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.

  • Andrew Newby
Thursday 29th April 2010