No, that’s a good question. It’s hard to know. I mean, I think the extent to which people were prepared to accommodate, if you like, a sort of annual and regular disruption to their life that migration demanded ... In order to maintain a foothold at home, and it is at home, there’s a strong sense of this being about maintenance of a community back in the Gaidhalteachd but dependant upon the cash that was generated from four months, six months, however long away. And of course that’s true too for those who actually went further afield for mining or for fishing, way further afield. So there’s no clear sense that migration is prompted by any sort of, if you like, tenurial shift in the nature of the crofting circumstance, but there’s a very clear sense that as the Highlands are being transformed, say, quite dramatically in parts of the outer isles after 1847 or so, after the famine, that people are prepared to make the move. For them, the intention is that it’s seasonal but for some, of course, we have all sorts of records of one or two individuals for whom the move that was initially seasonal becomes permanent and then in fact becomes emigration. There’s also evidence for people for whom the move south is certainly not a direct or even a quick one. Again, the difficulties of categories like permanent and seasonal migration in something of the General Registers of The Poor, which is a vital source after Scotland’s Poor Law transforms itself legislatively from the middle of the nineteenth century. There are records of people who take often ten to twelve years to make the move, as it were, from Highlands to urban Scotland and are recorded receiving poor relief from a whole series of smaller towns and villages as they move south before pitching up then in Glasgow only then, of course, to have to return so the question of seasonal migration, as it were, within a year is one aspect of maintenance of crofting but there’s also underlying this a circuitry of people who are always on the move, looking for a job.

  • Charles Withers
Thursday 17th June 2010