Posts tagged ‘Aberdeen’

July 13, 2018

The Good Migrant: Scots who lived by their brains

Handsome, funny, cultured, considerate, sociable, well-read – his library contained over 1000 books mainly in Greek and Latin, a few volumes in French and Italian and lots in Dutch; only two were in the English language – a folio Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1610 and a King James Bible. Learned, definitely, and gifted with a superb memory. That was Gilbert Jack – once regarded as young iconoclast from Aberdeen. He died aged 50 of a stroke which paralysed him down one side and left him unable to speak during the remaining two months of his life. His death came as a great blow to the academic world for Gilbert Jack aka Jacchaeus, long-time professor at Leyden University, was an inspirational teacher of Aristotelian metaphysics.

Now I don’t begin to understand metaphysics. The more I’ve tried the greater my brain hurts but I think, but don’t take my word for it, it is a branch of philosophy that explores what lies beyond the here and now of the world- what’s out there but invisible to us; beyond the physical existence – such as God. The word metaphysics comes from the Greek metá meaning beyond or after and physiká, physics. In the 18th century the giant of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, argued against metaphysics, dismissing it as sophistry and illusion.

Gilbert Jack metaphysicsI don’t remember when I came across Gilbert Jack of Aberdeen. His name came up when I was scraning for something else. And not only his name but countless names of fellow Scots who became major figures in universities across Europe in the study of philosophy and medicine. I’ve thrown in medicine because the development of medicine in Scotland grew out of the close interaction between universities and colleges across Scotland and abroad and in any case Gilbert Jack was also an MD, having taken his medical degree at Leyden at the same time he was teaching there; his dissertation was on epilepsy – De Epilepsia.

The importance attached to education in Scotland led to this small nation punching well above its weight in the supply of talent to the world. In the centuries before the Scottish Enlightenment there was no less exchange of intellectual ideas across Europe which included Scots. Born in Aberdeen c1578 Gilbert Jack attended Aberdeen Grammar School before going to Aberdeen’s second university, Marischal College. He appears to have continued his studies at St Andrews before going on to Herborn in Hesse and Helmstädt in Lower Saxony and finally on 25 May 1603 to Leyden, the Netherland’s oldest university .

Within a year of arriving at Leyden, this brilliant intellect, a young iconoclast from Aberdeen, he’s been described as, was made professor of philosophy and logic and for the next 25 years he dominated Aristotelian metaphysics at the university (in his own time Aristotle’s ideas were not themselves described as metaphysics but first philosophy.) However, some of his ideas proved too challenging for Leyden and he was temporarily suspended from the university in 1619 for promoting the notion of predestination rather than free will – but I could be wrong.

Jack wrote up his ideas and proved as able an author as teacher. His first published works came out as 9 volumes in 1612: Institutiones Physicae, Juventutis Lugdunensis Studiis potissimum dicatae which sold well and republished followed by Primae Philosophiae Institutiones and Institutiones Medicae. These works provided textbooks for students elsewhere studying metaphysics and his fame spread. He was sought out and befriended by fellow academics and was invited to take up the chair in moral philosophy at Oxford University but he turned down the offer, preferring to stay at Leyden where he was content and where he had done the bulk of his work.

Today, Gilbert Jack would be regarded as a high flyer; celebrated by his contemporaries as a fine scholar, a grafter, popular lecturer and all-round good man. When he died on 17 April 1628 he left a widow and ten children to mourn him along with the world of academia. His fellow professor at Leyden, Adolf van Vorst, gave his funeral oration in Latin in which he praised his colleague for his contribution to philosophy, his attachment to Leyden and for being a thoroughly nice person.

Sadly forgotten in Aberdeen he was, nonetheless, celebrated as a philosopher and physician in the Netherlands; its most famous metaphysicians. Gilbert Jack was but one of so many Scots who went abroad and contributed to the banks of knowledge and learning enjoyed by succeeding generations but who are largely unknown at home here in Scotland: William Makdowell or MacDowell from Roxburgh, professor of philosophy at Groningen; Mark Duncan, also Roxburgh at Saumur in France; John Murdison at Leiden; Walter Donaldson a graduate of King’s in Aberdeen who went to Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Sedan; fellow Aberdonian Duncan Liddell, mathematician, astronomer and physician educated at the Grammar School followed by King’s College then built his life at Gdansk in Polish Prussia and Brandenburg University in Frankfurt with fellow Scot, John Craig, professor of logic and maths (and briefly physician to James VI); Andrew Melville from Baldovy by Montrose at Geneva; Adam Steuart professor of philosophy at Saumur, Sedan and Leiden; John Cameron, theologian at Saumur, Bergerac, Bordeaux and Montauban; Robert Baron, Professor of Theology Marischal – one of the six Aberdeen Doctors – influences in the dispute between supporters of the National Covenant and Episcopacy and who taught at Marischal and King’s universities whose Metaphysica generalis was posthumously published in 1654. A mere handful of examples from a vast haul of home-nurtured talent which grew here and abroad.

Punching above our weight is what Scotland has done consistently over hundreds of years. Of course much of that has been to do with people escaping poverty and using education as a means of improving their lives. Scots became migrants, many to the Continent, though not exclusively by any means, and benefitted from and contributed to the invaluable exchange of ideas once possible before passport barriers were erected. Just as well these bright people lived when they did and not in today’s febrile, hostile, anti-migrant world.

March 9, 2018

Bellowed for nearly an hour: fascists V communists in Aberdeen (and Dundee)

Black shirts in Aberdeen

FASCISTS “DROWNED OUT”

NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK

PANDEMONIUM AT ABERDEEN

——————–

BELLOWED FOR NEARLY HOUR

REDS OUT IN FORCE

 

It was the Reds doing the bellowing. The occasion was an attempt by Mosley’s British Union of Fascists to speak at Aberdeen’s Music Hall in September 1935.

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Raven Thomson front low left

“They may be croaking like old hens, but their bellowing and braying last night completely drowned out the voice of Fascism in the Ball Room of the Music Hall” reported a local newspaper. Such was the vocal opposition to the extreme rightwing Black Shirts, the report went on, the meeting ended almost the moment it opened. The would-be guest speaker that evening was to be A. Raven Thomson, the BUF’s Director of Policy but before he could utter a sound he and his fellow fascists were given the bum’s rush.

“Aberdeen is the toughest town we have ever struck,” Thomson told the paper’s reporter.

The public address was due to begin at 8pm but an hour before the hall was already packed with a couple of thousand more outside, unable to get in.

Protected by ten black-shirted stewards from Peterhead, Edinburgh and Manchester the Fascists took their seats to a wall of sound of booing and shouting from within the hall. Plain clothes police officer sat amongst the audience and they, too, were loudly booed.

The moment the speaker Raven Thomson got onto the stage and appealed for quiet he was drowned out by a huge roar and a sea of shaking fists. Someone stood up and waved a red flag which set off a rendering of the socialist anthem, the International followed by more noise and chants of  

“One, two, three, four, five,

We want Mosley, dead or alive.”

Thomson tried to press on but his words were totally drowned out with no break in the racket from the public in the hall. At 8 o’ clock the Chief Constable, McConnach, had a word with the Fascists then announced the meeting was cancelled. Wasting no time the Fascists hurried away to the delight of excited demonstrators roaring

“Three cheers for the defeat of Fascism.”

Outside a large force of uniformed and plain clothes police were gathered in anticipation of trouble but the protestors; Communists and Socialists as they were described by the press, were in no mood for violence but “swarmed down Union Street, marched to the Market Stance, singing the ‘Internationale‘ and other Communist songs on the way” and held their own meeting at the Castlegate.

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Raven Thomson

Raven Thomson issued a statement in which he said the Fascists had had several successful meetings on their tour of the country but – “It is very difficult to deal with a town like this where the people do not know our case” adding the reaction they had in Aberdeen was unusual and the city was “the toughest town they had ever struck.”

Edinburgh born Raven – Alexander Raven Thomson – was a theoretician of the British Union of Fascists and grandson of the architect Alexander (Greek) Thomson. One-time a member of the Communist Party he came to admire Nazi Germany and spent time in Germany learning the trade of silver paper manufacturing which later provided his living back in Britain. By 1933 he was a fascist and became the BUF’s Director of Policy and close associate of leading fascists Oswald Mosley and Neil Francis Hawkins. He was interned in Brixton jail for most of the Second World War and remained a fascist all his life. He married Lisbeth, daughter of the x-ray pioneer, Wilhelm Röntgen, and they lived in the East End of London where he died in 1955.  

Chief Constable McConnach was criticised by the anti-Socialist and anti-Communist Union for his handling of the Music Hall meeting. He responded saying the Fascist speakers had been given police protection and suffered no violence in Aberdeen but that he would not put up with speakers being obstructed in future. And he had advice for organisers of meetings, such as the Fascists, that any complaints against the police should be pursued through the courts. In the event the Fascists chose not to pursue their complaint as they didn’t want to appear in court in case what came out damaged their reputation it was said. They did, however, complain in one of their publications of “Mob Rule in Scotland” – indicating only at Aberdeen and Dundee had the British Union of Fascists suffered such disorderliness but they also mentioned they dared not hold meetings in Glasgow after dark.

DUNDEE

The following week the Fascists’ tour of Britain found them in that other most disorderly city, the “Red city” of Dundee, where around 1,000 mostly Communists had already gathered for their own meeting knowing the BUF were due. Fascists G. Easterbrook and J. A. F. Nolan from London planned to speak but they and their fellow Blackshirts were forced into a hasty retreat chased by 500 Socialists. Some Fascists jumped onto a tramcar where Nolan was punched on the jaw, twice, and Easterbrook received a bloody nose before securing safe passage in a police van and driven away from the West Port area with shouts of “Down with the Blackshirts” and “Run them out of town” ringing in their ears – their planned 11 meetings during a week-long stay in Dundee cancelled.

At the time Nolan, insistent they were not Blackshirts but included Liberals and Conservatives, said their campaigns in Edinburgh, Ayr and Saltcoats got excellent hearings while in Aberdeen they’d encountered opposition though not as violent as in Dundee. Easterbrook was more blunt he condemned the reception in Dundee as “contemptible” and “un-British.”

It would be misleading to portray fascism as universally unpopular in Britain. Its ideology took root across Europe in the 1930s including in the United Kingdom. Indeed much of the British press were keen advocates of fascism: The Mirror and Sunday Pictorial were so tickled with fascism they proposed a prettiest woman fascist competition and published photographs of blackshirts having a sing-song around the piano. The Daily Mail’s owner Lord Rothermere welcomed Oswald Mosley’s moves to shake up Britain. On 8 January 1934 the Daily Mail editorial proclaimed –

“Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”

 

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And Rothermere’s message to Britons was-

 “Britain’s survival as a Great Power will depend on the existence of a well-organised party of the Right, ready to take on responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed.”

And enthusiastic Daily Mail readers clamoured to join the fascist movement. At the Albert Hall in London that April 10,000 people crowded in to hear the movement’s leaders speak. Soon 100 branches of the fascist organisation had sprung up around the UK.

The British Fascist movement was led by the well-heeled Sir Oswald Mosley – an MP with wide interests – at times a Conservative, an Independent and member of the Labour Party he served in Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour administration as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. After he resigned from Labour he was expelled and formed the New Party, a forerunner of the Union of Fascists.

Mosley favoured greater powers for the state in order to tackle unemployment and argued it should have more control over public assets. Unemployment was a huge problem in the UK in the thirties with levels of poverty and suffering hardly credible to us today. He wanted the UK to adopt the Italian type of fascism and become a corporate state of 24 bodies that would harbour no criticism, be governed by an elite elected through plebiscite every five years and replace local government with appointed representatives provided by the national government. In Aberdeen that man was to be William Keith Abercrombie Jopp Chambers-Hunter.

Despite the British Union of Fascists chiefly being London-based, in the East End in particular, its supporters endeavoured to create a UK-wide organisation. The biggest support outside of London was found in Liverpool and Manchester while efforts to spread their ideology into Scotland, intensified from 1936, were centred in Aberdeen. The simple reason for that was the presence of Chambers-Hunter, a fanatical fascist and his sister-in-law Agnes Evelyn Flora McDonald Botha – known as Mrs Botha (the last name might be familiar to you as she was a daughter-in-law of South Africa’s first Prime Minister, Louis Botha.) Chambers-Hunter was a laird at Tillery near Udny in Aberdeenshire who had been educated at public school in England, later spending time as a tea planter in Ceylon before returning to Scotland to live on the estate he inherited. His family’s fortune was made as plantation owners in South Carolina, the heart of slavery for around 200 years, in the 18th century. Chambers-Hunter, himself, was said to have come from a scion of the family born into less affluent circumstances, as the son of a grocer in Footdee (Fittie) and was formerly known as the more humble William Jopp. The family appear to have had a penchant for changing their names for his slave-owning grandfather was once Chalmers before adopting Chambers.

Chalmers-Hunter and Botha were determined fascists who didn’t allow adversity to come between them and their recruitment drive for the movement – and they had to be. Whenever and wherever they turned up Aberdeen’s anti-fascists quickly on hand to provide some opposition. That equal determination of the anti-fascists forced the local BUF from 1935 to stop publicising their appearances in advance instead they would turn up unannounced – most often at the Green, Craigie Street off George Street and Woodside where Chambers-Hunter would stick his head out of the sun roof speak briefly and perhaps sell copies of their newspapers Action and Blackshirt in the hope of getting away before being tracked down by the opposition – not easy for in the city an interesting network of anti-fascists emerged with eyes and ears open to their activities: bus and tram drivers and conductors; unemployed men and women on the streets and more organised groups of Communists and Socialists with bikes who got into the habit of cycling around the town searching out  Blackshirts in their usual haunts. As for the residents of Craigie Street it was said the women there were quite capable of sending the itinerant fascists packing whenever they turned up on their doorsteps.

Harassing fascists became a popular activity in Aberdeen. Many of you will know that nineteen Aberdonians felt so strongly that fascism had to be resisted they went to Spain as part of the International Brigades to fight it in the Spanish Civil War. Five were killed in Spain.

Aberdeen being a major port meant Aberdonians came into contact with seamen from around the world, including Germany, and from them they learnt about the rise and progress of fascism across Europe and the imprisonment and murder of Socialists, Communists, Trades Unionists, Jews and so many others. 

Communists used the town’s pavements to spread word of their meetings; writing time and place with bits of clay pipe – the habit of chalking messages on pavements lingered on among the city’s Socialists through to the 1960s CND, anti-Vietnam war movement.

The local press proved a lively medium for the exchange of political view. In March 1936 C. W. Edward of Sanquhar, Forres wrote in defence of fascism-

“Mr Chambers-Hunter’s excellent letter of February 28 voices the feelings of a vast number of people in Britain today.”

He went on to condemn the government’s treacherous attitude towards the USSR; its damage of trade through sanctions and risk of war so that “people of all political opinions are turning to Fascism as the only way out of the political morass in which we are floundering.”

His opinions were countered in the same paper by someone with the initials ACH who criticised Chambers-Hunter for his over-simplification of political situations –

“Russians are vermin (168 million people disposed of), Germany and Japan can squeeze them out of existence (No trouble!) Friendship with Russia means the ruin of the British Empire. (Shouldn’t it be the British Commonwealth of Nations?) …Fascism means the Union Jack —Nothing to do with the birch rod evidently…If a thinking man or woman refuses to accept any or all of these postulates, the shape of his or her nose may be taken as decisive evidence that he or she is wrong. – Drivelation. -A.C. H.”

Another correspondent sardonically ‘sided’ with the local fascist leader Chambers-Hunter and his opinions on the activities of Italy in Abyssinia.

“I was very interested in Mr Chambers-Hunter’s views on Italy’s great campaign, but I feel that he errs a trifle on the side of moderation.

It makes my blood boil when I think of the hindrances which have been placed on this great work of extermination, and I was only restrained by silly sentimentality from sending on my signet-ring to that saintly ascetic Il Duce to help him in his great work for civilisation.

The incredible bravery of the Italian airmen cannot be overpraised, considering the immense odds, but it is Marshal Badoglio who will live in history. His great feat of bringing about a series of glorious victories at a loss of a hundred thousand of the enemy to only a paltry thousand of his brave dare-devils marks him as one of the world’s greatest generals and mathematicians.

I remember when the Germans carried out an extermination campaign in their African colonies there was some talk, and the usual busybodies instituted a commission which allowed itself to be fooled by the usual lying stories…is not surprising therefore that misguided people even nowadays, no doubt influenced by lying “Red” propaganda, are squealing because some ****** women and kids happened to be slightly bleached by a harmless form of gas sent out to incapacitate the enemy camels from taking up supplies.”

It was signed  Hero Worshipper.

Asserting its empirical claims to a piece of Africa, Italy had been engaged in converting natives of Adowa to their caring regime through machine gun diplomacy, bombing and spraying poisonous gas from aircraft to kill individuals, poison land and water.

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Fascists and anti-fascists at Aberdeen’s Market Stance 1935

 One evening in July 1937 Chambers-Hunter and Botha and others turned up in a van with four loudspeakers at the Market Stance at the Castlegate. The four speakers were intended to drown out expected shouts and barracking from those against them. The inevitable scuffles broke out and when someone tried to remove the loudspeaker cables he was arrested, along with others. Chambers-Hunter continued to speak for around half an hour under a barrage of missiles of stones, tomatoes and anything else to hand but was scarcely audible over calls for Mosley “dead or alive.”

Once the Fascists had left the Castlegate the crowd turned its attention to the police and their arrested comrades. At police HQ in Lodge Walk the police were ready for them lined up with batons drawn and there was a stand-off with pleas to release the arrested men on bail at the same time the Chief Constable insisted there would be no bail until people moved away from the police station. They did. Back at the Market Stance a large crowd remained  and a collection was taken for bail money but the Chief Constable still refused to bail any of those detained.

Meanwhile a group of women arrived at Lodge Walk with food and drink for the men who they insisted all required special treatment. There were no files concealed in cakes but the men were allowed coffee, sandwiches and rolls provided by the women. One man used his sandwich bag to scribble a note which he hid in the dry lavatory in his cell. Next morning the note went to court along with the accused. As they were leaving the dock he threw the screwed up paper to the public benches but it was picked up by a detective.

Following their court appearance the men were taken to Craiginches prison where the governor tried to intimidate them, according to one of the arrested, Duncan Robertson.

“Stand to attention when you talk to me!” the governor demanded.

“Will I buggery!” came Robertson’s reply.

And he didn’t and the governor didn’t try that again.

A few days later the men were released from Lodge Walk on bail to cheers from a welcoming group waiting outside. One of the detained, Bob Cooney, was carried on shoulders from Lodge Walk to Castle Street where he addressed their supporters. Cooney had been assigned leader of the men by the police who always insisted there must be a leader. In their subsequent court appearance, Cooney was fined £10, being leader, and the others around £3 by Sheriff Laing. The average weekly wage for a skilled man at the time was around £3. Of the nine on trial, two were found not proven and others guilty of obstruction or assaulting the police. In all their fines amounted to £100, a great deal of money for working class heroes.

Following the Battle of Cable Street in London in October 1936 the Westminster government passed a Public Order Act on Jan 1, 1937 which handed greater powers to the police to control demonstrators and enable easier prosecution of hecklers who could be charged with disturbing the peace – a charge frequently employed in Aberdeen by fascists confronted by opposition so providing them with free rein to promote their propaganda unhindered and unchallenged for any who dared shout out could be pointed at and duly arrested with the prospect of being fined a whole week’s pay.

On 23rd October 1937 eight Aberdonians were before the sheriff on charges of acting in a disorderly manner at a meeting of fascists at Woodside. The public benches were filled with their cheering supporters who received a warning from the sheriff. Outside the court the fascists were booed and jeered and given police protection. 

And so the cat-and-mouse game between Left and Right continued with the Left always the ones sent to jail or fined.

Northeast fascists declared they had considerable support in Scotland – for example 200 members by 1933 in Motherwell. In order to boost their numbers Chambers-Hunter and Botha worked tirelessly taking their message to Inverness, Banchory, Kemnay, Inverurie, Forres, Peterhead, Turriff, Oldmeldrum and Stonehaven as well as Aberdeen.

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Scenes at the Market Stance where the BUF tried to speak 1937

In February 1937 the BUF were again at the Music Hall where the main speaker was their National Organiser in Scotland, Richard Plathen. Admission was by ticket only, sold by younger members. Local communists managed to buy a few before their ruse was discovered and a block placed on them obtaining more but the young fascists, not being over-burdened with sense, left the ticket box for a short time but long enough for the Communists to get to it and help themselves. The result was plenty Communist and Socialist comrades were able to find their way into the meeting despite a general warning from the police to the Left to stay away.

The evening began as it ended – in uproar. Around 80% of the audience were hostile to the fascists and they didn’t hold back from expressing their disapproval of the BUF; singing and chanting that familiar refrain -“One, two, three, four…” to which the fascists reacted by singing God Save the King – provoking in turn a hearty rendering of the Internationale accompanied by the waving of a red flag by Communist George Esson.

And so throughout the thirties clashes between Left and Right continued with no real violence other than pushing and shoving, a great deal of noise and forceful expression of opinion. But one Sunday in July 1937 around 50 Communists interrupted a BUF rally at the beach Links. During the ensuing rammy missiles and punches were thrown and a vehicle damaged. This resulted in several weel kent faces among the Communist fraternity being picked up later at home and instructed to appear at an identity parade at Lodge Walk the following day. One who wasn’t obliged to go was prominent anti-fascist campaigner Bob Cooney who later in the year was to head off to Spain to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. However on the day of the Links rammy he was in Glasgow but that did not prevent him insisting he take part in the line-up – muddling up the order of men arranged by the police. Being such a familiar face he was immediately recognised by one of the fascists there to identify the man who allegedly assaulted his brother at the Links. He pointed at Cooney and insisted he was the assailant. As this was patently untrue the others in the line-up were allowed to leave after receiving a warning from the police to refrain from hindering fascists in the future, again. Cooney claimed he was approached and asked why he changed the position of men in the line-up which made some suspect an arrangement had been made to get a particular man or men.

On the fifth anniversary of the founding of the British Union of Fascists Aberdeen was chosen as the venue for their Scottish conference. As their van with delegates from Perthshire, Fifeshire and Edinburgh made its way along Union Street towards the Market Stance the waiting crowd surged forward and succeeded in pushing the vehicle backwards for a short distance. The police were ordered to draw their batons and the van, its windows protected by wire, was able to complete its journey. A local paper described the crowd being “in a very noisy mood.” At the Market Stance Chambers-Hunter attempts to address the gathering were once again silenced despite his use of loudspeakers. The newspapers reported that little could be heard of his speech as it was drowned out by the ‘red rabble.’ Once again the fascists appealed to the police for protection before abandoning their pitch. As for the anti-fascists they met later on, in the Music Hall, at a high spirited meeting at which the principal speaker was the Communist Willie Gallacher.

The role of the police handling demonstrators was raised in the council chamber in October of 1937 with claims that they assaulted people in Aberdeen.

“The police seemed to run amok”

“The police concentrated on free speech for the fascists and threw overboard a score of other…rights of the public. Nothing mattered but to preserve the right of free speech for the fascists.”

(P&J 7 Oct 1937)

A complaint went to the Secretary of State for Scotland but was taken no further. In defence of police action it has to be said without their presence it is likely there would have been more injuries, to fascists at least, for tensions and tempers ran hot and wherever the fascists turned up their vehicles were set-upon and rocked, usually fairly gently. On one notable occasion, however, a fascist meeting had been arranged in Torry and people were again out in force with lots of yelling, fireworks and missiles. The police were also on hand but interestingly refrained from intervening until the crowd had toppled the fascists’ car was onto its side.

The worm had turned. Without police protection the fascists had to face up to the anger they provoked among Aberdonians. Unable to get to a public spot to speak from in Torry because of the crush of a crowd of around 6,000 the fascists slipped along Sinclair Road and stopped at a coal yard, misguidedly. Pieces of coal became missiles to be hurled their way. The coal yard was also private property and the owner complained to the police who ordered them off. A furious Chambers-Hunter turned on the police inspector -“You bastard!” which might have proved unwise. But Chambers-Hunter was nothing if not thrawn.

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Mosley visits Aberdeen

Oswald Mosley visited Aberdeen only once, on 22nd November 1937 where a luncheon was given in his honour in the Caledonian Hotel. The police blocked off the whole street to prevent demonstrators getting close to him. However, Aberdeen’s Communists were aye on the ba’.  Painted in huge letters across the road, in full visibility of guests at the hotel read the message FASCISTS OUT

SIR OSWALD MOSLEY SAYS “FINE”

 ran the Press & Journal headline

NOT PERTURBED BY ABERDEEN’S YELLING CROWD OF ANTI-FASCISTS

“Fine” the only comment Mosley is recorded as saying of his visit to Aberdeen.

The report claimed over 100 Aberdeen Fascists attended the luncheon. It is doubtful they all came from Aberdeen given the paltry numbers involved in their other activities but presumably were members who travelled near and far to touch the cloth of their leader.

The newspaper also reported the luncheon was disturbed by “continuous derisive shouts and the singing of the “Internationale” coming from Union Terrace, where a large crowd of anti-Fascists had assembled. Mosley’s address to the faithful centred on the wickedness of international Jewery and the fascist ambition to create a self-contained empire. At their lunch the fascists were subjected to catcalls which most ignored although one young woman did return the fascist salute.

Later, greater numbers gathered, having finished their work, to vent their feelings against the visiting fascists. When Mosley emerged from the Party’s base on Union Street he was faced by a “yelling and gesticulating crowd” and as he waited to for a flunky to open his car door he smiled towards those booing and gesticulating.  

In July 1938

Anti-Fascist crowd demonstrate

Police Escort for Witnesses

Five Sentenced at Trial

 “The trial on charges of breach of the peace and assault of five Aberdeen anti-Fascists, two of whom were sent to prison and the others fined, ended with a remarkable demonstration of anti-Fascist feeling at the door of the Aberdeen Sheriff Courthouse last night.”

The five told the court they had no religious beliefs and affirmed instead of taking the oath. They denied the charges, maintaining provocation by the Fascists who had shouted “One day Hitler and Franco would conquer the world, Hail Hitler, Join the Blackshirts, Keep Out Moscow and gave the Nazi salute.”

Lots of noise in the courtroom resulted in Sheriff Dallas warning that he would clear them from the court if they didn’t keep quiet. Witnesses came and went and the accused were found guilty.

Convicted were George Shepherd a salesman of Roslin Street and John Winton a sawyer of King’s Crescent both sent to jail for 30 days; Alexander Shepherd, son of George, also a salesman of College Bounds was fined £15 or 30 days in prison; Sydney Shepherd, labourer, of Bloomfield Road, another son of George Shepherd along with George Esson, labourer, of Chronicle Lane were each fined £3 each or 10 days in prison.

When their accusers William Keith Abercromby Jopp Chambers-Hunter and Agnes Evelyn Flora McDonald Botha of Tillery, Udny Station and Jane Imlah whose address was given at the headquarters of the BUF in Aberdeen on Union Street left the courthouse they were confronted by a large crowd, fists raised in the Communist salute shouting “Down with Fascism.” As the demonstrators surged forward the three fascists retreated into the building before being given police protection back to their car.  

An appeal against these sentences was made to the Secretary of State for Scotland but went nowhere.

In October 1938 Chambers-Hunter addressed Aberdeen Round Table Club.

“The doctrine of Fascism simply was, “‘United we stand, divided we fall'” and went on to condemn international finance for skewing economies explaining Hitler was hated by international finance run by Jews for trying to break free of the “net of borrowing and lending” in order to make his country self-sufficient.

“Twenty-four years ago, if the Kaiser had walked up Union Street on a Saturday afternoon he would probably have been lynched. If the poor old gentleman were to do so now, probably no one would recognise him, or if they would not worry about him.”

He told his audience he had fought during the war in the Cameroons and German Togoland and the natives there were treated as well as in Ceylon where he’d also lived as a planter and in fact the natives of Cameroons and Togoland were “devoted to their German masters.”

Which I suppose is why the Germans required an army to protect their interests there. To explain further – the extent of German popularity in East Africa can be illustrated by the Maji Maji War fought over resentment of enforced labour, heavy taxes and violent repression responsible for destroying the lives of so many and devastating the area’s social fabric. German imperialists adopted a scorched-earth policy of punishment and control along with horrendous brutality and cruelty – much like, it should be said, practised by other western  powers to their shame.  

Germany, along with other European states, undertook what was known as the Scramble for Africa – carving up the continent to stake their claims to areas they regarded ripe for exploitation, to appropriate and control their colony’s natural wealth and resources from precious metals to bananas, cacao, coffee and cotton.

And so for years the clashes between Left and Right were unrelenting. Then something happened – as atrocities carried out in the name of fascism across the world came to be taken more seriously mainly for the threat fascism posed to the UK so support for fascism began to lose its vigour. In 1939 Aberdeen’s own fascist Chambers-Hunter retired from politics presumably exhausted from the uphill struggles he encountered on each occasion he went public and in addition he had spent huge sums of his own money supporting the BUF. In June that year Chambers-Hunter’s country house at Udny burnt down.

fascists home on fire - Copy

Driven out of his home by fire Chambers-Hunter, his wife and Mrs Botha

As for the Left there ranks were split by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet non-aggression Pact) signed between Germany and the USSR in August 1939. At the start of the Second World War Stalin argued it was not an anti-fascist struggle but an imperialist war but then came Operation Barbarossa when the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941 and dragged it into the conflict. At that point the Left forgot their differences to defeat the fascist states of Germany and Italy. Of course the Left had already been destroyed in Spain where a form of fascism survived until 1975 … at least.  

Sources: Aberdeen newspapers; Fascism in Aberdeen – Street Politics in the 1930s (Aberdeen People’s Press.)

 

April 11, 2017

The day young Byron was nearly lost in a snowstorm

Engraving based on the Kay portrait

Engraving of Byron as a boy based on a painting by John Kay

Into the midst of a great snowstorm and winds of unusual strength emerged a group of schoolboys. It was a wild wintry day during the late 1790s and the folk of Aberdeen had never before seen anything like the ferocious gusting blasts swirling hale and the driving snow that fell with such intensity that stepping out into it was fraught with danger. Yet at twelve mid-day pupils from Aberdeen’s Grammar School set off as usual towards the St Nicholas Street school where they were due to attend Mr Duncan’s writing class.

The Grammar School was in Schoolhill and the boys thought to follow their normal route cutting through St Nicholas kirkyard. By luck the high wall there offered a degree of protection from the windstorm and drifting snow but still progress was tricky. It was when they came to where the wall finished, to the gate, the boys were taken by surprise by the intensity of the tempest, a hurricane it was described, against which the smallest boys could make no progress but were driven backwards and scarcely able to keep their feet. So they retreated to the relative safety of the wall too petrified to move. One of the wee boys was George Gordon Byron.

Two of George Gordon Byron’s bigger classmates took hold of the his hands and they tackled the blinding snow together but the ferocity of the wind proved too much and it became every boy for himself. Poor wee George Gordon’s hands were let go of and he was swept back into the graveyard by the hurricane.

When by evening he failed to return home one of the servants was sent out in search of him. At the home of one of his fellow-pupils she was told about the struggle at the height of the snowstorm and how it might be the poor lad was still in the churchyard, hiding under one of its many large flat ledger tombstones.

leaves in St Nicholas graveyard cropped

Ledger tombstones in St Nicholas Kirkyard

A party of men was hastily dispatched, lanterns in hand, to search the now dark St Nicholas kirkyard and eventually they found the lost and tearful George Gordon Byron shivering and on the point of collapse under a ledger. And so the world of poetry was not deprived of a genius of verse.

However, as an old man, another of Byron’s school friends told a different version of the incident.

“No such thing! I was with him,” he recalled, “the weaker boys could not get into the churchyard at all. We could not leave the Schoolhil, and we found shelter in Mr Leslie Cruickshank’s hosiery; in whose kitchen we were dried and warmed, and sat waiting till our friends fetched us in the evening, when they could get to us, and found where we were.”

Of course both accounts could be largely true; that the boys battling through the unrelenting storm were so exhausted and frightened they gladly retreated to the warmth of the hosiery while the bigger loons (Aberdeen Doric term for boys) continued on to Mr Duncan’s writing class. And there is no dispute that several boys, including George Gordon Byron, had still not made it home by the evening.

One of George Gordon Byron’s fellow- pupils, of the name Cruickshank, remarked many years later that it was while sheltering at the hosiery they became aware of Byron’s ability as a story-teller when he captivated them with his rendering of “a beautiful tale out of the Arabian Nights.”

 ***

Mither Kirk St Nicholas

As an adult George Gordon Byron’s behaviour was frequently looked on askance so it is little wonder he was a mischievous wee devil as a child in Aberdeen.

Late in his life one that knew George Gordon Byron at the Grammar School criticised him for having a “most damnable disposition” and told of the day they were sitting together in a classroom when Byron cut the buttons off the boy’s coat. He added that he gave the young Byron a “good hiding” in return.

The same man also recalled that Byron loathed ‘dumpy women’ although this man commented that Byron’s own mother was ‘the dumpiest woman I ever saw in my life.’

 ***

Morven

Morven

Byron spent his childhood in Aberdeen close to his mother’s family estate north of the town and loved the bonnie countryside out to the west* – returning there to renew acquaintances and walk up the hill of Morven one last time. It was in Aberdeen he learnt to swim and became an accomplished swimmer by all accounts; as an adult he swam the Hellespont Strait between Europe and Asia. In Aberdeen he also became a proficient boatman.

George Gordon Byron and his mother left Aberdeen when he was ten and became the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale. The boy’s friends discovered his inherited knighthood when the attendance was being taken at the Grammar school and instead of the teacher calling him George Gordon Byron he referred to him as Georgi, Baro de Byron. Instead of his usual reply Adsum (I am present) the boy burst into tears and ran out of the classroom.

His nurse May Gray stayed behind when Byron and his mother left for the south and young George Gordon gave her his watch as a parting gift along with a full length portrait of him painted by Kay of Edinburgh in 1795 in which he posed with a bow and arrows and long hair falling about his shoulders.

Finishing his education in England Byron then left for Lisbon and the Mediterranean at the age of 21, famously taking part in the Greek civil war and it was in Greece he died in 1824 aged 36.


*Lochnagar

Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love;
Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ‘stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.

Ah ! there my young footsteps in infancy wandered;
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid;
On chieftains long–perished my memory ponder’d,
As daily I strode through the pine–covered glade;
I sought not my home till the day’s dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright polar star;
For fancy was cheered by traditional story,
Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch na Garr.

“Shades of the dead! Have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night–rolling breath of the gale?”
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind, o’er his own Highland vale.
Round Loch na Garr while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car:
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Loch na Garr.

Ill–starr’d, though brave, did no visions foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?
Ah! were you destined to die at Culloden,
Victory crowned not your fall with applause:
Still were you happy in death’s earthly slumber,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar;
The pibroch resounds, to the piper’s loud number,
Your deeds on the echoes of dark Loch na Garr.

Years have rolled on, Loch na Garr, since I left you,
Years must elapse ere I tread you again:
Nature of verdure and flowers has bereft you,
Yet still you are dearer than Albion’s plain.
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has roved o’er the mountains afar:
Oh for the crags that are wild and majestic!
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr.

George Gordon Byron

Mad, Bad and Dangerous

FICTION – The Gowk

August 9, 2015

The Wallace Tower – Not just any banishment but Marks & Spencer banishment

Wallace Tower  Mention the Wallace Tower and some smart Alec’s bound to chip in, it’s nae the Wallace Tower, it’s Benholm’s Lodgings, to which the appropriate response is, aye I ken but it’s bin the Wallace Tower for well over a century so it’s earned the name Wallace Tower. If someone turned up at my house and insisted it was so and sos because they’d lived there a few decades ago I’d tell them where to get off, wouldn’t you? Built for Sir Robert Keith, whose brother the Earl of Marischal founded Marischal College (once a separate university from King’s College) the house was also known as Keith’s Lodgings. Given its long existence – 500 years – it has seen a lot of comings and goings. For most of that time it occupied a prime position the corner of the Netherkirkgate (the lower gate or port into the town – the Upperkirkgate being the higher up gate), above Carnegie’s brae, which came to be known as the Wallace neuk (corner). At one time the area was known as Putachieside. The home of Lord Forbes at Keig by Alford used to be known as Putachie.  Lord Forbes kept a town house in Aberdeen, near Benholm’s Lodgings and  referring to the area by his country house name stuck. It was near where the Aberdeen Market is now… beside Putachie’s house – Putachieside. I hope you’re still following – and one of the streets, which ran from Carnegie’s brae towards what is now Market Street (or as near as damn it) came to be called Putachie. Putachie has gone. The Netherkirkgate has gone. The Wallace nook has gone. The Wallace Tower has gone. The Wallace name was used when a bar of that name occupied part of the building when it was slap bang in the centre of town not in its present location on a grassy knoll at Tillydrone. The low hill it stands on is the remains of a Norman motte. As for the  name it’s possibly a corruption of wally meaning well (a nearby well-house) with the diminutive ie or y wally hoose or well-house for folks uncomfortable with the Doric. This is all a long way from the Wallace Tower’s current abode at Tillydrone. It’s a fine enough site for this fine wee building but for many Aberdonians of a certain vintage – it’s not its home. Home should be, they believe, somewhere close to the vanished Netherkirkgate – maybe close to the Upperkirkgate… maybe it could have occupied pride of place, or second place to Skene’s House in Marischal Square but then there is no longer to be a Marischal Square so it can be added to my banished list.  Putachie has gone. The Netherkirkgate has gone. The Wallace nook has gone. The Wallace Tower has gone. Marischal Square has gone before it’s ever been. Rewind…why did the Wallace Tower go west? Think Marischal Square – what’s driving this corporate carbuncle? the ugly face of capitalism silly. It was a similar situation back in the swinging sixties. Marks & Spencers wanted to expand their store across from the Wallace Tower and councillors sucked on their pencil tips and thought how old fashioned this auld rickle of stanes looked in what could be a modern shopping precinct. What to do? Before you could say pretty fine example of a late 16th early 17th century rubble-built  Scottish tower house it was howked up and trundled on the back of several lorries far enough away from the city centre that those pencil sucking councillors were no longer reminded that Aberdeen did once have some very fine buildings indeed. The M & S extension turned out to be a not-so-very fine a building or even a half-decent building but who cared? This was the 1960s and anything went then, even prefabricated lookalike every other prefabricated buildings that littered every other town’s high streets. Still, as we know when it comes to Aberdeen city centre it’s a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.  Actually I don’t really mind the Tower being at Tillydrone for it is a good enough spot, at the edge of Seaton Park, but look at it – no, really look at it. When did you last see anything of architectural importance in Aberdeen look this bad? Well how about last week – and Westburn House. As far as preserving historically important architecture/introducing high quality contemporary buildings to the city Aberdeen councils would get straight As for corporate delinquency. Here we have boarded up windows to prevent another empty building falling victim to vandalism – the petty kind that ends up in courts and fined not the kind that is carried out on a large scale by local authorities. The original Benholm’s lodging house was constructed as a unique Z-plan tower house that was used as lodgings. In the late 18thC a wing was added and various adaptations have been made. At one time a balcony was built to provide grand views across the south of the area. There have been many plans to get the Wallace Tower back into some kind of useful existence but all fall through. It’s not connected with The Wallace … Aye we ken. Wallace never came this far north… So you say.  Since it is in Tillydrone it would be good if that community could make something of it but everything comes down to having sustainable funding in the end. Given that it is so close to the University it might find a use but not at its loss of it as a public asset (although the Council might question that and presumably regard it as another liability).

You can see the z-plan – or not. Corbelled features. Two round towers. The sculpted knight isn’t Wallace… they insist Aye, we ken, fit exactly IS yer problem, min? Who the rough and ready figure of a knight in a recess is no-one knows. It isn’t Wallace that’s for sure – William Wallace and his dug.  It might be Wallace and Gromit. That is a joke by the way… in case the pedantic echo is still on my case. Some think it came from the nearby St Nicholas graveyard. Whatever’s its provenance it is a rude representation of a Scottish knight with his favourite cur by his feet. He used to hold a sword – the knight not the dug that was made from a bent bit of metal. Definitely not worthy of The Wallace. Who he was we probably shall never know. Wouldn’t it be grand if it turned out his name was actually Wallace. He’s been broken and repaired and painted and broken and painted and repaired and broken.

A remaining armorial panel is not in the finest condition but at least it’s remaining.

Gunport quatrefoil.

The walls had originally been harled and presumable painted in the old Scots tradition. As of March this year planning permission for a change of use from residential dwelling to mixed use as a community cafe and office was being sought. The Wallace Tower which has undergone so many guises including lodging house, bar, tobacconist, snuff merchants was once upon a time a council house, gadzooks, rented out, controversially, to someone who would later become a councillor and Provost. It surprised some Aberdonians that the rent for such a unique cooncil hoose was the same as for ‘any other three-bedroomed council house in the city.‘ (The Herald 3 Oct 1996) but when this tenant vacated the Tower no-one else was given the chance to rent it but we were into the era of selling off council homes so the council did well to avoid falling into that trap with the Wallace Tower. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12023249.Convoluted_background_to_portrait_of_provost_who_had_listed_council_house/ I’ve been inside the Wallace Tower once or twice and it wasn’t particularly attractive as a home – stairs to everywhere and fitted out in 1970s drab but that is just decoration and doesn’t detract from its importance as a medieval tower-house. There is no question the Wallace Tower is a ‘lost gem’. It lies forlorn and unused. Largely ignored. Unwanted or rather unaffordable for those who would love to bring it back to life.

April 10, 2015

Arty Farty Aberdeen: look at me street festival

Rabbie Burns is fitba crazy

Rabbie Burns is fitba crazy

Rabbie Burns in fitba socks in the colours of France and Russia is not an everyday sight, even in Aberdeen. His fitba is the planet Mercury and he’s wearing headphones created by a 3-D printer.

Don’t know if Rabbie was a fitba supporter but he supported the French Revolution hence their tricolor of red, white and blue that makes up his stockings. And conveniently these are also the colours of Russia the nation that took the great poet to their hearts and minds and who celebrate Burns almost as much as here in Scotland. Actually thinking about it perhaps more so in some ways. Wasn’t it the Soviet Union that put Burns on a postal stamp a decade before the British post office did? Yes is the answer.

The Soviets were drawn to Burns’ down-to-earth poetry elevating the lives of the humble Scot and wee creatures alike.

Why Mercury? It appears that there is a crater on Mercury named after Rabbie. Not the Rabbie crater but the Burns crater. Check it out.

The headphones Rabbie’s wearing I’ve said were produced on a 3D printer in Scotland’s and Jamaica’s colours. The colours of the Jamaican flag are a reference to the post of bookkeeper he planned to take up for there was little money in poetry but he never lived to sail to the slave island. That would have been interesting.

Rabbie Burns’ gull was most put out by all the additional attention the poet was getting and watched with a jaundiced eye from the dyke at Union Terrace Gardens as people crowded around to take their pictures. He (or she) occasionally claimed his or her usual spot on the top of Rabbie’s bonce, nudging forward the headphones to get a better perch. He (or she) hasn’t yet discovered the headphones are made out of cellulose, I think, or something like that, and possibly edible.

The Mannie outside the Athaneum, one-time well and water source for people living in the area, spiks Doric to anyone who approaches it.

On the wee mannie’s heid is a motion sensor, a bit like Spike, mind Spike in the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park? only mair Doric. The mannie’s heid is covered by a wooden box with four different faces and contained inside those clips of local people that play when anyone is close by.

Albert, Queen Victoria’s squeeze hasn’t been touched as such – still think the red moustache he sported for a time contributed 100% to his appeal. Ah well, the grass around Albert who has been sitting on his backside for well over a century is arranged with blue and white flags, not as I assumed representing Scotland but signifying ideas, as in blue sky thinking (I think). The Central Library at his back is a lucky coincidence in that it extends the association of ideas.

The statue of Robert the Bruce is decorated with ceramic birds, I assumed seagulls but apparently pigeons also.

Not sure if they add anything although they are delightfully arranged and only enhance this dull sculpture for Aberdeen’s statues often sport a gull, or three or four.

General Charles Gordon on Schoolhill is beautifully attired in vibrant knitwear. I had initially gone to the wrong Gordon. I do get my Gordons mixed up. The one in Golden Square didn’t feature in this festival. Gordon of the gorgeous woollen scarf knitted in the colours of Sudan amongst other places he was associated with is the famous, uhm, infamous butcher of all sorts of foreign lands – Gordon of Khartoum.

One of the local Gordons – all Gordons originated from Aberdeenshire – including Commissioner Gordon in Batman – Gordon on Schoolhill was himself butchered and his head paraded on the end of a pike. What had he done to deserve such an end?

This Gordon was one of the fighting Gordons among his most celebrated involvements the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War and the Second Opium War fought by the British to force China to open its rich markets to British merchants, to dominate Chinese trade and to do this without paying taxes to the Chinese. And it did it, through coercion obviously and by selling opium to the Chinese; vast, vast quantities of the narcotic.

Opium was used as a medicine in China but otherwise prohibited. British merchants bought up stocks of the drug and traded it through the British East India Company. The profits it made British businessmen were immense. The impact on China, devastating. As if this wasn’t enough General Gordon ordered the Chinese Emperor’s summer palace in Beijing be burnt down. He was that sort of guy.

Later he became a governor of a province of Sudan during which time he mapped the Nile, not for natives you understand, but Europeans who would make their way inland to carry out trade on the African continent. On other occasions he whiled away his time crushing native rebels outraged at having British imperialist armies marching onto their land and ordering them around.

To cut a long story short he was sent back to Sudan, having served in several other places, to tackle a group of fighters known as the Mahdists, Islamists who resisted Christian colonialists. Gordon and his men held out for a while but eventually he met his bloody end.

I suppose it’s therefore appropriate that Gordon should be dressed by a knitting technique called Yarn Bombing in the colours of the several places in which he served, and splendid he looks. The knitting is beautifully done – partly hand, partly machine. Nice binoculars and stick.

I didn’t speak to the artist who dressed William Wallace, the finest Wallace statue in all of Scotland. Once a Guardian of Scotland, Wallace has been transformed into a Guardian of the future. The materials in his tabard (and is his tabard a coincidence or meant to be associated with the Toom Tabard? Look it up) are light sensitive and are different day and night. I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Anyone know?

Someone told me one or two complaints appeared on social meeja suggesting Wallace had been desecrated to which I say, get a life and anyway he isn’t a god. I love this statue and am a defender of the role of Wallace in Scotland’s history, regarding him as a more admirable figure than the Bruce but, honestly loosen yer corsets guys and embrace a bit of cultcha.

Look Again, Aberdeen’s Visual and Art and Design Festival is fun and meant to get you taking a second look at street furniture that is so familiar it has become invisible. For some of these statues that’s no bad thing. Perhaps one day we could employ a crane and a wrecking ball to dispose of one or two of them and have them replaced with real public art.

There’s more to the festival than this but that’s all you’re getting from me.

March 30, 2015

High Jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery

They were queuing down Schoolhill to get into the high jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery this weekend despite there being no exhibition.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

One hundred and thirty years down the line and the gallery is finally getting a major extension and refurbishment. It is not without controversy for the rooftop addition seems oddly out of kilter with the grand, sombre pink Corrennie and white Kemnay granite solidity of the weel kent facade on Schoolhill.

Aberdeen granite

The unique granite columns in a rainbow of colours, most from local quarries, topped with gilded Doric capitals are a reminder of an industry that will forever be associated with Aberdeen and the northeast of Scotland, and that the gallery was first established to promote local industry and craft.

But this blog is not about architecture. That is a dreary enough topic in the realm of Aberdeen City lately but a meandering, though short reminiscence of what the gallery has meant for me for I’ll miss it over the next couple of years.

It used to sit next door to Gray’s Art School. Not that the gallery has moved but the art school has, and while attending Saturday morning classes there as a youngster I suppose I was first introduced to the gallery.

It was a very different place from how it looks today. For example the once much loved sculpture court, filled with figures I think copies of ancient classical statues, was a source of infinite fascination for kids, and probably adults. I spent hours drawing one or other of them. I think we had names for one or two but can’t remember what those were. Can’t recall either when it was decided the sculptures were too out-of-date and were relegated to the knackers yard but they were sorely missed. Their departure opened up a large hall for temporary exhibitions but I never felt the same about them as I did about the maze of ghostly figures that invited you in to wander around and up to them to stretch out a tentative hand to trace the smooth plaster of a beautifully formed limb or take their icy cold fingers in yours.

Then came the 1970s and the space was populated with abstract sculptures equally tactile and hugely attractive for wee bairns for some of them would not be out of place in a children’s playground.

I always had more conservative tastes as far as the gallery’s collections were concerned. My favourite pictures were upstairs in the green room where a cluster of tiny portraits were exhibited on vertical display boards that you could open up. Several were by the Aberdeen artist George Reid and the translucency of his skin tones are breathtaking; on a par with Ramsay’s.

Titian's First Study in Colour

It too disappeared, into storage as the gallery changed. What did stay in that room was the hugely popular William Dyce picture, Titian’s First Essay in Colouring. The colours, appropriately enough are sumptuous and it is one of those paintings you can spend a long time staring into for its detail and magic. Aberdonian Dyce was part of the pre-Raphaelite circle and while the gallery has several by the better-known of the movement’s artists, it is the Dyce that I prefer. Here in the green room was Millais’s portrait of a young girl, Bright Eyes, with its striking resemblance to my daughter so that it became a must-see whenever we were in the gallery.

bright eyes

Henri La Thangue’s Ploughboy was another of my favourites and possibly one reason I took so much to the French realists who painted artisans, peasants and labourers with near spiritual reverence.Ploughboy Guthrie

page

Jules Bastien-Lepage’s painting of a child Going to School is simply charming. An everyday scene from a French village the sparsity of the background means it is the elaborate headgear worn by the child as well as its sweet face which are the captivating elements within it.

And the Goose Girl or as it’s not known, To Pastures New. This wonderful study by James Guthrie is such an striking image and the colours so subtle and perfect and quiet and ideally pastoral.

goose girl

Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious I used to find oddly captivating in an understated way.

trains

As a teenager I visited the red and green rooms less often preferring to look at the Leger still life and Paul Nash’s trees in a landscape. nash

The shapes fascinated me. George Braque too was one of my introductions to cubism. But a visit was never complete without a peek at Landseer’s Highland Flood for few could resist reading this vast picture like a book brimmed with tragedy and drama.

flood

There were the chairs. Fittingly the gallery chairs were very different from any we had at home. Very designery and modern (though in fact by the time I was going into the gallery they were old designs), black leather and chrome: squashy soft seats that invited visitors to sit and stare into the fountain, once it was added and which used to have a Barbara Hepworth piece at its centre.

I never took to the café which replaced the old teashop with its cake stands filled with sandwiches and fancies. There was something quintessentially sophisticated and worthy about the old place which the cafe never achieved, always found it a noisy, uncomfortable space with far less attractive food than most other places nearby and not a patch on any other museum I’ve visited.

One upon a time Aberdeen did have a museum dedicated to, well, Aberdeen. Housed in the dunks of the Cowdray Hall it was a long narrow space, all dark varnished wood and, as I remember though I expect misremember, filled with dusty glass cases you had to peer into and were filled with all kinds of this and that to enthral young minds.

In the modern era I quite like Julian Opie’s Sara Walking for its rhythmic almost hypnotic quality. Almost. opie

My favourite of the most recent acquisitions is the figure of a Chinese girl holding flowers aloft as a salute. Can’t remember what it’s called or who the artist is but there’s something highly attractive, in a literal sense, to this piece.

boy

There were no such attractions on show this weekend. The hundreds who waited patiently to get in were the attraction in a sense, putting their mark on its walls, it is their building after all and joining in the fun and games, and cake eating on offer. By any standards it was a huge success. When it re-opens in 2017 I hope there will be something similar, to entice back the regulars and coax in some who are still daunted by the exterior grandeur of the place to persuade them art galleries and museums are or should really be about them and be palaces of fun and education.

Don’t know if the old closing bell will survive the revamp. Maybe it will. The old wooden revolving doors went several years ago, thought to be a deterrent to potential visitors. Dyce (Aberdeen International) Airport doesn’t appear to have that problem with its revolving door but there you go.

The marble staircase is going much to the disapproval of some. No idea what will happen to the marble.

P1030569

Two years is a long time but there are other museums available, not enough, but we are in Aberdeen after all. Meanwhile you can catch and play around with some of the collections at Aberdeen Quest http://www.aberdeenquest.com/home/home.asp

quest

P1030599

November 14, 2014

Bust Up: Women’s Liberation in ’60s/’70s Aberdeen

The 1960s and 1970s – those eras of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were also eras of wars, racism, starvation, massacres, atomic bombs, nuclear threats, assassinations, the Cold War and rampant sexism.

You only have to watch some hideous films of the ’60s and ’70s or listen to song lyrics from the time to realise that while there was much talk about women’s liberation the reality was it was just that – talk.

Bust Up. Aberdeen

So women’s lib movements mushroomed in much the same way they had a century before with the rise of the Suffragists and Suffragettes. That the struggle was continuing 100 years on reveals how resistant British society was to embrace radical change in its power relationship with women.

What women had discovered was if you want an injustice rectified you have to go out and fight for that cause and not to expect rights to be handed out by political bodies. Rights are grabbed screaming and kicking from those who limit access to them.

The 1960s when the taxman sent tax statements and demands and tax rebates relating to a woman’s earnings to her husband! Women were considered incapable of understanding such complex arrangements.

Women in work were horribly exploited by employers and male-dominated trade unions run by dinosaurs content to collaborate with employers to keep women’s earnings lower than men’s for equivalent work.

Along with employment rights, women sought to control their own bodies – to be able to terminate a pregnancy in particular circumstances. The alternative was horrific and sometimes lethal and in 1967 an abortion act was passed which allowed a woman to apply for an abortion if the pregnancy was a risk to her life, her physical or mental health, to her existing children, likely seriously handicap the unborn child or an arguable detrimental social impact going through with the pregnancy.

That same year the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed allowing homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

During the 1960s and 1970s Aberdeen was buzzing with the politicisation of the young. Groups they were involved with included Aberdeen Women’s Liberation made up of young housewives, working women and students.

Much of their discussions centred on questioning the family structure, its strict gender divisions, availability of contraception and developing awareness among girls and women of their status within society.

The group’s very limited resources produced a wee publication called Bust Up. Published here is the second edition and as well it the group printed as a pamphlet on contraception which was distributed outside factories where women worked and secondary schools in the city (which attracted an interview on BBC radio).

I shouldn’t imagine there are many copies of Bust Up or the contraception booklet left some half a century on but a copy of each have recently surfaced and you lucky people have a near unique opportunity to travel back in time catch a glimpse of Bust Up and hopefully soon, the contraception one.

I’ve separated pages from Bust Up with snippets about relevant legislation from around this time for your further enlightenment. Bust Up Aberdeen

 In 1969 the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act guaranteed a wife a share of family assets on dissolution of her marriage, based on her contribution to the household as a housewife or wage earner.

010

The Divorce Reform Act allowed for divorce on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and a divorce was granted after five years of separation.

In 1970 the Conservative government of Edward Heath introduced the Equal Pay Act. Equal pay for equal work but what was equal work? That discussion still continues. It was to be another five years before it had to be implemented. 

1973 the British Sociological Association conference on sexual divisions took place in Aberdeen. 

In 1975 Equal Pay Act implemented, in theory although we know there are still women fighting for recognition of equal pay for equivalent work with male colleagues, by Labour under Harold Wilson.

 

 

The Sex Discrimination Act was passed which demonstrates that there was no gender equality in Britain. As might be expected the Act failed to cover everything – excluding pensions and social security rights.

Maternity rights were strengthened through the Employment Protection Act.

The same year the Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in Aberdeen and so too did the Northeast Scotland Regional Women and Socialism Conference. 

 In 1976 the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was passed which made it possible to get a court order to remove a man from the matrimonial home, whether or not he owned or rented it. The Act did not apply to cohabiting couples.

A year on from the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and women at a factory in Middlesex were out on strike for 21 weeks before management agreed to follow the law. Clearly their employers were not the only ones to ignore legislation but the only one where women were prepared to stay out this length of time to force the hand of their management.

The fishing industry was still a major employer in Aberdeen then and many women worked processing and packing fish (where incidentally they were left to man(sic)-handle very heavy wooden boxes packed with wet fish while their higher paid male counterparts drove around in forklifts never lifting anything heavier than their weightier pay packets.

 

In 1977 the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act recognised battered women as homeless.

In 1978 the ‘Normal Household Duties Test’ a wheeze brought in by the Labour government under James Callaghan, to deprive disabled married women of benefits as they had to prove they could not work but also then they were incapable of doing normal housework for a whole year in order to receive those benefits.

 

The Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference met in Aberdeen in 1977 and discussed lesbiansism and heterosexuality, language, the fifth demand.

The Fifth Demand was legal and financial independence for all women.

The women’s movement agreed a series of demands at their conferences in the seventies:

Demands 1 – 4 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Skegness 1971

  1. Equal Pay
  2. Equal Educational and Job Opportunities
  3. Free Contraception and Abortion on Demand
  4. Free 24-hour Nurseries

5 and 6 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Edinburgh 1974

  1. Legal and Financial Independence for All Women
  2. The Right to a Self Defined Sexuality. An End to Discrimination Against Lesbians. In 1978 at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham, the first part of this demand was split off and put as a preface to all seven demands

Demand 7 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham 1978

  1. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

 

 

 One young woman, a keen member of the Labour Party, attended a couple of meetings. She said she was quite interested in women’s lib and she’d only entered one beauty competition. The group was arranging to disrupt a beauty contest being held in Union Terrace Gardens, which it did beautifully, with fancy dress, saucepans and lids. The young woman from the Labour Party did not come back.

 

November 9, 2014

Remembrance Day 1960s Aberdeen

Mac 11nov protest

Ian MacDonald has sent in a cutting of his anti-war protest in the 1960s at Aberdeen’s war memorial lion.

‘Archive photo of myself and a friend attending a Remembrance service at Aberdeen in the 1960s.

My message today is the same – blessed are the peacemakers, bring all our troops home, scrap Trident.’

November 4, 2014

Workers’ Lives and Helicopter Safety in the North Sea

The busiest commercial heliport in the world can be found in the oil and gas capital of Europe, Aberdeen, so the sight of helicopters passing overhead is a common sight there.

Unfortunately the safety record of these offshore workhorses is worrying. Between 1976 and 2014 there have been many incidents involving helicopters most without loss of life but more recent fatalities point to something not right with the industry.

July 2002 a Sirkorsky S-76A crashed into the North Sea killing 11 people.untitled

February 2009 a Super Puma EC225 carried out a controlled landing in the North Sea with no casualties.

April 2009 a Super Puma L2 crashed into the sea following a catastrophic gearbox failure killing 16 people.

May 2012 a Super Puma EC22 made a ditched landing when instruments indicated gearbox problems and the emergency backup failed, all 14 on board were rescued.

October 2012 a Super Puma EC225 came down in the North Sea after another gearbox problem with similar failure by the emergency backup. All 19 on board were rescued.

August 2013 a Super Puma L2 crashed into sea at Shetland killing 4 people.

Following this incident the model was temporarily grounded and not cleared to fly over water until new safety features were introduced.  Were any of the incidents, including the several that never made the headlines, caused by a fault in the Super Puma gearboxes, human error or the result of cutting corners because of commercial pressures?

Men and women working offshore are rightly nervous when about to board a Puma and the chances are they will be transported by Puma.  Super Pumas make up 60% of the British offshore fleet of helicopters. Reflecting opinions offshore the RMT union has called for a full public inquiry into helicopter flights in the UK.

In light of events the House of Commons Transport Select Committee recommended a full and independent inquiry into practices, concerned that commercial pressures imposed turn around restraints on mechanics’ ability to properly maintain helicopters in constant use but the UK government refused to grant one claiming it has ‘not seen any evidence of safety being compromised through commercial pressures’ a view much criticised. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) has claimed there is undue pressure placed on them by companies using their services.

Why, people want to know are men and women employed in the British sector of the North Sea in greater danger of being involved in a helicopter accident than their Norwegian counterparts?

Since 1997 there have been no deaths due to helicopter crashes in the Norwegian sector, a statistic attributed to a tight system of regulation which begs the question what is going wrong in the British sector?

In the oil and gas workers’ own bulletin Enough is Enough in the autumn of 2013 offshore workers shared their concerns about flying safety claiming oil companies did not care about the welfare of workers, that they regarded them as expendable. One man wrote how he had been on the craft prior to the 2009 fatal crash when rumours of a fault were circulating.

Ian Wood, who recently became the media’s favourite voice for the oil and gas industries,  told a local newspaper that helicopter incidents did not merit a large-scale inquiry, ‘It’s not a big enough, complex problem – it’s nothing like Piper Alpha …We’re down to a type of helicopter that for some reason performs much worse in the UK sector of the North Sea than elsewhere.’

Well, yes isn’t that part of the problem?

‘Elsewhere’ and directly comparable with the UK is surely Norway. Same sea, similar circumstances but in contrast with the UK the safety record of commercial helicopters in its offshore sector is excellent. There has been one accident with no fatalities on the Norwegian continental shelf between 1999 and 2009. Before that there had been 12 fatalities at which point the industry decided to examine what had to be done to improve its safety.

As a result a report was drawn in 2010 which demonstrated the need for strict regulation and adoption of the latest proven helicopter technology and other measures such as reducing the number of night flights and improved training for pilots and technical personnel to reduce risk.

This Norwegian report cited workers’ fears – perceived risks – as vital sources of information on which to construct an effective and safe service. Norway operates a tripartite safety forum of companies, unions and a regulator.

A British researcher into North Sea safety suggested one vital reason for the improvement in safety in Norway was its adoption of the strict Norwegian Work Environment Act that gave power to Unions to halt work they regarded as dangerous.

Back on this side of the North Sea there is suspicion among some in offshore industries that the dangers involved in being ferried to and from installations by air have been played down by the authorities. There does not appear to be any urgency in tackling issues that would restore workers’ trust in the system.

The families of the 16 men killed in the 2009 Super Puma crash had to wait 5 years for a judgement on that accident. Then the fatal accident inquiry ruled the crash could have been prevented – pointing a finger at Bond Offshore Helicopters for failing to act on metal particles found in the Puma’s engine during routine checks which may have had an impact on the subsequent crash.

untitled

Despite this opinion Bond escaped criminal investigations into breaches of health and safety rules with the Crown Office insisting there was too little evidence to warrant one and despite complaints that the Crown Office failed to take vital evidence from witnesses of multiple breaches of health and safety.

Bond owned up to ‘honest’ mistakes –  “We have always accepted that we made mistakes through honest confusion over telephone calls and emails.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/13/fatal-north-sea-helicoper-crash-inquiry-super-puma

Our offshore workers should expect to be shuttled back and fore to and from work in as safe conditions as their counterparts in the Norwegian sector. The implication of the UK government’s decision to shut down the need for a full inquiry, the industry lukewarm response, Ian Wood’s assertion that because these accidents involved fewer fatalities than Piper Alpha so do not merit a ‘big Cullen-style inquiry’ reinforces the view of many offshore that they are expendable in the pursuit of profit.

Ian Wood justified his opinion that a  large-scale inquiry was not needed when he said, ‘…we are down to a type of helicopter that for some reason performs safety-wise much worse in the UK sector of the North Sea than it does elsewhere ‘ and that it was not ‘a big enough complex problem’ to merit a bigger inquiry.

untitled

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have introduced measures to improve offshore helicopter safety including:

  • Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken.
  • Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems)
  • Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
  • In gathering evidence for the review the CAA engaged with trade unions representing industry workers and pilots, the oil and gas industry, helicopter operators, manufacturers, government, regulatory bodies and other experts in the field, as well as analyzing available data and reports.Is it too much to ask that one of the most profitable industries on earth provides high levels of safety for their essential workers? It should be a given that offshore employees have confidence that every time they step into a helicopter that they will survive the journey, that their lives are placed ahead of commercial profit, that no corners are cut in maintenance and that when conditions are rough flights are postponed.Until we know what is behind the high number of deaths from helicopter accidents in the North Sea it is likely more men and women will die simply getting to and from work.All this begs the question – why has it taken so long to recognize the dangers of flying in hostile environments such as over the North Sea, where in the event of a helicopter going down severe sea conditions can hamper rescues? Why has it taken 40 years to realise there is value in listening to the industry’s workers’ experiences?

    I’ll leave the last word to those who spoke to the Guardian on the matter of helicopter safety:

    ‘Ask survivors what the problem is and the answer is immediate; they seem surprised I even ask. “Money.” Sharp rubs thumb and forefinger together. “Money,” says Nugent. Balpa has said it is particularly concerned by “cut-throat” competition between helicopter operators bidding for oil firm contracts. Buckley notes that in the 1990s the oil companies brought in an initiative called Crine. “It stood for Cost Reduction In the New Era and was the basis for oil companies cutting back on routine maintenance, and other cost-saving measures. It doesn’t formally exist now, but the ethos is still very prevalent.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/29/super-puma-helicopter-crash-survivors-britains-toughest-commute

October 22, 2014

They’re Not Making Land Anymore – so what can the SRUC sell off now?

lindsay

Scotland’s countryside is an important contributor to the nation’s economy: cereals, potatoes, soft fruit, beef and dairy, sheep and forestry. These industries are vulnerable however – to fluctuating markets and weather certainly but what else?

Where do young people go to train for careers in rural occupations? The time was when there were facilities fairly close to home for our rural youngsters to get the basics while still working on family farms, certainly at weekends. Unfortunately these facilities are contracting and the danger is some may disappear altogether. Whole experimental farms have been sold off for house building or golf courses at the same time our rural college offers its majority of courses not in any of Scotland’s mainstays of farming but in Scotland’s second biggest city, Edinburgh.

The food produced in Scotland is renowned for its high quality and you might think it essential to reinforce this state-of-affairs through the provision of educational courses provided in just those areas where demand is greatest to learn rural skills and where back-up services are most needed. Edinburgh does not spring to mind for either of those.

The body providing training for a life in farming and forestry is the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) which a couple of years ago morphed out of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) – an umbrella organisation for agri colleges across the country that had been established in the early years of the 20th century and were instrumental in the expansion of Scotland’s agricultural sector, based largely on pasture-reared stock.

“Sheep and beef production from extensive systems is broadly speaking, environmentally friendly. Animal welfare is perceived to be of a high order and, coupled with images of fresh air, open hills and clean water, Scottish meat is seen as a high quality product”.
House of Commons, Scottish Affairs Committee (1996).

But not all is perfect with the SRUC which returned a loss for the last financial year – blamed on a number of one-off and merger costs, but contrived a 43% increase in pay for the principal and chief executive to £309,000, from £216,000 previously. The SRUC Chairman is Lord Jamie Lindsay.

Hard times have not dampened the ambitions of the SRUC Board to achieve university status for its courses and it is undergoing discussions with Edinburgh University with that in mind because the SRUC is seeking,

“a new alignment with the potential to create an influential force in the agricultural world”.

And you and I thought good farming practice came down to a farmer being able to tell one end of a cow from another.

The SRUC operates six campuses across Scotland – at Aberdeen, Ayr, Barony, Edinburgh, Elmwood and Oatridge plus a network of veterinary, advisory, consultancy offices and research farms, essential to the farming community. The provision is similar to what has long existed if somewhat curtailed in extent after years of pruning staff, courses, property and land – in a bid to balance the books.

The model sought was smaller and sleeker and not so messily rural which is why the SRUC ended up as an urban institution, in one of the most expensive parts of Scotland.

Scotland’s richest farming areas are found in Orkney, the northeast and southwest and rural communities in these parts were desperate to retain a close working relationship with the then SAC. What emerged was an extended internecine war over which campus would be the best headquarters and which would suffer greatest losses of land, buildings and staff in the drive for economic viability.

Back in 2003 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment and Rural Development Committee issued this statement:
‘The current review of SAC did not itself consider the wider economic impact of SAC’s decisions. That was not an oversight. SAC’s Directors are responsible for the viability of the organisation. Though SAC wishes to be as helpful to local economies as it can be, that must not compromise its own survival.’

This is curious. The SAC’s survival was surely inextricably linked to the success of its decisions and the attractiveness of a rural college is surely its usefulness to the people most likely to use it. Given the particular and differing strengths of agricultural industries across Scotland their needs will vary by area. The notion that the SAC had to survive at all costs is a peculiar one. If the SAC was not effective in responding to the needs of its industry then preserving it as an entity was never going to create a facility relevant to the future of rural life and industry.

Deloitte and Touche (D&T) were employed to draw up a report to establish the situation within the SAC and its future options.

D &T’s report threw up a list of justifications for situating Scotland’s rural college in its capital city as the best way forward rather than at one of its two main purpose-built campuses – Auchincruive, Ayrshire and Craibstone, Aberdeen.

At the time student numbers were:
Edinburgh – 146 students
Craibstone – 200 students
Auchincruive – 360 students

Brian Pack, former CE of the giant Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) group argued for the retention of the Scottish system of integrating practice at the SAC – preserving a link between research and development and consultancy with teaching while the SAC sought to separate them out. He was a strong advocate for making Craibstone the lead campus for the SAC Scotland operation, not least because of its proximity to the rich farming lands of Aberdeenshire.

Edinburgh, it was pointed out had no student accommodation on site and it would be difficult and expensive for students to find their own in the city. Craibstone was well-served with student accommodation, and its many students were able to combine studies with practical work at home, not possible for the majority from Edinburgh. Craibstone was also popular with students from the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney because of the good transport links with these areas. Craibstone included several experimental farms distributed over a wide area as well as woodland in a prime location at the edge of Aberdeen.

Another view in support of Craibstone is quoted –

‘It is recognised that there are other further education establishments closer to
home e.g. Edinburgh SAC is closer to the Borders than Craibstone is,
however the students still chose to come to Aberdeen. This shows a better
quality experience gained at a rural campus, especially for rural-based
courses. You only need to look at the successful recruitment of students at
other land-based colleges in rural locations to see this is true e.g. Harper
Adams, Writtle, Royal Agricultural College.’

But the D&T report worked hard at persuading the case for establishing the rural college’s base in Edinburgh where it said there was –

‘better access to physical resources in libraries, bookshops and other support services were seen as great advantages’

…which annoyed supporters of Craibstone –

‘This has obviously been produced by people with little knowledge of how the campus at Craibstone Operates: all students are matriculated to Aberdeen University, so have a free access to the University library, sports and other student facilities which are only 5 miles away from Craibstone and on a main bus route. It is therefore obvious that the weightings are unrealistic and inaccurate.’

Was the D&T report projecting the outcome desired by the SAC Board? That was certainly the suspicion among many in the industry whereas it appeared the then Scottish Executive supported retaining the College as a cross-country facility. Given that the SAC was receiving 41% of its funding from Holyrood you might think that view should have carried weight.
However Labour’s Rhona Brankin MSP appears to have supported the move to Edinburgh.

brankin

It is not obvious how setting up in an urban environment was going to stop the loss of students and cash. Quite the reverse.

At Ayr it was felt that decisions were being taken without consultation with ‘local stakeholders’ and that the detrimental impact on the Ayrshire economy was not given consideration. Auchincruive offered consultancy services, vet labs along with an experimental farm and brought in nearly 29% the SAC’s education income.

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive provide courses from SVQs to BSc Hons level although more limited in university degree options than at Edinburgh.

Arguing in favour of Edinburgh was Dr Mark Hocart from the SAC there –

‘Education is about personal growth and development as well as academic success. SAC has a responsibility to provide the most appropriate environment for students to develop as fully rounded personalities. For many students the contacts and network of friends made at college or university will be important to them throughout their subsequent careers so it is important that that experience is as rich and diverse as possible. A National Centre of Excellence The proposed ‘Hub and Spoke’ model is the right way to move.’

So there you have it – learning skills is so old fashioned – it’s all about personal growth blah, blah, blah.

As for ‘Hub and Spoke’ – this is Edinburgh the hub and Auchincruive and Craibstone etc are the spokes. Which is fine except shouldn’t it have been the other way around with the concentration on rural rather than urban?

He went on

‘Bringing the full-time education provision together for the first time will allow SAC
to build an integrated range of course programmes, maximising opportunities for
sharing of teaching modules across programmes. The hub focus will improve the
diversity of course programmes students can pursue while still delivering
education in a financially viable manner. The ‘Spokes’ are effectively satellite
teaching centres, and outreach centres based principally on SAC’s advisory
offices that will allow a greater participation in education for students in rural
Scotland. Developments in e-learning, distance learning and ‘electronic
classrooms’, will enable SAC to deliver education and training over a wider
geographical range than is currently the case. The hub and spoke model will
give SAC a truly national reach for education provision.’

You might be forgiven for wondering how this matches up with effective training for our young farmers … e-learning? really?

Here’s a novel approach – do away with the need for e-learning and get students out into the field (literally). Or is that too radical?

He continued

‘King’s Buildings (Edinburgh) have strong and productive research links with the Moredun Research Institute, the Roslin Institute, the SABRIs, SASA and BioSS. This
amalgamation of research activities adds significantly to the critical mass for
effective world class research. ‘

Forgive me but isn’t this exactly the setup for e-communication rather than practical skills? And while Edinburgh campus was close to those research bodies Craibstone was equally close to the Macaulay Institute(John Hutton), the Rowett and the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon’s University.

And continued

‘SAC Edinburgh has a local tradition of agriculture and land-based education and
has been supporting land-based industries for as long as any other centre. At
present we provide 25% of the courses at SAC, less than our Auchincruive
campus, however this is to change in the future.’

And we know why.

Dr Graham E Dalton FIAgrM commenting on the D&T report –

‘This report is a classic consultancy report where the wrong question has been asked. The financial accounts show that SAC is not working. Why? High overheads for facilities are only one possible reason for this situation.’

He questioned whether staffing levels were right rather than D&T’s concentration on WHERE to put staff. And he questioned D&T’s favouring centralising the SAC in Edinburgh – arguing this WOULD have a negative impact on revenue so that the report’s assumption of their best option was unlikely to succeed.

He suggested the report was coming on the problem from the wrong end. Instead of concentrating on the organisation of the institution it should have looked to the needs of ‘its customers’.
Indeed.

Brian Pack pointed out the danger of being fixated by costs rather than value. A yes to that.

Think about it if you were setting up an agricultural – let’s widen it – rural college would you opt to put it in the middle of a city?

If there’s one thing people need it is food. There is surely great scope for further development of Scotland’s rural industries so how is it the institution on which so much of this future depends is in dire straits? Could it be the fault lies with the Board and decisions taken by it?

Isobel Gibson thought so. Back at the same Holyrood enquiry in 2003 she was critical of the management of the SAC and D&T report for failing to understand the needs of students and their ‘potential as generators of income.’

Auchincruive and Craibstone were once major centres for learning for young men and women, many of them from farming backgrounds, in search of rural skills. Both colleges provided their localities with professional advice from experts in crop management, pest control, veterinary advice and so on as well as undertaking research programmes. But their farmland, woodland and many buildings were sold and with them so vital provision and links with the land.

auchincruive

There’s an echo of the consequence of slicing away at our agricultural base in an academic paper on ‘Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and environment’ (2001) from the University of Aberdeen which found that when Scots were asked to visualise ‘rural’ they conjured up images of a highland idyll – of mountainscapes – whereas in other parts of Europe the same question brought descriptions of things agricultural.

While I might not be able to lay the blame for this diminution in awareness of our agricultural sector at the door of the SAC or SRUC or whatever they are likely to call themselves next week there were signals back in 2003 that not all was right.

“The Scottish Agricultural College is a practical example of what happens when Colleges merge without a well thought out strategy. The Committee should regard it as a template of all that can go wrong. There has been a preponderance of “bankers and business types” on the SAC Board. Practical farmers were ignored.”

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive suffered draconian cuts in the SAC/SRUC drive to stop leaking cash. Slash and sell – the SAC saw a future in selling off farms and land and anything that stood still. Indeed could that be the reason Edinburgh won out as the SAC HQ – that campus had nothing to flog off whereas Craibstone was resource-rich and by selling its assets and those at Auchincruive the SAC was able to use the capital raised to reduce its losses. Had the decision been taken to abandon Edinburgh in favour of, say, Craibstone, there would be no such financial gain as the SAC there had virtually nothing to sell.

However it was come to the decision was taken in favour of Edinburgh and the SAC now existed as a private company with charitable status. Its Principal and Chief Executives were appointees – by fellow Board members. There was also a tie in with the Anglian Water Group (AWG) hired to carry out some of the campus pruning operations. The SAC sat back and waited for the cash to drop into their laps. In 2007 merchant baker Lord Lindsay was appointed its chairman. Integration was the way forward.

Then in 2013 this emerged:

“If ever a monument to “joined up” academic planning stupidity was to be erected, the Craigie Campus, Ayr should be its home. No one but an academic would train nurses and farmers at the same facility. Squeaky clean meets E Coli heaven. This week (7 Janueary 2013) the annual health warning to pregnant women was issued by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns. This warns women not to come into contact with lambing ewes or even the clothes of anyone doing the work for fear of risks to their own unborn child.”

P1000766

While the SAC was selling off property with one hand it was swallowing up various rural colleges, to mix metaphors, to mixed fortunes. Integration at any cost. Doesn’t responsibility for this absurdity rest with the Board?

Critics of the way the SAC was run and now presumably the SRUC have made no impact on it.

‘What lessons can be learned from the conduct of the SAC. The SAC Board has long been considered a self perpetuating oligarchy.’

“On 19 January 2011, the then SAC chief executive told all 30 South Ayrshire Council Planning Committee members at a public planning meeting they were to disregard the testimony of the person nominated by the Ayrshire National Farmers Union to speak in opposition to SAC plans to ruin Auchicruive.
On the day, the Ayrshire NFU farmer representative was not allowed to rebut the unwarranted attack on his integrity. The SAC Chairman later did admit the SAC Chief Executive was in error and apologised to the Ayrshire farmer in the press.”

Extraordinary behaviour.

There is no disguising discontent among the farming community over the role played by the organisation.

‘Finally the Committee should invite the NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller to tell why it was necessary for him to write to the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead in August 2011. “It is a sad fact that our Scottish system, which was once world leading, is probably no longer the best.” He also calls for a need to examine how we make the most of our existing sites.’

The SRUC annual report 2013 shows the SRUC still selling off land at Aberdeen and Ayr to improve its net balance. The jargon seems to indicate we haven’t seen the end of mergers – or ‘merger synergies’ as stated in the report.

The move to Edinburgh doesn’t appear to have been the answer to the SRUC’s problems. It appears caught in a cycle of cost cutting – to what end?

Who and what are losing out to this crazy setup and how damaging is it for the future of Scotland’s rural industries?

In its drive to attain university status has the SRUC lost sight of its basic function?

Why was it able to become a private company answerable to none over its selling off once publicly owned resources?

It bothers me that its Board members, apart from staff and student representatives are appointed.

That it is private but is still supported by public funds – currently the SRUC gets
financial assistance from the Scottish Funding Council.

That it is a registered charity therefore does not pay corporation tax.

The SAC, and now the SRUC, was set up as a limited liability company under guarantee (without share capital). Many such conversions from public colleges to private have gone down a similar route but with Boards of Governors plus a CEO and Principal. The SAC chose to form a standard limited company with a Board of Directors.

Confused?

A board of governors allows greater opportunity for scrutiny of senior management. And it is cheaper than the SAC/SRUC setup as governors are paid a small stipend and expenses. An executive Board gets salary plus benefits – what they are is anyone’s guess. Board executive liability in the event of the SRUC becoming insolvent stands at £1 each.

As there are no shareholders the Board can remunerate themselves to any amount they wish. There are stakeholders of course, who can attend the annual AGM and grand dinner, but they don’t get any vote on the issue of executive remuneration.

There we have it. A rural skills college run from a city as a private business dependent on public money, paying no corporation tax and flogging off what were publicly owned assets.

Nothing illegal about it but for the life of me I can’t see this model as being in the best interests of Scotland’s rural industries.

ENVIRONMENT AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
AGENDA
2ND Meeting, 2003 (Session 2)
Wednesday 25 June 2003
[PDF]SRUC Board and Committe Structure and Remits – working …
www.sruc.ac.uk/…/sruc_boards_and_committees_remits_and_structures

[PDF]Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and …
www.scotland.gov.uk/resource/doc/158216/0042826.pdf

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/craibstone-estate-on-greenbelt-gets-1000-houses/

Herald Scotland : Few signs of peace as SAC’s battle for survival reaches the Executive Thursday 26 June 2003