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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Festivalized- buy this book!

Big thanks to John Serpico. Photo shows Root Boot at Stonehenge in 1984, not the Poison Girls in 1979 - as the original photo by Big Steve confusingly said. 

Music, Politics and Alternative Culture
Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart

This book is an essential purchase. Even a vital purchase. Buy this book here. Read it. Stop reading it…the resulting excess of sorrow will make you laugh while the simultaneous excess of joy will make you weep. Following this road of excess will lead you to the free festival of wisdom. Because as Mr. Blake once said “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

I could go on to fill this whole review of ‘Festivalized’ with William Blake quotes, but I won’t. For any one who ever went to a free festival this book will evoke a host of powerful memories. Freaks, hippies, Hells Angels, punks, travellers, squatters, peace campers and ravers- all are here in a psychedelic collage woven from the accounts of over 40 participants.

But if you weren’t there, if the scent of wood smoke doesn’t trigger acid flashbacks, what does ‘Festivalized’ have to offer? The most recent reason I can give is provided by Anthony Barnett who  argues that the pressure for the UK to leave the EU comes overwhelmingly from England. The anti-EU movement, Barnett says, has gained traction because unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, England does not have its own devolved parliament. As he says “England’s frustrated desire for democracy has turned it against the EU rather than the real culprit, the British state.”

In Scotland the same frustrated desire for democracy was able to express itself through a demand for independence. The British state offered a devolved Scottish parliament as a substitute. The demand for independence did not fade away though and had to be bought-off again in 2014 by an offer of a more powerful devolved parliament. Significantly, the Scots have tried to distinguish their nationalism from ’blood and soil’ nationalism through an emphasis on the cultural and civic distinctiveness of Scotland - that Scottishness is an identity of choice rather than one given by place of birth.

For people living in England, it is much harder to disentangle Englishness from Britishness. This makes it more difficult to create an English identity which is not entangled with the reactionary myths of Empire. The Scots, Welsh and Irish all contributed to the British Empire, but can claim ‘the English made us do it’. So long as no distinction between Englishness and Britishness is made,  Englishness remains reactionary rather than liberating.

If a post-imperial English identity existed, what would it look like? The outlines of an alternative England began to emerge in the 1960s, partly through a revolution in popular culture. As a key text of the time, Jeff Nuttall’s book ’Bomb Culture’ (1968) explained, the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1963 shocked his post-war generation into the realisation that, at any moment, everything in their world which seemed so solid could in an instant be vaporised and turned into radioactive air.

As the 1970s got underway, the ‘Bomb Culture’ explosion gave rise to many fragments. One -see ‘Radical Technology’ (1976, edited by Geoffrey Boyle and Peter Harper)- evolved into the Green movement. Another was the free-festival movement.

As Andy Roberts ( Albion Dreaming, 2008, p. 155) put it

Free festival were a response to a variety of emerging needs within the counter-culture. Night clubs and commercial festivals did not appeal to the sensibilities of acid sensitized hippies  who were questioning ideas of profit and control; wanting to be more  than just consumers of what the entertainment industry produced. There was a demand for events self-generated by the counter-culture , which would provide hippies with gatherings where they could live out there life-style with like minded people in a spirit of celebration and purpose. Another factor in the development of the counter-culture was the growth of communes  and the squatting movement in London. By necessity this had led to a more communal way of life; who, streets in London had been colonized by squatters and it was a natural progression from community in the cities to communality in the countryside.

The Albion of Andy Robert’s book is William Blake’s Albion (2008, p.8). Although Blake’s Albion encompassed the whole of Britain, in the same way that his contemporary Robert Burns’ poetry encompassed universal themes from a Scottish perspective , so Blake’s poetry encompassed universal themes from an English one. [Blake 1757-1827, Burns 1759-1796]

As ‘Festivalized’ shows, the countryside of the free-festival movement was the English countryside. Its Albion was an alternative England and the free-festivals by their very existence rejoiced in Blake’s vision of the British Empire’s end.

The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd,
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst.
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field:
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opressor's scourge.
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream,
Singing, 'The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.'
[William Blake, ‘America: A Prophecy’]

But as Philip K Dick knew (VALIS, 1981) and the free-festival movement discovered, the Empire never ended. For the British state in the 1980s and 90s, the alternative England of the counter-culture’s Albion Free State, the post-imperial Englishness of the free-festival movement were a threat to the established order and so had to be eliminated.

Although mentioned only in passing by Steve Lake of Zounds in ‘Festivalized (2015, pp 107-110),  The Mob, a free-festival/ punk crossover group from Somerset, anticipated what was to happen with their song ‘Witch Hunt’ released in 1980.

Stubbing out progress where seeds are sown
Killing off anything that's not quite known
Sitting around in a nice safe home
Waiting for the witch hunt
Idle plans for the idol rich
Knitting the economy, not dropping a stitch
Destroying anything that doesn't quite fit
Waiting for the witch hunt
Still living with the English fear
Waiting for the witch hunt here
Still living with the English fear
Waiting for the witch hunt here
Changing your course for another way
You better stop that or be willing to pay
Never mind son, you'll come around some day
Under pressure from the witch hunt
Killing off anything that’s not quite known
Stubbing out progress where the seeds are sown
[The Mob, Witch Hunt, 1980]

Under pressure from the British state’s witch hunt, progress towards an alternative Englishness was all but stubbed out.
It is perhaps only now, as the British state writhes on the horns of the European dilemma, that we can see what was lost. Without the existence of alternative forms of Englishness, England’s frustrated desire for democracy has become regressive.

There is no future in Ukip’s vision of England. In the absence of any alternative visions of Albion, Ukip’s dreaming will become a nightmare from which we cannot wake. Yet, as ‘Festivalized’ shows, when liberated from the single vision of Empire’s sleep, hundreds of thousands of English people were able to create the antithesis of Ukip’s England.

Yes, as ‘Festivalized’ also shows, under increasing pressure from the British state it became impossible to sustain the free-festival movement. But the very fact of its emergence and existence shows that England already has within itself the dream of a time it must now possess in order to actually live it.

Clifford Harper, illustration for Undercurrents magazine, No. 20, February-March 1977

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's an alternative England

It’s an alternative England

Grab it, share it, it’s yours
Alter your native land
They say they're a part of you
And that's not true you know
They say they've got control of you
And that's a lie you know
They say you will never be
Free free free….

…in an alternative England.

What I want to do in this post is bring together two different things and suggest that they are connected. One of the things is a current political argument. The other is a piece of recent history.

The political argument is by Anthony Barnett. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/anthony-barnett/it-s-england-s-brexit It is a rich and complex argument but at its heart is the suggestion that what is driving demands for the UK to leave the EU is a collapse in the equation British = English. The roots of this breakdown lie in the creation of devolved governments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Before devolution, English people took it for granted that the parliament in London was their parliament. Since devolution the realisation has slowly dawned that it is a British rather than an English parliament. However, since the creation of an English parliament would effectively lead to the break-up of the UK, no major political party has proposed one.

Anthony Barnett’s key argument is that what Ukip and the Brexiteers have managed to do is shift the focus of English anxieties about the post-devolution settlement on to the EU. In other words if there was a more powerful English parliament then worries about the leakage of power from the British (UK, Westminster) parliament to the EU would be diminished. So that buried beneath the noise of the EU referendum debates is a demand for radical democracy.

Buried in the mix is the fear that if encourage to surface, English ‘nationalism’ would be right-wing and reactionary. That Englishness is regressive while Britishness (in England) is progressive.

Barnett argues against this depressing understanding of Englishness. This leads on to ’Festivalized- Music, Politics and Alternative Culture’ by Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart. This is an account of the free festival movement 1970-1992, a movement which was primarily an English phenomenon. Buy it here

Connecting Anthony Barnett’s article with Festivalized has the effect of opening up a different perspective on ‘Englishness’. What Festivalized, along with George McKay’s ‘Cultures of Resistance’ (1996),  highlights is that the alternative (or counter) culture which emerged in the UK in the sixties gave hundreds of thousands of young English people the opportunity to create a new  identity, to invent a post-British (Empire) form of  Englishness.

This developed via the free festival movement in the 1970s but was then heavily suppressed during the 1980s and 1990s. The repression had the effect of eliminating a radically alternative England and reinforcing reactionary and regressive England. Or more correctly, made it increasingly difficult to sustain an alternative Englishness.

The Beanfield, 1 June 1985

The mix of ‘music, politics and alternative culture’ is vividly described in ‘Festivalized’ through the first-hand accounts by 40 participants. One of the people interviewed for the book was Steve Lake of Zounds and (pp.107-110) Steve mentions The Mob -‘a punk band from Yeovil’ - as one of the groups which crossed over between punk and the free festivals/ the free-festivals and punk. In the 1980s  I shared a punk housing co-op house with members of the Mob and briefly ran their ‘All the Madmen’ record company. A few years ago now Mark Wilson of the Mob rang me to say All the Madmen was going to be revived. This is part of what I wrote for the AtM website

Punk did not end when the Sex Pistols split up in 1978. It carried on into the 1980s, given a new edge by the impact of Thatcher’s government on a generation of young people. It really felt that we had ‘No Future’…Radicalised by harsh reality, punks realised that they had to work together and co-operate just to survive. A practical example of this was the creation of punk housing co-ops like the Islington based Black Sheep Co-op which the Mob and other punk bands helped to finance through benefit gigs. The Mob also worked to renovate houses for the co-op which (along with Andy Palmer of Crass and members of other punk bands) they later lived in. All the Madmen was based in a Black Sheep Co-op house for two years before relocating to another housing co-op (originally a squat) house at Brougham Road in Hackney. 
Even if most histories of punk forget this hidden history, those involved have not. Against the competitive individualism which has become the norm over the past 30 years, we have held fast to the values of co-operation and mutual aid. But holding fast to a memory of what once was is not enough. Now another generation of young people are faced with a government which offers them ‘no future’.
The revival of All the Madmen as a collective on its own cannot undo the damage done by 30 years of neo-liberalism, but what it can do is offer this generation of young people inspiration in place of despair. The teenagers who created All the Madmen refused to accept that they had no future. Instead they chose to create their own future. And so the seeds of progress were not stubbed out but survived to flower again. 

From  http://www.allthemadmen.co.uk/ 

I had been aware of the alternative/ counter culture and the free-festivals movement ever since discovering Hawkwind as a teenager in 1972. However, it was not until I lived in London (1979-1997) that I became participant rather than an observer. I never went to Stonehenge free festival, but my (future) wife did and after the Battle of the Beanfield in June 1985 she became active member of the Stonehenge festival campaign.

I moved back to rural Scotland in 1997 and as my English/ London accent faded away so I slipped back into a more Scottish identity. Then came the 2012-14 Scottish independence referendum campaign. I was involved in this as a member of the local (Dumfries and Galloway) Radical Independence Campaign.

I gave talks and wrote for RIC, some of which involved going back into local history when, during the seventeenth century, south-west Scotland had been the heartland of political and religious opposition to the Stuart kings Charles I, Charles II and James II/ VII. The now obscure but at the time locally influential Reverend Samuel Rutherford wrote a book in 1647 attacking the belief held by Charles I that kings have an absolute god given/divine right to rule. I dug out these radical roots to counter the version of Scottish nationalism which see the Jacobite rebellions which ended so brutally at Culloden in 1746 as part of a centuries old struggle to free Scotland from English domination/ rule.

My argument was that Stuart absolutism and hence the Jacobite interpretation of Scottish history was part of the problem not the solution. Or, as I put it in 2013 “We are engaged not in a struggle for national liberation, but a struggle to complete a revolution which will finally establish a democratic state in the former United Kingdom.” 

This sentiment connects with Anthony Barnett’s article but I  went on to reflect on why I intended to vote Yes on 14 September 2014. This led me to realise that I would not be voting Yes so that Scotland would become independent. I would be voting Yes in the expectation that the resulting break up of the UK would empower the surviving and embattled remnants of England’s alternative culture. Out of the ruins of  Empire they could then help create a new English identity.

Three years ago I went on to say:

Sometimes the political is personal. I’m not thinking of Scotland any more. People living in Scotland will have their chance to negate the negation and say Yes to a future. No, now I am thinking of England, the England where I lived for 20 years. So many places I have known, from Hackney’s grimy streets to the wheat fields of Wiltshire, from the factories I worked in to the sprawling chaos of a free festival. So many people, passionate, caring, angry, wonderful people. The friendships forged in those years have endured  and so has the shared commitment to a future beyond ‘no future’. Another England is possible. 
From http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/all-crimes-are-paid.html

On the day, Project Fear prevailed and Scotland did not choose independence. But, as Anthony Barnett argues, the UK’s structural tensions and contradictions have not gone away. Instead they return via the EU referendum and -whatever the outcome -the reconfiguration, the reshaping of  English identity which has provoked the referendum will continue, although Barnett does conclude by saying “In the long term, great danger lies with a vote to Remain, if it is followed by a suffocating sigh of relief that prevents the English from resolving their democratic identity.”

My conclusion is…the eclipse of Britain as a great power began in the 1870s when a newly unified Germany and a post-Civil War USA first began to match the UK as industrial nations. By the 1970s the actuality of eclipse had become undeniable. Entry into the EEC was one response to the eclipse, the rise of Scottish nationalism another. Alongside these economic and political responses to the eclipse, the expansion in the seventies of an alternative culture from its sixties roots was another.

Common to all was the implicit dissolution of a British identity which had developed with industrial and imperial expansion in the nineteenth century. But while ‘straight’ (= mainstream in counterculture speak) accounts like Anthony Barnett’s of what has happened since the seventies include the significant political and economic changes, the cultural revolution documented in ‘Festivalized’ is not.

Perhaps alternative England  is just not very important. And yet…
during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, when British and Scottish identities and nationalisms fought fiercely against each other, the strongest pull I felt was towards my experiences of an alternative England.

As if the cumulative impact of so many senseless acts of beauty means that England already has the dream of an alternative future it must now possess in order to actually live it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making links using Blogger

Step one.
Choose the link you want to make.
For example to make a link to the Inglewood blog site, first get the URL

eg http://inglewooddays.blogspot.co.uk/

Step two

Highlight the link


Step three.
While the link is still highlighted, click on Link in the menu bar above. This should immediately make the URL a link in its own right.

Step four-alternative.
To make the link via a word or phrase, write the word or phrase then highlight it.


Step five.
While the word is still highlighted, click on Link 


A dialogue box should then pop up.

Step six 
Put  http://inglewooddays.blogspot.co.uk/ into the box where it asks 'Which URL should this link go to?' and then click 'OK'.

Inglewood should now link to the Inglewooddays blog.

Job done!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Got the Blues (again)

Scotland after 5 May 2016

I live in the 'blue band' (Conservative and Unionist party) which now runs across the south of Scotland. The Scottish National party, the Labour party and Liberal Democrats have all won seats here but since the 1930s, it has mostly been a rural Tory heartland. Now it is again. Which is depressing. 

In March, before the election, I wrote a post for my friend Lucy Brown's blog https://rapandstow.org/2016/03/31/on-the-presence-of-the-past-sexing-up-the-southern-gaeltacht/

It is about the Gaelic language in the south of Scotland. Despite there being thousands of Gaelic place names here, there is strange belief that Gaelic was not spoken here. So when my local council published their Gaelic Language Action Plan, one of the local councillors described it as 'an example of ideological nonsense'. The same councillor is now Galloway and West Dumfries' Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament.  

On the back of the Rap and Stow post I have been asked to give a talk to the AGM of Gàidhlig Dumgal. 

This is the latest draft of the talk I will give, edited to include the election results. What I haven't mentioned are some of the less helpful comments made on social media about the 'blue band'. Several said 'Move the border north' as a way to keep the Tories out of Scotland. [Ignoring the big blue blob in Aberdeenshire.]

I disagree. I think it just means that it is even more important for the rest of Scotland to support the Gaelic language in the south, for Dumfries to become a city and for the Galloway Viking Hoard to be given a home in Kirkcudbright- as I argue in the talk. I really don't want to end up living in Scotland's equivalent of Northern Ireland.

The Talk- to be given in the Theatre Roryal, Dumfries 10 May 2016

I am going to begin back in the summer of 1968 when my family went on holiday to Islay. Western Ferries had just introduced a roll on roll off car ferry to serve the island which made it lot easier to get to. We stayed at the Bowmore hotel and my parents quickly became friends with the owners Mr and Mrs Mottram which led to many return visits. Mr Mottram was from Glasgow but  his wife Johanna was a Gaelic speaker from Lewis

Back then, according to 1971 census figures  50% of the island’s population were Gaelic speakers. I remember hearing Gaelic spoken in the hotel kitchen, in the shops and on the streets. It was as all pervasive as the scent of peat smoke which drifted around Bowmore and across the island.

This encounter with the language inspired my mother to attend evening classes in Gaelic taught by William Neill. At the same time Mr Neill was my history teacher at Castle Douglas High School where he tried to teach me Gaelic on Friday afternoons, though with little success.

Sadly, the 2011 census has revealed that  only 20% of  Islay’s population are Gaelic speakers. It was against this background of decline that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 was passed by the Scottish Parliament to secure the future for this  vital part of Scotland’s heritage. A key section of the 2005 Act was a requirement for all local authorities in Scotland to introduce Gaelic Language Plans.

This year Dumfries and Galloway Council have produced their Gaelic Language Plan.

What caught my eye as local historian was a short, 250 word section in Dumfries and Galloway’s Language Plan on the history of Gaelic in our region. I was not impressed. It seemed a rather grudging  admission that yes, once upon a time Gaelic was spoken here. I wondered if other local authorities in the south-west had been more positive.

The Language Plans I looked at from Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. These areas had all once been Gaelic speaking and had been part of a region called ‘Greater Galloway’ in the twelfth century.

Unfortunately, apart from a reference to the survival of Gaelic on Arran to ‘within living memory’ in the North Ayrshire Gaelic Language Plan and a reference to twelfth century Gaelic speakers in South Lanarkshire, there are no references to historic use of Gaelic in these other Gaelic Language Plans. Even with South Ayrshire, where Gaelic is reputed to have survived into the eighteenth century, the past does not speak.

As it stands then, this section from the Dumfries and Galloway Draft Gaelic Language Plan provides the most detail on the  history of Gaelic in Dumfries and Galloway and south-west Scotland.

The history of Gaelic in Dumfries and Galloway dates from circa the 9th century. Dumfries and Galloway lay in territory where people spoke a Celtic language thought to be similar to that which has survived in Wales today.
Celtic languages are described as belonging to one of two groups known as “P” or “Q”. The “P” group includes Pictish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, and the “Q” group Gaelic, Irish and Manx. The languages in each group are related but were sufficiently different even in the 6th century for an interpreter to be required when St Columba met the Pictish King Bruide.
Evidence of the Gaelic in the region comprises places names evidence from everywhere west of the River Annan and a disputed song said to have been written in this area and which mentions Dalry, Carsphairn and Lochinvar. The name Galloway refers to the area’s mixed population of Gaelic-speaking and Norse peoples.
Gaelic may have survived as a spoken language in Dumfries and Galloway into the 17th century but was gradually superseded by Scots, particularly in the east of the region. We can see from the survival of many more Gaelic place-names that most of these were coined in more recent centuries. Indeed, there are a great many Gaelic topographical elements in the West of the council area for example Balmaghie and Balmaclellan  and Auchencairn and Auchenmalg.
 Gaelic suffered a progressive decline in Dumfries and Galloway, in common with most of the lowland counties of Scotland. 

As my contribution to public consultation  on the Plan, I proposed this ‘sexed-up’ version as an alternative.

The strongest evidence for Gaelic’s status as a national rather than regional language is the existence for 700 years of a ‘southern Gaeltacht’ in Dumfries and Galloway.
During the seventh century, Old English speakers from the kingdom of Northumbria extended their influence across most of southern Scotland.
Then, in the ninth century Dublin based Vikings disrupted Northumbrian power in south-west Scotland and weakened the Kingdom of Strathclyde. The recently discovered ‘Galloway Viking Hoard’ illustrates the significance of this period.
The Viking impact opened the way for the settlement of south-west Scotland by the Gall-Ghàidheil, a Gaelic speaking people of Viking descent. The Gall-Ghàidheil probably originated in Argyll before moving east and south. They gave their name and Gaelic language to a ‘greater’ Galloway which extended across south-west Scotland by the end of the tenth century.
In the twelfth century, beginning with King David I’s grant of Annandale to Robert de Brus in 1124, Scottish kings extended their influence over south-west Scotland. This led to the decline of Gaelic, apart from in Galloway, where Gaelic survived into the sixteenth century.
The survival of Gaelic in Galloway is closely linked to the Wars of Scottish Independence. Through his mother Dearbhfhorghaill  (Devorgilla), King John Balliol and his son Edward Balliol inherited the Gaelic Lordship of Galloway and the loyalty of Galloway’s Gaelic kindreds or clans. Support for Edward Balliol and his claim to the Scottish Crown lasted in Galloway until Edward’s death in 1365. Archibald ‘the Grim’ Douglas then gained control of Galloway and declared himself its new Lord.
Archibald  and his successors were Scots speakers, but Gaelic persisted in the Lordship of Galloway. It was only after James II  brought the Lordship to an end in 1455 that the Scots language finally gained the upper hand. By 1500, Gaelic speakers were probably in the minority.
By the time John Knox preached the Reformation to the ‘common people of Galloway and Nithsdale’ in 1562 he was able to do so in Scots and English. Gaelic is therefore likely to have given way to Scots in Dumfries and Galloway during the sixteenth century.
However, after 700 years, Gaelic had become firmly embedded in the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway. Edward Johnson- Ferguson published ‘The Place Names of Dumfriesshire’ in 1935 and noted that 45.8% overall were Gaelic rising to 60% in Nithsdale. Herbert Maxwell’s ‘The Place Names of Galloway’ was published in 1930. Of the 8000 place names Maxwell listed, 7500 are Gaelic. 
 In my covering letter to the Council I pointed out that-

It would appear from recent reports in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard ( 31 March) and Galloway News (1 April) that the local and national importance of Gaelic and its history in Dumfries and Galloway is not widely known. This lack of awareness helps explain some of the more negative reactions to the Gaelic Language Plan.
My hope is that by strengthening the ‘Gaelic in Dumfries and Galloway’ section of the Language Plan, the historical depth and importance of the region’s Gaelic past will be better understood and that this in turn will encourage positive responses to the Plan.

There is a complicating factor though. The focus of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 is on encouraging and promoting the contemporary use of Gaelic. It could therefore be argued that the historical use of Gaelic in south-west Scotland is not directly relevant to the Language Plan.

I believe such an approach would be very short sighted. Connecting the past and present use of Gaelic in Dumfries and Galloway is a way to develop a greater sense of historical consciousness. Historical consciousness adds depth to the present by including the fourth dimension of time to our experience of the world. Without historical consciousness we can never really know or understand the world we live in.

This is particularly important in a rural area like Dumfries and Galloway where the pace of change is slower than in more urban areas. In urban areas, the process of ’creative destruction’ is continually breaking up the past as old buildings are demolished and new ones constructed. In the city, everything is temporary.

In rural areas it can easily be assumed that what exists today has always existed, that the patterns of the present are the patterns of the past. But add the dimension of time, add historical consciousness and the perspective shifts. The familiar becomes strange and the ‘otherness’  of the past becomes a disconcerting presence.

However, wrapped up as most of us are in the immediacy of the present, it is not often that we are disturbed by the presence of the past. It is even rarer for presence of the past to appear in a formal, institutional context. And yet it now has, tucked away in Dumfries and Galloway’s Gaelic Language Plan 2016-2021.

As reports in the local press showed, the very idea that Gaelic should be granted public recognition as one of Scotland’s national languages has disturbed a few councillors and members of the public.

The difficulty is that the absence of historical consciousness at national and local level includes ignorance of our region’s Gaelic heritage. That this ignorance has economic and political implications is illustrated by these quotations from Professor James Kellas book ‘The Scottish Political System’ first published in 1973. The quotations are from a chapter on ‘The Highland Periphery’.

Much of the sympathy for the Highlands is based on the feeling that if its way of life were to perish, Scottish nationality itself would be in danger. This accounts for the adoption of pseudo-Highland ways in the Lowlands, and support given for public expenditure to prop up the Highland economy...
The Borders are to some extent a second Scottish periphery…The area is closer to population centres than the Highlands and there is no crofting economy. The Gaelic culture is absent, so that cultural cleavages with the rest of Scotland are much less marked.

There is an irony here. Since moving back to Dumfries and Galloway from London 20 years ago, I have lost count of the number of times local politicians have complained that as part of  Kellas’ second periphery, Dumfries and Galloway receives less public expenditure to support our economy than the Highlands do.

For example, as part of her recent election campaign, Joan McAlpine proposed that Dumfries should be given city status. As Ms McAlpine explained

Dumfries and Galloway faces very similar economic challenges to the Highlands and the Borders, both of which are now set to benefit from substantial investment in economic development that our region is excluded from accessing. I have been thinking about this for some time but it’s come to a head with the new City Region deals being pushed by George Osborne. Dumfries has always been the regional capital – hence its Queen of the South title – but it is not treated as such. This isn’t a new thing, it goes back decades. I will work with anyone to raise ambition and secure the investment the whole region needs.

In her less successful election campaign, Aileen McLeod said  that if elected she would lobby to have the recently discovered Galloway Viking Hoard to be given a home in the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

Unfortunately the new political map of Scotland which emerged after last week’s elections may make it more difficult to achieve city status for Dumfries and make it more difficult to mobilise support for the Viking Hoard to be given a home in Kirkcudbright.

There may also be difficulties for the Dumfries and Galloway Gaelic Language Plan. Back in March, Councillor Finlay Carson objected to the Plan, complaining that ’It is another example of ideological nonsense being forced on us by central government.’  Mr Carson now represents Galloway and West Dumfries in the Scottish Parliament.

Yet if Dumfries was to become a city and if the Viking Hoard did come to Kirkcudbright, these moves would have significant economic benefits. Most importantly, along with the Gaelic Language Plan they would also stimulate awareness of our past and help to connect us with the places we inhabit today which we have inherited from those who lived here before.

Unfortunately without an already existing historical consciousness, rather than attracting the popular support necessary to overcome institutional opposition, these bold ideas are likely to peter-out in collective apathy and indifference.

One of the roots of our local indifference to the past may lie in the physical loss of the historic landscape of Dumfries and Galloway in the late eighteenth century agricultural revolution. This revolution rationalised the medieval farmed landscape out of existence. But, apart from the brief opposition of the Galloway Levellers in 1724, unlike the Highland Clearances, the Lowland Clearances were a silent and unopposed revolution. Quite why the transformation of a whole traditional way of life was carried through so easily has never really been explained.

I wonder if the underlying reason is that a more profound break with the landscape and heritage of the past had already occurred. It had occurred with the loss of the Gaelic language here. So long as the language survived, the Gaelic names of farms, rivers, woods, hills and wildlife along with now lost stories and songs were part of a centuries old  historical consciousness. When the language died here, so did those  intimate connections between people and place.

It is possible that the enthusiasm for the Reformation, which became deeply embedded in the south-west, was a response to the loss of the Gaelic language and culture. Religion became a psychological substitute for what was being lost. If it did, that goes some way to explaining why the people of the south-west, of what had been greater Galloway, put up such a determined defence of their new religion during the seventeenth century. When the Galloway Levellers uprising broke out in 1724, the Levellers armed wing was drawn from a group of still militant covenanters called the Hebronites.

But by the end of the eighteenth century, the passions of the past had faded. Although the Gaelic names of about 2000 farms in Dumfries and Galloway survived, the traditional farm buildings and the irregular pattern of the fields which had surrounded them were all swept away. The past had irreversibly and literally become another country. The economic triumph of capitalist farming marked the final stage of the alienation of the people from the land.

In Dumfries and Galloway, unlike in the Highlands, the alienation of people from the land was long drawn-out rather than rapid and immediate. It is easy to forget, as many do, that Gaelic was once the language of the people here and remains embedded in the names those Gaelic speakers gave to the hills and rivers, farms and villages, glens and lochs of Dumfries and Galloway.

This forgetting has more than historical and cultural significance. I suggest that it feeds into a sense of economic and political alienation which sees our region as isolated from the rest of Scotland.

It is therefore a great achievement that the whole of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway, will soon be covered by Gaelic language plans, which will help to overcome the linguistic and cultural divide between Highland and Lowland Scotland.

 But this symbolic unification of Scotland must be matched by practical policies which promote the economic and social inclusion of rural areas, including the rural south, into the body politic of the nation. Until then we will remain strangers in a strange land which was once our home.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Charles Oppenheimer's Galloway dams

Harnessing the Power of the Dee

Art in Concrete

Galloway Dam Nearing Completion

Friday, March 11, 2016

Buses Face Axe

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Swestrans agenda/ reports

2.Galloway News Story

3. BBC South of Scotland news story

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

4. RISE press release

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

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

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

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

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

5. Scottish Green Party Press Release

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

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

6 . SNP MSPs Press Release

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Local, National, Global

Steel Works 1950s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A & G Murray and Kennedy  & McConnell mills Manchester 1815

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalmellington Iron Works 1858

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian calico, 18th century

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

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

Water-powered spinning mill 1770s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French State iron works Le Creusot, 1779

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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