Archive for ‘politics’

July 5, 2019

Scotticisms in our Precious Union or Michael Gove and Sconglais

Perhaps Gordon Brown’s political career would have been more successful had he spent less time trying to reinvent himself as an Englishman. This unfortunate individual suffered from what is known as the Scottish cringe –a state of shame and denial over ties to their homeland and its native tongue.

If any Scots were in doubt before the union with England there was none after it just how much contempt was felt towards them by their new political partners. With the union signed and sealed following a couple of years of scheming by the monarchy and England’s government’s pussy-footing policies such as classifying Scots as aliens and preventing the nation trading with English colonies the gloves were off. Scotland had been emasculated and would no longer pose a threat as a potential backdoor to England’s enemy, France. But this was a union of two very different nations – separated among other things by a common language.

Scots spoke Scots (in a host of dialects) but political discourse with the new partners meant compromise. Let’s be clear – not compromise exactly as that involves give and take on both sides – the kind of compromise you get from an unequal partnership or union where one side dictates and the other complies. To a large degree Scots abandoned their language while the English didn’t. The union or as we now have to call it – the precious union expected those Scots in prominent positions to adopt English as the lingua franca (if you’ll pardon the expression) as the official language of the combined nations. Sometimes it was English with a Scottish frill – let’s call it Sconglais.

Even in areas of cultural life where Scotland was pre-eminent, specifically the Enlightenment, some of its greatest luminaries such as David Hume and James Beattie* sought to eradicate Scotticisms (Scottish words) from their works – possibly to appeal to a broader audience – not England but Continental Europe where the dynamism of the philosophical and medical Enlightenment movement was closest to Scotland’s. Refining the Scotch tongue was regarded as necessary for many an ambitious Scot whose natural way of communicating was regarded as an impediment to advancement.

I was conscious as a child how many Scots sounded clumsy when talking to an English person in English and always felt obliged to adapt their natural flow of speaking to accommodate the visitor, to help their understanding, never the other way round. Scots have long been taught to despise their own tongue and until more recent years were ‘corrected’ at home and school and encouraged to speak ‘proper’ English. It’s often said Scots speak two languages – one among themselves and another in mixed company.  Imagine being led to believe your own language is inferior to someone else’s?

While universities and polite society in the 18th century weaned themselves off broad Scots this didn’t happen among working people whose communications tended to be localised – so they had no need to interpret their words; everyone understood them.

With the union Scotland became North Britain. Was there ever a South Britain?  The language (s) spoken in North Britain were derided as barbaric, like their peoples. Highlanders with their indecipherable Gaelic were regarded with greatest suspicion and loathing. The people were described as savages.  Ironic it was then that the leisured classes included Highland Scotland in their Grand Tours, in search of experiences (tame savagery) and education (if not enlightenment.) During these pre-Victorian years the brutality of Culloden was a well within living memory, Scots were being cleared off their lands and Highland Scotland was in a sense a million miles away from cosy metropolitan life as lived in London or even Edinburgh.

The lexicographer, Dr Johnson, and his side-kick cum translator, James Boswell, ‘did’ the Highlands. He didn’t like it – couldn’t understand the people and through his dictionary he did his bit to regulate the English language which further relegated broad Scots never mind our rich dialect words and expressions to this country’s savage past.

There was no place for uncouth Scotticisms in the brave new world of the precious union of equals – no matter that broad Scots was more akin to the language of Chaucer than Johnson’s tarted up modernisms. For all that the impact of standardising English, and therefore Scots, was felt more in the homes of the upper and middle classes than among the working classes who could read English but continued to communicate in their own tongues.

Which brings me to Michael Gove. Gove is a hybrid; a Scot/Anglo whose mellifluous vocal acrobatics have resulted in an accent and form of speech that is part Aberdeen (miniscule) but mainly Estuary English – Sconglais. Despite his best efforts Gove absorbed Scots words as a child, yes indeed he was once a child, albeit one who had more in common with 30s-somethings than 13s-somethings. When he spoke of a ‘dunt towards the workplace’ in 2013 his use of the word ‘dunt’ – an everyday term here – created uproar among Britain’s narrow metropolitans. I doubt he picked the word deliberately for effect as Gordon Brown might have done but wouldn’t because that would have highlighted his Scottishness.  Gove was probably as taken aback as we were in Scotland over the reaction created among England’s press.

With radio, television, film and the internet languages across the world are being altered at a terrific speed. Here in Aberdeenshire the unique Doric is fast disappearing – I should say Dorics because there are as many variations as there are communities. The move towards English that began in Scotland with the professional classes continues. You can still hear Scots being spoken where working class folk get together and in farming areas, though not among today’s lairds and lairdesses – though once they spoke as everyone around them did – and would have been proficient in several other languages as well. 

Henry Dundas who more or less managed Scottish political affairs in the late 18th century – a guy on the make who delayed the abolition of slavery and confused public money with his own – that kind of person; I think the technical description is, a piece of shit. All beyond the point, he was Scottish and brought up speaking Scots and one day he asked the PM, Pitt, for the loan of a horse for ‘the length of Highgate.’ Now any Scot would understand that to mean a horse that could cover that sort of distance but the Englishman that was Pitt replied he didn’t have a horse quite so long. Och but those quaint Scots are a constant source of amusement.

It was to avoid such confusion that Johnson compiled his dictionary. Deliberately misconstruing someone’s meaning might have been the case with Pitt. It certainly was by the Provost of Edinburgh who when asked by the Duke of Newcastle following the Porteous Riots of 1736 what kind  of shot the town guard under Captain Porteous used in their muskets, replied -“Ou, juist sic as ane shute dukes and sic like fules wi.” (Oh, just such as ones that shoots dukes and such fools with.)

His comment was condemned as an insult in the House of Lords (which it was) but the provost’s neck was spared when the Duke of Argyle argued it was merely a funny remark that when translated into English meant ducks and water-fowl not Peers and Idiots. As if!

 Scotticisms will linger on for a long time yet but as sprinkles over the cream of the Scots tongue. There should be no shame felt in our unique and descriptive vocabulary and institutions such as Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute provide an important service to our language in celebrating it and collecting examples of our mither tongue.

I grew up knowing that a hog was a sheep and a pig was a coarse earthenware jar but a Scottish servant a couple of centuries ago caused consternation when she set out from her employer’s London home to find “a great broon pig to haud the butter in.”

No self-respecting Scottish butcher would have offered a leg of pork, only a gigot. Gigot is from the French for, well, gigot, and evocative of Scotland’s ancient close relationship with France. There are lots of similar examples – caraff/carafe; gooseberries/groseille; perticks/perdix (partridge); Ashet/assiette; fash – very familiar today through Outlander as in dinae fash yersel – from the French facher; gean/guigne (cherry); ule or yle/huile (oil); serviette/serviette (napkin); gysard/guiser; haggis/hachis; jalousie/jalouser (suspect).

If you were said to be silly in Scotland you weren’t a bit daft but physically under the weather. And it’s common to hear folk here observe that someone’s health is failing whereas this is apparently a term only known in relation to business in England.

Long gone are Scots names for illnesses such as the nirls (measles); blabs (nettle-rash); scaw (clap); kinkhost’ fever (whooping-cough);  branks (mumps); the worm (toothache.)

Imagine the consternation here to be told that political change on the Continent had been brought about by a cow – “a coo dee’t a” (coup d’etat.) Then again in Scotland all things are possible.

At the risk of establishing a cow theme let me remind you, if you need reminding, of the old Scottish proverb, “Do as the cow of Forfar did, tak a standing drink.” It came about because one day a Forfar woman left the beer she had just brewed to cool outside her cottage when up came a cow and drank it. She sued the cow’s owner for compensation but the bailies of Forfar acquitted him on grounds that when Highland folk took leave of one another their last drink would be taken standing up – a dochan doris (deoch-an-doruis) – deoch is a drink/an means of the in Gaelic/ doruis or dorais is the possessive case of dorus, a door so literally the last drink at the door. This last drink was never charged at an inn so it was argued in court that as the cow had stood while drinking the woman’s ale there should be no charge – in both senses.

As usual I have veered straight up a blind alley. Back to the language that divides Britain. The English poet, Charles Lamb, had no time for Scots whom he dismissed as having no humour – presumably it went straight over his head. Some of his prejudice was based on a meeting he had with a son of Rabbie Burns when he wished he’d seen the father instead of the son. A chorus of Scots voices returned, “That’s impossible, for he’s dead.” Lamb considered these Scots didn’t share his wit. And to be honest his droll remark doesn’t strike me as funny, which rather proves his point no doubt.

Perhaps less nowadays than in the past the Scottish sense of humour, a dry pawkish humour, is often misunderstood south of the border (don’t mention the border.) Scots tend to play down situations and are far less respectful of social position – the lack of interest in royal pageantry is a prime example.  

We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns is woven into the psyche of Scots: the take-down is integral to our humour – I kent his faither. Here’s an example from way back. A conceited packman (trader) blawin (boasting) about the grand life of folk in York, London and other English places was asked where he came from.

“Oh, I’m from the Border.’

“Ach the Border, I thocht that. It’s aye the selvedge (seam) is the wakest bit o the wab (cloth)!”

Ah yes there are as many jokes in Scotland about the English as there are in England about the Scots. Here’s a couple of ancient funny stories:  

When an Englishman sneered that no man of taste would spend any time in a country like Scotland  a Scot replied, “Tastes differ; I’ll tak ye to a place no far frae Stirling whaur thirty thousand o yer countrymen ha’ been for five hunder years, and they’ve nae thocht o’ leavin’ yet.”

A Scotsman was making his way back home from an unsuccessful trip selling goods in England. Penniless he reached Carlisle when he saw a notice offering £50 for someone to act as hangman to dispatch a well-known local criminal. He applied and got the job but then a local man condemned him as a “mean beggarly Scot” for doing for money what no Englishman would. Undaunted the Scots trader grinned, “I’ll hang ye a’ at the price.”

Then there’s the story of the Englishman who bought a country estate in Scotland. Travelling abroad one time he tried to pass himself off as a Scot when he met up with a native born one. To prove his claim he went on about Scotland, haggis, whisky, Bannockburn, Queen Mary and even how writers Scott and Burns were superior to all English authors – and so on. Still he failed to convince. The Scot turned to him and said, “Weel, I’m jest thinkin’ my lad, ye’re nae Scotsman; but I’ll tell ye what ye are – ye’re jest an improved Englishman.”  

Time for a last one?

An English tourist enjoying a bit of angling in Scotland asked a local girl to catch a horse-fly for him to use on his hook. The girl stared at him, confused. “Have you never seen a horse-fly?” he demanded. “Na, sir,” she replied, “but ance I saw a coo jumper ower a cliff.” Now if he’d known a horse-fly is really a cleg she’d have obliged him.  

Of course in the union of equals, apologies, the precious union,  it was never England that changed; from its parliament to peely-wally Scots have been the ones to submit to pressure from the bigger partner. I’m sure you have several examples of your own.

*Dr Beattie of Aberdeen wrote: Scotticisms designed to Correct Improprieties of Speech and Writing

May 28, 2019

You can’t be a doctor you are a women: Scotland’s first women physicians

Men only medical lecture Glasgow

In ancient and early civilisations women physicians were accepted within their communities to practise healing but when medicine was professionalised through university degrees women found themselves excluded and their practical expertise scorned. Universities were for centuries exclusively male institutions of learning. The first chair of medicine at any university in the British Isles was introduced in Scotland, at Aberdeen’s King’s College, in 1497.

All kinds of obstacles were placed before young women attempting to enter the medical profession. Initially denied admittance to lectures, they were then tholled in some circumstances and confronted by male anger and hostility, sometime violence.

When eventually in the 19thc century women endeavoured to set up their own medical training facilities they faced reluctance from some male lecturers to provide classes. Undeterred these women stuck to their principles that women should have the opportunity to study and practise medicine in Britain.

By the eighteenth century attitudes towards female medics elsewhere in Europe were more enlightened.

Dorothea Erxleben was the first European women to be granted a decree to practise as a physician in Europe, in 1754. This was in Prussia. It took a century and a half for Scotland to produce its first graduate woman doctor, Marion Gilchrist from Bothwell in 1894.

Dr Marion Gilchrist

In England the London School of Medicine for Women was set up in 1874, its prime mover being the overbearing figure of Sophia Jex-Blake, and in 1876 a highly controversial Act of Parliament afforded females the right to gain access to the medical profession. Opponents of this Act included many women who thought themselves too feeble and inferior to the male species to cope with any professional career including medicine. Although Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Act she was staunchly opposed to any rights for women, not any that infringed on hers you understand.  

This Act meant women could now practice in the UK but not graduate in medicine here, kowtowing to those misogynist strongholds – British universities. British females were obliged to complete their studies at enlightened foreign universities. The first woman to be registered as a practising physician in the UK was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1859. From Bristol in England she took her degree at Geneva Medical College (incidentally she was also the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.) Blackwell has a fascinating history and I urge you to read about her life.

A substantial number of women had their ambition to practise medicine thwarted by prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. When in the later 19th century Edinburgh’s prestigious medical school opened its lecture room doors to female students it still denied them completion of their courses so Jex-Blake replicated the school of medicine for women in London with a similar one in the Scottish capital in 1886. The women behind it were known as the Edinburgh Seven and comprised of Blake; Isabel Thorne ; Emily Bovell; Edith Pechey , Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Mary Anderson.This small body was representative of a larger body of women equally determined to break through the male-dominated profession and offer help to people and communities in desperate need of medical assistance.

Agnes Henderson from Aberdeen lived in grand Devanha House along with her parents, fifteen siblings, several horses and a kangaroo. The Hendersons were progressive people; her father supported and campaigned for the right of women to study medicine at Edinburgh and Agnes came to know and befriended Sophia Jex-Blake but in one of those disconnects that affects people Agnes’ father, William Henderson, a Lord Provost in Aberdeen, did not extend his support to his own daughter’s ambitions.

However Agnes Henderson was her own woman, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and took her LRCPE and LRCSE – Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – a means of becoming registered with the General Medical Council for those prevented from taking the straightforward route through university medical schools.

Despite her top qualifications Agnes was unable to practise as a doctor in Scotland so this bright young woman took her brilliance to the Continent; to Brussels and Vienna and became a member of the Royal College of Dublin. From there she went to India where her wealthy father had funded a clinic in Nagpur (Bombay.) Agnes decided she would like to run it and so at the age of 53 Dr Agnes sailed to India. One reason behind her decision might have been a ban on women Catholics practising medicine (until 1936) and she had converted to Catholicism while in Ireland.

Many of the women who fought the system to practise medicine were driven by what they witnessed of the appalling conditions women and children in particular lived in through the Victorian era. Women, especially poor women, were oppressed by child-bearing – denied information and access to family planning, to abortion, to safe childbirth by the indifference of society they were at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of social and medical care and wages. As bad as life was for men it was worse for women and children.

Dr Agnes Henderson of the Mure Memorial Hospital

It is still the case that in parts of the world women are denied the health care they desperately need because of gender discrimination. So it was when Agnes went to India. She worked to employ her medical skills to help women and girls and at the same time spoke out against the white slave trade that exploited so many females. For her service to medicine and missionary activities in India Agnes Henderson was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.

Britain’s pioneering women doctors were often active in other areas of social improvement such as the women’s suffrage movement. Agnes was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, was also active in the movement and the pair along with Jane Taylour (Taylor) travelled to Orkney and Shetland to promote women’s suffrage there.

The British Empire created opportunities for early women doctors to practise. India also attracted Dr Isabella Macdonald Macdonald from Arbroath who graduated as a medical doctor and pharmacist in 1888 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Another who used her skills to develop health facilities for women in India was Margaret Ida Balfour. She was born in Edinburgh, her mother a Blaikie from the prominent family of Aberdeen Blaikies who were industrialists and one a Lord Provost. A year after completing her qualification as a physician at Edinburgh in 1891 Margaret Balfour travelled to India, to Ludhiana, and within two years she had helped create a medical school for women. Margaret Balfour spent her working life in India in roles that included assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals in Punjab and Chief Medical Officer of the Women’s Medical Service.  She, too, was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal for public service in India, in 1920.

Mary Anderson mentioned above as one of the Edinburgh Seven came from Boyndie in Banffshire in northeast Scotland. She, like Agnes, thwarted by the male stranglehold over medicine in Scotland went abroad to complete her studies – in Mary’s case to Paris after Edinburgh. She was forty-two when she completed her medical doctorate in France; her thesis was on mitral stenosis (heart disease) which disproportionately affected women. Mary Anderson went on to become a senior physician at the New Hospital for Women in London.

Flora Murray from Dumfries was another early Scottish woman doctor and in common with others who fought for the right to study and qualify she was very active in the women’s suffrage movement – in her case that included tending suffragettes forcibly fed in prison.  

The story of Dr Elsie Inglis is better-known. Born into a Scottish family in India in 1864 she studied at Edinburgh’s School of Medicine. She, too, was politically active and a supporter of women’s suffrage and advocate for social and political improvements in society in general.

Elsie Inglis went on to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee during the Great War which made it possible for women to become involved in the war. Elsie Inglis worked in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. It is there in Serbia she made the greatest impact, developing its health care institutions and was responsible for reducing the incidence of typhus. For that she was recognised there with the Order of the White Eagle (first class) and a memorial fountain in Mladenovac.

I’ve selected a handful of Scotland’s early women doctors who succeeded against the odds to push the boundaries that restricted smart and ambitious women in this country but two that must be included before I wind up are the sisters Grace and Martha Cadell.

The Cadell sisters were involved in Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh group but were thrown out of the course for being over-attentive to a patient and breaching Jex-Brake’s hard-and-fast rules. The Cadells challenged Jex-Blake through the courts and won, damaging the Edinburgh School’s reputation. Then they along with Elsie Inglis formed the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women – and prevented Jex-Blake from getting involved in it – soon after Jex-Blake’s own school closed down, in 1898.

In 1892 women eventually obtained the right to study at Scottish universities and Edinburgh born Jessie MacLaren MacGregor became one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University having begun her studies at Jex-Blake’s school. She was evidently extremely intelligent and highly qualified and she embarked on her medical career providing care for women and children in the capital, and to its working class women and their families in particular. Tragically Jessie MacGregor was only 43 when she died of acute cerebral meningitis in 1906 at Denver, Colorado in the USA where she had been working.  

Finally a word on Dr Mary Esslemont. She was a giant of the medical profession. Born in Aberdeen in 1891, her mother had studied medicine in those years when women were denied the ability to graduate but worked in her later years alongside Mary. Mary’s own career illustrated the backwardness of misogyny that denied women like her the opportunity to apply their skills to health and welfare throughout centuries of gender discrimination. Like so many women doctors, Mary Esslemont provided essential care to the poorest in society, and to the travelling community who spent time in Aberdeen. She was involved in establishing the NHS (the only woman on the BMA committee in talks with Bevan), was an assistant medical officer in Yorkshire, promoted family planning and free contraception, was a popular and enterprising general practitioner in Aberdeen – introducing child-centred practices from around the world to the city’s communities.

Being a feminist and determined woman seeking equality in the 19th century was a whole lot harder than it is today. There is still misogyny and now a different kind of gender politics which some see as threatening women from a different perspective. That’s the future. I deal in history.  

March 22, 2019

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. English/British/Scottish – discuss

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. (Cecil Rhodes)

That modest opinion may well have been shared by the majority of his kin folk but beneath it flowed an undercurrent of resentment that the message wasn’t being shouted loudly enough so the rest of the world could better appreciate it – and, importantly, the rest of Britain.

“Most English people have observed, with discomfort if not alarm, the persistent and united effort made by the Press of this country to stamp out the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘English,’ substituting for them ‘Britain’ and ‘British.’

Such was a claim which to most Scots was surely arresting in its absurdity. It was made in The Era, a British newspaper, in 1937. It claimed this was an attempt to –

‘obliterate the conception of England as a separate entity; to make the English masses, and the world at large, regard the four people of the British Isles as identical in character, temperament, and spiritual gifts.”

While it is undoubtedly true that a definition of Englishness is difficult to pin down, not unconnected with the fudging of English with British since the Act of Union, much of the populations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales might scratch their heads when England complains of having its identity obliterated knowing the three smaller nations are the ones who have suffered greatest from this phenomenon. The four parts of the UK have lost their distinctiveness – some today even argue there are not four parts to the UK but one single entity. The writer back in the thirties is not so daft or politically devious but still he fails to recognise that when England and English became shorthand for Britain and British all those centuries ago the blurring of distinctions began but England’s greater population kept England at the forefront of the Union and perceptions of it while all but obliterating the unique identities of the three other parts of the Unions.

Blame for the confusion of identities within the Union, according to the writer in The Era, lies with the press and the BBC. His points to the BBC’s celebration of St Andrew’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, St David’s Day but not St George’s Day. I don’t know if the BBC mentioned Burns’ Night in the thirties but that could have been added to his list. I don’t know, either, if there is a Shakespeare Night or morning or afternoon, perhaps there should be. However, Shakespeare does get wall-to-wall coverage in programmes across the BBC so perhaps a Shakespeare afternoon wouldn’t be noticed, is not necessary or would be overload. What really got the author’s dander up was seeing Shakespeare described as a British poet. Gadzooks!

He’s right about Shakespeare. He was English. And pre-Union. At the same time that bad boy of literature, Lord Byron, is invariably referred to as an English poet although he is very much British – having a Scottish mother, was brought up in Scotland and retained his Scottish accent till the end of his days. Double gadzooks! Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes stories is frequently described as English and do we complain? – well, aye, but no-one takes any notice. Worst of all in the commentator’s view was seeing a picture of York Minister in a newspaper with the caption, “This Britain.” Welcome to our world, matey.

Not only England, but every Englishman is an island.
(Novalis, German poet d.1801)

Back to our author who complains that the ‘non-English peoples of Britain’ – ‘these peoples’ he calls us – that’s Scots, Irish and Welsh (whose population, he points out, make up less than Greater London) ‘have been given equitable representation in the English Parliament’ which begs the question – what parliament? English post-Unions? Surely an English parliament doesn’t exist? But it’s as we suspected – Westminster is or isn’t a British or English parliament? And then there’s his use of ‘given’? – the largesse of England towards non-English bits of – uhm, Britain is underwhelming.

The writer ties himself in a right Gordian knot – that has definitely no Aberdeenshire associations – when he writes that one of the four entities making up Britain, let us call it England, has and deserves to have the whip hand and the right to distribute ‘rights’ as it sees fit (and presumably withdraw them as it seems fit.)

In his defence the writer is clearly in support of Home Rule for the non-English parts of the Union for he says that if any wanted Home Rule ‘there would be no opposition from England’ – to which I say, if only.

The political independence lost by Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to England, he claims, has been amply compensated by the economic advantages provided by being in the UK and being raised to a position within the world that would be impossible without being tied to England. You have to admire his gall if not his ignorance of the intellects, discoveries and influence of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish over time – many simply classified as, uhm – English. Where is Voltaire when you need him? Ah, here he is –

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.
(Voltaire)

If we were ever in any doubt that England is the leading entity in the Union our correspondent is on hand to sort us out – ‘if tomorrow Scotland, Ireland and Wales became as independent as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the prestige of England would not be lowered at all in the eyes of the world.’ His England, he claims, suffered 82% of the casualties in the First World War. His reference to casualties is as vague as it is nonsense, plucked out of the air for impact. Untangling English from Scottish, Welsh or Irish casualties who might have lived in England or been in English regiments and were counted as English is a mine field. Sheer fiction.

It is an anathema to the writer that the traditions and culture of the entities of the Union have had their differences flattened out. He deplores that the English, descended from peasants, have been ‘callously and blindly robbed of their ancient rights, not only by the Land Enclosure Acts, but by the whole monetary policy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’ He’s right you know. Finally he’s got a point.

An Englishman has all the qualities of a poker except its occasional warmth.

(Daniel O’Connell)

And so the debate over the Union, definitions of what comprises Britain and Britishness rumbles on. It began even before the Union was set up and has been defined by England and her interests. For many of us here in Scotland we have grown up in a Britain that is dominated by England and Englishness that are as alien to us as they are to people from other nations. Even the very language we use in Scotland is unacceptable as British and ridiculed if introduced into conversations in England (where we tend to speak a different version of the language spoken at home because we adapt to accommodate the English population of Britain) e.g. listen to SNP MPs rather self-consciously incorporate words that are part of our everyday speech when they debate in parliament and are greeted with smiles and cheers. Why should they be? They wouldn’t be in Scotland which last time I looked was part of Britain. I don’t think many in the Commons laugh at their use any more except possibly Scottish Tories who appear embarrassed by anything that is distinctly Scottish. In previous times it was different and Scottish MPs were frequently and cruelly mocked for the use of Scotticisms in the ‘English parliament.’

The Scotsman newspaper (surely an oxymoron) is a platform for pro-Union views which often touches on Scottishness/ Englishness/Britishness. In an edition in 1947 it was claimed that few English people think of themselves as British only English and for them the Union wasn’t important. The concept of ‘we’ as in we together who make up Britain had little meaning for them. The did not have a sense of being at one with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What they understood as ‘the nation’ or ‘the country’ was and still is England. They had no notion on what went on elsewhere in the other entities of the UK and presumably imagined people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales lived lives identical to theirs in England.

By contrast Scots have always understood the difference between Britain/England/Scotland and have had to endure the virtual suppression of Scotland as a partner in the Union. That struggle has not really succeeded and Scotland as a distinctive entity with her own character and needs that became invisible in 1707 is scarcely visible in today’s British press, BBC, Sky, ITN where Scottish events and news don’t figure and at Westminster English MPs outnumber Scots by 10 :1. Scotland’s influence in Britain is virtually nil. Not sure why I included ‘virtually’ – omit as you see fit.  Today there are only 74 Scottish MPs who will always be outvoted by England’s 541 MPs who naturally put the interests of England ahead of Scotland’s. When English people talk of the English parliament of Westminster they are spot on. Westminster’s traditions pre-date the Union, references there are to English politics, the built-in majority is English – the monarch in whose name the parliament sits is called Queen Elizabeth II despite there never having been a Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. But then Scotland is an irrelevance in the union of Britain.

It is not surprising that the period following World War 2 provided an edge to the debate over Britain/England/Scotland for it was a war fought to defend the freedom of sovereign nations across the world from fascism. Scots lives were lost in that war where British soldiers have been described as English and the Union of nations that is Britain was presented to the world as England. It is the cruellest of actions to take someone’s life and deny their identity and existence but that is what happens in a union of unequals.

 

February 28, 2019

The Church belongs to God but the stone belongs to the Duke: the Highland Clearances as told by Iain Crichton Smith

When Morag R recommended Iain Crichton Smith’s novel about the Clearances, Consider the Lilies and said she’d be interested in my thoughts on it I didn’t think it would lead to a blog on the subject. But it did.

Crichton Smith was a poet as is clear in this book with its constrained sentence construction which slowly works up into a novel. His descriptions of people, places and situations are presented as lean and concise observations that are straight out of a poet’s toolbox.

consider the liliesI didn’t warm to his style immediately. I found it too spare and his protagonist Mrs Scott a little too glaikit and too far gone for a woman of just seventy; a country woman who didn’t know the names of flowers and birds is completely unbelievable – but Crichton Smith’s character grows in awareness throughout the book, driven by circumstance, to question everything she believed in. By the end of the book I was impressed. The simplicity of the tale’s beginning transformed into a rigorous exploration of the deceit and corruption that produced one of the greatest atrocities, arguably the greatest atrocity, to take place in these islands. An atrocity of monumental proportions that has been deliberately under-exposed by generations of historians happily complicit and driven by their own prejudices to sugar-coat the eviction and transportation of tens of thousands of Scots Highlanders from their homes and country – penniless and traumatised to uncertain futures abroad. These apologists are still around – on our radios and televisions – dismissing the Clearances as not so bad – in fact they were the making of the Highlander several claim.

Crichton Smith’s novel is set during the Sutherland Clearances. There were various Clearances around Scotland including Argyll, the Hebrides and the straths of Ross from where my own family were cleared.

Ian Macpherson, MP for Ross and Cromarty 1911-1935, said that there was no ‘more foul deed been committed in the sacred name of property than in the Highlands of Scotland in those days.’

Characters in the novel include James Loch, Patrick Sellar, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland – all infamous rogues and all actual perpetrators of this inhumane episode. The guy in the ‘white hat’, so to speak, is stone mason, Donald Macleod, who was also a real person and was himself a victim of the burnings. Macleod was loathed by the landed interests and their lackeys for speaking out about their barbarism and he exposed the callous removal of whole communities in letters to the press which laid bare the cruelties of this policy of ethnic cleansing.

His letters were published in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and attracted a good deal of attention and the only thing that prevented the odious Duchess of Sutherland from suing Macleod and the paper for defamation was her recognition that she was as guilty as sin and that the publicity would not do her reputation any good.

‘The Church belongs to God but the stone belongs to the Duke’

The Sutherland clearance began in 1807. Farmers were driven from the holdings worked by their forefathers and themselves. They were pushed to the coasts to take up fishing as if crofters would know one bit of a boat from another and not starve while finding out.

Mrs Scott is visited by James Sellar, factor to the Duke of Sutherland (Marquess of Stafford) who puts the fear of death into her with his talk of destroying her home and moving her off the land that has been home to her people for generations so that sheep can have the freedom to live there. Deeply Christian she goes to the church minister for advice. He is aloof. The pampered world he inhabits bears no comparison to her little smoke-blackened thatched home where she brought up her son and from where her husband went off to fight for the British king and died somewhere in Spain. Why – she doesn’t understand. Nor does she comprehend why years after her husband’s death abroad she never received the pension she was promised. She would not know how much the laird class despised men like her husband while happy to recruit tens of thousands of these strapping and brave individuals to defend the interests of the king and Britain’s wealthy classes.

In the First World War soldiers were promised they would come home to a land fit for heroes. That was a lie. They got unemployment and starvation. In 19th century Scotland soldiers who survived the king’s foreign wars returned to find their homes gone – burnt down, their people gone forever and sheep where their families once stayed, worked and played.

Mrs Scott’s only child leaves for Canada and in a heart rending passage Mrs Scott is left bereft and utterly alone. The much respected minister is no consolation for he is a nasty piece of work and blames the Clearances on sinful villagers not rapacious landowners. Mrs Scott listens to him, to his lies, his dismissal of her expectation of a pension following her husband’s death. He boasts of building the village church with his own hands. She knows he did no such thing and she realises he is not a good man and has only his own self-interest at heart. She loses her innocence. She abandons the church.

When Patrick Sellar returns he is accompanied by fellow flunky, James Loch. They sit in Mrs Scott’s home playing hard cop soft cop – heaping lies upon lies in an attempt to persuade this old woman to leave peaceably and accept this evil action is in her best interests. Mrs Scott has meantime discovered the very folk she had always accepted were her betters were, in fact, her enemies and the ones they vilified were her friends. The atheist mason, Donald Macleod, and his family offer her kindness. She comes to understand him for condemning the minister and the church for sermons that kept the people quiet and obediently loyal to landed interests. She refuses to conspire with Sellar and Loch to speak against Donald Macleod in court. She quietly listens as a furious Sellar threatens to burn her out of her house within two days.

‘…there are far more defeats than victories, and that the victories last only a short time while the defeats last for ever’

In real life Sellar’s infamy lives on. He was a brute. In the spring of 1814 he and his men set fire to pastures at Farr and Kildonan so the crofters’ animals would have nothing to eat and the people would have no choice but to leave their land. The fires spread beyond the grass destroying fences so that fields with crops were trampled by the starving animals. Villagers’ outhouses, kilns and mills were set alight – their means of work and for providing food were destroyed. Homes were set ablaze and if the occupiers weren’t at home or quick their possessions and furniture went up in flames. What could not be immediately saved was lost.

People of all ages were made homeless; the old, the infirm, pregnant women, children and babies were left with nowhere to shelter by lairds who lived in castles – aided and abetted by their willing employees and church ministers. In Sutherland the poorest people were made destitute by one of the richest women in the country acting out of sheer greed and callousness.

deserted home

Deserted home

Of course people died. The most vulnerable died first. The winter of 1815-16 was cold with heavy snow. People were abandoned to find any means of shelter in the open and with no proper access to food. It was hard enough for the healthy but for the frail and young it meant inevitable death. The people burnt out of their homes were left to walk many miles to the coasts carrying whatever they could save from the flames loaded onto their backs, smoke billowing from their past lives behind them.

In 1816 the murderous thug , Sellar, was charged with culpable homicide and fire raising against forty families. He was found innocent. Of course. Witnesses were prevented from giving evidence and two sheriffs instrumental in bringing this man to trial lost their jobs. Stalin’s show trials weren’t handled with more efficiency.

In 1827 the Duchess visited the aptly named Dunrobin Castle – although they never stopped robbin’ the poor. Piling insult upon insult her lackeys went around her tenants forcing them to contribute to a gift for her. Then her tenants were squeezed to bear some of the cost of a mausoleum for the Duke. We’re still living in these times with the wealthiest people in the UK demanding tax exemptions for their estates in Scotland.

When the inevitable starvation visited these cleared families government relief was arranged in some part and the Duchess of Sutherland provided ‘charitable relief’ to some of her tenants who lost their homes and ability to feed themselves through her actions. Surprise, surprise this relief had to be paid back by her tenants. The ‘charity’ was no such thing. And if her tenants refused to pay for their own ‘charity’ they were once more evicted from their recently settled homes.

As for being the voluntary evacuation of worthless land the Highland Clearances were nothing of the kind. Certainly there was poverty and some people chose to leave Scotland to try to make a living in north America but the majority were forced to migrate – to the coasts, other parts of Scotland and abroad. Forced emigration was cruel and violent as in the kidnapping of the folk of South Uist and Barra who were manhandled onboard Atlantic-bound ships and dumped in Canada, destitute. Gaelic speakers thrown into a foreign country that spoke a different language. This was happening as late as 1851.

Thomas Faed's painting The Last of the Clan as they await to board an Atlantic-bound ship

Thomas Faed’s painting The Last of the Clan as they await to board an Atlantic-bound ship

As for the land that was forcibly cleared it became the playground for the rich. When sheep didn’t pay enough to satisfy lairds who owned vast tracts of the country they introduced deer and grouse to be slaughtered by the kind of people who get a kick out of exterminating wildlife. We still have these shooting estates across Scotland – to our shame. Now they are desolate places that once were alive with working communities and where our birds and animals fly over and stray across at their peril.

Mrs Scott’s native Sutherland was cleared of 15,000 people in the ten years from 1809 alone. At Strathnaver where the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland torched thatched roofs with flaming faggots over 200,000 acres of crofted land made up of pastures, meadows and cultivated fields worked by communities were turned into five substantial farms. Sellar bought  up some of the land he drove tenants from; terrorised by shouting men wielding sticks and guns and chased by dogs.  

Farmers were forced from fertile land to desolation and starvation and areas of depleted populations became ghost straths.

I recommend Iain Crichton Smith’s Consider the Lilies as a thoughtful and humane exploration of a callous period of British history. And when you’ve absorbed Smith’s poetic but blunt message take a look at contemporaneous accounts from the period of the Clearances but be prepared for accounts far more harrowing and as is often the case truth is stranger than fiction.

The title Consider the Lilies is taken from the Book of Luke in the Bible. 

Mackenzie’s History of the Highland Clearances 1883 read for free http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51271
Donald Macleod’s Gloomy memories can be read here – https://archive.org/stream/donaldmcleodsglo00mcleuoft/donaldmcleodsglo00mcleuoft_djvu.txt

February 20, 2019

America – The Land of Opportunity – and death. The tragic case of Peter Adam.


All life lies in graveyards and it follows that sometimes an inscription intrigues and tantalises those of us who like nothing better than to wander around a cemetery with a camera and notebook.

There is a reference in Aberdeen’s Allenvale cemetery to ‘Poor Kate.’ What lies behind this poignant phrase I have no idea but when I came across another equally mysterious reference last weekend in Monymusk graveyard in Aberdeenshire I was tempted to probe behind its veiled reference.

ERECTED
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
PETER ADAM, MASON
SON OF GEORGE ADAM, DALMADILLY
WHO MYSTERIOUSLY MET HIS DEATH
ON HIS WAY HOME FROM FOX ISLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1872
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF AGE
AND LIES BURIED
AT PALMER MASS,US
AMERICA

The inscription goes on to include Peter’s parents – George and Isabella Reid and at the base of the gravestone is a message I can’t quite manage to decipher –

Peter Adams folks stone

Homeward with longing heart he sped To parents, Brothers, Sisters dear, Home, Home unto himself he said,   ?     ?     ?     not Home in Heaven so near

What happened to Peter was this 

He had sailed to America with his friend, Peter Murray, as a twenty-two year old to work there at his trade of stonemason. Stonemasons from across Scotland and specially from the northeast frequently spent months or years in America and Canada where their skills were sought for the rush of building taking place during the years of mass immigration of the 19th century and when the north American stone industry was only getting underway and in need of experienced and skilled labour. Many Scottish migrant masons settled in Canada and America like fellow-Scot, stonemason Donald MacLeod who was part of that mass exodus of the cleared and voluntary of the 19th century and who wrote about the brutality of the United Kingdom’s treatment of Highland Scots. Peter Adam was not forced abroad but chose to go for a time and this rather serious young man planned to return home to his sweetheart.

In September 1872 Peter, carrying the 500 dollars (equivalent to over $10,000 today) he had saved over the two years working in America, set out for Boston to catch a steamer back to Britain. The evening boat from Rockland, Maine was late in arriving and Peter missed his ship to Liverpool so he took himself off to a money broker’s office where he changed all but $200 dollars into gold which he hid about his person then boarded the night express train to New York to catch a ship home from there. Then he disappeared.

A week later some 80 miles west of Boston, at the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, a body was pulled from the Quaboag River. The victim had been stabbed in the neck and his jugular vein had been severed. Discovered sewn into an undershirt were two gold sovereigns and a gold watch and in a wallet in a trouser pocket was $7 along with a luggage receipt and train ticket to New York. The man’s boots had been cut open from top to foot – obviously when he was being robbed.

Peter Murray who had worked with the other Peter at Fox Island heard of the river corpse  which had been subsequently buried as an unknown person and suspecting it was his friend, Peter Adam, he insisted the body be exhumed and was able to confirm his identity. It was presumed the Peter Adam had been followed from the money broker’s office to the train where he hid his gold in his boots. He was then attacked, murdered, his boots cut open, the gold stolen and Peter thrown into the river from one of many rail bridges en route.

Quaboag River

Quaboag River

Peter Murray sent what remained of Peter Adam’s money, a mere $150 (perhaps $50 had been taken to bury him though that seems excessive) to the young man’s father back in Aberdeenshire.

Where the Peters were working was an area known as Vinalhaven and islands known collectively as Fox Islands. The granite they produced was called Fox Island. In 1872 over 600 men were employed quarrying and cutting granite on the Fox Islands for major building works primarily in Washington, Boston and New York.

The Granites of Maine (1907)

Granite areas of Maine c. 1907

Granite quarrying was a major industry and employer – in addition to Scots employed many of its workers came from Ireland and they formed the first Fenian Circle in Maine dedicated to liberating Ireland ‘from the yoke of England and for the establishment of a free and independent government on Irish soil.’ 

Donald MacLeod mentioned earlier, a stonemason from Strathnaver in Sutherland, was also conscious of yokes – of class and he wrote about the Clearances and the impact on Highland Scots of the practices of the vicious and ruthless British ruling classes. I mean to come back to Donald in a future blog. His experiences were different from men such as  Adam and Murray who were enticed away from Scotland to provide vital service to the stone industry in north America by agents of American and Canadian quarriers and mason workshops. Some went for the adventure of visiting a different land; some went for the money to be made there. Peter Adam’s motives are not known; perhaps he was driven by a combination of the two. He certainly saved much of his earnings which would have established a solid monetary foundation for his impending marriage. He was no flighty, immature young man for he was described as serious, religious and sober and we know he was cognisant of the dangers and lawlessness around him in north American when he took the precaution of hiding his gold and cash when he began his journey home. Sadly he would never see his native Aberdeenshire again – his family or his fiancé. He was robbed and killed and the perpetrators got away with their horrible crime.

It is interesting that Peter’s family shied away from declaring that their son was brutally murdered instead they chose to be ambiguous as if shielding themselves from the terrible reality of his death and his memory from being tainted by such horrible association. They might have added the words of the parents of Kate in Allenvale when reflecting on her life – equally ambiguous but suggestive of something tragic in her life –‘Poor Kate’ – ‘Poor Peter.’

Peter Adam folks full stone

February 1, 2019

Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

This blog came about after I was contacted by a reader whose family were involved with kelp preparation in the Hebrides before being forced off their land to make a life elsewhere. What I knew about kelp could have been written on a postage stamp until I looked into it further. This is some of what I discovered.

Much of the glass going into windows in Britain’s better-off households, to protect them from the elements was, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly manufactured using kelp produced by the poorest of people in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Highland Scots engaged in this process from very young children to the elderly and infirm enjoyed none of the protection of glass forced as they were through circumstance to live outside among the rocks on the seashore during the kelp season; enduring all weather conditions and blasted by wind, rain and sea or baked under the hot sun on exposed isles and coasts. When crofters were labouring at the shore they were not looking after their crofts which provided their food and so these failed from lack of attention and in any case the seaweed they traditionally used to fertilize the land was needed to be burnt to make kelp.

kelp

Seaweed used to make kelp

Glass and that other major product of kelp, soap, were made using potash and soda produced from burned seaweed; it was also used in calico production, for bleaching, for iodine, for producing potassium alum (an agent in a host of industrial uses) and for fertilisers. Glass used for bottles and drinking glasses was less dependent on kelp than window glass up until the 1830s. That this important trade has been largely ignored by historians and economic historians is surely down to its location – rural Scotland (Wales and Ireland.) Sadly, historians and social commentators indulge their own prejudices which are passed on through their works which have shaped our knowledge of the past. There has been and still is an emphasis on urban employment over rural – urban = good and significant / rural = bad and trivial.

Kelp production contributed in no small measure to the UK’s economy, it became a valuable commodity and was a major source of employment in rural Scotland with around 60,000 involved in kelp production in the Hebrides and Orkney (a similar number in Ireland.) In any measure this is a large number of people dependent on an industry which was essential to the UK’s production of glass and soap – so much so stones were taken to beaches to encourage seaweed to grow on them. Of course essential as the kelp industry was its lynchpin, the kelpers, were ruthlessly exploited. 30 tons of seaweed was needed to produce 1 ton of kelp ash. Something in the region of 2,000 tons of kelp was produced annually in the western isles in the mid-later 18th century. A laird’s cut was around £21 per ton with local workers paid something under £2 per ton at best and 4d (4 pennies at the other end.)

What is kelp? Nowadays we refer to a type of seaweed as kelp but originally this was the name given to the alkali produced from burning seaweed. Hebridean lairds allocated their crofters a small portion of seashore when kelp production was at its height. In addition to working the land crofters and their families were put to work by their lairds producing kelp. Lairds paid their tenant crofters an annual amount for each ton of kelp and the sums paid reflected what was set by agents working for glass or soap manufacturers.

Kelping was heavy work which required many hands to cut, carry, spread to dry and burn the seaweed in stone kilns (filthy work which led to blindness among kelpers.) Kiln fires burned for about 8 hours to produce kelp, dark blue and oily, which then had to be cooled over weeks.

For crofters whose smallholdings were inland kelp production meant moving their whole family to the shore, perhaps many miles away from their homes so forcing them to live on the seashore where they laboured both day and night by torchlight. Men had to go to sea fishing during the only time available to them, in the dark, to feed their families otherwise attempting to live off the odd limpets or shellfish they could find. There are reports of people eating seaweed but they could not eat the weed they needed for kelp. Oatmeal was the staple diet of Scots but on islands where it might not be possible to grow oats, or in sufficient amounts, having this most basic foodstuff was dependent on the arrival of boats from the mainland. Then again meal wasn’t free and these people had no or virtually no cash because their landlords paid mainly in kind, with goods rather than money. To obtain meal people had to barter the little alternative food they had such as cattle or fish. Because kelp required a lot of hands to produce it families were encouraged to have more children which meant more mouths to feed which was difficult at the best of times but when the worst came families were desperate.

During the long years of the French and Napoleonic wars the British government slapped hefty import taxes on foreign goods and British manufacturing became dependent on home produced kelp so Highland lairds forced their tenants into its production. The Highlands’ youth were also in great demand by the British army because of their height and strength but those families who sacrificed their sons in the British crown’s and government’s wars discovered there was no reciprocation for as soon as the Napoleonic Wars ended the government lowered the tariff on foreign kelp with the result that imports of Barilla or Spanish kelp devastated Highland production and pushed already impoverished people to utter despair. Not everyone did badly, in fact some benefitted – the usual people – London speculators and soap manufacturers. Greed was the winner and if the people of the Hebrides had to survive eating the seaweed that once was in such demand then so be it. Reports of terrible starvation, of children with ribs jutting out and bulging eyes in emaciated faces seem not to have lost any greedy government minister or capitalist manufacturer a minutes sleep.

So there it was British manufacturers preferred foreign kelp or adopted a different type of ash made from salt. Islanders lost the little income they depended on and their lairds lost a source of income. Something had to give. Lairds gave the people away. Forced them out. Burnt them out of their homes so they couldn’t go back. Young and old were forced onto vessels heading for North America. Lairds wanted to empty the land of people so they could replace them with sheep. It’s strange how loyalty is so often a one-way street.

reginald george

Reginal George the big spender

One notorious laird who cleared islanders as if they were detritus was Reginald John James George, chief of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald, at Moidart and Benbecula. Old Etonian Reginald’s father had previously flogged off most of the Clan’s landholding while Reggie spent his time furthering the domination of Britain abroad. He wasn’t familiar with Scotland and had no understanding of his estate or its people. But in an effort to play the laird he did develop a penchant for tartanalia.

You might recall that post-Culloden those symbols of the Highlands – tartan and bagpipes -were banned in an effort to destroy the very way of life of Highlanders. Once the British army eventually abandoned hunting down Highlanders as a sport and when the British government was certain the Highlands had been well and truly crushed faux Highland chic was invented in cartoon form with the appearance of George IV in Edinburgh in 1822 resplendent in a pair of bright pink tights and a mini kilt. He was encouraged in this pantomime by Sir Walter Scott and various other hangers-on including our Etonian Reggie George. It was absentee landlords who finished the job begun by the crown and government in London to destroy traditional Highland communities bound by kinship. The cleansing of the Highlands and islands continued unabated so the resurgence of tartan was neither here nor there. Its specific context and role had been destroyed for good. Time to indulge in games and make-believe.

Reggie discovered he just adored the Highlands, in his Anglicised head. He didn’t live in the Highlands, of course. His home was in the south of England or abroad and but he remembered ‘his people’ in Moidart and Benbecula when it came to collecting their rents which he made sure he received in full irrespective of the extent ‘his people’ were starving to death. In the years of the kelp industry canny landlords based rents not on croft land value but the value of a tenant’s stretch of shore with its seaweed. Self-indulgent Reggie wasn’t doing so well on the cash front either, for he loved to mingle with the rich and powerful and found he had to spend to prove he was one of them. So, like his father, he burnt through his estate’s wealth and was forced to sell his lands in Scotland in 1838 to Gordon of Cluny. Within a year he tried to persuade Gordon to allow him to keep the estate while allowing the new owner take up the old debts and manage the property for he thought it would be lovely for him to spend the remainder of his days among his affectionately disposed tenantry, ‘whose forefathers and mine have ever been united by ties of no ordinary degree of mutual attachment.’

You couldn’t make this stuff up but with the aristocracy you don’t have to – they’re delusional every one. Reggie’s affectionate tenants on South Uist and Benbecula saw him for what he was a nasty and grasping man who cared nothing for them. When the possibility of Reggie living on Benbecula was broached concerns were raised over his safety from his ‘clansmen.’ Such was their regard for this waster.

The tenants fared no better with John Gordon of Cluny; not only considered to be the richest man in Britain but a thoroughly nasty piece of work and not one who accepted criticism. Gordon’s takeover of Reggie’s estate was part of a long game, for worthless as they were to him then he saw a profit eventually. His other landholdings included tracts in Aberdeenshire, Banff, Nairn and Midlothian as well as the Hebrides but by 1848 Cluny’s Hebridean investment was costing him as he had to pay out nearly £8,000 in famine relief to his wretched tenants.

Another nasty piece of work, Patrick Sellar, the brute and factor who enthusiastically carried out the instructions of George Granville Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth the Duke and Countess of Sutherland. He was the willing hand that carried out many Highland Clearances evicting thousands of families, burning their cottages and establishing large sheep farms. Evicted tenants resettled in coastal crofts were forced to learn to fish and process seaweed. He tried to buy Clan Ranald lands on South Uist, Benbecula and Barra for his employer.

These people were all of a kind. Callously indifferent to human suffering and voraciously greedy. In 1851 Gordon of Cluny began to forcibly evict all his tenants to rid himself of responsibility for providing them with basic relief and with the prospect that sheep would better augment his already obscene level of wealth.

kilns on orkney

Kelp kilns on Orkney

In August 1851 the folk of South Uist were forced to attend a meeting at Loch Boisdale and from there they were grabbed and manhandled onto Atlantic-bound boats like so much cattle by the laird’s lackeys – his factors, estate agents and police. Angus Johnstone was handcuffed and forced onto the ship. Others ran in all directions to find hiding places so desperate were they to stay at home. In one incident a man hid in an Arran boat and was protected by the ship’s master who threatened to ‘split the skull’ of the first man to board his boat. This man survived this particular sweep of people. Most of those who ran were hunted down by men and dogs and dragged onboard vessels. Girls of twelve and fourteen from Barra evaded their persecutors and so the ships sailed to North America without them but with the rest of the family onboard – perhaps to a new life or perhaps to succumb to plague or smallpox during the crossing.

The venerable John Gordon of Cluny was, of course, a scoundrel. His promises were worthless. He told tenants he would pay their passage to Quebec where they would be provided with jobs and land. Reluctantly he paid the ship fees when compelled to by the government but reneged on the guarantees of work and land. So the islanders who left Scotland impoverished found themselves in unfamiliar Canada with nothing. This was no isolated example.

A Canadian newspaper, the Dundas Warder, reported on 2 October 1851
‘We have been pained beyond measure for some time past, to witness in our streets so many unfortunate Highland emigrants, apparently destitute of any means of subsistence, and many of them sick from want and other attendant causes.’

The richest man in Britain was a barbarian who brought incalculable misery, desperation and death to Highland Scots. Add the fate of the cleared people of Scotland to all those other acts of cruelty imposed on helpless communities throughout the British Empire and the slave trade and you have a large slice of British history that is too often glossed over for there is reluctance in many quarters to accept the immense harm created by the most powerful elements in the UK to the most helpless around the world, not least within the British Isles.

Next time you spread toothpaste containing kelp on your toothbrush or sprinkle dried kelp on your salad spare a moment to think of the people whose lives were destroyed by exploitative landlords who forced them to produce kelp when it was worth big money and speculators and the government who threw them to the wolves.

An excellent source is: The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny. James A. Stewart, Jr.
Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Vol. 18/19 (1998/1999), pp. 205-226

It can be read online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557342?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Shore ownership under udal law in Orkney and Shetland

January 28, 2019

Death of a Pauper

Guest blog by Textor

In June 1850 David Wright, chartist, post office messenger, shoemaker, poet and it seems a police informer, raised a legal action in Aberdeen Sheriff Court. As lowly as the local Sheriff Court might have been the radical democrat was in a sense challenging the might of the British state. His beef was with James Wallace, Inspector of Poor for St Nicholas Parish, one of the many men across Britain who had been given the job of relieving, organising and disciplining the country’s poor.

poors house

The poet’s mother Jean Duncan had recently died. Burial clothing, coffin and interment cost her sons 25 shillings. The poet claimed that St Nicholas Parish, in the person of James Wallace, was due to cover the cost of the funeral. It transpired that Jean had been on the city’s poor roll for over ten years which meant she had been entitled to, and received support from the city. For most of her time on the roll she had been eligible for what was called out-door relief: a meagre amount of entitlement was given while she stayed at what was her home; undoubtedly a poor soul in a poor house.

Circumstances changed about March 1849 out-door relief was withdrawn and she was sent to the Poor’s House on Nelson Street. This recently opened institution became home cum prison for women, men and children from across Aberdeen. We don’t know why Jean Duncan decided the Poor House was not for her; more than likely having been forced out of her own home and losing the degree of freedom that went with it she found institutional discipline at Nelson Street too much and perhaps the mix of residents did not suit her. Whatever the case she abandoned the Poor’s House within three weeks. Sadly for her the rules of the game meant Jean was no longer eligible for poor relief. She lost her official designation of “pauper” and with it any help from the parish.

So it was Jean fell back on the little that her family could provide until her death in the summer of 1850. If the unfortunate woman had died a pauper then the cost of burial could have been covered by parish funds although with the Anatomy Act in operation corpses of any “unclaimed” poor dead were made available to city surgeons for dissection. A “guardian” of Old Machar’s poor put it this way – many prejudices in regard to this subject existed in the minds of some people. Easy for this representative of the middle class to say, he was unlikely to have a family member dispatched to the anatomist and then buried in a pauper’s grave. It’s worth bearing in mind that a pauper’s body could lie unclaimed not because a family lacked feeling or consented to anatomising the corpse but simply because the weight of poverty prevented what was seen as a more fitting interment. Poor’s House inmates almost certainly knew and feared the Anatomy Act and this might have been in Jean Duncan’s thoughts when she decide to go back home.

Sheriff William Watson presided over the case. Here was a man of some local and national standing who was behind the introduction of Industrial Schools across Britain; institutions which by removing the poor’s children from the streets cleared the city of juvenile beggars and “delinquents” and at the same time provided a modicum of education along with opportunities to learn trades. Children were fed, and where necessary clothed. And so streets were cleared of troublesome poor, crime was contained and disaffected children were provided with some sense of their worth and place in industrial Britain. Sheriff Watson in other words was sympathetic towards them and hoped to integrate them into the ways of the Victorian world.

However, as much as the Sheriff was keen to alleviate conditions experienced by some of the city’s poor poet David Wright was treated less fortunately than Aberdeen’s ex-delinquents. Poor Inspector James Wallace argued that having left the Poor House Wright’s mother, Jean Duncan, effectively removed herself from the roll and thus ceased to be a pauper though the Inspector’s action seemed to contradict this when he arranged for a physician to visit the ailing women at her son’s house. This might well have been an act of pure charity by Wallace rather than, as Wright argued, an indication that Jean was still seen as under the care of the Poor Law. The poet’s legal agent explained that he and his brothers had pinched themselves and go into debt in their efforts to support their mother. Sympathy was not forthcoming. Inspector Wallace held against the Wright brothers the fact that on their mother’s death the body was not handed over to the Poor’s House. The legal tide favoured authority, more so when the Sheriff was told that David Wright earned 12 shillings per week as Post Office messenger. Watson ruled that regardless of how the men pinched themselves to perform the last offices in doing this they had been doing no more than was their duty and that they had no call on the parish funds.

rowlandson anatomy

Rowlandson’s Dr William Hunter’s Dissecting Room

The foundation stone of Aberdeen’s new Poor’s House had been laid with Masonic ceremony in April 1848. According to merchant Baillie James Forbes it heralded a new morality where poverty was not seen as a crime. Forbes was a liberal free-trade man and well aware that the competitive trade cycles of capitalism meant periods of unemployment for some with consequent poverty; what Forbes characterised as those unavoidable contingencies which necessarily arise from the peculiar structure of society. Unfortunate, but not a crime. As enthusiastic as he was for free-trade the good Baillie had no reluctance in promoting state intervention in management of the poor. How far this was driven by his sense of it being morally correct is a moot point. More certain is that as a Baillie (magistrate) he was alive to the need for mitigation and control of the worst social and political effects of capitalist commerce, especially so with the burgeoning of the town’s working class. He was unperturbed by the provisions of the New Poor Law Act of 1845 which, according to its critics threatened to bankrupt ratepayers and create a utopia for rogues and vagabonds. For Baillie Forbes the Act was the Magna Charta of the poor in Scotland.

Landowners in the County were aghast at the demands which threatened to be placed on their well-filled purses, but rather than admitting their simple greed they argued that the central weakness in compulsory assessment and state-managed poor relief (as opposed to Church and private philanthropy) was that it could only undermine the “natural” morality of the Scottish poor: the principle of self-dependence. In its place, they said, would be an indifference to industry and careful living.

Baillie Forbes would have none of this. He recognised that with proper organisation, sufficient funds and strict discipline the Poor’s House had every opportunity for engrafting industrial habits on “deserving” cases admitted to it. Of course part of engrafting meant the poor were threatened with “indoor” relief; a threat which promoters hoped would ensure the more indolent and profligate able-bodied persons looking for charity dropped off the poor’s roll, in effect forcing them to work for a living.

sheriff watson

Sheriff Watson

The great and the good who gathered that spring day in 1848 could not but be enthusiastic at the prospect of efficient management of an element of the capitalist social world. Positive feelings of Christian benevolence came from the prospect of providing accommodation, medical care and food for the disabled, the infirm elderly, orphans and even for some able-bodied who were willing to submit to the demands of House rules for short periods of time. Beyond this they hoped their social engineering would go some way to create greater stability and safer political world; at least for commercial and professional classes. After laying the foundation stone some sixty “gentlemen” trooped back down King Street to the Town Hall to partake of a splendid entertainment . . .[where] the wines and fruits were of the most recherché and excellent description. This small feast was provided by Baillie Forbes..

The convivial assembly warmed by the philanthropic glow of the occasion and no doubt buoyed by the wine and fruits on offer listened as Provost George Thompson, local shipping magnate, regaled them with his thoughts on the revolutions rocking continental Europe: dynasties that had stood for ages were being overthrown in a day . . . the whole of Europe was in commotion. However, Britain, he declared, had nothing to fear, his homeland was firm and secure. In her sound and well-balanced constitution there was security for the throne, and protection for the lives and liberties of the people.

Of course, liberty and security for the poor was more circumscribed than that available to the men gathered round the table at the Town Hall. Those forced by circumstance to enter the Poor’s House enjoyed the dubious liberty of being able to offer their corpses to anatomists at Marischal College; a freedom which I suspect was seldom exercised by the men fervently toasting the health of Queen and country. Jean Duncan had briefly experience the liberties and benefits of the Poor’s House and was clearly unimpressed. She was accorded the right, however, to take herself to her son’s home and there experience the rechercé of poverty. Poet David Wright, and police informer or not, recognised that freedom was hinged on wealth and property and that the “working bee” – the working man or woman was at the base of the pyramid supporting all exploiters above. As he put it,

Come then arise–for once be wise,
And imitate the bees;
And all unite in Freedom’s fight,
And spoil the sons of ease.

robber barons

January 17, 2019

Scots Outlanders and their Integration into Native American Life

lachlan

Lachlan MacGillivray

It’s fairly well known that some Scots who turned up on the shores of America during the early years of European migration whether from choice, sanctuary or coercion integrated with Native Americans. Among this group were MacGillivrays from Dunmaglass in Inverness-shire who married into Creek Indians and proved duplicitous, becoming instrumental in the re-allocation of land in the years before and after the American Revolution.

The first male MacGillivrays to arrive first established themselves as traders and then as plantation owners and slave dealers. They were also involved in the indentured servant trade – some possibly being taken to the colonies as indentured servants and freed after years of servitude.

Highlanders such as MacGillivrays were among the first European migrants to cross the Atlantic and undoubtedly some were enticed by the likes of Essex man James Oglethorpe who was recruiting settler-soldiers to protect British crown interests in Georgia and resist Spanish and French ambitions beyond Florida and Alabama. What a nasty and destructive concept colonialism is.

One of the MacGillivrays to arrive from the Highlands was Lachlan MacGillivray (the name later contracted to McGillivray or M’Gillivray.) Fresh off the ship Prince of Wales in 1735 he, along with women and children, settled in Georgia. They called their settlement New Inverness (later its name changed to Darien after Darien in Panama the 17th century Scottish colony crushed by England’s government and merchant class.)

A rather fanciful tale of Lachlan MacGillivray’s life in America is taken from a source provided at the end of this blog –

“’A Scottish boy, of sixteen years of age, who had entered a ship in Dunmaglass and had arrived without accident at the Port of Charleston.’ It was here that he set foot upon American soil.
Pickett goes on to describe him for us:
He only had a shilling in his pocket, a suit of cloths upon his back, a red head, a stout frame, and honest heart, a fearless disposition, and cheerful spirits, which seldom became depressed.

Lachlan had come to this country around 1735 and was able to get along with everyone. He had lived in the forest with the Indians and he had enjoyed his life. He had been happily married and had raised five children here. They were all grown and married and had children of their own. Heartache and strife came to them and it does everyone.

His family in Scotland has always fought for the King of England. Lachlan had uncles who gave their lives in the battles of Culloden. When the Revolutionary War started he helped the British with supplies. The people, up until that time, had truly been free. However, the Indians resented the white people from the outside, coming in and taking their land. Lachlan McGillivray was called a Tory.

The state of Georgia had put Lachlan on the top of the list of Loyalists who were to be killed. He, at that time, deeded his land to his children and left what money he could before going back to Scotland. By this time Sehoy [his wife] had passed.”

sehoy, wife of lachlan and mother of william weatherford

Sehoy, wife of Lachlan and later mother of William Weatherford

Lachlan MacGillivray was to become one of the biggest plantation owners in the south, a slave importer and a member of the Georgia Assembly. Straight off the Prince of Wales Lachlan MacGillivray began trading along the Chattahoochee River (that runs through today’s Georgia and Alabama) dealing with Native Americans, mostly from the Muscogee, and French traders – and he established a string of trading posts. He married Sehoy Marchand, daughter of a French officer and Sehoy, a Muscogee Indian princess. Lachlan MacGillivray opposed American independence and at the outbreak of the American Revolution he abandoned his family and returned to Scotland at which point his property was seized by the federal government.

alexander mcg

Hipothel Mico said to have been murdered by Alexander McGillivray for calling him a usurper

One of Lachlan and Sehoy’s children was Alexander. Born in America into his mother’s Wind Tribe, his Muscogee name was Hoboi-Hili-Mico (Good Child King.) This tribe was organised as a matrilineality with kinship traced through the female line – regardless of the husband’s family. However, Alexander was educated at Scots Presbyterian schools and drawn into European culture rather than that of his Creek kin’s. In 1783 Alexander became chief of his mother’s Creek nation but he chose to live in the white migrant’s style in a permanent log house with a chimney surrounded by orchards which alienated parts of his Wind family. As chief, in 1784, he came to an agreement with Spain over 12,000 km of land occupied by the Muscogee while at the same time he was negotiating with Scottish migrant fur traders and slave dealers, Panton, Leslie & Company.

Panton, Leslie & Company had a long pedigree with varying personnel. Traders in the Bahamas, British East Florida and the southern American states – their interests began in the usual way, with animal pelts. Merchants from northeast Scotland – Panton was from Aberdour near Fraserburgh on the Moray coast. He was introduced to the trade while working as a clerk to John Gordon from Aberdeenshire who was a hugely successful trader in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Another member of the company, Thomas Forbes, was John Gordon’s nephew. Thomas and his brother, John, were sons of James and Sarah Gordon Forbes from the County of Banff. John who was christened in 1767 near Gamrie died in Matanzas, Cuba in 1823 where he ran a sugar mill.

Panton’s Company was much involved in the triangular trade – buying, selling and transporting slaves and goods (rum, sugar, salt, indigo, firearms, gunpowder, lead bullets, hides, cotton, tobacco, rice and, principally, men, women and children) between the west coast of Africa, Europe and America (and West Indies.) Panton and Thomas Forbes set up their company in Savannah to cash in on the great influx of white migrants crossing the Atlantic and pouring into the southern states. Speculatively the company bought up huge tracts of land in Carolina and Georgia for European settlements.

Like Lachlan MacGillivray these men were loyalists to the British crown so when the American Revolution broke out they had their lands confiscated. Retreating to British Florida Panton’s company re-established itself despite Spain’s grip on much of Florida and prospered trading with the Spanish there. It was here they came into contact with John Leslie. The three along with a Charles Maclatchy bought up thousands of acres of land and 250 slaves to work mainly on plantations.

By the 1780s Panton, Leslie & Company’s headquarters transferred to the Bahamas while retaining their American activities. By 1795 the company dominated the southeast’s massive fur trade between Memphis and New Orleans. They linked up with Alexander McGillivray regarding his position within the Creek peoples as an advantage to them in the area.

Ruthless and ambitious Panton’s company not only traded legally though disreputably but was not averse to outright illegality as smugglers and content to practise every nasty business scam on the go such as price fixing and manipulating markets. The association with McGillivray paid off and Panton was appointed the official trader for the Creek Indians.

panton, leslie and company

Panton, Leslie and Company HQ

At Panton’s death in 1801, the company was taken over by the Forbes brothers, John and Thomas. In 1803 they were joined by John Leslie. Their main sphere of operation was between Georgia and the Mississippi with the company acquiring huge tracts of land from Creek and Seminole tribes – the Forbes Purchase comprised 1.4 million acres in West Florida between 1804 and 1812. John Forbes along with later business partners in West Florida, James and John Innerarity*, assumed Spanish citizenship and names. John Forbes became Juan Forbes.

*John Innerarity who was a brother-in-law to William Panton would become a Vice Consul of France at Pensacola, Florida.

trail of tears

The Trail of Tears

During the War of 1812 British troops looted the Innerarity trading post and freed slaves. More of an annoyance than anything else the company continued – buying up land. Private land purchases were challenged in the courts and in 1823 when it was established that only the federal government could acquire territory from Native Americans not private citizens land prices dropped from lack of competition meaning less money was paid in compensation to local tribes. In the 1830 Native American people were cleared to west of the Mississippi River – the Indian Removal Act – the Trail of Tears saw the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, original Cherokee Nations all forcibly moved off their lands by Andrew Jackson’s Act. All of this very similar to the Clearances in the Scottish Highlands and interestingly as more recent history has shown us – in the likes of Israel –  the very people who suffer under repression sometimes go on to impose almost identical acts of cruelty on others.

Alexander McGillivray was a British crown loyalist, like his father. He was instrumental in persuading President George Washington of the need for the government to take over  Native affairs instead of the practice of ad hoc treaties made between individual tribes and individual states. The resulting Treaty of New York (1790) gave the government’s War Department management of Indian strategies.

The first treaty made after this involved the removal of illegal white settlers from Indian territory and the handing back of refugee black slaves sheltered and living with Native Americans. Fingers were pointed at McGillivray for his duplicity over this issue but what the Creeks did not know at the time was McGillivray was employed on a substantial salary as a brigadier general with the government – a role that gave him with trading benefits and he was compensated for his father’s confiscated plantations. Cash rich, McGillivray setup three plantations of his own worked by slaves. And it may surprise no-one that the government did not turn any illegal settlers off Creek lands. Two years later wheeler and dealer McGillivray renounced the Treaty of New York so he could deal with the Spanish government then occupying Louisiana. Sometime known as the Emperor of the Creeks and Seminoles, Alexander was appointed Superintendent General of the Creek Nation by the King of Spain. As chief of his Muscogee people Alexander McGillivray was at the same time being paid by both the US and Spanish authorities to work on behalf of both countries.

Alexander McGillivray died on 17 February 1793 at Pensacola, Florida and was buried in William Panton’s garden until his remains were removed to Choctaw Bluff on the Alabama River. Several times married – to Creek and European women – he was regarded as a polygamist back in Scotland but his other activities were far worse.

weatherford surrenders to jackson

Weatherford surrenders to Jackson

Other members of the McGillivray clan were as involved with Native American affairs such as kinsmen William Weatherford and William McIntosh. Weatherford aka Lamochattee or Red Eagle was the Creek chief who led the Red Sticks’ offensive against the US in 1813-14, the Red Stick War, on the opposite side from his cousin, William McIntosh, Taskanugi Hatke or White Warrior who, like Alexander McGillivray supported European ways over Creek. British and Spanish traders supplied weapons to the Red Sticks to defy the expansion of the United States into their colonial interests. It resulted in defeat for the Creek confederacy with it having to give up 21 million acres of land in now Georgia and Alabama to the US government and was one in the eye for those Creeks who fought on the government’s side. The Cherokee Nation also lost vast areas of hunting grounds as well. McIntosh’s behaviour was regarded as treacherous by some among the Upper Creeks who killed him in 1825.

murder of mcintosh

The murder of McIntosh

The bulk of activities carried out by Scots traders such as the MacGillivrays in these early years involved trapping and shooting animals for their pelts but weapons, too and, of course, people – men, women and children kidnapped and trafficked were fair game as well as their exploitation of Native Americans who were paid a pittance for big profit goods or given cheap items in exchange to boost profits made on the European markets.

The extent of slaughter taking place in the early years of European immigration into America was staggering. Beavers for example – one beaver pelt was exchanged for one metal axe head in north America while that same beaver skin was worth dozens of axe head back in Europe. Around 1720 a beaver pelt cost around 5 shillings in Britain. By 1740 the price had doubled and that trend continued. The demand for felt hats made from beaver pelts was insatiable until beaver populations dwindled so much availability of skins was depleted. Profits were vast and wealth came fast for those European colonists who controlled trade.
fur hat industry

The Scots mentioned don’t scratch the surface of those who integrated with Native Americans. Many while born into native societies used their advantages e.g. could speak and write English to influence and in some cases sell-out their own people, trade away land, establish permanent farming and private ownership of animals as well as built and land property and, of course, deal and own people – slaves.

Unlike their brother, Alexander, Lachlan MacGillivray’s other children Sophia and Jean (Jeanne) did not receive anything from their father’s will. His estate was divided between his son Alexander and others from the MacGillivray clan.

It has been a matter of some conjecture whether or not Lachlan MacGillivray supported the Jacobite cause back in Scotland. We know he sided with the British crown and government against the American Revolution – as did many a Jacobite. As we’ve seen, for his actions he had lands confiscated in America by the newly formed US government and analogous to London’s German Hanoverian royalty’s land grab of estates belonging to Jacobite supporters in Scotland.

culloden macgillivray

We do know that MacGillivrays, as part of the Chattan Confederation, were Jacobites although their chief was an officer with the British Black Watch. His wife, Lady Anne Farquharson-MacKintosh, however, rallied the Chattans to the Jacobite cause and put Alexander MacGillivray (a different one) in command of the clan at Culloden. He was killed in battle along with many of his fellow-clansmen and boys. There is a simple memorial stone to the MacGillivrays on the Culloden battlefield and another at Dunlichity in Strathnairn, the mustering point of clan MacGillivray. A wall there that bore marks from clansmen sharpening their swords before battle was recently destroyed when a vehicle crashed into it. Such is the fragility of historical evidence.

Just as Jacobites fled Scotland for American earlier in the 18th century so Lachlan MacGillivray when he abandoned his family crossed the Atlantic the other way round, returning to Dunmaglass near Inverness with as much of his fortune as he could muster. He died in 1799 aged around 80 years. His half-Creek daughter Jean married a French officer who fought for Napoleon and his other daughter, Sophia, was married to a Benjamin Durant and is suspected to have been killed at the Fort Mims massacre. Peter A Brannon wrote in a newspaper article on August 2, 1931. “It was during the siege of Savannah in 1792 that Sophia, her husband and little boy, Lachlan Durant, went with her father to say good-bye. When the city surrendered to the Americans, she said good-bye to her father through a flood of tears. Lachlan sailed back to Scotland with the British soldiers.”

In an already confusing tale Sehoy Marchand, Lachlan’s wife, had a daughter, also Sehoy, with another man. This Sehoy married a Weatherford whose son William was Red Eagle who is mentioned above.

red eagle

Red Eagle

Confused? You should be.
Sources as promised –

 

https://www.bernethy-eby-scribner.com/getperson.php?personID=I616715240&tree=Eby

https://www.lib.lsu.edu/sites/default/files/sc/findaid/1271m.pdf

December 30, 2018

Jobs for the boys – trade unions for the few not the many in a caveman’s world

 

David Miliband’s obscenely large salary of £425,000 as president of International Rescue is never far from the headlines. Some people think it a bit rich that a former Labour Party politician who represented the working class constituency of South Shields should be milking it big time from a charity but according to Huffington Post UK, Miliband doesn’t just rely on his charity retainer but as a public speaker he commands up to £20,000 a pop. Oh, and in case you were feeling that poor David doesn’t get the remuneration he deserves this Labour man of the people has or has had several other roles with major organisations to boost that deep, deep pocket of his.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Miliband
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilateral_Commission

As usual I digress. This blog is not about lucky boy Miliband but high earners, mainly men, who represent people who can only enjoy such excessive remuneration in day dreams – oh, and are associated with the party which claims to represent the working class – the Labour Party. All of them lucky boys. Very lucky boys in a lucky boys’ world.

Trade unions might be seen as levers expected to iron out inequalities between men and women but they’ve been fiddling around, whistling, staring into the great blue yonder and rolling their eyes for around a hundred years. And are still at it.

In 2018 everyone was celebrating women winning the franchise a century before. Trade Unionists were saying – quite right, women deserve equality with us men. Saying. Not doing.

Women got the vote some innocents believe because of the sterling work they did filling in for men during the Great War (and not because the government was terrified of women returning to their militant activities that got under the skin of politicians before the war.) Certainly women had proved themselves to be useful as well as decorative. Well, strike me down guv’nor.

And once the war was over trade unions (male) demonstrated the extent of their support for working women by supporting the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, 1919 which ensured that so-called dilution of skilled labour – i.e. women and unskilled men who took over industrial production between 1914 and 1918 was rectified – by chucking women out of their jobs.

It's a man's world in the land of trade unions
Men were in charge of trade unions. Women were expected to know their place.

An 1891 report on the increasing number of women workers concluded they were a threat to men’s employment – ‘an intolerable intrusion’ and ‘his (man’s) only chance of escape from the evil effects of their relentless sweep is to be found in directing and controlling them’ (women that is.)

Some men, perhaps understandably for there is no question male workers were cruelly exploited, spent not a little of their scandalously low earnings in bars –

‘Aberdeen factory workers toil on from morn till night for a beggarly wage of 6s and 7s a week, and in Dundee I found that mothers and their families went to the mills to earn equally miserable sums, while fathers compulsorily exercised their energies on the street and voluntarily in the public-house.’

Women were less inclined to put their drink habit before feeding their bairns and it did not go unnoticed that not a few of these men were in trade unions and ‘could have lifted a finger to help their wives and children by demanding better wages for women’ but didn’t.

Influential trade unionist Tom Mann in 1894 spoke of women workers as industrial slaves but despite such recognition trades unions largely ignored the plight of women workers. The excuse went something along the lines of men were too concerned with their own difficulties (to support the least protected of workers.) 

In 1919 Aberdeen Trades and Labour Council voted against equal pay for men and women teachers on grounds that women’s work was less valuable than men’s. And, anyhow, women needed less money than a man for invariably she only had herself to keep whereas a man had a family.

‘That was the only reason she received less wages,’ explained W. King.

I think King was, himself, a teacher. He went on to say that the 70% of women teachers were responsible for lowering the salaries of male teachers! It didn’t occur to the intellectually challenged Mr King that if he supported equal pay there would be no lowering of salaries.

Along with other Trades Councils, Aberdeen’s, failed women. In 1920 a well-attended meeting of Aberdeen women workers agreed women had no voice through the trade union movement.

Ten years later in 1930 women campaigned to be able to work in all aspects of boot and shoe manufacture and receive equal pay but they were beaten down by the union by 124 votes to 8. No ifs or buts in that vote.

Another decade on and Scottish women were still having to demand equal pay. In a classic case of shiftiness the unions said they weren’t able to establish the principle of equal pay for similar work but were directing their efforts towards that end. No hurry boys, take your time, won’t you.

Thirty years later —–in 1970 – 1970!! unions were still doggedly anti-women workers insisting that equal pay had to be negotiated between unions and employers. The pay gender pay gap meant around 25% lower incomes for women.

British women were among the lowest paid in western Europe but male-centred unions still regarded equality of pay for women as a threat to men’s (their own earnings.)

Another thirty years plus – nearer forty years later and women in Glasgow were still waiting redress for decades of under-payments. Other local authorities had paid up but the city controlled for decades by the Labour Party dragged its heels. Not just dragged its heels but spent millions of pounds of public money – I repeat £millions – fighting the women’s action through the courts.

When at long last Labour was kicked out of Glasgow by the SNP a great clamour was heard from Labour politicians up and down the UK in support of the underpaid women workers. Cynical and hypocritical? No question.

And most of today’s trade unions 100 plus years from their inception? – surely now women have found equality and opportunities to stick their fingers into the profitable pies of grossly outrageous salaries enjoyed by union leaders? Hardly at all, it seems. Well, what a surprise.

There are women union leaders. A few. The General Secretary of the TUC is a woman. Frances O’Grady enjoys a big Desperate Dan sized pie amounting to around £152,365. She is the TUC’s first female general secretary in 144 years. “We like to take our time,” she says. You can say that again.

Being in the national leadership of unions affiliated to the TUC has its perks. Below is a mere snapshot of a long list of General Secretaries, their pies and gender. 

Grahame Smith’s salary as General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress is not easy to find, impossible for me, but The Herald did have a piece that suggested he earned around £70,000 for his STUC stint plus remuneration from sitting on the boards of other government-linked organisations.
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16599644.stuc-general-secretary-in-row-over-extra-three-jobs-on-top-of-union-role/

Accord: led by Ged Nichols, a bloke although its membership is over 71% female (2015 fig.) 98% of Accord shop floor reps are women but higher up the union ladder only 15% of its regional officers are and a mere 4% of its national officers. Man at the top Ged Nichols earns c. £140,000.

ASLEF: General Secretary Mick Whelan struggles on a paltry pie of c. £118,000.

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union is led by another man, Ronnie Draper

Road Transport Union General Secretary is Robert Monks

Airline pilots union BALPA has Brian Strutton in the pilot seat earning c. £140,000.

77% women make up the membership of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists but nailing the post of General Secretary is Mr Steve Jamieson.

The GMB union made up of 46% women is led by two blokes – Tim Roache and Paul Kenny who together earned £263,000 in 2016.

A whopping 78% of UNISON, the public Service Union, are women but two blessed men are in charge – Dave Prentis and President Gordon McKay. Prentis gets something in the region of £117,000. I tried to find McKay’s salary but UNISON’s website didn’t have that information. It did include a table of proposed salary structures for the plebs in the union with the highest as far as I could see around £42,000. Last year McKay spoke about the union’s success in raising the wages of members, ‘£33 a week makes a real difference in people’s lives,’ he said. It certainly does for those on the lowest pay grades. What’s £117,000 divided by 52? £200 a week is even better but that’s for the few not the many.

Untitled

‘A Woman’s Place is in the CWU’ – Communications Workers Union (CWU) claims according to its leaflet which features lots and lots of pictures of women members. The CWU is led by a bloke, Dave Ward

USDAW, the union of shop, distributive and allied workers based in England and with a membership that includes 58% women, is led by, you guessed it another bloke, Paddy Lillis. Is it just luck men hold these top positions?

Christine Blower of the English teacher union NUT gets a canny £142,000. Christine is a woman. That’s a lot of money. Not many teachers get close to that amount over their careers.

Unite union General Secretary is Len McCluskey. No idea what he earns. Can imagine.

‘More than half the female officers in Britain’s biggest union claim to have been bullied or sexually harassed by fellow officials or members in their workplaces, a leaked internal study has found.

The report about the treatment and working conditions of female representatives at Unite also concluded that a quarter of employed officers believe allegations of bullying were not handled well by the union when they were reported.

Titled Women Officers in Unite, the report cited an official who said she felt increasingly isolated at work because of male officials talking among themselves. “I have to sit among colleagues who refer to our secretaries as the girls … [They] think it is correct to refer to black people as coloured, talk about chairmen, refer to women as a piece of skirt,’ one female officer said.

The old-boys network is alive and kicking unfortunately in Unite, where it is who you know and where they come from that matters.’
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/02/unite-union-female-officers-bullying-harassment-internal-report
(2 October 2016)

Misogyny has always been part and parcel of the trade union movement and evidently still is.

Most trade unions are based in England. Here’s a Scottish one – the teachers’ union the EIS whose president is A WOMAN, Alison Thornton, which is right and proper given over 77% of teachers are female but the EIS spokesman never off the telly is its General Secretary, Larry Flanagan. Flanagan earns just shy of £100,000.

The trade unions have proved to be nice little earners for many male members and a lucrative career structure.

Irrespective of whether a union represents a mainly female work force the tendency has been and remains for a man to lead it. Union leadership tends to be a boy’s perk. Women’s earnings and working conditions have always been of secondary concern to the unions they pay into.

il_570xN.1506270871_a5xf[1]

Trade unions emerged to defend workers’ rights – to protect skills and standards and the delineation of work – for workers read male workers. Women’s skills were regarded as inferior to men’s even when they were comparable such as seamstress/tailor; domestic cook/chef. The skill involved in knitting garments is never seen as comparable to, say, joining two pieces of stick together to make a stool. During the world wars women proved their abilities were every bit as good as men’s but that made no difference to attitudes towards women and their earnings. Indeed the work carried out by women during the World Wars intensified male unionists suspicion of women in the workplace (they couldn’t really argue anymore that women diluted skills) and the male-dominated unions worked hand-in-glove with industry managements to ensure protection for male employees. For long women trade unionists were not exactly welcomed or taken seriously and isn’t that still the case according to the Guardian piece above?

In recent times it is claimed that whenever women enter what has been regarded as a male preserve pay levels tend to decline. Women have traditionally been equated with low pay – even when they stepped into ‘man’s work’ during the First World War munitions workers were paid less than promised and a century of trade unions has done little to eradicate this state of affairs. As far back as 1918 Gertrude Tuckwell, a trade unionist, said men’s and women’s interests are identical. Don’t think that message got across to many of her male comrades.

In 2013 the TUC sent out questionnaires on equality issues to all 54 TUC affiliated trade unions. Only 36 returned them such was their concern with equality. The TUC site that explained this had a link to further details on equality and unions but unfortunately the link doesn’t work.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-tuc/equality-issues/equality-audit/equality-audit-2014-improving-representation-and

Trade unions have been self-protective and paternalistic. They have been complicit in keeping women workers’ pay low and in creating jobs for the boys. Just like David Miliband with his eye-watering extravagant salary paid by a charity UK trade union leaders who talk about workers’ rights and negotiate pay claims for their members, the many, increasingly look like the few whose earnings are approaching stratospheric levels with most of them earning in excess of £100,000. And for trade union leaders read mainly male, mate.

Jobs for the boys. Surely is.

 

Me? I’ve always recommended joining a union and have been a member of the EIS and Unison (but I withdrew from paying the political levy to the Labour Party.)

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/if-all-men-are-born-free-how-is-it-that-all-women-are-born-slaves-trade-unions-and-womens-inequality

November 13, 2018

Plastic Food

 

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Where I live we are surrounded by fields of grazing sheep and cattle and I doubt if any one of them would willingly swap their lush grass for a diet of human excrement, cement, Fido scraped off a road following an encounter with a truck or pelleted plastic. Of course farmed animals have no choice over what they eat and whatever the farmer dishes up is largely down to economics. Grass is good although what the grass is sprayed with is another matter entirely.

Gibberellic acid sprayed grass grows faster and extends the grazing season and research has shown that cattle raised on grass produce better milk – milk from grass-fed cattle is higher in omega 3 fatty acids, linoleic acid and vaccenic acid. Who’d have thunk that doing things the way nature intended was the best way to raise stock? 

Quality in = quality out. If humans are what we eat then so, too, are animals. Spray their food with herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers and where do you think that lovely cocktail goes? Into whatever eats it, of course. When the initial consumer becomes the food it goes into consumer number two. That said, grass is better than much else that has been and is fed to beasts.

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Food safety in the UK has been regulated by the EU. Goodness knows how slack livestock feed regulations will become once Brexit is implemented. From my reading just about anything and everything goes in, or has gone in, to animal food – ground up corpses of other animals, what’s scraped off roads and shovelled out of hen deep litters.

I don’t farm but I do feed my pet cat and goodness knows his pet food sometimes smells so awful even he won’t eat it.

Unlike cats cattle are herbivores – they graze – on grass or seaweed but there are people who try to prove this wrong – I’ve no idea the word for animals who eat plastic or cement – let’s just call them factory farmed. And don’t panic. It was a phase that’s passed – I believe – but in the world of food production never say never.

Experimenting with food for livestock hasn’t stopped. Many will remember when those who are paid to know about animal nutrition thought it swell to make swill out of dead beasts – turn herbivores into carnivores and cannibals. Mad cow disease was the result. It should have been called mad food producer disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a horrible disease. Recently there was an outbreak near where I live but when BSE hit the headlines in the 1990s a Tory government minister, John Gummer, publicly fed his daughter with a beef burger to prove the disease could not spread to humans. BSE variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) was shortly after shown to be able to spread to humans.

There are controls but cattle now are fed on cattle. Pigs are fed mashed up pigs. Hens are fed on rendered hens. And so on. Animal feed contains all sorts: road kill, dead horses, cats and dogs. The name of the pet food you buy might be more literal than you imagine.

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Cutting costs, disregarding logic and glib reassurances do not make for a trustworthy food industry. The bottom line will always determine feeding policy for those who think they can get away with it. And hang the consequences.

What on earth were people thinking in the 1960s when experiments were carried out on plastic ‘hay’? Money that’s what. And what about plastic and cement pellets as food?

The US Department of Agriculture tested animal food made from cement dust (high in calcium) and found cattle’s daily weight gain doubled. By comparison experiments feeding animals with sawdust appear innocuous. Hardwood pellets were a fraction more expensive than pelleted sawdust with around 56% the energy value of corn feed. Whether anyone used them – no idea. A company called Farmland Industries produced plastic made into pellets and branded as Ruff-Tabs.

Justifying their behaviour the mad scientists who experiment with trash feed observed –

‘Animals are like people in that they can consume quite a variety of feeds and survive.’

In this country in the 1990s the Environment Agency considered cement kiln dust for animal feed. Cement kilns can be used to incinerate all kinds of material including those containing highly toxic heavy metals – lead, chromium, mercury which are highly carcinogenic. What kind of warped minds could envisage this is suitable material to feed to animals?

Animals crap out the crap they take in. That is wasteful. And occupies a lot of space – specially in farm factories where livestock never experience the great outdoors but spend their entire short lives inside. What to do with the waste? In the States 10% ground polyethylene added to alfalfa and cottonseed animal feed led to animals putting on weight but the cost of polyethylene was the issue not feeding plastic to animals. The aim was to find ways to cut the amount of food each beast would consume in the hope of reducing the amount of manure produced. Manure is not really a problem in a field but in animal meat factories the space taken up by manure presents difficulties for the ‘farmer.’

Ching! Collect the stuff and make it into pellets to feed back to the animals. Economic poetry. Poultry litter, faeces and plastic pellets all bound up together and sold as roughage. Roughage used to be plant-based but Kansas State University experiments feeding plastic pellets to cattle discovered much of the plastic was recoverable after the animals were slaughtered and so could be melted down and recycled into new pellets to feed to other cattle. Capitalism had found the perfect answer to production. Feed, retrieve, reconstitute, feed, retrieve, reconstitute, feed, retrieve… the word cattle meant capital. Synergy.

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Animal crackers is not only found in the USA. Here in the UK human and animal waste have been incorporated into feed. This means anything eaten by an animal, including veterinary medicines – anti-biotics and arsenic which is included in many animal medicines passes into the feed. Arsenic is not advised for human consumption.

The UK has banned micro-beads in personal care products – toothpaste, laundry, cleaning products, shampoos and cosmetics. They are a menace to wildlife and the handiwork of yet more mad scientists responsible for dumping 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans annually to top up the 150 million tons they’ve already dumped there. On its own this is bad enough but plastics absorb contaminants in water making them a million times more toxic. Fish swallow these toxins and we swallow the poisoned fish.

Recycled plastic water bottles are ‘washed and dunked in chemicals to get the labels off, then chopped into bits. A flotation pool is used to separate the lid plastic from the bottle plastic. Three different materials come out at the end: lid flakes, bottle flake and labels. The final step is to “extrude” the flakes, or melt them down into pellets. This requires energy to heat the flakes, and can emit harmful chemicals into the air, due to additives in the plastic. The pellets are then sold on to manufacturers who use them as a feedstock. It is possible to do all of this in an environmentally friendly way: treating the wastewater correctly, disposing of chemicals properly and making sure harmful emissions don’t escape. Done right, this uses less energy and resources than virgin material. But if shortcuts are taken, the consequences can be devastating.’ (Financial Times) 

https://www.ft.com/content/360e2524-d71a-11e8-a854-33d6f82e62f8

Our polyethylene diet includes fish, honey, table salt, beer and meat and our anti-biotic overload comes from eating animal flesh, consuming dairy products and from our drinking water. I don’t eat meat but I do drink water and my water comes out of the land behind our house where the pee and poop of grazing animals no doubt doused with vet medicines leeches into the rainwater that is piped into my house. That said I should probably be more fearful of the spill-offs from forestry chemicals.

The biggest damage of all is created by farm factories and not our traditional farmers who graze their beasts in grassy parks. Keeping cattle inside and feeding them on a diet that is most definitely not natural creates physical changes and damages their livers leading to high levels of medication compared with animals raised on grass which are far healthier. 

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Eating organic food can improve your chances in the lottery of life. Brexit promises fewer controls over animal welfare and the prospect of imports of cheap factory-farmed US food which will not be its organic best produce which restrict the amount of animal drugs, including hormones to promote growth, and which exclude plastic pellets for roughage and feed containing urea or manure. No, this is not the food that will compete with good quality food here but something cheaper and nastier in all sorts of ways, not least the cruel exploitation of the animals soon to be appearing on your plate – or bucket if you eat in those kinds of places. Just watch out for the odd wood splinter in your tongue, a bit of concrete grit between your teeth or a belly-full of plastic garbage. 

https://www.andritz.com/feed-and-biofuel-en

https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-industry-exposed/shocking-truth-about-dog-food/

https://www.andritz.com/feed-and-biofuel-en/industries/industrial-applications/waste-pelleting-feed-and-biofuel