I would say, on balance, no. So, commonly how the estate tries to explain agitation in Sutherland is they’ll say: “Oh, there’s these professional agitators coming in and they’re claiming to be the crofters’ friends and telling them lies, raising their expectations and trying to lead them away from the estate.” So that’s how they explain it. They almost cannot believe that the crofters and cottars on their own might want to criticise their estate management so they blame it on outside agitators all the time, which is still quite patronising in a way, I would say, and still retaining elements of the attitude of looking down upon the crofters. It’s a bit like if you had children and you thought: “Oh, they’ve got into a bad crowd in school and they’re just rebelling.” So I would say no, that attitude never really changes. I think by about the mid 1890s, the fourth Duke gets a bit fed up with it all and what he does is starts selling off his land with crofters on it because they’re so ungrateful, you see? So even after ... there’s a great moment, just after the Crofters Act is passed in 1886, that summer and then the factors go round for their bi-annual rent collection and the Duke had said: “You can have 50% off your rents,” just a blanket rent reduction. And the factors write to each other after their rent collection and complain about the ingratitude of the crofters, how ungracious they were paying their reduced rents when, you know: “They should be grateful to the Duke for being so generous and kind.” So still the expectation was there, that the crofters should behave in a certain deferential way, you know? And I don’t know if that ties into quite old-fashioned ideas by then of the chief of the clan, you know? That kind of paternal, benevolent view of he would look after his clan and ... Cos certainly by the late nineteenth century that’s gone, practically, but I think there might be little hints of it just left in the attitude of the estate management.

  • Annie Tindley
Thursday 13th May 2010