• Andrew Newby
Location:
Aberdeen
Date:
Thursday 29th April 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/011

Simon:

What’s interesting about what you’ve looked at is that it brings out relationships which other people often mentioned but not really in detail. So we’ll start off talking about the actual organisations themselves. Because the fact of organisations coming into being is one thing I’m quite interested in, alongside this what are often presented as spontaneous actions were, in fact, varying degrees of organisation and varying degrees of influence between the organisations and the actual events on the ground. That’s one of the things I’m quite interested in talking about. So maybe we should start of with the groups themselves cos it seems to be there was a constellation of groups. There wasn’t just one specific thing. It’s a constellation of different groups that were merging and changing all the time.

     

Andrew:

Yeah, sure. I suppose there’s parallel things going on at this point so there’s ... As there’s been quite a lot of migration from the Highlands, for various reasons, to urban areas in Scotland after the middle of the nineteenth century, you get a development of kind of cultural and regional associations. So like the Glasgow Islay Association or the Edinburgh Lewis Association and things like this. Certainly initially these were just cultural. They’re meeting for suppers and talking maybe about poetry or about ... Certainly non-political discussions. And in a few cases during the late 70s you get a few ... you might say younger but, anyway, more radical or challenging Highlanders in urban areas who try to bring the agenda to a more political point in these urban associations. And there’s trouble, for example, in Inverness where the Gaelic Society of Inverness doesn’t want to discuss political events and in the late 70s there’s a federation of Celtic societies formed where a lot of these urban associations try to present a unified voice on various subjects. Sometimes it’s to do with issues such as the Gaelic census and they’re very interested in the Gaelic language but certainly land reform and the relationship between landlords and tenants comes onto the agenda by people, possibly influenced by John Murdoch, the veteran land reformer.

 

People like Angus Sutherland who grew up in Glasgow after moving from Helmsdale, and his family had been removed from the inland of Sutherland during the Clearances so he had ... Angus Sutherland I always identify as one of the leading lights of the more radical wing of this kind of movement. But certainly you see this in the late 1870s, these urban organisations. They get accused of being disconnected from real life in the Highlands and that they’re idealising the past and that they’re trying to bring a sort of outside agenda onto the modern ... There was certainly a lot of them did go back to the Highlands, certainly during the summer for example, and they retained close family ties with their own part of the Highlands. What you get of course then is that people tend to generalise based on their own locality, so Angus Sutherland is from the east coast of Sutherlandshire but he speaks about Skye and about Lewis and so on and the same goes for other people. There’s a lot of them, a lot of these Glasgow radicals, are from Argyllshire as well so although they do have a rooting and a locale, they do tend to speak more generally on issues like that. Glasgow often gets mentioned. Liverpool I think is really important, especially in the kind of meeting of Highland exiles, if you like, and Irish politicians and Irish exiles in Liverpool and there’s historically quite a lot of antagonism between Scottish and Irish in the nineteenth century but certainly in these urban contexts ... You get a few people willing to put aside, for example, religious antagonisms, and certainly the Scots were no more charitable than the English in their perceptions of the Irish in the nineteenth century, so it tends to be a self-selecting group of radicals who are making these connections but connections are nevertheless formed between Irish and Highland communities and this tends to link together dialogue about land reform and famine and landlord tyranny and all of these tropes almost get taken from an Irish context and get superimposed into a Highland context. But this, there’s obviously some common ground that people feel there is between them.

Simon:

At what sort of point did the idea of an organisation based around land as an issue rather than Gaelic culture or ...?

     

Andrew:

Yeah, so this then develops in the early 1880s, so the Irish Land Act is in 1881 and there’s obviously some concern already that in the end of the 1870s that there needs to be some discussion about the land question in the Highlands and this was fairly absent. There was an Irish Land Act passed in 1870 as well and there’s not really much evidence I can find that Scotland is part of this discussion but by the 1880s, for various reasons ... there’s very bad conditions in the Highlands in the late 1870s. The Highlands do get discussed in 1881 when the Irish Land Act is being passed and certainly people in the Highlands themselves, it’s said, and also outside advocates of land reform in the Highlands used the Irish Land Act to latch onto ... they latch onto the Irish Land Act and think that this can be applied to a Highland situation. And in the early 1880s then, you get the development of the Highland Land Law Reform Association, the HLLRA, in London, a kind of almost parliamentary group which then seeks to organise different parts of the Highlands.

 

People have drawn parallels between the HLLRA and the Irish Land League and you often get these terms used interchangeably, for example. You often get the HLLRA called the Highland Land League, which is anachronistic because the Highland Land League doesn’t form until 1886. I would say they’re quite different in many respects because the Irish Land League, although it’s organised centrally and extremely well organised, it touches every aspect of Irish society in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The Irish Land League is active, for example, in local elections and Poor Law elections and different aspects of society. They put a great deal of social pressure on communities not to occupy houses of people that have been evicted and so on for fear of boycotting and physical harm and this happens in the Highlands. You do get certain instances of it in 1882, for example, of threats being made to people who might occupy a tenancy of somebody that’s been evicted. You get threatening signs being put up around the Isle of Skye, Lewis for example, but it’s not the same all encompassing movement as the Irish Land League. The HLLRA, even more than the Irish Land League, is a movement from above which then gets local branches. It discusses land reform, it certainly puts Highland land reform on the agenda and ...

 

It’s quite hard actually to separate the different aspects of political agitation in the Highlands at the time so you have culture, you have issues around the Gaelic language, for example, you have emigration and all of this is connected in some respects to land and Victor Drukacz who wrote the book on the decline of the Gaelic ... of the Celtic languages, argued that land and language were very much related and there’s an expression: “If you don’t have a tongue, you don’t have a culture,” and so on. People like John Murdoch were very keen to have all of these things together, that you can’t have a revival of the Highlands without a re-definition of the land question, without a re-definition of the relationship between landlord and tenant but, similarly, you can’t have a revival in the Highlands without people treating their own language as a valuable and culturally acceptable part of their lives.

Simon:

Let’s shift on a bit to the broader ... What were the kind of wider context ...? You were talking about stuff in Glasgow and Liverpool and also the Labour movement was rising there and ...?

     

Andrew:

Yeah, I think there’s interesting ... It’s partly the way history’s been written and my own feeling is that the Irish Land War has coloured perceptions of the Crofters’ War to such a great extent that it’s almost treated as a self-contained rural movement and almost like a Celtic periphery type movement, but if you start to look at what’s going on, in terms of the Highland land agitation, and if ... it’s artificial to do so, but if you just take Ireland out of the equation for a second, within Britain there’s, for example, a commission on working class housing in the 1880s which is very similar in some respects to the Napier Commission, which travels around the Highlands in 1883 and investigates the conditions of the crofters and the cotters, looks into their housing, looks into their land tenure systems and so on. So you also have that in an urban context and this sort of interest of Victorian Britain in social questions and so on.

 

You could, instead of drawing a line between Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland and the rest of Britain, you could equally take it as a kind of working class issue and I think the crofter question is not often enough been discussed in terms of class or social politics within Britain. Certainly some historians, like Dunbabin, have and James Hunter also was very interested in this kind of politics from below but I think it can be much more integrated. But I think you should also integrate Ireland as well, I’m not saying you should separate them completely.

 

So the housing question ... The economics of Britain was in a very shaky state. The collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1877, I think it was 1877, had a big impact on the whole economy of Scotland and when the Northern Rock collapsed a couple of years ago, or nearly collapsed, people were talking about this as a similarity, you know? It has a big shock for the rest of society so ... One of my colleagues, Bob Morris in Edinburgh, used to say that the Crofters’ War was basically caused in Glasgow from this collapse of the bank and people withdrawing credit and so on.

 

Work’s been done in Ireland on the way in which the Irish Land War was started by the middle classes. Although they were quite small in Ireland, in number, they had constrictions on their own credit so they were less able to offer the peasantry credit for goods and so on and demanding debts be paid and this then created a kind of ripple effect in society. So the Highlands is integrated, to a certain extent, in the Imperial British economy in the 1870s and 1880s. There’s discussions about how to integrate it more and how to improve the economy of the Highlands but you can’t just take the Highlands out of the Scottish or British or Imperialist context and say: “This is what’s happening here.” There’s lots of interaction between all those areas. And, in terms of the land question, there was a real discussion at high political levels in Britain in the end of the 1870s and early 1880s about Britain’s inability to feed itself in the event of a war. It was no longer self-sufficient and they were importing far too much, so it was argued, and so some progressive politicians, who wanted to argue the case for land reform and kind of re-defining the relationship between these large absentee landlords and the peasantry, harked back to a day in British history when the peasantry were able to produce enough food on which the entire country could subsist so there were these larger economic questions at play.

 

I think also the fact that people, Irish and Highland migrants to the cities, were able to see the shocking conditions in which some of their own country people were living, as beggars or even prostitutes and other areas. So you get John Ferguson, for example, the Ulsterman who was very well connected with Irish radical politics in the 1870s and 80s. He wrote a very striking article in one newspaper saying about how he looks around Glasgow and he sees people being raped or being treated as beggars and he knows from the accents that these are the ... I think he says: “That these are the joyful voices of children who used to play in the green fields.” He’s talking about Ireland but I think the point is also made for the Highlands as well, this kind of poverty and degradation could be stopped, in an urban context, if conditions in the home areas were right, so getting society right in the Highlands would also have this knock on effect. And, again, like the economy, there’s this symbiotic relationship between poverty in the Highlands and poverty in the urban areas, one is leading to the other.

 

So the figures who are more socially broad, they have broad social interest, they tend to think in these very large terms but there’s also another group of people who are very ... you might say particularist. They’re interested in improving the position of the Highlanders. People like John Stewart Blackie, the professor at Edinburgh, John Mackay who was a well educated native of Rogartin Sutherlandshire and had made a fortune, really, as an engineer but was quite good friends with the Sutherland family, the Duke of Sutherland, but also very much an advocate of the rights of the peasantry and very able to promote the benefits of a happy peasantry.

 

But these people didn’t want to get the case of the Highlands mixed up with Ireland. Ireland was still very much a byword for terrorism and laziness and all these kind of Celtic stereotypes. And although you would get some people in London conflating Ireland and the Highlands and just saying: “They’re all Celts and they’re all lazy!” there was certainly a group of people in the Highlands who were interested in reform for the crofters but didn’t think that the case was analagous with Ireland, that the Highland crofters were a much harder working people than the Irish, that if they got the society correct it would be viable and also made references, for example, to the great military record of the Highlanders in the British Empire and so on. So what you might get in the 1890s is when home rule, for Ireland especially but home rule all round, becomes a big political issue, you tend to get groups of Liberal home rulers and Liberal Unionists and they’re divided by their feelings of home rule. And yeah, both might be arguing the case for the crofters in slightly different ways.

Simon:

When does Henry George, the influence of that, enter ...?

     

Andrew:

Henry George is an interesting case. Early on, he’s very well known so he comes to Ireland in 1882. He comes to the Highlands in 1884 and 1885. He’s very good friends and very well promoted by those urban reformers that I was mentioning, and then other people like Edward McHugh, who was an Irishman who came to Skye in 1882 but had been very much part of the Irish Land League in Glasgow, John Ferguson and then Michael Davitt, the Irish reformer, they’re all promoting Henry George because Henry George is more involved in social reform than constitutional reform. What I’ve argued in various places ... The Irishmen who were very interested in social and land reform in the Highlands of Scotland, whilst they’re interested in home rule for Ireland, it’s maybe not their main interest and they’re quite frustrated with events back in Ireland so the home rule and the constitutional question becomes more important than social reform and it’s almost, to them, as though Parnell might become the leader of a home rule Ireland but what would actually that do for the poor people in Ireland, especially the peasantry but also the urban labourers and so on?

 

So, in some respects, they become more interested in Scotland because they’re able to promote land reform, social reform, in a much more broad way than they’re able to in Ireland but they also, then, kind of get out of criticising Parnell directly cos they know they wouldn’t get away with that. The press would of course highlight divisions within the Irish movement straightaway. And in their private correspondence, they’re very much against Parnell often and Henry George himself looks forward to the day when men like Michael Davitt are the vanguard of the Irish movement, rather than small ‘c’ conservatives like Charles Stewart Parnell. And I think Henry George is persuaded in 1882 that Ireland is not necessarily interested in root and branch land reform and his kind of argument of land nationalisation. The Irish Land Act of 1881 in many respects dampens the land reform agitation and again the focus switches to the constitutional question. My feeling is that Scotland, more than Ireland, has an urban proletariat, if you want to put it in those terms, that Henry George and Michael Davitt can appeal to. Their experience in Ireland though has shown them that you can get a hearing amongst the peasantry in the rural areas. So I think Henry George comes to Scotland in 1884. He does do a Highland tour but he also goes to urban areas. He speaks to mining communities. He goes to the East Coast, like Peterhead I think he goes to and Aberdeen. He certainly comes here. He gets a mixed reception at best but amongst the crofters he is very frustrated. He thinks the peasantry is archly conservative, that as long as they’re not being oppressed, they’re quite happy to have landlords. And this is the problem they also identified in Ireland, that once you start actually having guarantees against landlord tyranny, that’s fine. And of course in the Highlands the problem is also that, for them, there’s this long tradition of clan chiefs and that kind of loyalty and mutual relations between the landlord, often would’ve been the clan chief, and the people so there’s still this residual loyalty. Even in places like Sutherlandshire, you get reports of people tearfully waving bye bye to the Duchess of Sutherland when she leaves after her two weeks annual trip to Golspey and things like this.

 

So people like John Murdoch, certainly Henry George, even Michael Davitt actually when he comes to Skye in 1887, complain in their private correspondence about the crofters being slightly conservative and that the rural parts of Scotland, after all, are not going to be the area in which the social revolution takes place. They start looking much more towards the urban areas, the mining communities and so on. And yeah, the rhetoric is very similar, it’s to do with ownership of land, whereas in the Highlands and rural areas, you get talk about rents and rack renting in the urban areas and in the mining communities you get discussions about royalties and why the Duke of Hamilton should earn all this money just because his house happens to sit on top of all of these minerals whereas the people that are extracting the minerals are doing so for pittance and so on. But actually it’s a similar rhetoric and sometimes it’s the same people that they’re talking about. The Duke of Sutherland is also attacked in English contexts, for example, for his estates in the potteries and so on. The landed classes themselves are very well connected with each other, they all talk to each other, they have interests in rural and urban areas and I think it’s the same with these ... certainly with external agitators that take the Highlands as part of a much broader agitation. I think the crofters themselves are aware of their significance in the rhetoric of these agitators and these radicals but I think the evidence is that the crofters are well aware of looking after themselves. They don’t necessarily need external guidance, they’re ... It seems to me they’re quite wily in using that for their own benefit but they don’t necessarily want a kind of really radical social reform. They want their own lives to be guaranteed.

Simon:

The impression I get from the local history and testimonies is ... well certainly in Skye, you did get some ... (inaudible) ... There’s one figure nicknamed ‘Parnell’ and there seems to have been this conscious taking of tactics but quite often people, when they talk about why the events happened, why the land grabs and such happened, it’s very much talked about in a needs driven basis rather than any kind of overarching perspective.

     

Andrew:

Yes, I think so. I think it was easier for the authorities to talk about the Irish shadow, in a sense, overhanging Skye or Lewis but, in another sense, if you look broader, if you take a broader perspective on these things, and look at peasant communities all over the world, this is often a reaction to land grabs and things like this. If you have a peasantry, one of the only things they have is land and how do you react then? Well, first of all, it’s very hard to react. It’s very hard to provoke a revolution in some respects without a long period of perceived oppression or some perceived disconnect between whoever’s got hold of the land and people who are trying to work it. Within the context of Britain and Ireland, because the Irish case was so well known and so much bound up with nationalism in Ireland, I think it was easier for people to link the two and certainly there are links and the crofters, as you say, make these links themselves and there’s some really odd goings on. I mean, in Skye in 1882, everybody knows about the Battle of the Braes and so on but in late 1882 there’s a death threat to Lord Macdonald which is bound up in all kinds of Irish language. It sort of says: “By the blessed Virgin and Saint Patrick, you’ll be laid low.” Like Birkin Cavendish, the government officials who were murdered in Phoenix Park in 1882, a really well known and notorious terrorist atrocity as it was portrayed in the British press. So I don’t know, I’m not sure anybody does know, where these threatening letters come from but people are using ... it was being portrayed as: “It’s some Irish person on Skye who’s about to come and kill Lord Macdonald.” I don’t really think it was that. There were itinerant Irish travelers all around Scotland and the Highlands but it’s probably just somebody using this language and trying to be threatening in a way you can imagine today. If you were trying to scare someone, you would use particular expressions based on what you’ve heard on the news so ...

Simon:

There’s quite a lot of militancy in things like the poetry that Donald Meek has brought together and some of that is quite aggressive and militant in it’s sentiments.

     

Andrew:

Yeah, and it’s very interesting, the Gaelic poetry of it’s time. Some of it is reactive so it kind of celebrates events and celebrates people, like Mairi Mhor nan Orain and so on. Some of it does ... you know, is a clarion call in trying to get people to act. It’s always very difficult to know the extent to which this is influencing people at the time. Whether these are popular sentiments going around or whether they are people putting a poem in the Oban Times that they just made up and the extent to which people are reading it. It’s quite hard to gauge that. Certainly the work of Mairi Mhor and the poems she was ...the ballads she was putting out, I think is ... It does give people a focal point and something to rally around but it might be that it’s something people would rally around anyway and the extent to which it brings in people who are not willing to hear that message is also debatable.

Simon:

Maybe one thing it would be good to cover is the distinction in different forms of land reform because Henry George is the single tax, there’s land nationalisation, and there’s also a ‘just rent’ from the three F’s that we talked about.

     

Andrew:

Yes. So Henry George was of the opinion that you would eventually tax land so much that you would effectively tax landowners out of existence so it would start off ... Well, the Liberals adopted this in the early twentieth century and it was kind of ... they had a gradualist approach so eventually you would have four shillings in the pound, for example, but you’d end up with ... Henry George wanted 20 shillings in the pound and it would just make land ownership economically unviable and you would’ve eventually ended up with the land being owned by the entire ... well, by the state basically.

 

Land nationalisation was slightly different and this is where you ... these people like Webb and so on and AR Wallace are very prominent advocates of land nationalisation. And, as always seems to happen with radical groups, they all end up hating each other almost as much as they hate the land owners and they argue against these other ... (laughs) Especially socialists and single taxers, end up very antagonistic towards each other in the early twentieth century because socialists are interested in thorough-going reform of society from the bottom upwards and often maybe from the top downwards but, anyway, every aspect of society whereas land nationalisers are then portrayed by socialists as kind of bourgeois and almost maintaining the status quo whereas in the early days, in the 1880s, land nationalisers are seen as almost beyond the pale of civilisation. In the British press, they are going to take the land from private ownership, especially thinking of coal mines and rentals from Highland estates and so on, and redistributing it amongst the entire population. It’s very hard to ignore the external context as well and, in the 1880s, anarchism, socialism, they’re big fears all around Europe and for example you’ve got a ... I’ve got a report from a Swedish newspaper which is discussing the Crofters’ War but the headline is: “Socialism In Scotland,” and I don’t think any of those crofters that it’s talking about would’ve necessarily identified themselves as big ‘s’ socialists. It’s just the way it’s being portrayed to the outside world and, of course, they are imposing their own local fears onto what’s going on and it’s almost seen as a ... It’s not necessarily being picked up on in the historiography of the Highlands but there is a sense in which the Highland land agitation is seen in the European context, as part of this threat of communism or anarchism stalking the continent. Osborne likes to think of it in those ways.

 

Oh yes, so the three Fs which were guaranteed in Ireland in 1881 in some respects form the least radical of the demands. But, as I’ve said, that was more or less seen as something the peasantry of Ireland could accept and Parnell was happy to call off the land war effectively in Ireland after the three Fs had been granted in 1881. This was fair rent, set by a tribunal so you couldn’t have landlords charging whatever rent they wanted, fixity of tenure is the second F, and freedom of sale, so these are the three Fs. Freedom of sale meant if you made improvements to your croft or your hut you would get them somehow compensated for that when you sold it off. Now, the radical Irish were rather disappointed that it seemed that their peasantry had accepted that and I think that’s one of the reasons they were expecting better things in Scotland. They hoped that by keeping the agitation fermenting for a while in Scotland they would get beyond that and would get more of a land nationalisation type scenario in Britain. As it happened, the Crofters Act in 1886 gave some similar ... I mean, it’s not identical to the 1881 Irish Land Act. There are some things which often get ignored about emigration, for example. They’re hoping the crofters will emigrate which was a long standing ... seen as a longstanding panacea for what was known as a Highland problem, just siphon off the excess population! But in some respects the 1886 Crofters Act can be seen as a similar event to 1881 in Ireland in that you do get guarantees for the crofting communities. You get rents to be fixed by a tribunal, for example. And when Michael Davitt goes to Portree in 1887 ... Michael Davitt travels all round the Highlands in 1887 and he’s ... he really gets a great reception and he himself also genuinely enjoys the reception he gets in the Highlands but there’s a note ... at one point in his diary, there’s a note of slight disappointment and he says that although the people of Skye have given him a great reception, he thinks they’ll be happy with a 20% reduction in rent with the Crofters Commission and what he means by that is he’s in a similar situation as he was in Ireland six years ago, that it looks like there’s going to be a legislative solution to the Crofters’ War and it’s not going to give him the outcome that he wanted. He’s not totally dispirited by that because he’s already thinking more of the cities and the towns at this point as somewhere that’ll be more likely to be responsive to social reform, socialism if you like. But there is a pang of disappointment, I think, that the crofters have proved to be slightly conservative with a, again, with a small ‘c’.

Simon:

And, in a way you’ve been touching on it in your discussion but this idea of elements that prevented it, could you summarise some of the conflicting strands there were?

     

Andrew:

Yeah, I suppose the obvious thing is that in Ireland you have a unified movement. Of course there are some tensions within it but you have the entire country being formed into these Ireland National Land League branches and so on. In Scotland, you’re talking about Highlands and Lowlands to a much greater extent whereas Ireland is a single entity, even Ulster is incorporated into this movement. And if you think back to the famine in the 1840s, for example, you can argue a comparative narrative between Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland but one thing that didn’t happen in Scotland in the 1840s was that the famine struck the entire country, which in Ireland it did. You’ve got the Highlands as a kind of, almost as a kind of separate social block. I don’t think it is isolated in terms of the economy, even there are cultural elements going backwards and forwards, but certainly outsiders saw it as a separate block and, in terms of the land tenure system that is under discussion, it is a sort of vestige of clanship and crofting was almost specifically designed for the Highlands to break away from the old system of townships and so on. So when you’re looking at reform, the crofting movement, you are just talking about the Highlands of Scotland.

 

So that’s one difference with Ireland, it doesn’t become a national movement to the same extent. There’s a strong sense of Unionism in Scotland in the 1880s, an Imperial identity, so ... There’s also an argument in Irish history for this as well, especially in recent times. People have started to look a little bit more at what bound Ireland to the Union rather than what separated it. But certainly in Scotland the land question is not bound up to nationalism in the same way, certainly not separatist nationalism, and it’s only after 1886 that home rule comes onto the agenda and even then it’s in a very different tenor of discussion in Scotland than in Ireland. There’s differences within the Highlands between people who want to look at Ireland as a great example. So people like John Murdoch, people like Angus Sutherland, really admire what the Irish are doing, they’re standing up for themselves. They want to look at the past, they want to promote the Gaelic language and to do that they want to look at the time, for example, under the Lordship of the Isles when Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland were similar cultural ... you know, a single cultural entity, as it were. So they’re very much promoting a sense of kinship between Ireland and Scotland. Wales even comes into it a little bit later as well.

 

But as I’ve said, there are also people who, whilst they’re very much in favour of crofting reform and improving the position of the crofters, people like John Mackay, people like ... even Alexander Mackenzie, later, Charles Fraser-Mackintosh ... they’re very much opposed to mixing up the crofter case with Ireland, for practical reason as much as an ideological reason in that they feel like public support would be alienated because the Irish are seen in such a negative light at this point, that the crofters are generally seen, if a little docile, as a positive thing for the Empire, either because they’re fighting to defend the Empire or because people like Queen Victoria or Gladstone or Harcourt, the Home Secretary under Gladstone in the early 1880s, they spend their holidays yachting around the Hebrides. And so it’s a little bit more of a shock for these people that the crofters would start revolting. It’s kind of expected of the Irish but it’s not really something they expect from the Highlands of Scotland. So whilst it’s seen that reform might be needed, mixing it up with the Irish is not seen as the way forward and this becomes even more of a problem later in the 1880s.

 

There’s two newspapers, for example. There’s the Scottish Highlander, which is owned by Alexander Mackenzie and very much promotes Fraser-Mackintosh, one of the politicians in the region who’s very much a Unionist and kind of anti-Irish, and there’s the Highland News, which is owned by Angus Sutherland, or certainly editorially dominated by Angus Sutherland, who is very much in favour of Ireland and links with the Irish. And whilst both of these are extremely vociferous in arguing the case for the crofters, they really hate each other and they’re kind of criticising each other all the time. The Scottish Highlander refers to the ‘Highland Nuisance’ rather than the Highland News and it’s kind of petty but, within Inverness, it’s obviously a very serious difference of opinion between the two. There are religious aspects to it. One of the religious aspects which often gets brought up is that the Irish are seen as Catholic and you shouldn’t do something that the Catholics are doing. Edward McHugh comes to Skye in 1882 as a kind of envoy of the Irish Land League and there’s some police correspondence that he was shunned because he was a Catholic. Not sure, it could be. It would be surprising, in a way, if it wasn’t true to an extent, but a lot of the Highland crofters are fishing in Ireland. They know what Irish people are like, like in real life rather than just the caricature. So there might have been one or two anti-Catholic voices against McHugh going to Skye in 1882 but I’m not sure if that’s a very important factor against setting up a land reform movement in the Highlands. And certainly Catholic enclaves of the Highlands, like Barra and Morar, they’re not really differentiated in a Highland context at this point so there is land reform on Barra but they’re not seen as being any better or worse than their counterparts on Skye just because they’re Catholic. There is some complaints from the Barra crofters that they get referred to as Fenians and so on, but so do non-Catholic Highlanders at this point who are seen to be copying the Irish.

 

Where the bigger differentiation has been seen, of course, in the past, has been between the Free Church and the Church of Scotland so after the disruption in 1843 you get this idea that the Free Church is the church of the folk, of the people, whereas the Church of Scotland is kind of like the landowners’ church and in one of Jim Hunter’s books, he says ... I think it was written in the 70s probably, but it says: “This reputation haunts the Church of Scotland to this day in the Highlands.” There’s a book more recently by Allan MacColl which stresses this is not so black and white as it’s always been portrayed. There are radical Free Church ministers and kind of conservative Free Church ministers who teach that: “This is your position in life. The reason why you’re peasantry and he’s a landlord is because God has made it like that and just accept it.” And similarly there are radical or socially reforming Church of Scotland ministers and conservative Church of Scotland ministers. It’s just that the perception has been, and also was at the time, that the Free Church was much more likely to speak out in favour of the people rather than the minister. It wasn’t enthralled to the landlord in the same way the Church of Scotland was. So that’s one ... On a local level, that’s one area which mitigated against reform movements taking off. Certainly the Irish perspective was, in general, that the Highlanders were really badly organised, that they ... there’s kind of local resistance but even in ... if you just take the Isle of Skye as a single entity, there’s people in Glendale, there’s people in Braes, there’s people in ...

Simon:

Kilmuir.

     

Andrew:

... Kilmuir! (laughs) But they’re not necessarily talking to each other. They were to an extent so there’s big monster meetings in Portree and Dingwall and Bonar Bridge and so on and these delegates go there and chat, but the idea from the Irish perspective was that this was nothing like the Irish Land War: “This is a local response. It’s maybe worthy of our interest, possibly worthy of our support, but they’re Scottish. They’re loyal Imperialists. They’re having a little problem at the minute but it’s not like our problem with the British.” So lack of organisation, a lack of interest probably, in the sense of somebody from Caithness organising with somebody from Skye. Did they share a common cause? Certainly some newspaper articles were suggesting that they did, or the newspaper was trying to suggest: “There is a movement in Caithness; there is a movement in Barra; there is a movement somewhere else.” But whether those people on the ground ... they maybe knew about it from the newspaper but whether they were in direct contact with something, it’s much more difficult to say. Only ... in my opinion, Sutherlandshire and Angus Sutherland were much ... was the area of the Highlands that was the closest to the Irish model, and Angus Sutherland had lived in Glasgow. He’d befriended many members of the Irish Land League in Glasgow. He’d been to Ireland to look at how they worked. He organised Sutherlandshire in 1884 and 1885 which, in a way, was reminiscent of Ireland and in 1889 you even get that Land League candidate standing in the local elections and so on, which is something like what happened in Ireland. But what does this do? It creates even more tension in the Highlands because people like John MacKay, they’re too worried about Sutherland as an individual ... Angus Sutherland as an individual. They think that they’re taking the crofters in the wrong direction, so you end up with a split within the crofting movement, as well as against the Sutherland family, for example. So there’s lots of these tensions.

Simon:

This element of Empire, it’s come up a lot when you’re talking about ... How much is the kind of formative element, both as an economy and as a political structure, that’s affecting what’s going on? Because people are being shifted over to the colonies to work. There’s industries like herring basically producing food for plantation workers, for feeding the colonies and Glasgow itself is a product of what’s come back. How much was there a consciousness of Empire as a kind of ... (inaudible) ... economic system at that time ...?

     

Andrew:

There’s a quotation in the Oban Times, which is a newspaper which was later lorded as one of the more radical advocates of crofting reform in the 1870s, which was saying that the crofters should be grateful to be living in this country which is the hub of the Empire, that they have the opportunity to migrate to Glasgow, the Second City of the Empire, and there is a lot of discussion of this. If you look at any edition of the Oban Times, there’s always news from Afghanistan, Sudan ... It’s all the same places that we read about in the news today. They’re very prominent in the news in the 1880s. Highlanders are making fortunes there through engineering or through business. Highlanders are migrating there or being, in a sense, forced to migrate to parts of the Empire so there’s a very strong awareness of the Empire. I think the difference there with Ireland could be in the sense that ... I mean there’s differences in patterns of migration which other people have done, which I’m not an expert in, but I think also the Irish historiography is different, that’s it’s not been seen as a good thing to have gone to the Empire. But certainly there’s a strain of Irish history now which points a little bit more to voluntary migration and people who willingly moved, especially prior to the great famine, to the Highlands. But it could be that one of the main differences between Scotland and Ireland, in that case, is just the way we’ve thought about it since then, and I think, even in Ireland, there is a certain connection with the Empire in a way that you don’t get ... well, in Norway for example which is also emigrating a lot of people, it doesn’t have that Imperial outlet. In Scotland, what is interesting, I think, is that a lot of Highland landowners have Imperial connections. A lot of the ... like Lord Napier, whose commission tours around Scotland in 1883, and his people, they have Imperial connections. And a lot of the land reformers, like GB Clarke, they’ve been out in the Empire. They’ve been out in India, for example, and they see different ways of doing things and some of the ... although some of the land reform debate is couched in European terms, it’s also couched in Imperial terms in Scotland. So they say: “They do this in Bombay, why don’t we do it like this?” Or they ... Lord Napier actually even looked at Russia and the way in which the Russians organised their peasantry. So there is a global element to it which has not been quite explored yet.