Yes, well, it’s true that in the West the communities see themselves as primary crofters and only fishermen when that’s worthwhile while the North East ones don’t have much land at all. But you’re also right that they originated from landlords pushing them to the sea. But also people migrating of course. Once fishing started and people could see that there was money to be made there, then they migrated. But I think it is an interesting question. Too far back in history to go. How was it that they managed to change their attitudes? I don’t know the answer to that. It is very interesting when you try and trace ... I mean, I was trying to look at family relationships and how they affect the economy and using oral history. When I was doing this work you could interview people who had memories back to the 1880s but not obviously beyond that and the trouble was, with the Western Isles, the key changes have been in the mid-nineteenth century with the disruption and the setting up of the Free Kirk and so on. And they had no idea what society was like before that happened. And again, with Shetland, in a way it was easier to sense what had happened, but it still would have been much better if one had been able to trace it back to the eighteenth century, and then you could say: “Well, all these ways of behaving went back to sort of pre ... before the strong imposition of Christianity on the islands.” You could only guess about that because there’s no documentation of those kind of things. The only documents you have are like demographic and then economic but there’s not really anything about the earlier culture that you can find in the records.

  • Paul Thompson
Friday 17th July 2009