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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Charles Oppenheimer's Galloway dams

Harnessing the Power of the Dee

Art in Concrete

Galloway Dam Nearing Completion

Friday, March 11, 2016

Buses Face Axe

It started  9.30 Thursday morning when Sandy who is my son Callum’s carerworker was about to take Callum off in the taxi to day centre. “Look up Swestrans” Sandy said. “Laura has found out they are meeting tomorrow and plan to cut Sunday and evening bus services.” Sandy and Laura are local Scottish green party members.

By the time what he said had sunk in, Sandy and Callum and Brian the taxi driver were gone.

So I went online and looked and found that Swestrans, who manage public transport in Dumfries and Galloway were having a meeting in the Murray Arms Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet on Friday 11 March at 10 30 am. The agenda for the meeting included reports and was 118 pages long. Item 10 on the agenda, on pages 99 to 102

Link http://swestrans.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=17317&p=0

10. LOCAL BUS SERVICE FUNDING 2016/17 – Recommendations – (1) note the reduction in revenue funding from 1 April 2016; (2) agree to reduce the annual publicity budget by £10,000; (3) note the options presented for achieving savings from local bus services as detailed in the Appendix; and (4) agree to reduce local bus service provision by removing all Sunday journeys, all Monday to Saturday journeys after 6pm and the 350 Stranraer to Cairnryan service at an overall saving in 2016/17 of £305,488.


6.3 Members of the Board are asked to consider the options presented for achieving the £315,000 required savings for 2016/17 and agree to reduce the publicity budget by £10,000 and reduce local bus services by removing all Sunday journeys, all Monday to Saturday journeys after 6pm and the 350 Stranraer to Cairnryan service at an overall saving in 2016/17 of £305,488.

Dumfries and Galloway covers 2400 square miles. It is the third largest (by area, not population) l;ocal authority region in Scotland. Since it was axed in 1965, there is no direct rail link between the two largest towns in the region- Stranraer and Dumfries - which are about 70 miles apart. Buses are therefore an essential service which  connects communities across the region.

I had listened to the local BBC radio news for the region on Thursday morning- but there was no mention of the meeting on Friday and the plan to axe Sunday and evening bus services. So I immediately e-mailed BBC Dumfries quoting the Swestrans agenda and politely wondering if they were aware of this news story.

I also posted about the bus axe threat on Facebook before going shopping. I bought a copy of the local (Stewartry of Kirkcudbright) Galloway News and found they had covered the story on page three. This I scanned and posted on Facebook and then messaged the Galloway News’ sister paper  the Dumfries and Galloway Standard . Stuart Gillespie replied- he had written the Galloway news story and one of his colleagues had written a story on the buses for Friday’s Standard.

The local Greens were obviously aware of the threat but what about RISE and the local SNP MSPs? Just in case they were not, I passed on details of the Swestrans report.

By the afternoon BBC South of Scotland had the story on their webpage and it was featured on the BBC Dumfries news at 4.30 and 5.30.

There were also press releases from the Scottish Greens, RISE and SNP MSPs  and both the Greens and RISE plan to protest at the meeting on Friday morning.

No doubt most of this would have happened anyway but hopefully my flurry of networking activity nudged things along.

Certainly my fear that the meeting would happen and the decision to axe the bus services be made before anyone had the chance to object has been removed. Since the report recommending cutting the services was dated 4 March and was buried in a lengthy document this could easily have happened. On one of my Facebook post's I quote from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy-

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a 
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The rest of this post documents the day’s activities and outcomes.

1.Swestrans agenda/ reports

2.Galloway News Story

3. BBC South of Scotland news story

A string of Sunday and evening bus services in Dumfries and Galloway could be scrapped in a bid to save more than £300,000.
The South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWestrans) is to meet to discuss the move on Friday.
It is being asked to remove all Sunday buses and services after 6pm on Monday to Saturday on numerous routes.
Along with the removal of a Stranraer to Cairnryan service it would result in an overall saving of £305,000.
A report on the issue said a "challenging financial settlement" for Dumfries and Galloway
Council had led to it deciding to reduce the revenue budget available to SWestrans by 9% or £315,000 for financial year 2016/17.
Part of the saving will be achieved by reducing spending on printing timetables by £10,000.
However, the remainder will be taken from "supporting socially necessary local bus services".
If agreed, the services could be terminated by 9 May this year.

4. RISE press release

RISE condemns South West of Scotland Transport Partnership’s (SWestrans) proposal to slash its bus services in Dumfries and Galloway. If implemented, the plans would cut numerous services on Sundays, and services on other days after six in the evening (http://swestrans.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=17317&p=0), further undermining South Scotland’s already weakened transport network.
SWestrans are meeting to discuss this tomorrow, Friday 11th March at 10.30am at the Murray Arms in Gatehouse Of Fleet. RISE will attend to make the point that privatisation of our transport network has been a disaster, and that we need a fully-funded public alternative to stop depopulation of our rural areas.

We will also highlight the impact of the national cuts agenda. SWestrans has been left in this position after Dumfries and Galloway Council agreed on 29th February to cut funding for the provision of socially necessary local bus services by £315,000 with effect from 1 April 2016.

RISE believe that this lends further credence to our position that a radical change is needed in how local councils are funded. We are proposing the income-based Scottish Service Tax (SST) as an alternative system. Under SST, over 70% of Scottish households would pay less, but funding for councils would increase by £2 billion per annum, allowing us to protect vital local services like those offered by SWestrans. The SNP had promised in its 2011 Manifesto to replace the Council Tax with a “fairer system based on the ability to pay”
(http://votesnp.com/campaigns/SNP_Manifesto_2011_lowRes.pdf), but last week announced that it would be keeping the Council Tax in place.

RISE are also committed to bringing control of public transport back into the hands of the public, rather than having them run by private companies seeking huge profits. We want a free network of buses and trains that serve not just those routes that make the most money, but the most isolated and rural communities like those which will be affected by the cuts in SWestrans services.

RISE candidate for South Scotland Dan Foley said: “As someone who lives in a rural community in Dumfries and Galloway, I understand all too well that the current public transport services in Dumfries and Galloway are both expensive and not fit for purpose. Further cuts to the services funded by the local council will just serve to make the situation even worse and increase isolation for those who can’t afford to travel by car.”

5. Scottish Green Party Press Release

Sarah Beattie-Smith, lead candidate for the Greens in the South of Scotland and Green spokesperson on infrastructure said:
“The decision to cut all Sunday and evening bus services will be a devastating blow for many low-paid people across Dumfries and Galloway. Shift workers like nurses, care workers and those employed in hospitality and tourism will find themselves unable to get to work and in some cases out of a job. While those who can afford it will turn to the car, therefore putting more cars on the road and increasing congestion and pollution, those who cannot will be isolated and cut off from economic and educational opportunities and from society at large. The loss of this lifeline service is a political choice, not an inevitability. We urge Swestrans to reconsider their decision”.

Laura Moodie, Dumfries & Galloway Greens Co-convenor said: “In recent local surveys of bus users, carried out by local Greens, the clamour was for more services, not less, especially at weekends and in the evenings. Young people in particular will feel the burden of these cuts and they could have a negative impact on visitor numbers and perception of the region. Over 14,000 homes within Dumfries & Galloway do not have a vehicle. Of these, over 2,500 are considered to be in remotely rural locations. A bus service for those without cars is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

6 . SNP MSPs Press Release

South of Scotland MSPs Aileen McLeod and Joan McAlpine have today (Thursday) called for an urgent rethink of proposed cuts to public transport provision for the region, which would see bus services after 6pm and all buses on Sundays scrapped. Regional Transport Partnership Swestrans will make the decision at its meeting in Gatehouse of Fleet tomorrow.

Aileen McLeod commented:
“Everyone knows that savings need to be made and every political group on Dumfries & Galloway Council included a reduction in funding for public transport in their budget proposals at the end of February. But the impact of these proposals will be severe – the idea that in a matter of weeks’ time buses running after 6pm and on Sundays might be scrapped just beggars belief.

Joan McAlpine added:
“I cannot believe that this is the only viable option to save money out of a £3.5 million budget and it is bound to have a significant negative affect on people who currently rely on bus services to get to and from work, education and NHS services. Money needs to be saved but these plans need to be re-thought urgently.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Local, National, Global

Steel Works 1950s

The strangeness never really goes away. If anything it just gets even stranger. By this I mean viewing an urban and industrial world from the perspective of a rural and agricultural one. And, at the same time having lived in London for 18 years, working in factory for part of the time, viewing a rural and agricultural world from an urban and industrial one.

From within either environment the view- of fields and countryside as far as the eye can see or of houses and the city as far as the eye can see- is perfectly normal and taken for granted. It is ‘reality’. But to try and bring the two views together creates a strangeness, a disconcertion.

History provides one way to combine the two perspectives. But as I have found, to use history as a method of understanding why one location is rural and another urban requires an ever expanding acquisition of knowledge. It is circle with a centre which is everywhere and a circumference which is nowhere. The history of any locality, when investigated thoroughly, eventually becomes part of global history. Example- both the Arctic and Antarctic are now subject to the influence of the history of industrialisation via climate change/ global warming.

Thus the particular history of my current locality has been influenced by the growth of London in the seventeenth century via its demand for food. Until the trade was banned 1666, one source of London’s food was Ireland, which exported 60 to 100 000 cattle/year to feed the city. Most of the Irish cattle were shipped  directly to England, but about 10 %  crossed from Ulster to south-west Scotland.

The Scottish route was developed after the Plantation of Ulster by the Murray and McLellan (later Maxwell) families who gained lands in Ulster via the Plantation. The cattle from their Irish lands could be fattened on their Scottish lands before being driven south. After the English ban on Irish cattle, landowners in south-west Scotland began supplying the English market with Scottish cattle, although at least some of these ‘Scottish’ cattle had begun their short lives in Ulster.
From Donegal to Gretna Green- roughly the route the cattle followed before 1667

By the 1690s, the cattle trade to London was well established. This is significant since it shows that even before the political Union of 1707, the Scottish economy was being influenced by the English economy. With the English ban in Irish cattle still in place, cattle were one of the few Scottish products which were ‘bought and sold for English gold’.

Landowners who were involved in the cattle trade had an advantage over those who did not. The Murray, Dunbar, Dlarymple, Stewart and Heron families in Galloway were able to extend their land holdings by using the profits from the cattle trade to buy or rent more land. They could then rear and fatten more cattle on their new land holdings.

Landowners who either failed to reinvest their cattle trade profits in buying more land or who relied on more traditional mixed arable and livestock farming began to lose out. By the 1720s, this market pressure on landowners and their tenants saw an increasing number of arable farms being converted into cattle pastures. The resulting mass evictions- the first of the Scottish Clearances- provoked an armed uprising by the Galloway Levellers in 1724. They overturned the dry-stane dykes (walls) built around the cattle pastures. Some of the dykes levelled had been built over 40 years earlier, indicating that their’s was a grievance which had been building up since before the Union of 1707.

London’s demand for food also had an impact on English agriculture, stimulating its improvement and the growth of ‘capitalist’ farming where tenant farmers had to bid for cash leases on the land paid for by producing  cash crops sold to Londoners. There was also an increase in specialisation, with some farmers producing vegetables for example for sale in London’s markets.

The growth of London also depended on coal from Newcastle. There was not enough wood available to keep London’s fires burning. But as London’s demand for coal grew, so the mines in north east England had to become deeper and/or further away from rivers and the coast. Steam engines to pump out water from the deeper mines, to haul coal and miners up from the deeper mines came into use in the eighteenth century. Horse powered railways were developed to haul coal wagons from inland sites to the coast. In the early nineteenth century steam engines were used to replace horses on these railways.

Until 1830, all human societies relied on the ability of plants to capture a tiny fraction- less than 1%- of the energy reaching the earth from the sun. Humans cannot eat sunlight, but they can eat plants and animals that have fed on plants. As well as food, plants and the animals that ate them provided material for making clothes. From trees came wood for building, for making fires for warmth and fires to process raw materials.

Without coal, London would have had to rely on wood to heat its houses, but the land needed to grow the trees would then not have been available to grow crops or feed livestock. This would have limited London’s growth. By 1700, London had a population of half a million. If wood had been used to keep the city warm, every year 1250 square miles of forest would have had to be felled. To keep the supply of fire wood going, the same amount of land would have to be replanted. If coppicing was used on a 16 year cycle, 20 000 square miles of woodland would have been needed out of England’s  total area of 50 345 square miles. By 1801, when London’s population reached 1 million, 40 000 square miles of woodland would have been needed.

Without the substitution of coal for wood, the conflict between land used for food and land needed by wood burning industries created another restriction on growth. The British iron industry in particular was only able to expand after coke replaced charcoal in its furnaces. And while cotton and other textile industries were able to grow using water power in the eighteenth century, their nineteenth century growth was driven by coal fuelled steam power.

However, and this is why the date of 1830 is significant, so long as transport still relied on horse power on roads and canals, the need to grow crops to feed the horses created a further land use conflict. When the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened in 1830, it was fully steam powered unlike previous railways which had used either horse power or a mix of horses and steam engines.
Rainhill Locomotive Trials 1829

The success of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was rapidly exported. Even before London and Birmingham were linked by rails in 1838, similar main line railways had been opened in France (1832), Belgium  and Germany (1835), Austria and Russia (1837). Italy and the Netherlands followed in 1839 and Spain by 1848. In the USA, steam power was in regular use on railways from 1830. Before the end of the nineteenth century there were railways in South America, Australia, Africa, India, Japan and China.

Just as the railways cut the cost and speeded up transport on land, the development of iron steamships in the 1860s had a similar effect across the oceans. Although as the pioneering industrial nation, Britain initially benefited from the shift to coal as an energy source, the advantage was steadily eroded as other countries developed their industrial infrastructure. This shift had become apparent by 1914, when London lost its status as the world’s largest city to New York.

Today the world’s largest ‘urban agglomeration’ is Guangzhou in China where 46 900 000 people live. Altogether there are 80 cities with more than 5 million inhabitants world wide. Without the use of coal, oil and natural gas as energy sources, such mega cities would not exist.


But even if we step back from the mega cities to the countryside of south-west Scotland where farming and forestry are the main industries, there is still a reliance on oil and the internal combustion engine. Without specialist machinery and lorries, neither forestry nor farming could function.

Yet this is also a region which still the same population level today- 150 000- that it had in 1851. With only two small coalfields, the region was not transformed by the industrial revolution. It remained as it had been since the seventeenth century, a rural region supplying urban markets with food.

Although its population did grow from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, that growth was closely linked to the expansion through improvement of the area of productive land combined with specialisation of land use. Sheep and beef cattle were  kept on unimproved upland farms, while dairy cattle and arable farming on the improved lowland farms.

The process of specialisation of land use began in the seventeenth century with the cattle trade as discussed above. The improvement of arable land to increase crop yields came in the later, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture, established in 1723, connected the two phases. The Patron of the Society of Improvers  was John Dalrymple, the 2nd earl of Stair. Stair was involved in the region’s cattle trade. This involvement had been begun before 1682 by his grandfather James Dalrymple. Other landowners from the south-west who were members of the Society of Improvers were George Dunbar of Mochrum, botanist and agricultural improver Alexander Heron of Bargally and Patrick Heron III of Kirroughtrie. The Heron family played a major role in the regional cattle trade over four generations between the through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

John Clerk of Penicuik was leading member of the Society and had strong links with the south-west. His father-in-law was the 3rd earl of Galloway and Clerk represented Whithorn burgh in the pre-Union parliament of Scotland. The 3rd  earl of Galloway was another  regional landowner who was engaged in the cattle trade by 1682 and this interest was continued by his son, Clerk’s brother in law. Visiting his brother in law in 1721, Clerk estimated that the regional cattle trade was by then worth £10 000 sterling/year.

Before continuing, it should be noted that John Dalrymple the 1st earl of Stair and John Clerk of Pencuik were leading supporters of the Union of 1707.  Significantly, via the cattle trade, by then the economy of south-west Scotland  had been linked to England/ London for 40 years and even longer if the Ulster Plantation cattle trade connection is included. This background is reflected in John Clerk’s support for the Union on economic grounds, including the opportunity to increase the trade in black cattle which really were ‘bought and sold for English gold’.
John Dalrymple,1st earl of Stair

Although the Society of Improvers did improve the knowledge of agriculture, the shift from the theory to the practice of ‘Improvement’ did not occur on a wide scale until the later eighteenth century. Patrick Heron IV, for example, was influenced by his brother in law Henry Home (Lord Kames) when he set about improving lands he owned based on directions supplied by Home. Home was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment as was  Adam Smith. Having acted as tutor to the 3rd duke of Buccleuch, Smith’s theories of economic development influenced the duke’s improvements of his extensive lands in eastern Dumfriesshire and the Scottish Borders.

But although the duke allowed a textile mill to be established in Langholm and owned a coal mine in Canonbie near the border with England, he did not support further developments. This was partly for political reasons after the French Revolution, since he feared the disruptive and riotous influence of the mill workers and miners on his ‘loyal’ agricultural tenants. (The miners also poached his game).

However it was also the case that Adam Smith’s theories of political economy did not involve or anticipate an industrial revolution. For Smith and other political economists of the period, the foundation of ‘commercial’ society, of the market economy was a fully developed and ‘improved’ agricultural economy. Once the agricultural economy was fully developed, this would limit the further development of ‘manufactures’ and economic growth would  begin to slow down. Then end result would be a ‘stationary’ or steady state  economy rather than one which continued to grow.

One way of looking at the rural south of Scotland is to see it as a region which has followed this model of economic development. From the seventeenth through to the mid-nineteenth century, its economy and population grew as its agricultural infrastructure was developed and improved. But once that process was complete, which effectively it was by the 1840s, there was little  scope for further economic growth and so the population peaked in 1851.

This failure to grow was not due to a rural population lacking entrepreneurial skills. Local farmer’s son John Kennedy was one of several young men from the region who became pioneers of the industrial revolution in north-west England. Kennedy established Manchester’s largest steam powered cotton spinning factory in the 1790s and went on to become a promoter of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, acting as a judge at the Rainhill locomotive trials on the railway in 1829. Among his friends were both James Watt and George Stephenson..

Kennedy’s partner James McConnell was a tenant farmer’s son who grew up near Kennedy. McConnell married Mary Houldsworth. Both brothers were also cotton spinners. One stayed in Manchester, but Henry Houldsworth moved to Glasgow in 1799 and set up a steam powered cotton spinning mill and textile machine making business there.

A & G Murray and Kennedy  & McConnell mills Manchester 1815

Then in 1836, Henry Houldsworth and his brother bought Coltness estate in Lanarkshire for £80 000. The estate was sold to the brothers by James Steuart. His father, political economist James Steuart, and grandfather had been members of the Society of Improvers in the 1740s and Coltness was a fully improved estate.

What attracted the Houldsworths, however, was that beneath the improved fields lay extensive reserves of coal and ironstone. After buying the estate, Henry set up an ironworks which had nine furnaces by 1846.

Coltness was only one of 15 ironworks in north Lanarkshire. In 1830 these had an output of 40 000 tons/year. Output then grew rapidly to 240 000 tons/year by 1840 and 560 000 tons/year by 1848. By then all the reserves of ironstone in Lanarkshire had either been bought up or leased. This prompted Henry Houldsworth to look for other areas where coal and ironstone were found together.

The Doon valley in Ayrshire was one of the few areas meeting this specification which had not yet been exploited. In 1847 Houldsworth set up the Dalmellington Iron Company in the upper Doon valley. The first pig iron was cast in 1848, but there was no railway link to the iron works until 1856. All the iron cast had to be carried by horse and wagon to the railway and docks at Ayr.

Like most roads at the time, the road to Ayr was a toll road. The extra cost of the tolls and road transport threatened the profitability of iron produced at Dalmellington. Fortunately Houldsworth’s son in law James Murray began investing in the new company in 1851 (eventually becoming its largest shareholder) which allowed production to continue until the railway from Ayr finally reached Dalmellington.

Murray was able to invest in the iron company after inheriting a share in his family’s cotton spinning business in Manchester. This had been set up by his father Adam and uncle George Murray. The Murray brothers had been born in New Galloway, 20 miles south of Damellington and close to where John Kennedy and James McConnell had been born. Like Kennedy and McConnell, Adam and George Murray had left the region as teenagers in the 1780s to become apprentices in a textile machine making business near Bolton. The business was owned by William Cannan, James McConnell’s uncle.

Dalmellington Iron Works 1858

Given the close business and family ties between cotton manufactures and iron masters, it was only an accident of geology which separated the economic history of Dalmellington from that of New Galloway. The Southern Upland Fault line runs between the two small settlements. To the north of the Fault coal and iron existed, to the south they did not.

On the other hand, unlike the Coltness and other iron works in north Lanarkshire which encouraged the growth of Wishaw, Motherwell, Coatbridge and Airdrie which now form an eastern extension of the Glasgow ‘urban agglomeration’, the Dalmellington iron works and its associated coal mines remained an isolated enclave of industry in a rural and agricultural landscape. The neighbouring coalfield in the upper Nith valley likewise did not stimulate urban growth, nor did the Canonbie coalfield to the south-east.

In fact, my home town, Castle Douglas, a planned rural market town established in 1791, has a higher population at 4000 than Dalmellington -1500- and Patna -2400- in the industrialised Doon valley.

On the other side of the Solway Firth, in west Cumberland, coal mining was developed in the seventeenth century to supply Dublin with coal. In the nineteenth century, iron ore from west Cumberland was used in steelmaking both in the region and beyond. Whitehaven and Workington both have about 25 000 residents and Maryport 12 000. If Tudor period copper mining  and the Sellafield nuclear complex are included, the region has been an industrial one for about 450 years, but the only city in the area is Carlisle which has its origins as administrative and military centre.

Comparing population densities, Dumfries and Galloway on the north of the Solway Firth has 60 people/square mile, while Cumbria to the south has 190 people/square mile. The two regions are similar in size- Dumfries and Galloway 2481 square miles, Cumbria 2613 square miles and share a similar geography which combines better quality farmland in lowland areas with poor quality farmland in their respective uplands. The difference in population densities is therefore most likely to be a result of Cumbria’s industrial history and the exploitation of its coal and iron ore reserves.

The raises some interesting questions. If Cumbria had lacked coal and iron ore, would its pattern of development have more closely resembled that of Dumfries and Galloway? And, now that the iron ore has gone and coal mining has stopped, has Cumbria arrived at a ‘stationary state’?

At the global level there is still coal and oil and iron ore available so in theory we should be some way off from reaching a global stationary state. On the other, since 2008 the global economy has been in the doldrums. Even China which had become the workshop of the world is struggling.

On the other other hand, if there is a return to growth and more coal, oil and gas start getting burned again, global warming will continue and climate change will continue to the point where it brings growth to end through food shortages and disruption of essential infrastructure.

If there is no return to growth, where does that leave capitalism? Without coal as a fuel source and without steam engines as a power source, the stationary state would have strangled capitalism at birth. The conflicts between using land for food, land for fodder and land for fuel would have been insurmountable.

In the pre-industrial period, London’s rapid growth in the seventeenth century depended on coal from north-east England replacing wood as a domestic fuel and in the manufacture of bricks and glass- with demand stimulated by the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire in 1666.

Freed from the constraints imposed by reliance of wood as fuel, the city’s increasing demand for food provided a stimulus for the improvement of farming, drawing on the best practice of farmers in the Netherlands to increase output. The disruption these changes caused to the traditional pattern of farming led to migration of poor young people (average age 20) to London where wages were higher than in the countryside. This influx created a market/ demand for large quantities of basic manufactured goods in contrast to the situation in more traditional cities where craft manufactures produced low quantity high value goods for a wealthy elite.

But while the growth of London would have been possible, if more difficult, if supplied with firewood by fleets of ships from the Baltic rather than Newcastle, the growth of Manchester and its cotton industry would not.

Manchester was not originally a manufacturing town. Until 1780 it developed as a trading and warehousing centre for textiles produced by hand, water and even horse power produced in surrounding areas. The most of the textiles were then sent by road or water to Liverpool for onward distribution.

In the seventeenth century, the East India Company began importing cotton textiles from India. Lighter, more colourful and easily washable than linen or wool textiles, cotton became very popular. Pressure from the linen and wool industry led to bans on the import of cotton calicos between 1690 and 1721, when even the sale of fine cotton textiles was prohibited.  Cottons produced for export were also exempt. The ban was lifted in 1774, but then replaced with import duties on cotton from India.

Indian calico, 18th century

The effect of the Calico acts and the import duties was to give  British cotton makers protection from competition with imported finished cotton. Between 1740 and 1780, mechanised water and horse powered cotton spinning mills were built. The mechanised process produced stronger and finer cotton thread than hand spinning could. Stronger thread was needed because traditional British weaving techniques were based on stronger linen and wool threads. Weaving was not successfully mechanised until the early nineteenth century.

As a new industry in Britain, cotton fitted well with the new economic and social system of capitalism. Since the market for indigenous cotton products was growing at the expense of traditional wool and linen products, capital could be and was  profitably invested in a new water-powered cotton spinning mill.

Water-powered spinning mill 1770s

But capitalism was also an economic treadmill. Once set up and running, the flow of profits from a new water-powered cotton mill could be reduced if a rival cotton spinner opened an even newer mill with more efficient spinning machines or found some other ways to cut the cost of production.

Water-spinning mills also needed a good supply of water. This created a problem. Even if there was a good supply of water in a town, finding the space for a new large development was more  expensive since land-values were higher in towns. But in the countryside, where land was cheaper and good flows of water more easily available, it was necessary to building housing for the new workforce. This was done and new villages and towns sprang up alongside the water-spinning mills.

The problem of water and labour supply made it difficult to increase production from water-spinning mills. To get around this problem, Richard Arkwright, a pioneer of water-powered mechanical spinning, set up the first cotton spinning mill in Manchester in 1783. Arkwright’s plan was to use an atmospheric steam engine to power the new works, but this did not work. Instead he had to use a Boulton and Watt steam engine to pump water from a lower to a higher reservoir to keep a water wheel turning. This was not a very efficient process.

However, within ten years, the direct application of steam power to cotton spinning mills was improved and Manchester’s growth as a manufacturing town took off. The shift to coal-fuelled steam engines liberated cotton-spinning from reliance on water power. If improved machinery e more power, a more powerful steam engine could  easily be installed. If more workers were needed, they could be recruited from the town.

Kennedy & McConnell and A & G Murray steam powered cotton mills Manchester 1820

Since Manchester had been connected by canal to nearby coal mines in 1765, there was no need to import large volumes of timber from distant regions, thus another constraint on its growth was avoided. Then, as discussed above, the Liverpool and Manchester railway broke through another growth-limit by applying steam power to the city’s transport links.

A further development, and one which led to Manchester’s leading role in the free-trade movement, was the campaign against the Corn laws which were repealed in 1845. To benefit  farmers and landowners, the price of wheat was kept high by restricting imports. Capitalist manufacturers believed this was damaging to them, since it meant wages had to be higher to prevent workers starving.

However, although the UK was in favour of free-trade, other countries were less keen. Without putting up tariff barriers, their new manufacturing industries struggled to compete with cheap British goods, just as the British textile industry had struggled against imports of Indian cotton a century earlier.

So although Germany and other European nations as well as the USA did become part of a global capitalist economic and social system, to begin with they relied on a mixture of direct and indirect state support for their industries until they could compete with the UK.

In other words, the development of industrial capitalism in Britain stimulated its development in other countries which risked seeing their traditional industries destroyed by competition from Britain’s new industries.

However, without the ability to substitute coal for other sources of energy, if Britain had had to rely on renewable and sustainable sources of energy, the constraints imposed by reliance on those energy sources would have led to a stationary state rather than rapid growth.

On the other hand, the problem of firewood shortages would still have encouraged the use of coal as a substitute heat source in other countries. The military use of iron for cannons and muskets would have encouraged the use of coke instead of charcoal in the iron industry. However, as happened in France in 1777, when William Wilkinson set up an iron works to make cannon, industrial development would have been more likely state led.

French State iron works Le Creusot, 1779

Without the stimulus of private enterprise, the shift to coal as an energy source would have been slower, but once states realised the importance of coal as a ‘strategic national resource’ it would have been developed and exploited.

If the shift  to coal might have been slower,  a possible knock on effect would have been a delay in the advent of oil as a global energy source. This in turn would  -potentially- have given us more time to recognise the danger of global warming and climate change, especially if state-led industrialisation took place  at a slower rate.

It is difficult to imagine any scenario in which the south-west of Scotland could have become an urban rather than a rural area. Likewise, for London to have remained a small town rather  than becoming a huge city, millions of tons of coal would have to have stayed under the ground in north-east England for the past 400 years.

On the other hand, even before the first cotton factories were constructed  there, Manchester had already developed from a village into a town by acting as a warehousing centre for traditional textile making. Coal was consumed in Manchester  before 1780, but as a substitute  for firewood, not as an energy source for steam engines.

Manchester is where Friedrich Engels and through Engels, Karl , ‘discovered the proletariat’ in 1842.  As Engels put it in the Introduction to ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’

The history of the proletariat in England begins with the second half of the last century, with the invention of the steam-engine and of machinery for working cotton. These inventions gave rise, as is well known, to an industrial revolution, a revolution which altered the whole civil society; one, the historical importance of which is only now beginning to be recognised. England is the classic soil of this transformation, which was all the mightier, the more silently it proceeded; and England is, therefore, the classic land of its chief product also, the proletariat. Only in England can the proletariat be studied in all its relations and from all sides.

Engels arrived in Manchester in November 1842. In August 1842 the city had been at the centre of the first attempt at a General Strike. The strike had been supported by the Chartists’ National Executive which was meeting in Manchester at the same time. Leading Chartist Peter McDouall from Newton Stewart in Galloway had proposed this move. The fear that the economic demands of the strikers and the political demands of the Chartists would converge to create a revolutionary crisis saw troops  rushed to Manchester by train suppress the strike before this could happen.

For Engels these events seemed to confirm what Georg Hegel had concluded in his 1832 essay on the English Reform Bill- that the tension between the UK’s archaic political system and its advanced economy was so acute that attempts to reform  the political system could  lead to a revolution.

But there was no revolution. Instead of the condition of the English working class deteriorating, it gradually improved. It improved because the advent of the stationary state, which would have forced wages down and food prices up was indefinitely postponed.

In 1839 the UK produced 31 million tons of coal. By 1913 this had risen to 287 million tons. In 1841 the population of the UK was 27 million, By 1911 it was 47 million. The rise in coal production and therefore the energy available vastly outstripped the rise in population. This reversed the Malthusian equation where  population growth would always outstrip food production.

People cannot eat coal, but the extra wealth generated by the coal economy as it ‘trickled down’  was enough to keep revolution at bay.

1913 marked the peak output of the UK coal industry and of the UK’s status as a leading world power. The UK’s eclipse as a great power continued through the twentieth century. The great manufacturing industries of Victorian Britain decayed. The Labour government elected in 1974 had bold plans to use the wealth of the newly discovered North Sea oil reserves to regenerate manufacturing industry but by the time the benefits of the North Sea started to flow, Margaret Thatcher was in power and they were squandered.

No longer an energy rich nation, the future of the UK seems to be one of endless ‘austerity’, of increasing impoverishment. At the same time, we are beginning to see the real price of economic growth based on coal and oil as climate change moves from future threat to present danger.

It is difficult to salvage any optimism from our current situation, let alone the future. For the past 300 years, growth has been seen as the route to prosperity and the challenge for more enlightened thinkers and activists has been how to ensure the benefits of that prosperity are more equally distributed rather than constantly creamed off by an elite.

But if further growth is now physically impossible since its benefits will be eaten up by even more severe climate change, what is to be done?

Some forty years ago it might have been possible to manage the transition to a carbon-neutral society and economy based on renewable / sustainable energy sources. Today and tomorrow it is much harder to do this since the major economic and social changes required will have to take place at the same time as food production and essential infrastructure are being destabilised by climate change.

What is required is a massive cultural shift, a social revolution such that it would be, for example, unthinkable to invest in airport expansion instead of railways, road-bridges rather than hydro-electric schemes, nuclear power plants rather than wind farms and solar energy.

Unfortunately as yet there is little evidence that such a revolution is anywhere at hand.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Pinki /Tanith 1962-1996

Update- now includes full unexpurgated obituary... see below...
Pinki and friends, King Cross 1978

Pinki/Tanith;'s obituary, Guardian  24 May 1996

Pinki at Greenham 1983

Pinki  in yellow on bike at Molesworth Easter 1985

Pinki as Tanith, Siklbury Hill,Beltane 1987

Inspired by reading this in open Democracy

Monday, February 01, 2016

Paul Kantner 1941-2016

Words from 'Starship' on Blows Against the Empire  1970

Friday, January 22, 2016

Is another Scotland still possible?

Alasdair Morgan SNP MP 1997-2001, George Thompson SNP MP 1974-1979, Richard Arkless SNP MP 2015-

The quote below is from Derek Bateman’s blog, describing ‘the Nationalists who turn out massively to vote SNP, work for the party, pay for the party and will back independence to their death…’.

It was the  mention of Kirkcudbright in the quote which caught my eye and struck a chord. As a 15 year old schoolboy I helped with SNP candidate George Thompson’s 1974 election campaign there. George became Galloway’s first SNP MP in October 1974. He was my French teacher at Kirkcudbright Academy and a friend of my SNP supporting parents.

…the people I’m talking about are rarely in the news, except maybe when their town gets flooded or there’s a lottery winner nearby. They have little presence in mainstream news and neither do they figure in alternative media. They don’t have blogs, unless it’s part of a community initiative. Mostly they live away from the metropolitan centres and inhabit small-scale urban and rural Scotland. In Portsoy and Fraserburgh. In Portlethen and Johnshaven. In Arbroath and Carnoustie. They’re in the towns that litter the map and whose names we mostly see on motorway signs.
I encountered them as a BBC reporter in the days when journalists actually went somewhere instead of googling. I met Tories in Kirkcudbright, Liberals in Inverurie, Nationalists in Montrose and Shetland Movement men in Lerwick. Away from the Central Belt hothouse where the media fulcrum is, attitudes and outlook are often very different from the obsessions of the chattering classes and the bletherin’ bawbags. This is where we still find the loyal bedrock of SNP support and they aren’t spending time planning a Workers’ Co-op after independence. I doubt if they’re thinking much beyond a country initially run by the people they already trust to do the job – the SNP.  
    From    http://derekbateman.co.uk/2016/01/19/breaking-news/

The ‘small scale urban and rural Scotland’ Derek describes as home to the bedrock of SNP  support is where I grew up and where I still live. Although I didn’t join the SNP in 1974, I did in 1997 when Alasdair Morgan became Galloway’s second SNP MP. For a few years I was Convenor of the SNP’s Castle Douglas Branch.  Although I haven’t been a party member for several years, I have happily voted SNP and worked with old friends who are SNP members during the referendum campaign.

In early 2013 I began thinking about the likely outcome of the independence referendum in Dumfries and Galloway. As I knew only too well, the Conservative and Unionist party has been strongly rooted in the region since overtaking the Liberal party in the 1930s.

In Dumfriesshire, Labour historically acted as the main opposition to the Conservatives (represented by the National Liberals until 1963) and in Galloway the SNP played that role from 1970 onwards. But while the SNP did manage to win in October 1974 (losing again in 1979), in Dumfriesshire the Conservatives held the seat until 1997.  Since 2005, Conservative David Mundell has held the ‘new’ seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale while Russell Brown for Labour held the other new seat of Dumfries and Galloway from 2005 until 2015.

In the 1979 devolution referendum, 59.7 % of  the voters in Dumfries and Galloway voted no. In 1997, 60.7% voted yes for a Scottish parliament but 51.2% voted against the parliament having tax raising powers.

I took the 2011 Scottish parliament constituency elections in the region as a rough guide to the likely outcome of the 2014 referendum in Dumfries and Galloway. In 2011, Conservatives and Labour both got around 21 000 votes while the SNP got 19 000.

If voting in the referendum followed party political lines, then the out come would be 69% No, 31%  Yes- a worse result than the 1979 devolution referendum… Realistically, assuming Tory voters would be firmly No, the only hope for increasing the Yes vote would be to target Labour voters. The actual result in Dumfries and Galloway in 2014 was 66% No, 34% Yes - only a small shift towards Yes from my original guesstimate.

Of course in 2015, the SNP produced an astounding result nationally. Unfortunately, despite Richard Arkless’ win in  Dumfries and Galloway constituency the combined vote of pro-Union parties (Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dems and Ukip)  was 58% . In Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale the combined pro-Union vote was 60%. Combing the two results gives an equivalent to 59 % No, 41 % Yes.

In other words, although support for the SNP hit an all time high in Dumfries and Galloway in May 2015, support for independence had only risen by 7 % since September 2014.

The next test will be in May 2016. In Galloway, or Galloway and West Dumfries as it now is, Conservative Alex Fergusson who has held the constituency since 2003 is stepping down. The  prospective Conservative candidate is Finlay Carson, who was beaten by Richard Arkless in the Westminster election in 2015. Aileen McLeod is the SNP candidate and has a very good chance of winning. In Dumfriesshire, Elaine Murray has held the seat for Labour since 1999. In 2015, the Labour vote in Dumfries and Galloway dropped by 9968. In Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale it dropped by 5552.  This collapse in the Labour vote suggests that Joan McAlpine will have a very good chance of winning Dumfriesshire for the SNP in 2016.

However, from the perspective of independence, the critical vote in May will be the Labour vote. In Dumfries and Galloway, the  Conservative vote was the core of the No vote in 2014, just as the SNP’s bedrock support in the region was the core of the Yes vote.

To push the Yes vote in a second referendum up towards the 60% mark, roughly 2/3 of one-time/ former Labour voters in the region will have to be persuaded to vote Yes. The strongest indication that this shift is possible and is happening would be if Joan McAlpine manages to double the SNP vote to over 16 000 by gaining 8000 votes from Labour.

There is a problem however. As Derek Bateman explains, the bedrock of SNP support comes from people with a life-long commitment to independence for Scotland. But former Labour voters and former Labour party members do not have this same background. Many, most obviously those who joined the SNP after September 2014, have become supporters of independence. But that commitment has not been tested through long years of struggle in the way that the bedrock of SNP support has been.

Derek’s analysis suggests a related difficulty.

In speaking to those scattered Scots I tried to understand what it was that motivated them – often people don’t know themselves until it is teased out of them. It is, I think, quite simply a sense that they can do things better themselves and have lost trust in the British system. As Britain has become steadily become more unequal, the political class in London less representative – their expenses troughing a low point – and Holyrood more successful, they have seen a better way of meeting their aspirations. Their faith is in the parliament and that has swelled as the SNP has grown into the role of government. Pretty obvious, really.
And I would say they are – very broadly – dismissive of attempts to design too much the architecture for an independent country before we get there. They do need to see a coherent plan before voting Yes which makes sense of currency, the EU and how the split will be managed. But they trust the SNP to construct the framework. That’s why they vote for them. 

For the bedrock of SNP supporters, this trust in the party to manage the transition to independence has been built up over many years. They make no distinction between the SNP and the independence movement.  For many years the Labour party also saw itself as a movement In 1962  Labour leader Harold Wilson said ‘This party is a moral crusade or it is nothing’. As Derek points out, comparing SNP supporters to Labour party supporters-

Such people used to inhabit the Labour Party. They were passionate too. They gave up time. Sometimes they gave up work. They travelled Britain to campaign. They were bound by shared commitment for a cause. They too were loons to their opponents. But like those of us today who retain a sense of purpose, they didn’t care what was said about them. Their devotion to Labour made them impervious. Nobody who ever truly believed in a cause wavered in the face of scorn.

But then the Labour party lost its sense of purpose and its supporters became disillusioned. While the SNP have gained from this, it means that there is difference between older and newer SNP supporters. Any of the newer supporters and members who have come from Labour party background are, from bitter experience, likely to be less trusting than the bedrock of SNP supporters.

In 2002, when I was still a member, the SNP had 16 000 members. This fell to 9500 in 2003 but then began to rise again and reached 25 000 in 2013. By 2015 there were 110 000 SNP members.

Looking at support for independence between 1979 and 2012, in March 1979 only 14% of Scots supported a ‘completely independent’ Scottish parliament. The highest support for independence found was 47% in April 1998.  Of the 61 polls carried out between 1986 and 2012, 51 showed support in the range 30 to 39%. Since 2014, 7 out of 27 polls have shown Yes ahead of No. The highest [August 2015] gave Yes 53%, No 43% and 3 % undecided. However even this result is some way short of the 60% Yes support needed to be reasonably confident of a Yes win in a second referendum.

What Derek Bateman’s analysis of the independence movement’s bedrock supporters shows is that they place an absolute value on independence. But during the long independence referendum campaign, support for a Yes vote grew among people who saw independence as a relative good. For example, people like those Derek jokingly suggested were busy planning a Worker’s Co-op after independence- possibly a reference to the Radical Independence Campaign.

This difference between absolute and relative support for independence existed during the independence referendum campaign but was masked by the shared focus on 18 September 2014. The shared interest in ensuring an SNP win in the 2015 UK election continued the sense of unity. But as we head towards the 2016 Scottish election, the fault line is becoming more obvious.

For people who place an absolute value on independence, the SNP remains the only game in town. For those who are ‘relativists’, the situation is more complicated and so view the SNP as a political party rather than an independence movement in itself. Yes the SNP now has a membership of 110 000, but to securely win another independence referendum, about 2 100 000 voters will have to be persuaded to say Yes.

Is it realistic to expect all of these voters to have an absolute commitment to independence? No, it is not. Thinking about the fluctuations in support for independence since 1979, in addition to the bedrock of absolute support for independence there must also be an element of provisional support as well.

What would be useful to know is the degree of commitment to independence within the opinion poll results and the 2014 referendum vote. Without that knowledge it is not possible to know if the absolutist or relativist independence ‘message’ is more effective at winning support.

For example when Derek Bateman says ‘The imperative is to win first, not get lost in debating the aftermath.’ that is a message which resonates with the absolutists. Derek then goes on to say-

And the bedrock, if I read it right, is also convinced of a point perhaps wilfully missed by all the media. It is that the very accomplishment of independence will provide an impetus to change. The fact of becoming a new state, of re-writing the relationship with London and the realisation of self-determination will act as an inspiration. The confidence derived from the opportunities of controlling our own country, making new friends and alliances and fine-tuning our tax system to develop the economy, will fuel the new country. At least the theory of fulfilling our true potential will be tested. For them this will be Day One of living in a better country. To the question: What kind of country do you want to live in? their answer is: an independent one.

Until recently I would have agreed with this, but now I am not so sure. Thinking about the implications of independence since 2013, I have been extending my historical research from the local to the national level. Before the Union of 1707, Scotland was a rural and agricultural nation. For the first 60 or so years after the Union, this did not change. But then the impact of the industrial revolution transformed Scotland into a mainly urban and industrial nation.

The appalling conditions in urban and industrial Scotland gave rise to the Labour party and its ‘moral crusade’ but its failure during the Thatcher years and afterwards helped the SNP’s rise to power in Scotland. See https://radicalindydg.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/the-industrial-clearances-and-the-death-of-labour/

Rural Scotland was also transformed by first the Lowland and then the Highland Clearances. These were driven by the change from traditional farming and land use to farming and land use as part of a competitive capitalist economy. However, the first signs of this change occurred in Galloway before the Union of 1707.

What happened  was that after the English parliament banned the import of Irish cattle in 1667, landowners in Galloway began exporting cattle to England. Most of the cattle were destined for London which was growing rapidly.

In England, the growth of London encouraged the development of ’capitalist’ farming, that is farms which specialised in producing food for sale in London, for ‘the market’. Before then most farming had been based on local or regional self-sufficiency.

Until the cattle trade was developed, farming in Galloway had also been based on subsistence/ self- sufficiency. But once cattle could be ’bought and sold for English gold’ this changed. By the 1690s, up to 10 000 cattle per year were being exported to England from Galloway.

What this suggests is that even if there had not been a political union in 1707, Scotland’s economic independence would have been affected by developments in England. In particular, as England became the world’s first capitalist and industrial nation, this would have put increasing pressure on Scotland to follow the same path.

It is a complicated story, but I have sketched the outline here

And finally- a lesson from history.

As Derek says

Remember we are asking people to do the most radical thing any recent generation has faced – break up the British state. No matter how you oil it, it’s still a massive spanner in the works.

The two elections in 1974 which saw George Thompson and 10 other SNP MPs elected also saw a Labour government elected. The left of the Labour party had prepared a set of radical economic policies for the new government. These included a plan to use revenue from the new North Sea oilfields to regenerate British manufacturing industry. But a combination of resistance from Labour’s right wing and the Treasury blocked the plans.

Richard Seymour has summed up why radical project failed.

It was a utopian programme in the strict sense that no thought had been given to the range of social forces it would be necessary to assemble and mobilise in order that its goals could be achieved, and its accomplishments protected. It was simply assumed that an elected government could bring these changes about, and that once implemented the ruling class would have no alternative but to accept them.    

What this suggests to me is that to achieve independence as ‘the most radical thing’ will require ‘mobilising and assembling a range of social forces’ if the goal is to be achieved and the accomplishment protected. Otherwise independence will remain a utopian project, an enduring dream but not a reality.

During the independence referendum campaign a broad range of ‘social forces’ assembled and mobilised themselves in support of a Yes vote, but outside of the official Yes campaign.

If there is a second independence referendum a similar mobilisation will be needed. Sadly, there does not seem to be any recognition of this in Derek Bateman’s blog post.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Drowned World

Photograph by Michael J Lowden  31 Dec 2015.
X marks location of Castle Douglas ARC (day-centre) which was flooded

On New Year’s Day 2016 I  pushed my son in his wheelchair down to the edge of town. We went along an old section of railway line that is now a footpath to the edge of Blackpark marsh. The railway crossed the marsh on an embankment and a few times in the past I have seen the marsh flooded up to the edge of the embankment.

On 31 December 2015 it flooded again. The flood water came from Carlingwark Loch. The loch is separated from the marsh by a ridge of higher ground, but in 1766 a cut was made through the higher ground to provide a constant flow of water for a canal and to lower the level of the loch.

William Roy map 1755, before Carlingwark Canal was made.

The level of the loch was lowered to make it easier to get access to beds of marl, a lime rich clay used as a fertiliser.  The canal was used by barges carrying the marl across the marsh to the (Galloway) river Dee. The barges then took the marl upstream as far as the head of Loch Ken 15 miles away, distributing it to farms along the way.

The Dee/Ken river catchment area stretches up into the Galloway Highlands. Until the Galloway Hydro-electric scheme was built in the 1930s, the river system was subject to periodic floods which could raise the water level by 7 or 8 feet. Victorian Ordnance Survey maps show the extent of the floods by dotted lines marked ‘Limit of Inundation’. From these maps it can be seen that Blackpark marsh would have been covered in water when the floods occurred.

Victorian map of area liable to flooding.
Red star marks football ground flooded 31 Dec 2015.

Usually the hydro-electric scheme manages the flow of water, but when there has been heavy rain, excess water has to be released. In 1938 it was realised that when this happened, the marshes and low lying fields around Castle Douglas were getting inundated so a system of pumping stations and embankments was constructed to reduce this problem by acting as a physical barrier to flooding from the Dee. However, as discussed below, the problem of flooding from the Carlingwark Loch side remains.  

In winter 1973/4 (or possibly 1974/5- can’t recall exactly) the embankment beside the Blackpark pumping station was breached and the marshes were flooded. This was before the Castle Douglas By-pass was built so the only area above water between the edge of Castle Douglas and the river Dee was the old railway embankment.

About 13 years ago, Scottish Power, who maintain the Blackpark pumping station and two smaller ones just to the north, proposed removing the pumps from the Blackpark station. This was due to the cost of maintaining the pumps which frequently get clogged with vegetation from the Carlingwark Lane. [Note ‘lane’ is a local dialect word for a slow-flowing stream.]

Blackpark Marsh Pumping Station built 1938.

This led to concerns that the marshes would flood more often and affect the fields beside the marshes. An alternative suggestion was that the vegetation along the Lane should be cut regularly. I did some research for the National Trust for Scotland who own the marshes to find out who had historically been responsible for keeping the Carlingwark Lane weed free.

This involved  going to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright and reading the records of Castle Douglas Burch Council where I found that in the 1940s it was the Ministry of Agriculture that had done the work. I also discovered that the pumping station was designed to ‘dry-out’ the marshes to increase the area of useful farmland rather than prevent flooding.

The difficulty was that the hydro-electric scheme had the effect of keeping water levels in the Dee higher all year round so there was insufficient flow from the Carlingwark Lane into the Dee. This had the effect of keeping water levels in the marshes higher all year round.

By pumping water from the Carlingwark Lane on towards the Dee, the level of the water in the Lane could be kept lower, thus making the marshes and adjacent fields drier.

Carlingwark Loch and its catchment.

The main flow of  water into Carlingwark Loch come from the Gelston Burn. This rises as the Airyland Burn on the north-west slopes of Screel Hill (344 m/ 1129 feet) above Airyland farm. From Airyland  it flows north-east to Gelston and then north-west towards Carlingwark Loch. As the ‘Gelston Mill Burn’ it is mentioned in a charter of 1325 in which King Robert I granted James Douglas the lands of Buittle parish.

The Gelston Burn runs parallel with the B 736 towards Carlingwark Loch through a narrow triangle of marshland. An older road ran along the edge of Carlingwark Loch before cutting across the marshland, but this was abandoned circa 1820 due to frequent flooding. The new road crosses a smaller area of marshland between Whitepark Hill and Cuckoo Bridge on a stone embankment. The stream which flows under Cuckoo Bridge leads down to the Gelston Lane. It is fed from Black Loch and Floors Loch. The former Torrs Loch, now Torrs Moss also feeds in to the Cuckoo Bridge stream, but drainage works in the nineteenth century mean that along with Leathes Burn, Torrs Moss now mainly drains into the Birkland Burn which flows north into the Urr.

Gelston Burn catchment area

Altogether the catchment area of the Gelston Burn is only about 12 square kilometres. Of this about 2 square kilometres are marsh and about 3 are on the slopes of Screel Hill. The rest is dairy farm land.

Another very small stream flows into Carlingwark Loch from the top of Castle Douglas then beneath the town into the loch.

With such a small catchment area, how can the Gelston Burn cause flooding in Castle Douglas, as occurred on 31 December 2015? The main reason is that the loch’s only outflow is via the cut made through Carlingwark Hill in 1766 or 67 According to Sir Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw who had the Carlingwark canal made in 1765, the cut through the hill was made  a year or two after the canal.

Before the canal and the cut were made, William Roy’s Military Survey of 1755 shows a meandering stream called the Carlingwark Burn exiting the loch roughly where the cut was later made.  Since the cut lowered the level of the loch by 6 to 8 feet, it is likely that the loch would have occasionally overflowed towards Blackpark marsh along what is now Marl Street. Certainly the Old Statistical Account for Kelton parish states that a ‘dam’ built of oak and clay was found there. This was more likely to have been a causeway across a marshy area. There was a very small settlement called Causewayend in the vicinity.

The main settlement was Carlingwark, which was on Carlingwark Hill. There was an inn and a blacksmiths there in the seventeenth century. Carlingwark Hill was the only high ground for east/ west travellers to use to cross the marshes which stretched above and below Carlingwark Loch. In 1764/5  in became part of the Old Military Road from Gretna to Portpatrick.

Unlike the turnpike road , which later became the A 75 and which skirts the edge of Carlingwark Loach, the Old Military Road ran over Carlingwark Hill. On its alignment and a few yards down stream from the Buchan Bridge the remains of an old bridge survive. This  has a much small span than the Buchan Bridge, constricting the flow of water. The Castle Douglas Flood Risk Assessment contains photos illustrating the problem.

Buchan Bridge- normal water flow

Remains of old bridge- normal water flow

Cutting through Carlingwark Hill- normal water flow

I have examined the remains of the old bridge which appears to have slots in its abutments as if there had been a sluice gate on the down stream side. It is the remains of this bridge which constrict  the outflow of water from Carlingwark Loch.

Beyond the old bridge the Carlingwark Lane drops down through the deep cutting made in 1766/7 to the marshes beyond. According to local author S R Crocket, writing about his childhood , in the 1870s, floodwater from the river Dee sometimes flowed up through the cutting and out into Carlingwark Loch. If this account is true, then there may have been sluice gates on the old bridge to prevent Alexander Gordon’s marl workings around Carlingwark Loch being flooded.

There is a puzzle reading the Old Statistical Account since it says that when the cut was made through Carlingwark Hill, the level of the loch dropped low enough to reveal two Iron Age crannogs in the loch. These are now mostly under water again, although they remain as islands with trees growing on them. Presumably the water level has risen back to some extent. However, some of Gordon’s marl working were carried out by ‘bag and spoon’ dredging from a small boat, again based on evidence in the Old Statistical Account.

To reduce future flooding of Carlingwark Loch, removing the remains of the old bridge to let excess water flow out of the loch more quickly might help. However this would only displace the problem, leading to more rapid flooding of the Blackpark marshes. On 31 December, the flooding reached Threave Rovers Meadowpark football ground.  This is only a few yards across Blackpark Road from Castle Douglas Waste Water Treatment  Works. If the Waste Water Treatment Works flooded this would be a serious problem.

Although treated waste water from the works is now piped to the river Dee just above the old Bridge of Dee, there is still a legacy outfall from the works on the marsh side of Threave Rovers ground and this will have been underwater on 31 December. What effect this had on the treatment works is unknown.

The Bigger Picture- Climate Change

Partly in response to Scottish Power’s proposal that the Blackpark pumping station could be decommissioned, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish power commissioned Terrenus CDH Ltd  to carry out a flood risk assessment for Castle Douglas. The final report was produced in 2013.

Part of the assessment was a series of maps modelling a 1 in 200 year flood event. The final map in the sequence showed the extent of flooding when the level of Carlingwark Loch rose 2.35m above its normal level. This map shows flood water extending along Marl Street and into Castle Douglas Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Map from 2013 Flood Risk Assessment- the 31 December 2015 flood reached this level.

Most extreme flood from flood risk assessment 2013.

The 31 December 2015 flood did not reach this level, but it did reach 1.75m above the normal level of Carlingwark Loch, that is only 0.6m below the maximum modelled.

Compared with the flooding of Newton Stewart which occurred on the same day and other recent floods in large urban areas, even this ‘worst case’ scenario would only count as a minor event since most of the town is built on higher ground. The main concern would be what effect the flooding of the waste water treatment works would have.

The bigger problem is that a significant effect of global warming is to increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere. This in turn means that major flooding events are going to become more frequent and more intense.

Today, it is still possible to talk of ‘exceptional’ flooding events and to argue that greater investment in flood defences would mitigate the impact of such ‘exceptional’ events.

But if exceptional events are going to become the new normal, if major floods are going to happen every winter on a rising trajectory of intensity, then the cost of building more and more and better and better flood defences will become unsupportable.

This is because unless the process of global warming can be slowed down, the effect of climate change will be to make areas which have been habitable for centuries uninhabitable. Effectively, our whole way of life, which has been based on a stable climate, will be threatened.

There is a solution, but it requires giving up fossil fuels as an energy source.  Unfortunately, the industrial civilisation which has developed over the past 200 years is based on the use of fossil fuels. Adapting to using renewable/ sustainable energy as our primary source of energy will be difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. What is impossible is to carry on as normal, as if climate change is not happening.