1930s – the hungry thirties of the Great Depression when vast swathes of Britain led a hand-to-mouth existence with very little help coming from the state. Those most badly affected were dependent on charities, local health schemes, friends and their own families.

Tannochbrae was not as obviously impoverished as other places – this was no filthy, ugly, disease-ridden inner city but impoverished it was – bonnie but disease-ridden this rural village shared with its urban neighbours hunger, poverty and ill-health. The taciturn Dr Finlay who assisted the inscrutable Dr Cameron was surely the author A J Cronin himself for there is much in the writer that appears in Finlay’s character.  

Underlying the stories is a strong sense of decency – of humanity, a benevolent outlook by Tannochbrae’s doctors who breathed air that was fresher and purer than many of their patients yet were driven by their sense of duty and consideration to ease their lives, as far as they were able; behaviour not always typical of their profession with its share of uncaring snobs, over-ambitious dilettantes and ignorant oafs, if Cronin’s characterisations are anything to go by.

Far from being happy-ever-after frippery the Tannochbrae stories exposed the bleak reality of life for so many before the advent of the National Health Service. Poverty not only produced despair but starvation, susceptibility to illness and premature and avoidable death. Poverty in a world where money is king and the king-makers include respected members of parliament often reluctant to change a system built on inequality because inequality benefits those at the top which often included them. Money didn’t guarantee you didn’t get sick but it did buy medicine and treatment and it did buy better housing, clean running water, a warm fire and with those came better odds, an improved chance, to avoid contagions, work-related accidents and to survive serious illness.

aj cronin portrrait

A J Cronin

Cronin dealt with much of the awkward social divisions that consigned the working classes to unbelievable misery for as a young Scots doctor he found himself thrown into working class communities where life was a daily grind that offered spartan comforts.  

I re-discovered Cronin when clearing out the house of a deceased relative and picked up a copy of The Stars Look Down that had belonged to my late uncle, also a doctor. I was captivated by the book, a tale of miners in northeast England who were victims of political opportunism and betrayal. It is, in my opinion, Cronin’s finest work – hugely impressive and its description of a mining accident is truly memorable. The Stars Look Down should be read by everyone in this country, and should be on school reading lists for not only is it well-written it is our social history in easy bites. But it is not this book that’s being spoken about at the moment. The Citadel has been resurrected for its influence in the debate that led to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.

The Citadel

Set in Wales and London during the 1920s and 1930s The Citadel draws from Cronin’s own experience as a doctor in both places. The young Cronin had his sights on a Harley Street practice and he did get there but by a circuitous route that opened his eyes to the dreadful impact on the poor of Britain’s ramshackle medical services – a rag-bag of medical chance – postcode lottery before postcodes.

Corruption features a great deal in Cronin’s works – the medical officer of health who doesn’t care a fig for the sick, the conscientious doctor driven to drink by a system that overburdens him as an individual, the ambitious practitioner blithely striding forward in his career at the expense of his patients, manipulative politicians on the make – they were Cronin’s colleagues and acquaintances and a rich source of characters for his writing.  

Hatter’s Castle was Cronin’s first book but it was The Citadel published in 1937 that attracted huge attention – and fame and riches for its author when it was made into a Hollywood film with four Oscar nominations in 1938. The Citadel was credited with shifting opinion towards a universal health care system – a national health service. In it a young doctor, much like Cronin, struggled to make a difference to the lives of his Welsh patients in a small mining community. Cronin worked in the Welsh mining town of Tredegar and was employed at the its hospital which was financed locally through contributions paid into Tredegar Medical Aid Society (MAS) in return for medical treatment for contributors and their families. Tredegar MAS was an amalgamation of smaller benevolent or friendly societies. Around Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries there were many similar organisations that helped their working class members – providing a doctor service and sick pay but as they were linked to particular industries and their members largely men women and children were not covered. The Tredegar MAS broadened the range of benefits to include payouts for work accidents, sickness, unemployment and death expenses. Doctors were attached to a society by a ballot of members and in turn he could employ an assistant, the role of Dr Manson in Cronin’s The Citadel.

welsh village

Welsh mining village

Local friendly societies were run by powerful individuals so open to corruption. Medicine was then near wholly privatised with everything having its price as it is in private practice today: consultations, examinations, operations, x-rays, scans, every pill and plaster. Young doctors cut their teeth working as assistants to more senior colleagues who sometimes creamed off a sizeable portion of the little income they earned. Such corrupt practices were exposed in The Citadel. By shining a spotlight on the paucity of health care in Britain Cronin was able to educate and influence people, to alter attitudes towards the ramshackle health (don’t) care system.

“I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug … The horrors and iniquities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system”

Cronin’s hero, Dr Manson – a Scot like himself – is shocked at what he finds on his arrival firstly at Drineffy, a little Welsh coal mining town. Underpaid and undervalued, Manson struggles to cope so early into his career as the only fit and sober doctor in the town but he also struggles against penury for most of his salary is retained by the senior society doctor. Driven to resign Manson finds himself in a bigger town where there is greater scope to practise and undertake scientific research into the lung disease that he has become all too familiar with since arriving in Wales for it was a major killer in the coal mining communities. Again Cronin draws on his own experience with Manson eventually building his reputation and moving into private practice in search of wealthy patients easily conned to shell out for useless bottles of ‘tonics.’ This was not meant to be a book review so I won’t reveal more of the story for the real value is in its description of an alternative system of health care that stood out amidst all the various styles practised around the UK.

The_Independent_(1849)_(14595849278)

Lord Northcliffe at work

But let us back-pedal a little. A National Insurance Act came into being in 1912, despite the British press loudly opposing it. Most of Britain’s major newspapers were then owned and controlled by Tory press baron Lord Northcliffe whose empire Associated Newspapers Ltd produced such titles as the Daily Mail, The Times and The Observer. They all used their columns to churn out propaganda against the scheme. Northcliffe had no sympathy for working class people and was hostile to old age pensions while at the same time he demanded, through his newspapers, increased government spending on armaments. There is little doubt he was an unpleasant and violent bully and not untypical of his class. He could not stomach a scheme to help protect the most vulnerable which involved employer and government contributions along with workers’ own in order to provide such basic benefits as sick pay, free treatment for tuberculosis, care by a panel doctor and maternity benefits. Despite fierce opposition from Northcliffe and other loud voices the Act became law but it was far from perfect. It was fine in urban areas and much of Britain but Scotland’s topography is markedly different from the south in that it is far more widespread (don’t go by weather maps on television) which meant the Act was unworkable across half of Scotland’s land mass and its crofting communities.

An answer here in Scotland came in 1913 with the establishment of a centralised state-run health service which operated across the Highlands and Islands as The Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) and it continued until superseded by the UK-wide National Health Service in the summer of 1948. It was the Dewar Report of 1912 which revealed major problems in Scotland’s rural areas with the National Insurance Act so a bespoke alternative scheme was put in place whereby doctors, nurses and midwives were subsidised to live and work in sparsely populated areas with few opportunities to rake in substantial earnings. A medical laboratory was set up in Inverness (which Cronin would have approved of) and an air ambulance eventually provided. This bold endeavour became a model for similar schemes in rural Canada and the USA and in the 1940s influenced the design of the NHS.

The Highlands and Islands Medical Service was not identical to the later NHS for it was not free to patients but it did establish a body that attempted universality of cover and was a vast improvement in what had gone before.

Britain in the 1930s was riven by extremes of wealth and degrees of poverty unimaginable to us today. There was virtually no state help and having nothing then meant nothing to buy food, keep a roof over a head, buy clothing or keep healthy. Living conditions in towns especially were quite atrocious. Cronin’s candid writing about health inequalities helped raise popular awareness and highlighted a system that put patients at its centre. Such was the appetite for his books it was clear public opinion demanded change to lift Britain’s millions of families struggling against the odds out of perpetual misery and despair while others worked the system – political, social, industrial and medical – to amass riches way beyond most people’s comprehension. Then came the Second World War.

During the war a study into the provision of social care in the UK resulted in the Beveridge Report which identified five areas requiring attention by government: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Discussions between the government and the medical professions including the Tredegar Society and the Highlands and Islands Medical Service led to proposals for fundamental reforms in health and social care. At the end of the war there was such a groundswell of opinion for change that the Labour Party was swept into government on the promise it would set up a National Health Service. Central to this was Aneurin Bevan, one-time a health board colleague of Cronin’s in Tredegar. It should be said that Cronin did not support the NHS when it first emerged and his scepticism and opposition was shared by a fair number of the medical establishment. Reading his biography it’s fair to say he comes across as something of a snob, tediously religious in a judgemental way, attached to the very hierarchies that maintain inequality and he was vehemently hostile to abortion (and, yes, I recognise the time he was writing but there were many doctors in Scotland and elsewhere, his contemporaries, who recognised the need for offering abortion in particular circumstances [and in Scotland medical abortion was not the criminal act it was in England and Wales] .) I know from that same uncle that rekindled my interest in Cronin’s works just how split over the prospect of an NHS were doctors – many regarding it as socialism, an anathema to the mostly ultra-conservative medical profession. Cronin shared this view. And, contrary to what you might expect, the NHS was launched not with a bang but a whimper, certainly as far as newspapers I’ve looked at were concerned. The main story of the 5 July 1948 was Britain’s worst air crash or concern over the Russians. 

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Cronin was born in 1896 at Cardross in Dunbartonshire and as a schoolboy exhibited a talent for writing at Dumbarton Academy. Torn between a career in the church or medicine he said he chose the lesser of two evils, so medicine it was. He won a Carnegie scholarship and graduated from Glasgow University in 1919 and from there went on to obtain further qualifications. He practised medicine in Scotland, England and Wales where he was confronted by life in the raw in a dirty, alien village smothered in coal dust and scarred by distress. He was made Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain in 1924 which provided scope for his research into lung diseases brought on by breathing in industrial dust, such as coal dust, and rife among miners. The link seems obvious to us today but it was not when Cronin studied it. Once he found success as a doctor the work seemed to bore him; prescribing medicines and dispensing advice to his then wealthy patients in Harley Street and Notting Hill in London and he abandoned his medical practice for life back in Scotland to try his hand at writing.

Cronin’s itchy feet saw him move to more places around the world than there is room for here. He became a major name in the world of celebrity and wealthy as Croesus and I suppose it is an irony that he made his money from his gritty depictions of the powerless and exploited during some of Britain’s bleakest and most impoverished times. While not great literary works Cronin’s easy style of writing and his eye for detail makes reading his books a pleasure rarely a chore.

stars look down

I know one or two people, all male, who never – that’s never ever- read books. Literature is not only an enjoyable (mostly) pastime it is a vehicle to encounter experiences we would otherwise never know about. It offers us opportunities to confront issues in a palatable way which might alter our preconceptions. I hope some of you will pick up a Cronin novel – I recommend The Stars Look Down and be prepared to have your eyes opened to a world that is hard to imagine today. In the meantime when you next visit the doctor or are admitted to hospital spare a thought for how the NHS came about and worry that its days might be numbered in which case we might all be closer than we’d like to experiencing the pre-NHS world of Cronin’s sick and vulnerable patients.

November 3, 2017

There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

October 29, 2017

Andy Scott: can a leopard change its spots?

I took the following comment from Flickr on the topic of artist Andy Scott’s leopard in Aberdeen’s hideous Marischal Square shopping complex.

I post this simply to make the point that the sculptor Andy Scott well-known for the Kelpies also raised some publicity for his objection to “Bavarian” burger bar opening at his “masterpiece”. He was quoted as saying that Falkirk Community Trust had “no understanding of the cultural importance of the asset they have inherited, nor of their obligations to the artist who created them”. The Bavarian fast food outlet was described as “tacky”. Andy Scott has just had unveiled a Leopard (in the Kelpie style) at Aberdeen’s Marischal Square, a building which is perhaps the biggest architectural crime visited on Aberdeen in the past fifty years. I do wonder what responsibility the sculptor might feel in helping give artistic credibility to such a terrible project? Oh that we had had the choice in Aberdeen of a small Bavarian burger bar or a monster glass and steel box which hides the magnificence which is granite Marischal College

October 22, 2017

Who owns this landscape? The Braemar poacher who would not be a rich man’s flunkey.

The year is 1843 and on the 25th of August a party of gunmen come upon a corpse; cold and stiff on the moors of Glencairney at Creagan Sgor in the wilds of Glenbuchat, a pointer dog docile at its side.

“Brave Sandy, art thou dead?” Word spread like wildfire through the Highlands.

Sandy – Alexander Davidson – a poacher, famed, renowned, notorious and, aye, a dancer of great reputation had lain down one last time never again to rise up at first light and set out over the springy heather to claim his dinner.  

Sandy was a mountaineer – a mountain man – whose home was the purple heather-clad hills of Scotland. He rejected the habiliments (clothing) of the Sassenach preferring ‘the garb of Old Gaul’ which he would close about him at night under the shelter of a rock or thicket to sleep the sleep of the just, his dog Charlie a quiet and attentive guard.

deer stalking 2

It’s easy to romanticise the poacher of the past and in truth there is a difference between those who took an animal from need and those men and women who take to the hills for the thrill of the kill, a handsome payout for a saddle of venison from a none-too-fussy restaurant owner or in other parts of the world those who indifferently help wipe out whole species for the sheer fun of it or slaughter to satisfy a yearning for horn for remedies or decoration – and I accept some of that is done by very poor people who have few alternatives to scrape a living.  

I like to photograph the graceful roe deer I encounter near here and hate to hear blasts from rifles I know are targeting these little creatures and shake my head when I come across their tiny hooves and discarded hides at a roadside. I’m fairly sure I know someone round here who does this, and it isn’t from want.

Poacher and Dancer

Alexander Davidson was born at Mill of Inver by Crathie (close to Balmoral) in 1792 and as a child was put to learn the art of gamekeeping possibly with Farquharson of Finzean*. Farquharson was a reluctant politician preferring to while away his time taking pot-shots at game on his lands. He was great friends with Lord Kennedy, a fellow ‘sportsman’ by choice who one October (of many) was ‘much amused with a wild boar hunt’ at which he shot both tusks off a fine specimen eventually felled by volleys of shots from his gentlemen companions ‘but so tenacious was he (the boar not Lord Kennedy) of life, that he did not yield it until after receiving six shots through the head and body.’

In a normal week of ‘sport’ Kennedy, Farquaharson and their gentrified mob would bravely slaughter several ‘very fine red deer’ from the safe end of a rifle and at the end of a good season would go on to celebrate at a grand ball in Braemar’s Fife Arms Inn.

Sandy Davidson also loved the thrill of a chase and kill but he had the misfortune to have been born into poverty and not upon a soft bed belonging to a family whose lands and titles came to them because of battles fought long ago or ‘arrangements’ between similarly fortunate families. Having grown up knowing these people Sandy developed a healthy loathing of toadyism and proclaimed he was not designed to doff the cap to the gentry, “sooner than be in any way a flunkey, I’d rather go and beg my bread” – admirable sentiments which upped my opinion of the man, albeit he was a poacher. And being something of a Sabbatarian, though lapsed due to his way of life on the muirs, Sandy Davidson objected to being ordered out to shoot on a Sunday by the laird so turned his back on paid employment as a gamie. Having to live somehow, Sandy – Roch Sanie – turned to smuggling of which opportunities were ample up Deeside and Donside – for venison but mainly for whisky and while his new occupation was fraught with more dangers than that of a rich man’s flunky it was very lucrative and did not involve humiliating himself in the service of another man who regarded himself superior.  

Sandy was fit, well-built and handsome with a ‘finely chiselled face’ and ‘hairy as an ox.’ In summer he dressed himself in a kilt, cotton shirt and thin tartan coat with Forfar brogues on his feet and when winter came he changed into trousers; a style of clothing he adopted out of patriotism to Scotland he explained and possibly for that same reason he generally spoke the native Gaelic although his English was very good. Gaelic was the language of the glens up Deeside until the ’45 and the Union of Parliaments determinedly set about undermining it by insisting on English being spoken in schools until most traces of it, bar place names, were near completely eliminated.   

Sandy was also renowned as a dancer; a graceful dancer with great lightness of feet and wouldn’t that be an advantage in a poacher? His Highland reels and other dances won him prizes at Highland Games and competitions around Scotland including the Caledonian Hunt Club in Edinburgh, an organisation designed to preserve Highland culture – dance and games – after decades of attempts by government to snuff it out.

At a time when Deeside’s forests provided vast amounts of timber for building and ships felled tree trunks were dragged to the banks of the River Dee strapped together in great rafts and floated down river with men on board to provide timber for Aberdeen’s shipbuilding yards. Sandy Davidson leased a section of forest from the Earl of Fife at Glen Derry and hired men to help with the treacherous river journey but this attempt to earn a legal living came to nought when the Earl of Fife was made bankrupt and failed to pay Sandy.

Having been burned once too often by the titled and wealthy estate owners Sandy picked up his bag and gun and for 20 years roamed the Highlands as a ‘free forester’ of ancient times claiming privilege of the unalienable right of a free-born Scot.

Each March found him fishing the best salmon pools on the rivers Dee and Spey and fearlessly he would walk into the water, up to his neck, irrespective of the cold and wait till he caught something or it became clear he would catch nothing.

Charlie was trained to remain quiet at the approach of strangers for the last thing Sandy Davidson wanted was to alert a gamie of his hiding place when he was in possession of a bag filled with hare or fowl. But one time Charlie did his job too well and Sandy was discovered fast asleep in the heather by a laird who demanded his name.

“My name is Alexander Davidson; what is your name?”

“My name,” replied the other, “is George MacPherson Grant of Ballindalloch, and I require you to follow me.”

Sandy was duly taken to court and fined £5. In retaliation Sandy made sure he poached the moors of Ballindalloch thoroughly after that.

He was polite and his manner encouraged the gentry to treat him with more care than they might otherwise but their laws were there to protect their property so they wouldn’t let him away with taking anything that had a price. On his ‘annual tour’ around estates he would sometimes approach a big house and ask permission to cross the land, to keep to a straight line and only kill what he required. Any laird who refused him could expect him to take his revenge in bagging as many animals and birds as he was able for cross the estate he would irrespective of an officious owner.

Said to be fearless, generous and kind-hearted Sandy Davidson became the stuff of legend.

His foot was foremost in the dance,

His laugh the loudest rang;

Nae e’e could match his mirthful glance,

Nane sung so sweet a sang.

 from Norman MacCaig ‘s A Man in Assynt

Despite tensions in his relationship with lairds several had a sneaking regard for him and invited him to entertain their guests with his dancing; his notoriety no doubt adding to his attraction.

Many a chase on a muir ended with him slipping into a bog, a moss-pot, his nose all that remained above the water till a perplexed gamie gave up the chase. But he did not always evade them and whenever he was overcome he offered no resistance but would go with the laird’s lackey for another appearance before the law. The last time this happened Sandy Davidson was apprehended near Dufftown and taken by his pursuers to Elgin via every public house along the way.  

This “perfect child of nature – as complete a Hawkeye of the old country as the times would admit of” had no home but everywhere was his home across the broad bonny face of the Highlands. One day his gun would ring out in Perthshire, another in the wilds of Lochaber, or on the muirs under the black shadow of the Cairngorms, around Inchrory where the Avon** and Don gather water or at Strathspey and the hills of Moray and Inverness.

Like Walter Scott’s Bertram he possessed:

“The steady brain, the sinewy limb,

To leap, to climb, to dive, to swim;

The iron frame, inured to bear

Each dire inclemency of air,

Nor less confirmed to undergo

Fatigue’s chill faint, and famine’s throe.”

 

In 1820 Farquharson of Finzean and Lord Kennedy had a £50 bet – £50 in 1820 was worth around £1500 in today’s value – with Davidson that he would not run without clothing from Barclay Street in Stonehaven to the gate of Inchmarlo near Banchory, a distance of around 20 miles, within a given time. Davidson had almost made it but the men had paid a posse of women under the stewardship of a Mrs Duncan to guard the Brig o’ Feugh at Banchory to prevent Davidson crossing. Duncan was paid a generous 20 shillings and the others something less to fill their aprons with stones and other missiles to chuck at the exhausted man as he attempted to run over the bridge. Mrs Duncan was also armed with a heavy knotty stick she intended to use against Sandy Davidson. As Davidson neared the brig and paused to catch his breath he noticed the trap and at the same time his enemies spotted him and began pelting him with their stones but bounding with renewed vigour the fleet-footed Davidson evaded them and crossed to the other side of the river. Later Mrs Duncan complained Sandy Davidson to be “not a man but a beast” whether from his hirsute appearance or from peak because he had foiled her efforts who knows. At any rate Sandy Davidson reached Inchmarlo within the given time and pocketed the £50.

Brig o Feugh

Behind occasional sport of this kind Davidson’s chosen lifestyle was fraught with danger. He had to go out of his way to make himself into a character to evade the tyranny of Britain’s Game Laws passed by members of parliament who as landowners created laws to benefit themselves and preserve their property rights including the wildlife that passed across the lands they claimed as theirs. Their lackeys, game keepers and river ghillies, rarely shied away from carrying out their duties irrespective of whether a rabbit or bird was being taken to prevent a family starving. For those caught a hefty fine awaited and for any who repeated the crime the prospect of transportation somewhere across the oceans. Magistrates and sheriffs fulfilled their roles to serve the wealthy, their own people, and rarely extended sympathy to the impoverished and desperate brought before them.  

Temptation must have been great for a parent living close to land teeming with food denied to them wholly on grounds they were the property of one family and were wanted for sport, a pastime, for their exclusive enjoyment. Out of necessity many risked capture and the courts to take something for the pot, and sometimes more, from under the noses of the gentry and were loudly and soundly condemned by the great and the good who regarded poaching as the nursery of robbers and murderers and poachers as desperate characters who infested the hills.

As for Sandy Davidson he lived a charmed life in many ways. He refused to kowtow to those accidentally privileged whose fortune was to be born with political rights they could use to enhance their own interests at the expense of the rest of the population.

John Stuart Blackie

John Stuart Blackie

 

Radical, humanitarian and Scottish nationalist John Stuart Blackie commented in the mid-1800s on how far removed were the privileged few from the morality of the New Testament. He was writing about the hypocrisy of the landed interests who trotted into church on a Sunday to sing psalms and pray about goodness and mercy who went back to their mansions to dine while their lackeys denied a starving child a mouthful of food. And Blackie implicated the church for its willingness to conspire with the ruling classes to maintain such inequality.

“A minister of sacred things,

He bound together, by higher ties than human law,

The men that shared his faith with awe;

He had his seat at power’s right hand,

And lords and ladies of the land

Did call him brother.”

 John Stuart Blackie’s The Cottage Manse

Sandy Davidson has long gone and so too has John Stuart Blackie but their sentiments that emerged from a different time have echoes today for here in Scotland the landed estate maintains its swagger as it endeavours to retain the privileges of power of a rotten system of elitism and inequality.

“Who owns this landscape? –

The millionaire who bought it or

the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning

with a deer on his back?”

 from Norman MacCaig’s A Man in Assynt

(Sandy Davidson 1791 – 1843)

*Finzean – pronounced Fingin

** Avon – pronounce An

See also for John Stuart Blackie – O Albin! O my country!

 

 

September 17, 2017

50 years ago today Aberdeen Youth CND beats in bid to stop the war but only stopped a car

 

Fifty years ago today: 17 September 1967

cnd demo crathie 1967

Aberdeen Youth demonstration outside Crathie Church

BANNER RILES CROWD

Hostility as two dart in path of Queen Mother’s car
Part of the 3000 crowd at Crathie Church turned hostile yesterday towards two youths who stepped in the path of the Queen Mother’s car waving a “Peace in Vietnam” banner.

One man lifted his walking stick to tear down the banner, and a woman came out of the crowd pulling at it with her hands. They had to be restrained by the police.

Apparently the demonstrators ‘ plan was to wave the banner in front of the Prime Minister’s car, but this misfired.

The incident happened as the procession of three cars with the Royal Family and Mr And Mrs Wilson was leaving the small Deeside church after the morning service.

One car with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had passed the corner of the roadway leading to the green bridge near the Balmoral entrance when two young men darted on to the roadway with a banner reading:

Aberdeen youth for peace in Vietnam

Up went the banner as the Queen Mother’s car approached the corner. Two police officers leapt forward and pushed the youths back to the verge.

ANGRY

People standing nearby became hostile. There were angry murmurings and the man with the walking stick hooked it under the banner in an effort to pull it down.

The crowd were told by the police to quieten down.

Mr Wilson’s car was following that of the Queen Mother but was some distance behind. The banner was down by the time he passed.

The Royal Family had driven to the church under low cloud and overcast skies. Mr Wilson and his wife were first to arrive, followed by the Queen Mother, wearing a lime coat and dress with petalled hat.

SMILES

There were smiles and waves from the Queen, dressed in a powder-blue linen coat and dress with matching hat, and Princess Anne, wearing a spring-green coat and white hat topped by a pompom.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Prince Andrew wore the kilt.

At the service, Mr and Mrs Wilson, who are spending the weekend as the guests of the Queen at Balmoral, were seated in the Royal transept.

Text of the sermon – from the Sermon on the Mount – was “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.”

(Aberdeen Press & Journal 18 September 1967)

 

Smothpubs blog link to other Aberdeen YCND anti-Vietnam war activity

September 15, 2017

Scotland’s Big and Burly Men have Shrunk

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It looks like the Union of equals has proved to be anything but equal in ways you cannot imagine. Scots can expect to live shorter lives than their English neighbours and be shorter in height as well. It wasn’t always so.

Scots were once the tallest of all European peoples with Highland men pushing up the average to between 6ft and 7ft.  

At the end of the 18th century a survey of 600 crofters from Glen Tilt in Perthshire discovered every adult male in the glen was at least 6 feet tall – and broad with calves at least 17 inches around. The population of Glen Tilt were also long-lived, thriving on the traditional Scottish diet of oats, barley, vegetables, milk, butter, eggs, local grown fruit and honey supplemented with small amounts of meat, venison and fish.

Nowadays Scots suffer premature deaths and are puny compared with earlier generations as they tuck into high sugar, high fat junk food, white bread, cakes and biscuits, sugary drinks and over-sweetened  breakfast cereals with scarce a glance at the perhaps boring but wholesome foods that made their ancestors taller and stronger than them. 

It’s well-known that Mary Queen of Scots was taller by some measure than the English monarch Elizabeth much to the latter’s considerable displeasure but tall stature was not confined to the Scottish nobility as the inhabitants of Glen Tilt demonstrated. England aside, European monarchs were so taken by Scotland’s mighty big laddies not only did they seek them out to supplement their armies but hired them as personal guards. The Garde Écossaise was established at the French Court in 1418, and remained a feature in the Court for nearly two centuries. Francis I described his personal guard of Scots as being ‘much comelier’ than others in his pay.

guard ecosse

Hundreds of years earlier and later than 1418 big and burly Scots were prized as troops – recruited into the armies and naval fleets of many a ruler and by the nation states of France, Flanders, Russia, Denmark, Poland, Sweden. In the 17th century Sweden’s king Gustavus Adolphus depended on no less than 84 Scottish battalion and regimental commanders. His strapping Scots had been nourished mainly on oats and milk at home in Scotland and as adult soldiers ate a diet 93% bread and oatmeal washed down with ale. By contrast a servant at Gordon Castle near Fochabers in Moray enjoyed more variety in his diet with pickings off the Duke’s table of just 62% bread and meal, 10% meat, a miniscule amount of fish and 19% ale from the castle brewery in 1739.

It was not only Scots men who were famously tall. Our women were also once very tall. Something changed here and elsewhere.

During the early years of the Union Scotland was a poor country but it valued education and with Scottish literacy levels the highest in Britain Scots were soon travelling the length and breadth of the Empire as its administrators however the centre of the Empire was not Edinburgh but London which became the main beneficiary of the wealth created from all those resources appropriated from other nations. The educated Scot drawn to London initially found himself at a height advantage over native Londoners right up into the 1830s but the downward spiral for Scots had set in by then with poverty increasing in the Scottish countryside where a need for cash was becoming a necessity as well as in towns and the steady encroachment of inferior foods along with greater burdens of exploitative labour ravaged health.

 

It wasn’t only Scotland’s Highlanders who stood head and shoulders above people from elsewhere. While  Appletons’ Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events Vol. 10 of 1871 declared ‘lunatics’ and criminals tended to be shorter than ‘sane and honest men’ even Scottish criminals were found to be taller than English criminals.

Short Englishmen had no need to stand on tip-toes to catch a glimpse of big blokes for their Scottish neighbours from just over the border in Galloway were reputed to reach impressive heights while those from Berwickshire were heaviest of all our big men.

Taller and heavier than the populations from the other nations of the UK Scots towered over Londoners in particular who were reported to be diminutive in stature. Within Scotland the shortest people lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow while rural areas produced the biggest. Why the difference?

By the 19th century more people were moving into towns from the country to look for work and with urban living came deprivation of different kinds. Towns were unhealthy environments – overcrowded, polluted, crampt. Glasgow, said to have the worst slums in Britain and described as a “squalid industrial megalopolis” in Chadwick’s 1842 Report on Sanitary Conditions, produced a population of  ‘stunted wee bauchles’ a good inch shorter than the average Scot.

Towns were notoriously disease-ridden and mainly reliant on importing food from the countryside which was often none too fresh when sold. And food cost money for in towns there was often nowhere to grow your own. Diet was a major factor determining growth and health and poor nutrition was a consequence of low wages. When Scots were the tallest Europeans they existed on what’s known as the traditional Scottish diet – boring perhaps but healthy – made up predominantly of oats, vegetables and dairy – locally produced.   

Those people who remained in the country might have been as poor as urban-dwellers but their living conditions and available foods were better and so they grew taller than their town cousins.

The acerbic and obese Dr Johnson ridiculed the Scots diet of porridge, brose and oatcakes, milk, cheese, vegetables, fruit with just a little fish and very little meat but these were foods on which generations of Scots thrived. With urbanisation came the start of junk food – poor quality and too few vegetables, milk and what was once the Scots’ bread – oatcakes.

From the time potatoes made their appearance in the British Isles, in the very late 16th century, their popularity and availability increased until they eventually ousted oatmeal as a staple food in Scotland. Bread and meal were still being eaten but the percentage declined as potatoes began to make an impression, along with some more meat, fish and cheese.

The bread and meal Scots of the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries were no longer 6ft or 7ft giants but topped just 5ft 7inches though they were still a good two inches taller than a man from the English midlands and three inches taller than shorties from the south of England.   

It is little wonder, then, that post-Union governments were driven to recruit big and burly Scots into their regiments and why otherwise despised Highlanders became targets for military recruitment drives. It has been argued that with the tallest, sturdiest Scotsmen being removed from communities shorter men were left behind to breed equally short children. Following that logic it may not be too far a stretch to link the prevalence of big and burly Scots spreading their genes across the length and breadth of Europe and elsewhere so contributing to the increased heights of our neighbours as our own heights went on the slide.

stables, brew house, bake house and other lost buildings including where an L-plan tower house once stood built in the early 15thC to replace the lost wooden castle

Site of the brewery and bakehouse at Gordon Castle

At the start of the 19th century, in 1801, the people of England and Wales made up something in the region of 82% of the UK’s population and contributed 52% of the British military. Scots from a population of around 14% of the UK made up a whopping great 16% of recruits. The shortfall was made up by other nationalities: German, French and Dutch included but within the British Isles Scots’ contribution hugely outweighed that of other nations.  High levels of recruitment into the British military from Scotland during the 18th and early 19th centuries began to peter out by the mid-19th century but was still high compared with England and Wales and why the percentage of Scots per population killed in Britain’s wars was much greater than from the UK’s other nations.

Early in the 19th century Scots and men in the north of England were taller by at least a centimetre than their southern counterparts but compared with earlier times heights were diminishing – a trend that continued until now the pattern is nearly entirely reversed.

By the 20th century Scots had been overtaken in the height stakes by the English. In 1908 working-class five-year old boys in Bradford, England average heights were 40.31 inches while middle-class boys from Cambridge averaged 40.44 inches and Glaswegian working-class five-year olds were just 40.20 inches. By 1938 Glasgow boys averaged 41.70 inches while the boys of Bradford and Cambridge were 42.24 inches and 43.29 inches respectively.  

By the outbreak of World War II Scots men averaged 66.82 inches and 138.2lbs compared with English average of 67.14 inches and 135.9lbs. The Welsh were shortest and lightest of all at 66.55 inches and 133.7lbs.

Thirty years later in 1972 a survey of children from Scotland and England found, unsurprisingly, that children from manual working families were shorter than from middle class families. Children of non-manual fathers were taller than those from manual worker families but height disparity was less marked in mothers from different classes. Interestingly discrepancies in height by class were more striking in England than in Scotland where unemployment was more significant in determining height than social class.

This blog has been very male-centred, as my sources concentrated on men and boys but I came across a curious piece of evidence that suggested taller girls were more likely to achieve social mobility through marriage than their shorter sisters – that taller girls attracted taller and possibly better-off husbands.

And sticking with social class for a moment in the latter part of the 20th century English fathers from the wealthiest class 1 measured in at an average of 177.5cm – EU influence! and to appease Brexiteers out there and oldies that’s just under 5ft 10inches while unskilled men in class V were a touch under 5 ft 8 inches. English women from the same classes were 5ft 4 inches and 5ft 3 inches respectively. Scottish men from class 1 measured up at 5ft 9 inches and from class V at 5ft 7 1/2 inches with Scots women from class 1 just under 5ft 4inches and those from the unskilled class V 5ft 3 inches.

By now the tallest people in the UK lived in the south of England. Something had changed. Before the Union with England and for a few generations following it Scots were markedly taller than the English. With the advance of the industrial revolution and the concentration of wealth in south Britain Scotland’s populations were subjected to increasing hardships to the extent the physical appearance and health of the populations north and south of the border diverged in opposite ways from how they once had been.

I am not arguing every English man and women prospered in a smoke-infused hell that was once England’s green and pleasant lands. Brutal, alienating hard work and filthy living conditions shortened lives and the nightmare existences for the working classes in England was every bit a trial as it was for their brothers and sisters in Scotland and Wales. But there were other factors at work – a power grab in London and its surrounding counties that sucked away wealth from other parts of the UK, Scotland, yes, but also the north of England and Wales.

1

In the 1980s Scotland’s average man measured in at 5ft 8inches. The very short Londoner had stretched to a touch over the Scot while in the southwest of England men averaged an inch taller. In Wales men struggled to reach 5ft 7 1/2 inches.

I thought when I began looking into the shrinkage of Scots that our past tall stature might have come from our Viking ancestors but it appears that Norwegians used to be some of the smallest people in Europe although they now have become the second tallest, behind the Dutch so that scuppers that theory. It will not escape many of my fellow Scots that not only have Norwegians accumulated great wealth from the North Sea which they share with Scotland but they are now also over-shadowing us physically. There’s a lesson there for us, surely.

 

Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn’s Spiorad a’ Charthannais (The Spirit of Kindliness),
written in 1874 – translation from the Gaelic

Is anyone presently alive
who recollects that awful day,
on which was fought the fearful fight —
Waterloo of the bloody plains?
A fine victory was won by Gaels
when they rose in battle-arms;
faced with the blade of bravest men,
our fierce foes yielded fast.

What joy came to the fathers
of those who won the fray?
The warm homes of kindliness
towered round their ears in flames.
Their sons were on the battlefield
to save a heartless land;
their mothers were in the saddest plight,
and their homes reduced to ash. . . .

O Britain, it is a disgrace,
should we recount your tale,
relating how hard you dealt
with your own and truest race.
The land that those heroes had,
who saved you in your straits,
has now become a field of sports
for those wasters without morals.

 

 

August 31, 2017

The Englishman Dr Livingstone, I presume: the unmaking of a nation through its school history

Myths and truths about Scottish History in Schools

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There is a fairly widespread belief that Scottish history has not, until recently, been taught in our schools. This is not true. Let me qualify that. From the earliest days of informal schooling an amount of storytelling doubtless crept into lessons; the exploits of national heroes and heroines until history as a discrete subject was formalised in the 1880s.

Most Scottish children since then were made familiar with some aspects of our past even if that amounted to little more than fleeting references to a handful of monarchs and a few notable battles. Granted among the baby-boomer generation it might have been for some their only encounter with Scottish history, any history, was at primary school – taught by non-specialist teachers in the main. Before the introduction of O Grades in 1962 thousands of Scots children could have left school with their leaving certificate having been taught no history at their junior secondary school and even with O Grades, later S Grades, it was possible for children to get no history after second year.

Does it matter? There are plenty who claim history serves no purpose and time in school would be better taken up teaching maths and science. Consider then waking up one day your memory has gone from an accident or Alzheimer’s disease with you having to make your way ignorant of what you’ve done and who you are. A clean sheet. Make of it what you can. Welcome to a world devoid of history.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. (Machiavelli)

Even though we are too stupid to learn from those who came before us Machiavelli might have added but did not.

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The actions of our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundations of the lives we lead today. It is useful to understand that process. What we learn of the nation’s past defines our perception of it then and now and our understanding of how our world has evolved – and in that those who argue Scottish children have not been taught their own history are correct to some extent.

History is not a series of facts strung together along a timeline. Although that’s how it has sometimes been presented. It is a muddle of events – a smorgasbord picked over by people who fancy themselves a bit of this and a bit of that. History can be simply entertaining – stories of adventure and discovery and it can be a powerful tool for propaganda. Propaganda of the past is all around us – shops are full of it, radio and television, too, complete with a telegenic communicators eagerly offering their carefully chosen morsels to seduce you into falling for their particular bees in their particular bonnets. My advice is treat with caution. No telling of history is ever neutral – the very facts presented have been selected at the expense of others that don’t fit the message. Scrutinise the historian and ask yourself why she/he is saying this/that/whatever and not something entirely different. Historians are not always transparent – what is it they aren’t telling us? And why have they couched their interpretation of events in that way?

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Despite (almost) every child in Scotland attending school at some point in their lives too many adult Scots are unfortunately ignorant about education – what goes on now and even when they were in the thick of it. Memories are patchy and woefully unreliable. How many Scots have I heard going on about their O Level passes when they never sat any but took O Grades, unless they attended private school? How many Scots bemoan Highers as inferior to the English A Level blissfully unaware the Higher was set to be taken a year earlier than A Levels and the reason ordinary university courses in Scotland were longer than their English equivalents?

There are also those who go on about the national curriculum unaware that there is no prescribed national curriculum in Scotland instead a huge amount of leeway is provided to specialist teachers to use their initiative within guidelines and constraints of the exam system and the reason why some people’s experience of history will be different from others. What you were taught depended a great deal on your history teacher and it might be you went to one of the very few schools, in the west of Scotland I understand, where the openness of the curriculum allowed history to be removed altogether from secondary years one and two. Moronic. Also moronic was the introduction of faculty heads to replace discrete department principal teachers giving rise to the ludicrous situation whereby the history department of a school could be run by someone who dumped history to become better acquainted with a football. Few primary teachers will have been specialists in history but all secondary teachers should be. However that is a great big rag bag in itself.

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Teachers and what they teach is only as good as their own learning and the resources available to them. Just where do you find quality materials to teach a range of topics to pupils whose ages range between 12 and 18? No history teachers enters the profession equipped with an expansive knowledge of every topic required in the classroom so where to find material? Books you may reasonably say. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Books are expensive and teachers have a tiny budget that always fails to cover the essentials to teach everything covered in years one to six. Books get destroyed, lost and tatty and even history books become out-dated. This is why so many teachers make up their own worksheets – and we have all experienced how iffy that can be. But even worksheets are expensive to create given the budgets available and they have a short shelf life.  

That said there was a time when reasonable supplies of  books were to be found in classrooms. Many were published in England and were almost like foreign texts. What is taught as ‘British’ history does not always sit well in the Scottish classroom. For example an awful lot, let me repeat that, an awful lot of histories written by English teachers and/or historians largely ignore Scotland. Try finding examples of everyday life in the Victorian period – it’s as if everyone in the UK lived in London or Manchester. Look at histories of the Napoleonic wars – presented as English wars fought by Englishmen on the other side of the English Channel. What, historian Sydney Wood, asks

“… went through the mind of the Scot from Lewis who was required to haul aloft Nelson’s pre-Trafalgar signal of ‘England expects every man to do his duty?”

Wood goes on

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Convention of Scottish Burghs (1905) complained of the existence of school books in which: Great Britain is called England, the British throne is called the English throne … David Livingstone is called an Englishman, James Watt and Adam Smith are called English.”

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To that list we might add were there no Chartists active in Scotland organising for democracy? Were Scots instead quietly sitting at home supping porridge? In British histories Scotland is excised again and again. That literary tick of substituting English for British, England for Britain produces an untrue twist on its narrative of the lives of our ancestors in these islands yet there it is on a page in black and white so it must be true. Such crass sloppiness is everywhere from Oxbridge dons to daft little-Englanders cheering on England’s Brexit from the EU.

What did you learn in school today dear little boy of mine?

I learnt that the government of Britain was English and that in England both parties, Liberals and Conservatives, favoured peaceful progress and social reform unlike most countries of Europe afflicted by conflicts and political revolution.

I learnt that Dr David Livingstone from Blantyre was English.

I learnt that the poet Lord Byron was English because he had an English father (and Scottish mother) and he was born in England.

I learnt that the philosopher economist John Stuart Mill was English because he had a Scottish father – uhm – but he was born in England so he was definitely English.

I learnt that the writer Rudyard Kipling was English because he had an English father and was born in India – but couldn’t possibly have been Indian because he was English, after all.

History our flexible friend.

For most Scots Scottish history in primary and the early stages of secondary school was very well covered – but it was a case of pupil beware.

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I don’t know who Flora Forbes MA was but her Past and Present books, published by John Cormack of Edinburgh presented a very unionist interpretation of Scotland (but then so did they all.) She wrote of an “angry” Scottish Parliament demanding equality with England over trade and shipping at the adoption of the Hanoverians and how “moderate men” saw the sense of a union of the two parliaments. She did not mention the storm of opposition to this in Scotland but noted Scots “naturally feared that England would once again deal unfairly with the smaller country.” Perish the thought.

On Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Queen Elizabeth she wrote:

“When Queen Elizabeth began to reign, England was not yet in a settled condition with regard to the religion of the people. Although the government was Protestant, half of the people were Catholics, and they believed Mary Stewart to be their rightful queen. Elizabeth’s task in ruling the country was therefore far from easy, but she proved to be a wise and clever ruler, and she was helped in the work of government by very able men.”

Some might call them liars, conspirers and charlatans but there you go.

Not all Scottish school textbooks were as partial and sickeningly obsequious as Ms Forbes’s efforts.

Scotland the age of achievement Hogarth's contrast

John Patrick’s SCOTLAND  the age of achievement was less whimsical and more authoritative (nothing to do with him being a bloke.) A lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education he used Hogarth’s drawing which contrasted poverty in Scotland – the ill-fed Scot – against the prosperity of the well-fed Londoner inside the cover. “Many English cartoons in the eighteenth century made fun of Scotland’s poverty,” he explained.

Patrick took a responsible approach to the scoundrels of Scottish history in his account of the trials of 18th century reformers Muir and Palmer and we are left in no doubt who he believed was the scoundrel in that episode. In his summing up the hanging Lord Braxfield intent on suppressing sedition addressed the court:

“…the government “is made of landed interests, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them?”

Ah the witty and respected judge Braxfield set the tone for a fair trial-

“Come awa, sirs and help us hang these rascals…”

Rascals were people who dared to criticise the monarchy and corrupt governments made up of the landed gentry in government to enhance their own interests and shitting themselves that revolution in France might prove to be contagious. Dundee minister Palmer was sentenced to 7 years transportation and lawyer Muir to 14 years.

IMM Macphail, A History of Scotland Book 1, 1950s

Many of you will surely have been familiar with A.D. Cameron’s History for Young Scots Books 1 and 2 which were widely used in primary and early stages secondary during the 1970s and ’80s and created a patchwork impression of Scotland from the Neolithic settlers at Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands to more recent time when the European Coal and Steel Community was held up as a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity in a coming-together of nations in the Common Market.

“Could Britain afford to remain outside such a large and vital market in Europe? Could she become a member without endangering her unique partnership with the other nations in the Commonwealth”  he asked without a question mark. Tut tut.

Cameron ended on a note of optimism explaining that Britain did join the European Economic Community and people found they could travel more freely and got on with one another. Where did that get us?

Cameron made up dialogue to inject life and human interest into what is sometimes dismissed as a dry subject.

“Here is food; here is plenty” the comment of a contented Skara Braen tucking into a mountainous whale as a wise old man surveys the scene on the beach, “There is food for many moons,” he declares with just a touch of Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Cameron was nothing if not confident in his statements for example he assured us the women of Skara Brae spent about an hour every day grinding corn into flour.

Patrick achievement

Cameron’s approach to school history was entertaining and his books were well-illustrated: Picts, Celts, Romans, Vikings, English, Wars of Independence, burghs and so on- to the Union –

Britain” – (hang on A D you mean England and Wales?) “was at war with France during Queen Anne’s reign, and the English, fearing the Scots” (not at war with France – just saying) “might select a king of their own and revive the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, decided to allow the Scots free trade” – (which they had done their level best to destroy up till then) – “if they would consent to the creation of a British Parliament.”

Cameron fell into the British/English trap there did you notice?

Under the Union he informed us English and colonial markets were to be opened up to Scottish merchants and Scottish currency, weights and measures were abandoned in favour of English equivalents. Religion and law remained uniquely Scottish.

And with the Union an end was put to Scottish history – in a sense – that’s me, not Cameron.

Patrick, no Union

Cameron’s school histories were enjoyable and useful tools for teachers but frustrating for those parts of Scotland ignored in their pages. Pupils in Dundee, Aberdeen and areas north, northwest, south and east found little there to reflect the lives of their foremothers. The nature of the colossus that is history means inevitably there are gaps but where those same gaps are replicated a false impression of the past becomes entrenched into our minds: Cameron illustrated the widespread Highland Clearances with a snapshot of the Sutherland clearances at Strathnavar; Industrial Scotland was largely and predictably confined to the Clyde and west of Scotland. Cameron was a Principal Teacher of History at Inverness Royal Academy and should have known better. That’s all I know about A D Cameron.

 Aside from those unfortunates not offered history in a handful of secondary schools a perception that Scottish history was not taught might be because pupils chose not to study it as an O grade or Higher and simply forgot or because their teacher lazily churned out what she/he came across in muddled myth-laden textbooks entirely Anglo-centred: agricultural and industrial revolutions; social and political changes; housing; transport etc  – as far as the eye can see.

Historical events and change in England has always been taught in Scottish schools whereas in England Scotland seldom features – and usually only as that pesky aggressive neighbour to the north. Where Scottish histories have generally reflected Scotland as part of the United Kingdom English histories have a tendency to see England standing alone bold and magnificent – succeeding. European and World history as portrayed in history texts are seen through the lens of England and the English people with Scotland rarely a footnote.

There is no doubt that for much of the 20th century Scottish history has been much under-represented in our own schools while any Scottish dimension of British and world history virtually disappears south of the border. Can we wonder then at the sheer level of ignorance in England when it comes to Scotland? Watch as bemused smiles break out on the faces of quiz show contestants when asked anything relating to Scotland.

Historian Sydney Wood considered the role history education plays in the development of our sense of national identity – pointed to how Scotland’s education system retained its independence post-1707 until the English Education Act of 1872 gave London oversight of Scottish education right up to 1939.

Decades later Thatcher’s Tories tried to mould education to suit her rightwing agenda but found strong resistance in Scotland yet English Tories were able to wield some influence here. Devolution in 1997 returned education in Scotland to the responsibility of the Scottish government, albeit still following a unionist agenda.

It is true that teaching distinctly Scottish history tottered during the 20th century. Children might learn about early settlers – Skara Brae in the neolithic period and Stonehenge – but how many were taught about the sheer richness of neolithic evidence there is in Scotland? How many English children ever learnt about any early settlers in Scotland? Precious few. Vikings were mainly English Vikings. The Industrial Revolution took place mainly in England. Urban expansion and overcrowded homes were suffered in England. Poverty was English. No-one rioted in Scotland because they were starving. We were led to believe. Orator Henry Hunt and the Spa Fields (somewhere near London) riot over parliamentary reform (lack of) was drummed into the lugs of young Scots while in Scotland all was quiet – we were led to believe. Not that there has been much sympathy for rioters in history books – mad, angry, mobs, unruly, violent. As for the politicians whose actions led to such deprivation and inequality – they avoided pejorative adjectives attached to their activities.

Life expectancy as many Scots pupils once knew was very different between a man in Liverpool and one in Bath. Bath – Bath? Where’s that Miss?

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Every child in Scotland learnt about the Speenhamland system – a barbaric means by which magistrates in Berkshire in England provided charity to starving men, women and children. What was happening in Scotland? Scotland that impoverished neighbour of England? Presumably all was hunky dory.

Chartism was scarcely a whisper in Scotland – if you believe many of the histories taught in our schools. And in Scottish histories Chartism only occurred in Glasgow.

Scottish school children learnt about changes in English farming – the Norfolk system of crop rotation but who in England learnt about farm toons and run rigs?

Britain’s Story Told in Pictures printed in Manchester c1950. Brave to title the book Britain but let’s take through its chapters.

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I guess the authors were too busy putting the book together to visit Callanish standing stones or Orkney to become acquainted with its amazing Neolithic sites – or any of the unique recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire and other important features all around Scotland dating back over 5000 years. Let’s try the chapter Roman Britain. In what sounds like a national entity called Britain life was evidently most interesting in the south, as that’s all presented here. Picts of Caledonia get a single mention only in relation to Hadrian’s Wall not who they were of any reference to their pictorial art.

Let’s try Anglo-Saxon Britain 410-1066 – you can imagine I’m not too hopeful for this chapter. Aha, at least we have more definition as it begins with “The English are descended from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes…English conquest” blah, blah, blah…”English race” an interesting concept – especially given the previous paragraphs explaining the number of different peoples who’ve formed this ‘race’. I’m not expecting any mention of Scotland because this chapter doesn’t apply here – although Scots kids all learnt about it. But what is this? There’s a sketch of a Viking cross at Oransay, Scotland – that’ll be Oronsay I expect – and it’s what we call a Celtic cross and it dates from around 500 years after the chapter’s cut-off date. History our flexible friend again.

Chapter 4 looks at Medieval Britain 1066-1485 with not a cheep about Scottish royalty but everything you need to know and more about the line of English kings. There is a mention of Scotland in relation to the English Edward I. That’s it. There’s a nice drawing of a battering ram – know what I’d like to do with that – lots of Norman this and that. But hark! What comes here? It is an illustration of Robert the Bruce (again because of the association to England as is the case for the sketch of Joan of Arc.) So that’s it for Medieval Britain – must have passed Scotland by.

Tudor Britain up next and as Scotland didn’t do Tudors there’s no point looking here but I can’t resist having a wee peek. Elizabeth I of England, “greatest of the Tudors” and what’s this? “Foreign policy was directed against the menaces of Scotland, France and Spain.” That’s not very nice – first we’re all part of the British family then we’re a foreign enemy – again. Glowing it is – glowing in its admiration of Elizabeth I of England – and the advances in trade – Levant and East India, ne’er a hint of exploitation and stripping India of its assets …”Many universities and Grammar Schools were founded” – not a mention Aberdeen which between 1596 and 1826 had as many universities as in the whole of England. That’s worth putting in a book on Britain only it was in the wrong part of  ‘Britain’ evidently.

Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, is included in Tudor Britain for some reason when it should be in a chapter called Stuart Britain – which comes next – and why? because it covers the period from 1603 when the Stuarts decamped to England. This is not a history of Britain it is a history of England – a bundle of baloney.

James VI is introduced as James I – because that’s his English regnal number and England precedes mention of Scotland because English historians know Scotland’s place. Back! Get back!

The Act of Union – I’ll get my magnifying glass out – straight FACT “Act of Union (1707). “By this Act the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established under a single government, Scotland being represented in Parliament by forty-five Members in the Commons and sixteen Peers in the Lords.” Parliament being in London,  not Edinburgh, naturally.

Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil is a case of move along nothing of interest here. No mention. Sure there are sketches of the Duke of Cumberland – Butcher as he’s known here – and Charles Edward Stuart, “the Young Pretender” – note that slick derogatory description we’ve come to accept – not forgetting his old man, another Pretender. There’s a pic, too, of George I who “succeeded under the Act of Succession” aye he did – positive write-up we may say for George.

There’s a fine illustration of a Highlander – post Union – not doing what most Highlanders would have been doing at home whatever that might have been and we certainly don’t find out from this book but as a soldier from one of the Highland regiments which became so popular with successive governments of the United Kingdom. Not so much back! back! as get to the front! to the front!

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The chapter on Modern Britain pauses long enough to condemn the General Strike of 1926, to praise the national spirit, to picture the murder of a British bishop in Uganda, to comment on the notable growth of democracy during Victoria’s reign – notable being an elastic term for restricted. There are lots of pictures of ‘natives’ from the Empire – Zulus being war-like, ‘Kaffirs’ being obedient, a Maori looking a bit savage. There’s a head and shoulders of Cecil Rhodes, boo; Gordon of Khartum, boo; the cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence River at Quebec – but not the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge, boo – evidently a victim of being located in North Britain. There’s a sketch of a round table conference, at a long table, at which Mahatma Ghandi and his pals “demanded independence for India” – blighters. There’s mention of the “heroic Red army” in WWII, hurrah; there’s Lord Woolton representing rationing during WWII but no mention of John Boyd Orr. Shamefully predicatable.

If you were spared this sort of nonsense in place of real history at school be grateful.

It is apparent that generations of  Scottish schoolchildren left school better informed about the Nazis in Germany or the poor laws in England than they did about lives led by past generations of their families here in Scotland. Our ancestors were living breathing people very much like ourselves – dour or cheerful, cup half-full or cup half-empty types but Scotland, even a short historical hop back in time, was a very different place and it’s near impossible for us to really imagine their dreams, sorrows and pleasures. Our connections with the past are the vital means of securing our place in present-day Scottish society; understanding the route we have come to where our lives are today with a backward glance at patterns of struggle and achievement which form lessons for us now and into the future. It is a scandal that history has been so badly served since the formalisation of education in this country – that so much in history books is nonsense, jingoism and cant  – that knowledge of the Kirk post-Reformation; the Scottish Enlightenment; Scots in the Empire (warts and all); Scots in America – even events surrounding that most important detail were marginalised even here in Scotland, the Union of Parliaments, getting scant recognition until recent times. Why? You may well ask. And demand better. But, of course, sifting through the dross there are truths there to be found that should not be forgotten.

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August 10, 2017

Scottish World War Poetry #5 From the Line

       

          From the Line

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Have you seen men come from the Line,

Tottering, doddering, as if bad wine

Had drugged their very souls;

Their garments rent with holes

And caked with mud

And streaked with blood

Of others, or their own;

Haggard, weary-limbed and chilled to the bone,

Trudging aimless, hopeless, on

With listless eyes and faces drawn

Taut with woe?

 

Have you seen them aimless go

Bowed down with muddy pack

And muddy rifle slung on back,

And soaking overcoat,

Staring on with eyes that note

Nothing but the mire

Quenched of every fire?

 

Have you seen men when they come

From shell-holes filled with scum

Of mud and blood and flesh,

Where there’s nothing fresh

Like grass, or trees, or flowers,

And the numbing year-like hours

Lag on – drag on,

And the hopeless dawn

Brings naught but death, and rain – 

The rain a fiend of pain

That scourges without end,

And Death, a smiling friend?

 

Have you seen men when they come from hell?

If not, – ah, well

Speak not with easy eloquence

That seems like sense

Of ‘War and its Necessity’!

And do not rant, I pray,

On ‘War’s Magnificent Nobility’!

 

If you’ve seen men come from the Line

You’ll know it’s Peace that is divine !

If you’ve not seen the things I’ve sung – 

Let silence bind your tongue,

But, make all wars to cease,

And work, and work for Everlasting Peace !

Roderick Watson Kerr

August 4, 2017

No Dunkirk hurrah for the 51st Highlanders

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In the land of Brexit Union Jack-adorned Britain creaks and splutters like an old jalopy incapable of engaging first gear she pitches into reverse … to a time when girls were submissive and obedient, boys wore the trousers, mam spent her evenings mending and making do and dad was digging spuds when he wasn’t trimming his prize leeks.

What a place that was. Bloody proud to be British before all this political correctness now that you can’t call a spade a spade – know what I mean? Nudge, nudge. When an Englishman’s home was his castle and you could decide who came into in it: – no blacks; no Irish – bloody Paddies – no damn likely; bloody Welsh and no bloody Scots – uppity Jocks.

                                                                 *** 

We’re back in January 1940 and the 51st Highland Division of bloody Jocks has landed in Le Havre in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) but it’s a baptism of fire for allied forces around the French coast as the situation becomes untenable with constant and escalating German attacks.

It’s April and the 51st are separated from the rest of the BEFs and deployed deep into France to the very vulnerable area of Hombourg-Bundage under the French Tenth Army on the defensive Maginot line. Casualties are high as the Germans advance at lightning speed towards the French coast.

Early June and the German panzer division makes ground as it heads for the coast protected and aided from the air.

At 3 o’clock on 4th June French and Scots men pressurising German positions find themselves under intense fire and dive-bombing Stukas. As the 51st struggle desperately to defend the front line French tanks forge ahead the infantry in their wake and one after another are blown to smithereens by mines or disabled by heavy gun fire. Many are consumed by fire. Men of the 4th Seaforths are cut down by heavy machine-gun fire.

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On 5 June a huge offensive  comprising 124 German divisions launch a major attack, Fall Rot, along 70 miles of front line including the 25 miles the 51st are struggling to hold. Beleaguered the Highland Division fight a losing battle to defend the area around le Havre.

On 7 June two German armoured divisions split the French Tenth Army.  The Highland Division along with their French comrades are separated from part of the Tenth.

On 8 June the 51st are cut off in Rouen-Dieppe.

On 9 June the 51st are 35 miles north of Rouen which has fallen into German hands. They receive orders to withdraw to le Havre. This is not possible as Germany launches an attack from the east and the 51st are cut off.

On 10 June the 51st along with the French IXth Corps drop back to St. Valery, hoping to be evacuated by sea.

On 11 June Brigadier Stanley-Clarke issues the order for a new line be held to the last man.

Radio contact is lost with the 51st as the evacuation of Stanley-Clarke’s own force from Dunkirk continues. It is decided to abandon the young men of the Highland Division too deep into France but hope lives on among the men that they might yet be evacuated from St. Valéry.

Fog prevents any chance of this happening and in any case the Germans now occupy the steep cliffs at the coast.

On 12 June the French corps surrenders and shortly after so do what remains of the 51st Highland. A few escape but are captured by General Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division.

 Land of Hope and Glory plays in the background

“Out from the hell that is Dunkirk. Out from the steel thrust of the German war machine they come – the BEF (some of them – not those abandoned) footsore and hungry. Never defeated or dispirited. Around these men there hangs an atmosphere of glory.
The men who’ve got back to Blighty are grateful – to the navy and to the merchant service.
And grateful to the French navy.
The BEF is grateful to the Royal Air Force.
The BEF is grateful, too, to its French comrades.
The BEF is grateful to the girls in uniform who’ve stayed with them to the end.

But not it appears grateful to the men of the 51st.

While these men live and breathe Britain is safe. The enemy will never pass

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpb0aOPEQkE

For the lucky ones evacuated from Dunkirk there were jam sandwiches and hot tea waiting for them in England.

Iron-spined Major-General Harold Alexander is undaunted by Nazi bombers screaming overhead shelling sea and land; explosion after explosion. Without (much of ) a thought for his own safety he waits offshore, binoculars in hand, till satisfied there are no more living creatures left on the beach or water and with a final nod to the captain they sail off into the blue yonder to more than a jam sandwich. Mission accomplished.

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Hunkered down in his Westminster bunker sustained on a diet of Scotch whisky and cigars national hero and Prime Minister Winston Churchill exalts the ‘miracle of deliverance’ of the Dunkirk retreat.

‘We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender,’ he insists 200 miles away from the men of the 51st.

I well remember a very old lady, a former schoolteacher in the Highlands, who could not bear to hear the fawning adulation of Winston Churchill presented through newspapers, histories and radio and television. It took me many years to realise just why she despised him so much. Britain’s greatest hero Mr Churchill regretted the fate of the Highlanders but drew solace from the Division coming back to its own when other Scots were drawn into its ranks. 

To illustrate his feelings Churchill drew on a poem by the Aberdeenshire poet Charles Murray, A Saugh o’ War – which I published recently here on the blog. The poem is too jingoistic and sentimental for my liking

Half-mast the caste banner droops,

The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,

An; mon a widowed cottar wife

Is greetin’ at her shank aleen…

A’ keen to show baith friends and foe

Auld Scotland counts for something still.

 

And a predictable report on Dunkirk from the BBC 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/4/newsid_3500000/3500865.stm

So as Britain goes Dunkirk delirious just like it did back in 1940 there are parts of these islands where the hysteria is just a little tempered for knowing the picture of blood and guts and bravery played out in cinemas across the land is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The abandoning of the 51st Highlanders does not fit the narrative of British pluck and victory loved by rightwing commentators – historians, film makers, journalists or anyone who prefers myth to reality and preferably all tied up with a ribbon of red, white and blue.

Britain and its people exist on a diet of myths. Dunkirk was a major success in terms of saving many lives and an illustration of the courage of individuals but it is also an example of the British state’s coyness to admit it also creates victims as a result of its actions while readily exploiting for propaganda purposes an event that is very partial in the telling.

Britain would “never abandon her ally in her hour of need” bellowed Churchill – at the same time he didn’t think twice about ditching men of the 51st Highland Division.

The ‘Dunkirk spirit’ might be said to have a second meaning – the sacrifice of people – of Scots, bloody Jocks (and others serving with the 51st.) They were heroes but heroes largely written out of the story of Dunkirk.

The flag-waving hurrah over Dunkirk will go on for a long time but does plucky British heroism conceal a shabby and uncomfortable reality of bravery plus sacrifice?

Capt Ian Campbell, General Fortune’s intelligence officer said:

“It has always been abundantly clear to men that no division has ever been more uselessly sacrificed. It could have been got away a week before but the powers that be – owing I think to very faulty information – had come to the conclusion that there was a capacity for resistance in France which was not actually there.”

Never Surrender

We shall never surrender

H    O   M    E

Over 330,000 made it home

It was the Scots Highlanders who didn’t get home but were abandoned in France.

Back in the war everyone pulled together – that Dunkirk spirit characterizes us. Britain at its best – all in the same boat…

51st Highland Division memorial at St Valery-en-Ca from inverux

Inver granite memorial to the 51st Highland Division at St Valery

(The 51st Highland Division comprised men from the Black Watch, the Seaforths, the Queen’s Own Camerons, the Gordons and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders under Major General Victor Fortune aka the Duke of Argyll.)

Click on Pawns in the War Game, 1940

August 3, 2017

Scottish World War I Poetry #4 A Sough o’ War

A Sough o’ War  (A Sigh of War)

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The corn was turnin’, hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o’ war gaed through the land
An’ stirred it to its benmost heart.
Nae ours the blame, but when it came
We couldna pass the challenge by,
For credit o’ our honest name
There could be but one reply.
An’ buirdly men, fae strath an’ glen
An’ shepherds fae the bucht an’ hill,
Will show them a’, whate’er befa’,
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Half-mast the castle banner droops,
The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,
An’ mony a widowed cottar wife
Is greetin’ at her shank aleen.
In Freedom’s cause, for ane that fa’s,
We’ll glean the glens an’ send them three
To clip the reivin’ eagle’s claws,
An’ drook his feathers i’ the sea.
For gallant loons, in brochs an’ toons,
Are leavin’ shop an’ yard an’ mill,
A’ keen to show baith friend an’ foe
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

The grim, grey fathers, bent wi’ years,
Come stridin’ through the muirland mist,
Wi’ beardless lads scarce by wi’ school
But eager as the lave to list.
We’ve fleshed o’ yore the braid claymore
On mony a bloody field afar,
But ne’er did skirlin’ pipes afore
Cry on sae urgently tae war.
Gin danger’s there, we’ll thole our share,
Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will,
Ayont the main, to prove again
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Charles Murray (Alford, Aberdeenshire)