.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


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

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Scottish Clearances: Complete

Tata Steel- Industrial Clearance


Henry Ford once famously said ‘History is bunk’. Or rather in 1916 he said  ‘History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today.’

In 2014, present day Scotland almost made history by voting to become independent. Almost, but not quite. Interestingly, while the Yes campaign talked mostly about Scotland’s possible future, the No campaign talked more about the past. The main thrust of the No campaign emphasised the security and stability of the Union and the risks and uncertainties of independence.

The result was that 55% of voters in Scotland chose tradition over the chance to make history on the day.  On the other hand, a few months later voters in Scotland did make history by electing 56 SNP MPs  to the ’Mother of Parliaments’. This was a huge blow to the Labour party in Scotland which was reduced to one MP.  It was their worst result in over 100 years.

1918 Labour 6 MPs 22.1% of vote
1922 Labour 29 MPs 32.2 % * Largest party
1924 Labour 34 MPs 35.9% * Largest party
1929 Labour 36 MPs 42.3% * Largest party
1931 Labour 7 MPs 32.6%
1935 Labour 20 MPs 36.9%
1945 Labour 37 MPs 47.9 %* Largest party
1950 Labour 37 MPs 46.2% * Largest party
1951 Labour 35 MPs 47.8 % * Largest single party (Unionists 29 MPs, National Liberal 6)
1955 Labour 34 MPs 46.7 % * Largest single party (Unionists 30 MPs, National Liberal 6)
1959 until wiped out in 2015, Labour always largest party in Scotland.

The Labour party’s ability to dominate Scottish politics for so long is an indication of how profoundly Scotland had been transformed by the Industrial Revolution. But without the Lowland Clearances, Scotland could not have had an industrial revolution.

The traditional system of farming had been developed in the middle ages. It involved most of the population working on the land to produce just enough food to feed themselves. For an industrial revolution to happen, a way to produce more food with fewer people had to be found. Only then would there be enough people to work in factories and coalmines who then used their wages to buy food rather than have to grow their own.

Improving the quality of the soil and rationalising the way the land was farmed increased agricultural output. But to make farming more efficient, a whole class of rural workers- the cottars- had to be cleared from the land. But without a place on the land and without any alternative employment  was a recipe for rural unrest. In Galloway in 1724 there were no factories or other forms of alternative employment. So when people were cleared from the land to make way for cattle there was an armed uprising and the Galloway Clearances which took a regiment of troops several months to subdue.

However, when the main wave of the Lowland Clearances began from the 1760s onwards, it was a more gradual process. Landowners also started building new villages and towns where the people cleared from the land  could live and find work. By the 1780s, the first stages of the industrial revolution were underway, water-powered cotton m ills for example. By 1800, the steam-powered industrial revolution was underway. As it developed, it drew in more and more people. By the 1850s, Scotland was on its way to becoming an urban and industrial nation rather than a rural and agricultural one.

But the conditions the new working class in Scotland lived and worked in were extreme. Through the nineteenth century this led to the growth of trade unions and then, as working class men became able to vote in elections, to the birth of the Labour party.

In the Highlands very little of the land was arable. So when the same process of improvement was applied, large scale sheep farming was introduced. But in the Highlands, like Galloway in 1724, there were no factories or other alternative employment apart from fishing arounf the coast. In the Highlands, the clearances destroyed the traditional way of life but offered nothing in its place. This left a still powerful and bitter legacy. While some of the people cleared from the Highlands moved south to become  workers in the industrial Lowlands, many more emigrated overseas.

The harsh reality of industrial Scotland also led to emigration. While the new system of agriculture in the Lowlands no longer meant that a bad harvest year would lead to hunger, a downturn in trade did. To keep up their profits during economic slumps and depressions, the new industrial capitalists would cut wages and lay-off workers. If the workers went on strike, they faced eviction and starvation.

So while in theory, nineteenth and early twentieth century Scotland  was a far more wealthy and prosperous country than it had ever been before, in reality life for most Scots was as hard as it had ever been. The result was mass migration. Some 2 million Scots emigrated overseas during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and another 700 000 moved to England. Even during the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s, half a million Scots emigrated.

Although the phrase ‘ Industrial Clearances’ has been used to describe the Margaret Thatcher’s devastation of Scottish industry in the 1980s, to describe the loss of population from industrial Scotland as ‘the Industrial Clearances’ is more appropriate.

Taken altogether, the Lowland, Highland and Industrial Clearances make up the Scottish Clearances. They are a central part of Scotland’s history.  As history, they cannot be changed. But as Henry Ford said, what matters is the history we make today.  That is the history that we can change.

Part One

It was the greyest of grey days in grey Galloway.  It was January 2003. I was standing in the dreich drizzle on the Old Military Road on Kelton Hill just outside Castle Douglas, trying to describe what the landscape would have looked like on the same spot in 1724 for Andrew Cassell and Peter Aitchison.

There would have been none of the trees, none of the houses, none of the neat rectangular fields, not even the road, which wasn’t built until 1764. There would have been a newly built  dry-stane dyke though, since in the summer of 1724, the laird of Kelton and the minister of Kelton managed to save it from being demolished by the Galloway Levellers.

Andrew and Peter were interviewing me for a BBC Scotland radio series they were making on the Lowland Clearances. Most of what I said that cold, damp day didn‘t make the final cut, but the saving of the dyke was included as a dramatisation, along with my answer to Andrew’s question ‘But was what happened in Galloway back then clearance?’. Yes, I said, yes it was. The people, the families, who were evicted from their homes to make way for cattle farms were cleared from the land. As a ballad written at the time put it

The lords and lairds they drive us out
From mailings (crofts) where we dwell
The poor man says ‘Where shall we go?’
The rich says ‘Go to Hell!’

However, although the people of Galloway rose up in armed resistance against the first of the Lowland Clearances, when the main wave of clearance took place between 1760 and 1830, there was no repeat performance. The Lowland Clearances were a silent revolution, evoking none of the passion and outrage which still mark the Highland Clearances. What happened in the Highlands has never been forgotten. What happened in the Lowlands has never been remembered.

This difference between what is remembered and what is forgotten is now deeply embedded in Scotland’s historical consciousness. Along with the Gaelic language and the Jacobite rebellions, ‘the  Clearances’ are taken as marks of a historical as well as geographical division between Lowland and Highland Scotland.
Yet Gaelic was once spoken across virtually all of Scotland and support for the Jacobites was found where ever the Episcopalian church of Scotland resisted its Presbyterian twin.

If there is a difference between Highland and Lowland experience of what was called at the time ‘improvement’ it can be found in the soil.

On the brink of war in 1939, the reality the U-boats could starve  the UK into submission hit home. The Ordnance Survey quickly produced maps showing ‘land-quality’, ranging from Grade 1 -high quality land capable of growing a wide range of crops to Grade III -low quality land only fit for low intensity livestock grazing. The poorest quality land was shaded yellow on the maps.

For Scotland, the map is dominated by a huge block of yellow across the Highlands  and western islands, with another smaller block extending across the Southern Uplands. The better quality land, shown brown and green, extends from around the Moray Firth and  down the east coast where it expands inland to meet up with a broad band across the central Lowlands.

In the Borders, there is a eastern block  extending in land from Berwick and another centred on Carlisle, but extending along the north Solway coast into Galloway where the yellow of the Southrn Uplands separates the fertile lands of Wigtownshire from those of Ayrshire.

The ebb and flow of Scotland’s history can be traced across the colours on the map. North of the Forth, the fertile lands to the east where  the Kingdom of the Picts grew and flourished. The estimated population of Pictland is between 80 000 to100 000.To the west the Gaels of Dalriada possessed only a little good quality land. The estimated population of Dalriada is 10 000. When the two kingdoms joined to become Alba, expanding into the Lothians at the expense of the Northumbrian Kingdom was the next step. By the early twelfth century, David I of Scotland was able to make Carlisle his capital for a few years.

David is usually associated with the introduction of feudalism to Scotland, for example granting Annandale to a ‘Robert Bruce’ in 1124. But the deal with feudalism was that in exchange for grants of land, the new lords had to provide the king with an armed and mounted knight plus foot soldiers. This was an expensive- suits of armour did not come cheap.

So along with feudal grants of land- usually good quality land- came an agricultural revolution- the heavy plough. Made of wood but with an iron tipped cutting edge, these ploughs took a team of 6 or more oxen to pull. With these new ploughs, it was possible to grow more oats and barley. The trick was to build up the ploughed soil into long, wide raised beds called rigs, separated by drainage channels called furrows.

To manage the ploughs and their oxen took a whole team of workers who lived in new fermtouns, some of which still survive as modern day farms. Although it took more workers to manage the new ploughs than the old ‘Celtic’ foot ploughs and light ploughs, the new system provided enough oats to feed them and their families and a surplus for their feudal lord. The male farm workers also doubled up as the lord’s foot soldiers as required.

The new system worked fairly well in the more fertile areas, but not so well in upland and highland areas where there were only small patches of potential arable land. In these areas, cattle, sheep, horses (pony sized) and goats were grazed  extensively on the poorer soils while the patches of better land were worked intensively to grow oats and barley. As a result, the upland and highland areas had a lower overall population  density. In Galloway, the most mountainous area of about 100 square miles had farms around its edges, but none in its granite and raised bog heartland. It was probably only ever visited by deer-hunting expeditions.

Part Two

The basic pattern of land use which emerged in the twelfth century continued for the next 500 years. It is possible that the population of Scotland reached one million before the impact of the Black Death in the mid fourteenth century knocked it back to only half  a million and it took until the end of the seventeenth century to reach a  million again.

By 1755 the population  was about 1 250 000, with roughly 1/3 living in the Highlands and 2/3 in the Lowlands. But within 100 years, the census of 1851 showed that  the population had doubled to 2 888 742. For such rapid growth to occur, something must have changed.

The medieval pattern of land use was able to sustain a population of up to one million, but only just. If the Black Death is discounted as a one-off, the limiting factor on population growth then becomes the medieval farming system itself. It produced just enough food to feed the farm workers and a small surplus for the feudal land owners.

While these landowners may have been better fed and wealthier than the farm labourers, as they discovered after the Union of Crowns in 1603 and again after the Union of Parliaments in 1707, compared to English landowners they were little more than ragged beggars.

As is very well known, virtually every Scottish landowner became convinced that the infamous Darien project would magically make them as rich as English landowners without having to do any more than invest a bit of money in it. What is less well known is that many of the landowners in Galloway had already found a way to become wealthy by using their land in a different way.

This was because in 1666, English landowners were able to get a law passed in the English parliament banning the import of Irish cattle. Before the law was passed, about 100 000 Irish cattle were imported into England every year. Most of these went to feed London which already had a population of 500 000.

From customs records of cattle crossing from Scotland to England at Gretna, about 10 000 of these Irish cattle had originated in the Plantation of Ulster and crossed over to Portpatrick in Galloway before being driven south. Some of these cattle came from Donegal where the Murray family of Broughton in Wigtownshire owned 60 000 acres of Plantation land.

After 1666, Galloway landowners began sending their cattle to England, although from evidence of fines and seizures of cattle in Galloway and in England, at least some of the  cattle were originally Irish but had become ‘Scottish’ after a few weeks grazing in Galloway. This forced the landowners to start rearing authentically Scottish cattle in Galloway.

There was, however, a small problem.  Between 1666 and 1688, Galloway along with most of southern and western Scotland was caught up in a low-intensity civil and religious war with Charles II and then James VII and II. During this period, only landowners who were Stuart loyalists could sell cattle to England. But if they wanted to increase the supply of cattle, they would have to clear both upland farms-where the cattle were grazed in summer- and lowland farms -where they were kept over winter. But if they tried to do this, they risked provoking a major conflict.

But after 1689, it became possible for landowners loyal to the new regime of William of Orange to begin clearing their lands to make way for cattle. Leading this move  were the firmly Presbyterian and loyal Williamites the Herons of Kirroughtrie in Minnigaff parish. The Herons were able to export 1000 cattle year from their upland and lowland farms in the 1690s.

By selling their cattle in England, the Herons were able to earn hard cash- English gold guineas- with which they could buy up more farms where they could breed and fatten more cattle. From owning one small farm in the 1660s, by the Union of 1707 they owned 1/3 of all the land in Minngaff parish which, at 120 squares miles, was the largest in Galloway. However, as the Galloway Levellers pointed out in 1724, the Herons’ cattle herds had depopulated the parish and reduced the town (village) of Minnigaff to a ‘nest of beggars’.

That the Levellers had a point can be seen from a list of the inhabitants of Minngaff parish complied in 1684. This shows that while upland livestock farms in the parish supported only one or two families, arable farms along the fertile flood plain of the river Cree supported one tenant farmer and between five and ten cottar/ sub-tenant families. As the Herons bought up these farms and converted them from arable to pasture land for their cattle, most of the sub-tenant/ cottar families became  redundant. Working a traditional arable farm needed a large workforce. Managing a herd of cattle did not.

Unlike most of Scotland, where land ownership was concentrated into a few hands, land ownership in Galloway had  been fragmented into lots of small estates and even individual farms ever since the forfeiture of Douglas Lordship of Galloway to the Crown (James II) in 1455. Since then no one landowner had  managed to acquire more than a small portion of the region. This  led to a constant ‘churn’ of land ownership as the fortunes of several hundred minor lairds rose and fell.

The example of the Herons rise from small to large landowners on the back of the cattle trade was not lost on those Galloway landowners who were struggling to hang on to their estates. While their more successful peers could afford to stick with tradition, the fear of losing their lands persuaded some of the strugglers to have a go at the cattle trade and turn their arable farm into cattle pastures.

By 1724, what had begun as a trickle of evictions and clearance from the arable lands of Kirkcudbrightshire threatened to become a flood. The fear that their landlord might decide to enter the cattle trade and clear them from his lands united tenants and cottars across the county. What gave their uprising a militant edge  was a recent event.

By 1714, the ‘Killing Times’ of the 1680s were beginning to fade into the background of everyday life in Galloway. But then in late 1715, a small group of local Jacobites joined a larger group of northern English Jacobites and two thousand Highlanders in an attempt to capture Dumfries. The focus of the Hanovrai9n government was on the main Jacobite rebellion in the north of Scotland, so the defence of Dumfries was left to a locally raised volunteer militia. Some 3000 volunteers were raised and armed. This level of resistance persuaded the Jacobites to turn south where they were defeated at the Battle of Preston in November 1715.

As a side-effect, it also meant that in 1724 there were a lot of folk in Galloway with a wee bit of military training. And muskets. And a grievance.

Although other landowners were involved, the grievance focused on Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon and St Mary’s Isle. In Hamilton’s case it was a triple grievance.

1. In 1723 he cleared several families of his land near Kirkcudbright to create a large cattle enclosure.
2. The 400 cattle in his enclosure were illegally imported Irish cattle.
3. In 1715, he was one of the local Jacobites who tried to capture Dumfries.

On point 3, by rights he should have had his head chopped off at the Tower of London and forfeited all his lands. However, Hamilton was only 18 at the time and his mother Mary Dunbar, and his grandmother, Duchess Anne of Hamilton managed to save both his lands and his head. His fellow Jacobite William Gordon, Lord Kenmure had been executed and William Maxwell, earl of Nithsdale’s wife had smuggled him out often tower of London dressed as her female servant…

On point 2, his great-great grandfather David Dunbar I of Baldoon had been fined as early as 1669 for trying to pass off Irish cattle as his own. In 1682, he was still at it when an English magistrate seized 100 of Dunbar’s cattle, having declared them Irish rather than Scottish. What made this a grievance is that by smuggling in cheap Irish cattle and then passing them off as his own, Basil Hamilton was undercutting the legitimate local cattle trade -which was a threat to the Herons of Kirroughtrie amongst others.

On point 1, when the future king James II and VII was living in Scotland in the early 1680s, his wife Mary of Modena had become exasperated by Galloway and its rebellious Whigs (Covenanters). The whole district she declared, should be cleared of its revolting inhabitants and turned into a great hunting park. Her husband was  very keen on hunting. The Galloway Levellers quoted this in their (printed) propaganda broadsheets. Having failed in 1715, they said, the Jacobites (ie Hamilton) were now taking Mary of Modena’s advice and clearing King George I’s loyal subjects from the land so that they would face no local opposition when they next rebelled.

If the Galloway Levellers uprising had been a simple peasants revolt, the regiment of dragoons which arrived in June 1724 would have made short shrift of them. In a straight fight they would have been slaughtered. If they managed to avoid a direct confrontation, it would have been easy enough to capture a few ring-leaders and hang them.

None of this happened. Instead, in October 1724, the dragoons confronted a group of several hundred Levellers, but had been told by their commander to use ’only the flats of their swords’ against them. There were no fatalities and 200 Levellers were captured, but most were allowed to escape on the march back to Kirkcudbright.

A few Levellers did stand trial, but in a civil not a criminal case. The case was brought in January 1725 by Basil Hamilton who pursued a small group (25 out of the  1000 who had taken part) for damages to his cattle park dykes. He did win, but is unlikely to have received much in the way of damages from the Levellers, since only two owned any property and one was a 14 year old boy.

Part Three

The subtitle of Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell’s book on the Lowland Clearances is ‘Scotland’s Silent Revolution-1760 to 1830. But if the first clearances began in Galloway in the 1720s, why was the main phase of clearance delayed for forty years?

Part of the reason is that the main Lowland Clearances took place in arable farming areas and were almost a side-effect of attempts to boost production of oats, barley and wheat. In Galloway and later the Highlands, the clearances were a direct effect of replacing people with cattle and sheep. The new style of livestock farming only needed a few cowherds and shepherds, but the new style of arable farming still needed at least some farm labourers.

The market for Galloway cattle in the 1720s was England, but at that time there was no equivalent English demand for Scottish oats. As Dr Johnson noted in his Dictionary (1755) ‘Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.' The traditional (medieval) system of arable farming produced just enough grain to feed the farmers and their workforce, pay the landowners the rent and leave enough to sow to produce the next year’s crop. As an old Scots saying put it ‘Ane to saw, and ane to gnaw, and ane to pay the Laird witha'.

In a good harvest year, this system could produce a surplus of grain, but this was balanced out by bad harvest years when hunger compelled people to start eating the seed corn, which reduced the next year’s crop. This vicious cycle acted as a limit on Scotland’s population growth. Another effect was to limit the growth of Scotland’s urban population since they depended on buying rather than producing their own food. Periodic harvest failures pushed the cost of their food up and a major harvest failure risked cutting it off altogether.

After the failure of the Darien Scheme, many influential Scots landowners and merchants became persuaded that the Union with England would stimulate the Scottish economy so it could break out of this vicious cycle. But it soon became obvious that the Union was not delivering on this hope. Scots would somehow have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This led to the foundation in 1723 of the ‘Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture’. As its title suggests the Honourable Society’s main aim was to modernise Scottish farming. However it also planned to develop the Scottish linen industry. This was achieved in 1727 with the establishment of the ’Board of Trustees for Improvement in Manufactures’ which the Society of Improvers helped set up.

The Society’s attempts to modernise Scottish framing were less immediately successful. Robert Maxwell of Arkland in Galloway was the Society’s Secretary. In 1723 Maxwell had taken a 19 year lease of Cliftonhall farm near Edinburgh and set about trying to improve it. He succeeded in increasing crop production, but bankrupted himself in the process. He inherited Arkland in1745 but to cover his debts was forced to sell the farm in 1749 for £ 10 304 Scots (£857 sterling). Another leading member of the Society of Improvers, John Cockburn of Ormiston was also ruined by improvement and had to sell his estate to the earl of Hopetoun.

The difficulty these early improvers faced was that levelling the medieval raised rigs, enclosing the fields with new dykes and hedges, cutting drains and fertilising the new fields with lime was an expensive and labour intensive process. Once the new system was in place, labour costs could be cut by clearing the cottars from the land and re-employing a few as day labourers, but so long as demand and hence the price of grain remained static there was little profit to be made from their expensive improvements.

Although Robert Maxwell managed to produce a weighty 450 page long  ‘Select Transactions of the Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture  in 1743, the Society faded away after 1745/6.Politics as well as economics played a part in its decline. Among its 400 members were several Jacobite landowners. These included James Steuart (1713-1780) of Coltness who was forced into exile in 1746 as a Jacobite supporter. After returning from exile in 1763, Steuart published ‘An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy’. Although overshadowed by Adam Smith’s ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ (1776), Steuart’s was the first Scottish book on political economy.

This where things started to get complicated, with a whole combination of factors overlapping and interlocking feeding in to what were to become the Lowland Clearances.

One factor is that after 50 years, the Union of 1707 had started to pay off- but only for a few Scots. To the west, the Atlantic trade in slaves, sugar and tobacco made some merchants, especially in Glasgow, very, very rich. To the east, other Scots were able to make huge fortunes in India. But although they were now very rich, these merchants lacked an essential requirement if they were to become ‘gentlemen’. They were not landowners and so could not become part of ‘society’.

To raise their social standing, the newly rich elite had to buy land, the more the better. At the same time, as Henry Home /lord Kames made clear in his book ‘The Gentleman Farmer’ (1776), as landowners the new Scottish elite had a moral and patriotic duty to increase the wealth and strength of the nation by improving their new lands.

Another factor which came into play had its origins in Adam Smith’s theory of economic and social development. Smith, along with Kames and other Scottish Enlightenment thinkers believed that there were four historical stages of social and economic development. The first was the hunting stage, the second the pasturage or livestock farming stage, the third the arable farming stage and the fourth the commerce or merchant trading stage.

Critically, Smith believed that while England and France had reached this the fourth stage, Scotland wasn’t there yet. Scotland was still in the process of transition from the second to the third stages of development. To reach the fourth stage, Scotland would have to increase the surplus produced by its arable farms so that towns manufacturing goods for trade could be developed. This is the gist of this quote from ‘Wealth of Nations’

As subsistence is, in the nature of things, prior to conveniency and luxury, so the industry which procures the former, must necessarily be prior to that which ministers to the latter. The cultivation and improvement of the country, therefore, which affords subsistence, must, necessarily, be prior to the increase of the town, which furnishes only the means of conveniency and luxury. It is the surplus produce of the country only, or what is over and
above the maintenance of the cultivators, that constitutes the subsistence of the town, which can therefore increase only with the increase of this surplus produce. [Smith, Wealth of Nations, Vol 1, page 402]

Between 1764 and 1766, Adam Smith was tutor to Henry Scott, 3rd duke of Buccleuch. As one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest landowners, Scott’s step-father had expected him to live in London and become a British politician. But under Smith’s influence, Scott decided to live in Scotland and start improving his lands.

A final factor which influenced the Lowland Clearances can be traced back to the Society of Improvers and their promotion of the Board of Trustees for Improvement of Manufactures. In 1728, the Scottish linen industry produced 2.2 million yards of finished cloth. Supported and encouraged by the Board of Trustees, by 1768 this had risen to 11.8 million yards and by 1798 output reached 21.3 million yards. Although output then declined, this was partly due to the rapid rise of the Scottish cotton industry after 1780.

In 1780 there were 25 000 linen hand-loom weavers in Scotland. By 1800 there were 58 000 cotton and linen hand-loom weavers. These weavers and other textile workers needed to be fed. So did the population of Glasgow. Between 1700 and 1750, Glasgow’s population only grew by 10 000, but in the next 50 years it grew by 54 000.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, there was little reward for any landowner or their tenants for improving the land. In the second half of the century there was, as demand for food grew and prices increased.

What drove the Lowland Clearances from the 1760s onwards then, was this combination of new super-rich landowners able to afford to improve their lands, an Enlightened economic theory which called for improvement and, most importantly, the prospect of financial reward which encouraged even the most cautious and conservative of landowners to get involved.

Part Four 

Before the Lowland Clearances began, Robert Bruce and William Wallace would have had little difficulty recognising the Lowland landscape as Scotland. After the Clearances it would have seemed like a foreign country to them. Everything had changed, changed utterly.

Some changes had occurred since the Middle Ages, but these were invisible and not marked in the landscape. Fpr example, there is a rental-roll from 1375 for Buittle parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright which lists the tenants on each of 12 farms. Most have 3 or 4 tenants but the larger farm of Almorness has 9 and one, Breoch,  has 11. However, by the seventeenth century in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright most farms had only one tenant, although a few had two (often father and son).

The farms didn’t need a smaller workforce, but a new rural class of cottars had been formed. They lived in cots (cottages) and had the use of a small parcel of land, their croft, on which they could grow their own food and/or graze cow or a few sheep. In exchange they provided the tenant farmer with labour on the farm as required- in the winter and autumn ploughing and thrashing grain, in the spring and summer planting, peat-cutting, harvesting and hay-making.

When the physical transformation of the landscape began, the cottars’ small plots of land were swept away. An example of what the rationalisation of the traditional farms involved was given by Andrew Wight, writing in 1782. This example of improvement was drawn up by Henry Home, lord Kames. In 1761, his daughter Jean had married Patrick Heron IV (1736-1803). Heron’s family had grown wealthy through Galloway’s cattle trade, but the farms to be improved were arable farms near Dumfries. Heron’s tenant was James Rome, described by Andrew Wight as ‘the most remarkable man in Scotland for enterprise and expedition’.

As Rome explained to Wight ‘I entered to these improvements at Whitsunday 1763, upon a thirty years lease, in partnership with the proprietor, Mr Heron of Heron. The plan was formed by Lord Kames…’
Rome then gave Wight a detailed description of the immense effort such improvement required. To improve the 144 acres of Ingleston Hill, 90 horses and 24 workers laboured for 32 days to carry and spread 48 346 bags of shell-marl. The hill was then ploughed, first with a team of 6 oxen led by 3 men followed by a team of 4 horses. The 200 acres of Clouden-park were similarly improved and planted with turnips. Kames monitored the progress of Rome’s improvements and in 1770 commented that he had never seen better work.

Part of  James Rome’s work involved removing the existing broad rigs from Ingleston. Wight then discussed the improvement of  Baldoon in Kirkinner parish, Wigtownshire. A hundred years earlier, Baldoon had been owned by the Dunbar family who had a cattle park built there covering 1.5 square miles and which could hold 1000 cattle. Through his mother, Mary Dunbar, the Galloway Leveller’s bête noire Basil Hamilton inherited Baldoon. By 1760, Hamilton’s son Dunbar Hamilton had become the 4th earl of Selkirk and a Mr Jeffray managed the lands for the earl.

As Jeffray explained in a letter to Wight, beginning in 1760 it took 3 years to level 300 acres of old crooked rig and replace them with narrower straight rigs. In 1455, Baldoon had been one of the Douglas lords of Galloway’s grange, that is arable, lands so these ‘old crooked rigs’ were definitely medieval. The new narrow rigs were needed because undersoil drainage by tile drains did not come into use until the early nineteenth century.

Once the old crooked rigs had been done away with and the soil fertilised with shell-marl or lime, new square or rectangular fields enclosed with dykes or hedges were made and new farm buildings built of mortared stones with slate roofs were constructed. Networks of estate roads were built, linked to the growing network of substantially built turnpike roads, along which new villages and towns were built. In Dumfries and Galloway alone, 81 new towns and villages were built between 1750 and 1830.

The new villages were built to accommodate the cottars and tnant farmers who had lost their farms. This was a lesson Lowland landowners had been taught by the Galloway Levellers. But it also meant that there was a workforce close to the land but no longer living on it available at harvest time. Getting the harvest in as quickly as possible in case it was damaged by wet weather or storms was a vital and still labour intensive process.

The new towns had an additional function. With their larger population, fed by the new farming system, the landowners who planned them hoped they would become centres of commerce as Adam Smith proposed. The growth of Airdrie in Lanarkshire was encouraged by the Hamilton family who owned the surrounding lands. As early as 1695, they set up a market in Airdrie. First a village of 300 people developed and then it became a centre for linen weaving.

Weaving was a skill which could be transferred from the traditional to the new economy. By the first census of 1801 the population of Airdrie had grown to 4631 as it absorbed  rural workers cleared from the land. Agriculture in Lanarkshire benefited from the growth of Glasgow, but this had the effect of encouraging landowners to step up the process of improvement, pushing more people off the land. The Hamilton family had a private act passed in 1821 giving ‘their’ town the legal status of a burgh. By this time Airdie’s population was 7362. This had doubled to 14 435 by 1851.However this growth was due to the ‘pull’ of the new iron industry and its associated coal mines industrialisation rather than the ‘push’ or Lowland clearance.

The new fields, farms, roads, villages and towns were also part of a new economy. After the Union of 1707, all the old Scots money circulating in Scotland was collected in Edinburgh ahead of the conversion to sterling. When this was done, it was discovered that 35% of the coins collected were not Scots at all. Some were English, but 30% were not even British but came from France, Holland, Spain and other countries.

The amount of foreign currency was high because apart from merchants trading with Europe, most Scots had little need for cash. They lived in a ‘self-provisioning’ countryside where they provided food, clothing and shelter for themselves rather than having to buy these basic essentials.

But in the new economy, farms were now focused on producing food for sale in a commercial system. Now rent had to be paid on the new farm cottages and the new houses in the new villages. Food, clothing and shelter were now commodities to be bought and sold. Tobacco, tea, coffee, sugar and clothes made from cotton had to be purchased. Gradually, everything in this new economy had to be paid for.

The other side of the new coin was that there was now a demand for carpenters and cobblers, brewers and tailors, road-menders and cart-builders, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. This was very different from the situation in Galloway a generation before when the Galloway Levellers claimed that -

Every year several tenants are exposed to the mountains and know not where to go or get any place; nay it is known that some years ago that some of these poor distressed people have, from despair, put hands in themselves and have been found hanged in their own houses about the term time when they were obliged to go away and did not know where to go…

In the old economy and society, to lose your place on the land was to lose the security of your place in the world. In the new society and economy, it was the old world that had lost its security. As a result hundreds of thousands of Scots had to find a new place in a world which was no longer their land.

Part Five

Why has the clearance of the Highlands been remembered when the clearance of the Lowlands has not? One reason is that the Highlands were still being cleared in the 1850s and attracted the attention of Karl Marx.

The last process of wholesale expropriation of the agricultural population from the soil is, finally, the so-called clearing of estates, i.e., the sweeping men off them. All the English methods hitherto considered culminated in “clearing.” As we saw in the picture of modern conditions given in a former chapter, where there are no more independent peasants to get rid of, the “clearing” of cottages begins; so that the agricultural labourers do not find on the soil cultivated by them even the spot necessary for their own housing. But what “clearing of estates” really and properly signifies, we learn only in the promised land of modern romance, the Highlands of Scotland.
This revolution, which began in Scotland after the last rising of the followers of the Pretender, can be followed through its first phases in the writings of Sir James Steuart  and James Anderson.  In the 18th century the hunted-out Gaels were forbidden to emigrate from the country, with a view to driving them by force to Glasgow and other manufacturing towns. As an example of the method obtaining in the 19th century, the “clearing” made by the Duchess of Sutherland will suffice here. This person, well instructed in economy, resolved, on entering upon her government, to effect a radical cure, and to turn the whole country, whose population had already been, by earlier processes of the like kind, reduced to 15,000, into a sheep-walk. From 1814 to 1820 these 15,000 inhabitants, about 3,000 families, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All their villages were destroyed and burnt, all their fields turned into pasturage. British soldiers enforced this eviction, and came to blows with the inhabitants. One old woman was burnt to death in the flames of the hut, which she refused to leave. Thus this fine lady appropriated 794,000 acres of land that had from time immemorial belonged to the clan. She assigned to the expelled inhabitants about 6,000 acres on the sea-shore — 2 acres per family. The 6,000 acres had until this time lain waste, and brought in no income to their owners. The Duchess, in the nobility of her heart, actually went so far as to let these at an average rent of 2s. 6d. per acre to the clansmen, who for centuries had shed their blood for her family. The whole of the stolen clanland she divided into 29 great sheep farms, each inhabited by a single family, for the most part imported English farm-servants. In the year 1835 the 15,000 Gaels were already replaced by 131,000 sheep. The remnant of the aborigines flung on the sea-shore tried to live by catching fish. They became amphibious and lived, as an English author says, half on land and half on water, and withal only half on both.

As well as Marx, newspapers like the Inverness Courier, the Scotsman and the pre-Rupert Murdoch Times reported on the more dramatic, that is traumatic, incidents of  clearance. But while there were expressions of public sympathy for the victims and outrage against the landowners, the absolute right of property owners to clear their lands of people remained. It was not until the 1880s, a hundred years since the process of clearance began in the Highlands and Islands that the ‘Crofters’ War’ brought it to an end.

The root of the problem in the Highlands was that there was very little arable land but a lot of rough grazing land. In the summer, the rough grazing land could be used to feed cattle and small  flocks of sheep. The people, however, needed the arable land to grow enough oats to feed themselves through the winter. This limited the numbers of cattle and sheep the land could support. But if the arable land was used as pasture for cattle or sheep, larger herds of cattle or flocks of sheep could be kept. The livestock could be over wintered on the better quality land and then allowed to graze on the poorer quality land in the spring and summer.

On the other hand, any growth in the human population would be difficult to sustain without the risk of a bad harvest leading to starvation. Growing potatoes rather than oats as the staple crop was a way to support a larger population but a failure of the potato crop would also lead to starvation.

Alongside this problem of how the people who lived on the land were to be fed as their population grew was another one. This was the wider shift from an economy based on subsistence to an economy based on money.  This was a gradual change in the Highlands. It was possible for landowners who saw themselves, and were seen by their tenants, as successors to the ceann-fine or ‘head of the clan’ to maintain traditional land-use practices and the traditional economy. In good  harvest years their tenants would pay their rent, in bad harvest years they would not. In very bad years, the landowners would provide food to keep the tenants from starving.
However a series of poor harvest years combined with population growth could lead to an accumulation of rent arrears. This reduced the landowners income from the land/people. If there was then a harvest failure and the landowners had to buy food to keep the people from starving, debts rapidly mounted. This either bankrupted the landowners, forcing the sale of the land or pushed the landowner into the new economy. In either case the result was the same- the new landowners or the existing landowner would start clearing the people from the land to make way for sheep.

The advantages of replacing people with sheep were two-fold. Firstly, from the end of the eighteenth century until wool started arriving from Australia in the later nineteenth century, the price of wool remained high. This was a result of greater demand as the industrial revolution was applied to the woollen industry. This made sheep farming a profitable form of land use.

Secondly, in the new economy, poor people who were at risk of starvation were seen as a financial burden on landowners. Either the landowners had to buy food directly for their starving tenants or indirectly via parish poor rates. Overseas or internal emigration relived the wealthy of this oppressive burden and made their lands more valuable. Thanks to the Reverend Thomas Malthus, it could also be argued that landowners who allowed their tenants to multiply beyond the ability of the land to support them were immoral if not outright criminals.

The new economy acted like a slowly tightening vice on the Highlands and Islands. In its iron grip, the old world and its Gaelic culture was year by year, eviction by eviction, township by township forced to the brink of extinction.

Was there an alternative? Was clearance inevitable?

 In terms of land-use, there were alternatives. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were six iron furnaces working in the Highlands. They were fuelled by charcoal made from wood  felled from trees up and down the west coast of the Highlands and on many of the islands. Keeping a charcoal based iron industry going would have been difficult, but its existence does show that there were areas of forest and woodland in the Highlands and Islands.

If the areas of forest had been extended through new plantations combined with improvement through liming and drainage of the arable areas along with a more mixed (cattle and sheep) form of livestock farming, the  ecology of the region would have benefited in the long term. Small scale industrial developments -wood-working, boat-building, leather-making, woollen mills and the like- could have provided sources of employment and income.

This would have required adopting and pursuing a region-wide economic development strategy, alien to the spirit of the times. Landowners would have had to agree to forgo the instant profits generated by sheep-farming. And, as the Lowland Clearances showed, the necessary social and economic changes would still have led to the loss of traditional ways of life and culture.

As the later nineteenth century experience of the Lowlands, especially the rural south showed, the increasing tempo of the industrial revolution had the effect of undermining the viability of the non-farming rural economy. The tanneries, small cotton mills, breweries, brickworks, slate-quarries and other rural industries could not compete with the cheaper costs of larger scale rivals once the railway system cut transport costs.

Part Six 

By 1830, the Lowland Clearances were over. The countryside had been transformed. Apart from the spread of dairy farming in the south west which followed the growth of the railway network, the  farmed landscape has changed very little since then. In the Southern Uplands, especially in Galloway, since the 1960s forestry has replaced sheep farming which is a striking change of land use and appearance.

In the Highlands, the clearances continued into the 1850s.

In both the rural south and rural north, despite the clearances, it was only after 1851 that the overall population began to decline. This seems puzzling. The explanation is that in the Highlands, many of the people cleared were re-settled around the coast while in the Lowlands they were re-settled in new towns and villages. The new coastal settlements in the Highlands were supposed to prosper through fishing, but most failed to do so. The new towns and villages in the Lowlands were more successful to begin with, but then lost out as growth became more concentrated in industrial areas.

Today, Helmsdale in Sutherland, Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway and Airdrie in Lanarkshire have populations of 640, 990 and 42 000 respectively.

Helmsdale was developed from 1812 onwards to provide housing and employment for people cleared from the land. Gatehouse was likewise developed as a planned town from 1766 onwards. About the same time, the existing village of Airdrie was developed as a centre for the linen weaving industry, becoming a Burgh in 1821. Gatehouse had become a Burgh in 1795. Helmsdale did not become a Burgh.

Helmsdale’s main industry was herring fishing, but in 1790 a cotton spinning mill was built at Spinningdale about 30 miles away. This burnt down in 1808 and was nor rebuilt. Closer to Helmsdale, at Brora 11 miles away, there was a coal mine. Coal had been mined there on a small scale since the late sixteenth century and used for salt making. Between  1812 and 1820, in an attempt to provide employment for people cleared from his lands, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland spent £31 000 in an attempt to revive the mine. The attempt failed in 1825, but another was made in 1872 after the railway reached Sutherland. This was more successful and the mine survived for 100 years until it closed in 1974.

In 1724,  the dykes of Alexander Murray’s cattle park at Cally in Kirkcudbrightshire were thrown down by the Galloway Levellers. Forty years later, when his son James was busy improving Cally estate, he made sure that history would not repeat itself by planning a new town called Gatehouse of Fleet. Within 30 years, as well as two cotton mills, the new town had a tannery, a brewery, a brickworks and a brass  foundry. From zero the population had grown to 1150 and reached 1370 by 1841.

By 1850 however, the water-powered cotton mills had closed, unable to compete with their steam-powered rivals. Then, despite the best efforts of local landowners, the railway from Castle Douglas to Stranraer by-passed the town when it was opened in 1861. ‘Gatehouse station’ on the line was 6 miles from the town it claimed to serve.

For the next 100 years, from being the very model of a modern minor general commercial community at the heart of an improved (and cleared) agricultural landscape, Gatehouse slowly fossilised. By 1974, the Open University were able to use this once thriving town for an educational  film ‘Gatehouse of Fleet - a study in industrial archaeology’.

If Lanarkshire had followed the pattern of Sutherland and Galloway, then Airdrie’s growth would have petered-out in the 1840s once the mechanisation of weaving had been perfected. That Airdrie continued to grow through the nineteenth century was in part due to an accident of geology. As well as coal, beneath the fields around the town there was also ironstone.

In 1769, ownership of Airdrie and the lands around it passed from the Hamilton family, who had begun the towns development, to John Aitchison. After his death, his daughters continued to live at Airdrie House and encourage the development of the town into a Burgh, which it became in 1821.

In 1816, Alexander Baird, a tenant farmer who had prospered as the crops on his improved land fetched record prices during the Napoleonic wars, decided to diversify into the coal industry. He persuaded the Miss Atchison’s to lease the Rosolloch coal field near Airdrie to his son William. His son John continued as a farmer, but another son, Alexander was sent to Glasgow to sell the coal from Rosolloch. Later Alexander’s fourth son James was put in charge of another mine at Merrystown.

In 1826, the Baird family leased the coal fields of Gartsherrie estate to the west of Airdrie. In 1828 they leased an ironstone mine nearby. Their next step was to build an iron furnace at Gartsherrie which was completed in May 1830. This was built using a new system which replaced the ‘cold blast’ of traditional iron furnaces with superheated air. Under the old system it had taken 8 tons of coal to produce  1 ton of iron. Under the new system it took only 3 tons of coal. This cut the cost of the iron produced. By 1839, the Bairds had 8 furnaces in blast. By 1843 there were 16 and Gartsherrie was the largest iron works in the world.

To keep the furnaces blazing required a constant flow of coal from the Bairds coal mines. To keep their profits up, the Bairds also had to keep  the cost of coal down. In April 1837 there was a downturn in the Lanarkshire coal trade. Since their wages were based on the price of coal, the miners in Lanarkshire started working a three-day week to reduce coal supplies so the price and their wages would rise. The Bairds responded by sacking all their miners and evicting them from their company houses. The strike last 15 weeks, during which the Bairds sent surface workers down the mines to keep the iron furnaces going.  This is James Baird’s version of the events.

In April 1837 the colliers were receiving five shillings a day, but as trade was looking rather unfavourable, they took it into their heads that they would be able to keep up their wages by working only three days in the week, and they continued to do this for some time. The other coal masters took no steps to resist it ; but we resolved that we would not, if we could help it, have our output limited in this way, and we accordingly gave every man notice to quit in fourteen days…This strike taught the poor men a lesson which they did not soon forget. It was as determined and prolonged a strike as any we have ever had at Gartsherrie. Many of the wives and children suffered greatly during the fifteen weeks of their foolish idleness. When they returned their condition was sadly changed. The best their furniture was gone. Most of the people who returned were in squalid wretchedness, and some of those who had left us had succumbed to their sufferings, and were in their graves. All the time I remained about Gartsherrie—down to 1851 or 1852—I never again saw the colliers up to the same mark of health and comfort as that in which they were before this strike. [From 'The Bairds of Gartsherrie’ 1879, pp 67-69.]

Of the miners forced to return to work by hunger, only some were re-hired since the Bairds had already filled most of the miners’ former houses with new workers. What James Baird does not mention is that it was only after troops were brought in, stationed in Airdrie, that order was restored and the strike physically broken.

Altogether, between 1816 and 1874 there were 23 strikes in the Lanarkshire coal field. most of which affected the iron industry as well. As these realted industries grew, so did employment and output. By 1913 Scotland produced 43.2 million tonnes of coal and 140 000 people or 10% of the Scottish population were employed in the industry. In the same year, Scotland produced 1.3 million tons of pig iron and 1.4 million tons of steel. On the Clyde, 756 973 tons of shipping were launched equal to 1/3 of UK production and 18% of world wide production.

But along with locomotive building for export, another Scottish speciality, this industrial growth was frequently interrupted by periods when trade was ‘depressed’. This led to lay-offs and wage cuts. While one response to this roller-coast ride of good times and bad times was the growth of trade unions and then a Labour party, another was emigration. Over the course of the nineteenth century, 1. 9 million Scots left the country. This figure includes those directly forced from the land by the Highland Clearances, but most came from the Lowlands.

Of the Lowland emigrants, some left directly as a result of the Lowland Clearances in the early part of the century. But most of those who left later were a generation or more removed from the land. Even as late as the period 1951-1960 which was an ‘interlude of comparative prosperity’ for the west of Scotland, 127 000 people emigrated from the region. As  Anthony Slaven put it ‘The region failed to generate enough jobs to offer the economically-active age groups.’ [The Development of the West of Scotland 1750-1960’ (London, 1975)]

While the term ‘the Industrial Clearances’ has been used to describe the loss of Scotland’s  heavy industries in the 1980s and 1990s, this period marked the end rather than the beginning of the Scottish Clearances.

Part Seven 

The problem at the end of this rapid run through of the Scottish Clearances remains the same as it was at the beginning. As far as most people in Scotland and wherever Scots have emigrated to around the world, the only clearances they know about are the Highland Clearances.

To talk about the Lowland Clearances let alone the Industrial Clearances is therefore quite confusing. To bring in these other clearances cannot help but make what happened in the Highlands (and Islands) less unique. If the Highland Clearances were not a unique event, then, while their injustice remains, their significance as part of Scotland’s history is diminished.

If history was a neutral subject, such rebalancing of the relative importance of past events would not be controversial. But in Scotland history has become a mirror in which the ghostly presences of Independence Past and Independence Future are reflected.

In this mirror, the Highland Clearances have become part of a ‘Jacobite Interpretation of History’. In this, the rejection of James VII as Scotland’s rightful king in 1689 set in motion a string of disasters which included the loss of Scotland’s independence in 1707 and a Highland Clearances which were driven not by economics but by politics. After the Jacobites almost managed a second Stuart Restoration in 1745, their defeat at Culloden in 1746 was followed by a decision to destroy the last vestiges of Scotland’s independence by clearing the Highlands of their Gaelic people and culture.

This is a very powerful story with deep roots. The Roman historian Tacitus quoted Calgacus, leader of Caledonian resistance to the Roman Empire, as saying

there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.

But this powerful story of the Highland Clearances starts to lose its strength if what happened in Galloway a century earlier is examined. Here a very similar process of clearing people from the land began before the Union of 1707. In Galloway the people were cleared from the land to make way for cattle as landowners took advantage of the 1666 English ban on Irish cattle.

The people cleared from the land were not Gaelic speakers nor were they Jacobites, if anything they were anti-Jacobites who supported king George I in 1715. Although the immediate trigger for Galloway Levellers uprising in 1724 was fresh wave of clearance, some of the dykes levelled that year had been built around cattle parks 30 or 40 years earlier.

While what happened in Galloway can be seen as a one-off event, the later Lowland Clearances cannot. The Lowland Clearances saw the disappearance of a  whole class of rural workers, roughly a third of the workforce, from the land. These were the cottars and along with the cottars their cots and croft lands also disappeared. But unlike what had happened earlier in Galloway and later in the Highlands and Islands, the cottars were not driven from the land by cattle and sheep.

The cottars lost their place on the land because the new system of arable farming was based on ’enlightened improvement’. This combined a rational or early scientific approach to land-management with the economic theories of Adam Smith and his contemporaries. The aim was to increase both the quantity and quality of arable crops and thus the economic value of the land.

The expectation was that this would modernise the Scottish economy so it could catch up with the English economy.  The cottars and traditional tenant farmers were part of pre-modern (medieval or feudal) Scotland and so had to be eliminated along with their ‘superstitious’ rather than enlightened methods of farming.

According to Adam Smith’s theory, increasing the surplus produced by the land while reducing the number of  farm workers would cut the cost of food. This would encourage the growth of ‘manufactures’ by cutting the cost of labour- since cheaper food meant wages could be lower. With lower labour costs, Scottish manufactures would be more competitive, stimulating Scotland’s commercial economy.

In the Lowlands Smith’s theory worked. Improving the physical quality of the soil while rationalising the management of the land increased crop production. The ‘surplus’ people cleared from the land found new occupations in Lowland towns and villages, many of which were themselves the creation of improving landowners. The new economy began to grow and was then given extra impetus by the industrial revolution. At first the industrial revolution was powered by water. Then coal became its fuel source, creating yet more jobs in mining and the production of steam engines.

In the Highlands and Islands however, the virtuous cycle of economic growth which offset the impact of the Lowland Clearances did not happen. Instead a vicious circle of economic decline set in. With only enough good quality land available to feed the existing population in good harvest years, attempts to modernise the region’s economy focused on livestock grazing inland and fishing around the coast. Neither activity provided sufficient employment for the existing population, let alone a growing one.

So while the region’s economy could become part of the new economy by providing wool for mechanised factories and fish to help feed the new industrial workforce, most of the people could not. Even after Thomas Telford oversaw the construction of 1200 miles of roads in the Highlands between 1803 and 1827 and the construction of the Caledonian Canal at a cost of £1 million, clearance continued into the 1850s and emigration into the second half of the twentieth century.  However over the past 30 years the population of the Highlands and Islands has recovered. At 448 392 (2011 census) it is approaching its 1831 level of 504 955. [Note- this figure includes the Northern Isles.]

But even in the rural south of Scotland- South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders- where the Lowland Clearances were over by 1831, a similar pattern of population loss  followed by recent recovery can be seen. In Dumfries and Galloway, there was a population peak in 1851 of 158 890. The population then declined but by 2011 had recovered to 151 324.

What such region wide figures miss is the fine detail. In 1851, the population of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway was just over 44 000. It is now only 24 000. In Wigtownshire the population was 39 000 in 1851, today it is 29 000, with 10 000 living in the (former) ferry-port of Stranraer. In other words, even where there may appear to be a recovery of rural population, the reality is that the growth has mainly been concentrated towns like Inverness in the rural north or Dumfries in the rural south.

For at least some of the Scots cleared from the land in the Highlands and many of those cleared in the Lowlands, the growth of industry in west central Scotland provided an alternative to overseas migration.

In Lanarkshire, north Ayrshire and Renfrewshire between 1825 and 1840, iron production grew by 2000% from 25 000 tons to 500 000 tons. 15% of the iron was exported to the USA while the other main markets were the rapidly expanding shipbuilding and railway industries. By 1913, west  central Scotland produced half of the UK’s marine steam engines, a third of all steam locomotives and a third of all ships built in the UK. The shipyards on the Clyde were able to build more ships than all the shipyards in Germany combined. This growth in industrial production was matched by a rapid increase in Scotland’s overall population.

Between 1830 and 1911, the population of Scotland doubled from 2.3 million to 4.8 million. But during the same period, 2 million Scots emigrated overseas and 750 000 moved to England. If the economy was booming, why did so many Scots decide to leave? Part of the answer is that in Scotland wages were 10% lower than in England. Since as much as two thirds of the cost of building a ship were labour costs, this gave Scottish shipbuilders an advantage. But at the same time food and housing costs were higher than in the industrial areas of England. In 1911, over 50% of the Scottish population could afford only one or two room dwellings, compared with 7 % in England.

In the 1830s and 40s, apart from England and Wales, Scotland was the only industrialised country in the world. By the end of the 19th century most European countries as well as the USA and Japan were producing iron and steel, ships and locomotives. Faced with this competition, Scottish industrialists tried to keep their costs down by reducing wages. The 19th century global economy was also subject to booms and slumps leading to surges in unemployment. So while the few Scots who owned the coal mines, iron works, shipyards and locomotive works became millionaires, millions of ordinary Scots voted with their feet, abandoning the industrial hell that was North Britain to make new lives in new lands.

The two world wars of the 20th century and the recovery from them provided some respite from the decline of Scotland’s Victorian industries. Yet even during the post war boom of the 1950s, half a million Scots left the country. Despite nationalisation of the coal, railway and steel industries and state led attempts to diversify the economy, through the 1960s and 1970s all that had once seemed so solid continued to melt into air. The Industrial Clearances of the 1980s and 1990s marked the (almost) final withering away of Scotland’s Victorian industries.

To conclude: when placed in a wider context which includes both the Lowlands Clearances which came before and the Industrial Clearances which came after, the Highland Clearances lose their uniqueness. They become part of the Scottish Clearances.

The Scottish Clearances were initially an attempt by Scotland’s landowning and intellectual (Enlightened) elite to catch up with England by modernising Scotland’s economy. The aim was to transform Scotland’s economy and society by boot-strapping the country from an agricultural to a commercial nation. In the arable Lowlands this worked. In the pastoral Highlands and Southern Uplands it failed, creating huge swathes of depopulated ‘wilderness’  which remain empty of people to this day.

However, even before the process of Enlightened improvement was completed in the Lowlands with the clearance of the cottars from the land, it had already been superseded by an even more revolutionary revolution- the Industrial Revolution.  This revolution was not the commercial revolution anticipated by Adam Smith and his fellows. It was an energy revolution.

To meet the demands of this revolution, the newly improved fields of central Scotland were dug up to gain access to the coal and iron ore which lay beneath them. First canals and then railways were constructed across the corn fields linking mines, iron works and industrial towns in a dense network which all but erased the Enlightened landscape.

It was within this darkened industrial landscape, not the Highlands, that the real tragedy of Scotland’s history was played out. A tragedy that embraced  not only Scots who had been cleared from the land, but over 200 000 Irish people who had been cleared from their land by famine as well as landlords.

Over successive generations, children, women and men laboured in the factories and coal mines, shipyards  and iron works. But only a fraction of the wealth their labour created was ever returned to them. In despair, millions left Scotland- clearance on an industrial scale.

What drove Scotland’s industrial clearances was not just the appalling physical conditions Scotland’s working class had to endure. Through the power of their trade unions, the condition of the working class in Scotland was slowly improved. What helped drive the later industrial clearances was the conservatism of Scotland’s capitalist class. This class failed to heed the advice of the Communist Manifesto : ‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production’.

Instead, Scotland’s industrial capitalists tried to preserve their early Victorian instruments of production even as Scotland entered the twentieth century. As a consequence, from the 1920s onwards their economic role was replaced by that of the State until they were ultimately extinguished by nationalisation. But although nationalisation did bring new investment, it could not reverse the decay of Scotland’s Victorian industrial infrastructure and an economy built on coal. Long before Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, coal mines were being closed, railway lines ripped up and steel furnaces blown-out.

If the wealth from North Sea oil had not been squandered by Margaret Thatcher and her successors in pursuit of their neoliberal fantasies, it could have been used to help build a new Scotland. But it wasn’t and now, after the failure of the 2014 independence referendum and the failure of neoliberalism, Scotland’s future is as bleak as it has ever been.

In the past, the prospect of a future of endless austerity would have led to a wave of migration, of economic clearance. Will things be different this time?

If you have enjoyed reading this, please sign our Petition asking Birlinn books to reprint ‘The Lowland Clearances’.