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An Exposure of British Government Polices in Scotland
Donnachadh Mac'illedhuibh

AUTHOR’S NOTE – The term Highlands is intended in this pamphlet to denote in its broader use that area which in the early 18th Century was still in the occupation of the clans; and in the narrower (and later) use to denote the much smaller area of the “crofting counties”. As stated in the text, the author does not believe there is any racial cleavage between Highland and Lowland Scotland.

Battle of Culloden, April 16 1746 also known as Drumossie MoorFor two centuries the Highlands have been bleeding to death and clearly the responsibility rests with the British Govern­ment and the Anglo-Quisling elements in Scotland itself.

What lies behind the relationship of the Government to the Highlanders? Has there been a conscious purpose on its part —the destruction of the Highlanders as an obstacle to the unifica­tion of the "British" peoples in a Greater England?—or is it merely a case of criminal neglect unparalleled under any civilised-government ?


Such a course as is implied in the first alternative was advocated by General Wolfe, and later, according "to Gloomy Memories, by Loch, Commissioner of the Sutherland Estates. Patriots like the Rev. Dr. McLachlan of Edinburgh and the exiled artisan-author McLeod, could find no other explanation for the treatment meted out to their countrymen. Political and; profes­sional attachments doubtless rendered Sir Walter Scott and General Stewart of Garth more cautious in attributing motives, but both saw clearly the inevitable consequences of the Govern­ment's attitude.


Paying lip-service to the ideal of justice for small peoples. British Imperialism in its dealings with its own minorities ignores such principles. The aim inspiring all early schemes for High­land economic "betterment" was the disruption of the native people. Under the later Crofters' Act the benefits tardily and parsimoniously granted were won only by threats of violence. Every encouragement, even at times to military support, has been freely extended to alien exploiting interests inimical to native welfare—to landowners, sheep-farming capitalists, sport, Big Business (hydroelectric works, trawling, etc.)—while the High­landers themselves have received only Commissions, inquiries, reports, recommendations and betrayals.


"Happy the land without -a history”, runs the adage. The Highlands fade out of official Scottish history with the suppression of the '45; not, however, from happiness, for the succeeding centuries brought only tragedy. The sober truth is that Highland history has been deliberately suppressed from political motives. One has only to read the many Highland clan and district histories to realise the difficulty of obtaining facts concerning the Clearances. These are generally ignored (lest offence be given to some great one). When mentioned, they are represented as blessings in disguise. From a well-informedsource, the present writer learned some years ago how in the large-scale Ordnance Survey mapping of a certain county, express instructions were issued to omit all record of deserted settlements. In the schools the bare recounting" of the most important events in local history for the past two centuries has led. to landlords' complaints about the offending teacher to the County Director of Education.


Nor is the B.B.C. guiltless. From its series, Pipes and Drums, in which brief accounts were given of Canadian Scottish regimen­tal origins, it was made to appear that the Highland settlements in Eastern Canada were peopled entirely by descendants of Highlanders who, on the achievement of independence by the United States, left their homes there because they would not live under any flag other than the Union Jack. No mention was made of the tens of thousands of the evicted whose descendants gave the Highland regiments of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Ontario their Scottish tradition.


These are not isolated instances. Then why should historical facts be concealed or distorted ? Our opponents know why ! So, too, do we !



Few of our national institutions have had their true history so glamourised by propagandist fictions as the Highland regi­ments. Our schoolbooks told us how in England's hour of need, William Pitt looked for Valour to find it in the North. Of Valour's reward we learned nothing then. That we discovered for our­selves when after the Great War we saw Highland ex-Servicemen being marched under police escort from the Waverley Station to the Calton Jail for having claimed a portion of their native soil for the sustenance of themselves and their families.


The 42nd was raised before Pitt's time, mainly from the younger sons of the lesser gentry for whose adventurous spirit there was little outlet at home. Their disillusionment came soon enough and the ranks of later regiments were more difficult to fill. It was not easy to arouse hostility against France, Scotland's traditional ally. The commonalty were not enthusiastic to serve in England's " Red Army." Imperialism had therefore to exploit patriotism. Local feelings, clanship, feudal influence, affection for the Highland garb, emulation of the war-like past, even love of Scotland itself — all those sentiments which hitherto the British Government had done its utmost to destroy — were exploited to encourage recruiting.


Military service was undoubtedly unpopular. Recruiting parties were frequently mobbed by the populace. Fraser Mackin­tosh, who knew the old Highlands as few have done, wrote — " There was no strong feeling in favour of enlistment. All investigation points in the opposite direction." The late Dr. J.M. Bulloch, the authority on the early history of the 92nd and other Gordon regiments recruited in Inverness-shire and the Banff shire Highlands, demolished what he called "the facile view" of the raising of Highland regiments (and with it the popular myth of the beautiful Duchess, the kiss and the shilling): "Statesmen, we are sometimes assured, had but to speak of Empire, or its equivalent at the time, for the clansmen to rise, like gourds in the night and flock to the flag. In reality the inner history of recruiting was very different”.



Once in the power of the military authorities, men found little reason to trust Government promises. They were drafted into corps with which they had no territorial connection, often to serve among strangers speaking an alien tongue. The people were angered by the raising of men (whether for Line or Fencibles) ostensibly for the defence of their own land, but in reality for eventual drafting or transference as a unit to the Indies. Men might be persuaded of the necessity of defending their country on Continental soil, but none was so simple as to believe that its security required the sacrifice of his life on the plains of Hindustan. There was much dissatisfaction, too, at the Government's frequent retention of time-expired men with the colours.


Highlanders were warlike, hardy and resolute, but their independent spirit and restiveness under harsh discipline did not make them ideal military material. Reference in contemporary Gaelic songs and the many refusals of the rank and file to embark for the Indies (in the belief that they had been tricked by the Government), testify to their independence of spirit. A refusal "by the 42nd to obey embarkation orders was followed by an attempted march home to Scotland for which Corporals Malcolm and Samuel Macpherson of Laggan in Badenoch, and Private 'Farquhar Shaw of Rothiemurchus paid the penalty when they faced a firing squad of Grenadier Guards in the Tower of London". Their comrades drawn out to see the execution joined in prayer with the unfortunate individuals who behaved with decency and resolution. Their bodies were put into coffins by three of the prisoners, their namesakes, and buried near the place of execution". 18th July, 1743—a day to commemorate ! They were the first Scots to suffer because they denied the right to an alien power to conscript them and their countrymen for Imperialist purposes.


Later, the 72nd refused to embark at Leith and took up positions on Arthur Seat which they held for several days, until assured of the granting of their requests and the redress of their grievances. Removed to Jersey and isolated there, they were subsequently sent on the long voyage to India which they had opposed and from which so few were to return. More fortunate were the mutinous 77th and 81st who successfully resisted transfer to the West Indies and were ultimately disbanded, their names and services passing into oblivion. Other mutinies both in the Line and Fencibles were caused by drafting men contrary to their wishes and in breach of agreement.



A Badenoch minister wrote to the Duke of Gordon on the subject of Fencible recruiting. (Fencibles were raised for defence, their services at first confined to Scotland but later extended to-the whole United Kingdom. Complaints were made that men were drafted to the Line for foreign service.)


“The people will not be convinced, not even by a written obligation that the Fencible regiments will not be drafted into the Line, or kept up longer than till the war is over. They have been so often cheated that they do not know whom to trust”.


How were the ranks filled? In some districts tradition asserts recruits were kidnapped. Assurance of security to parents in the tenure of holdings; payment of generous bounties by noblemen commissioned to raise battalions; promises of prefer­ment to the occupancy of farms by relatives or by the soldiers on their return; a crude conscription under which those charged with petty offences were given the alternative of prosecution or enlistment; all were inducements.


In the relationship between these simple soldiers and the Government we see the clash of two ideals — that of Scottish patriotism ready to defend but with no aggressive purpose, and that of English (or British) Imperialism, not content with security but seeking expansion and dominion, and, either by the establishment of an Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Quisling Herrenvolk or by the extermination or assimilation of native peoples, exploiting other lands.


What has been the Highlanders' reward for their part in building Britain's Empire? Blood and tears, broken lives and homes and hearts, an empty, desolate land and a dying folk.



In estimating the causes of Highland depopulation the part played by war casualties is seldom considered. With the exception of a short-lived Territorial Field Ambulance raised in 1907 no non-combatant unit has ever been recruited in the High­lands, although when recruiting was still on a territorial basis,, men in other districts had ample choice of arm and service. In the last war the Highlands did supply mountain artillery and in the present "one anti-tank artillery, but, generally speaking, the Highlander has had one choice (or none), and the area's contri­bution to infantry has always been- disproportionately large, the casualties abnormally heavy.


From the embodiment of the 42nd in 1742 until Waterloo, eighty-six infantry battalions were raised in the Highlands, 56 for General Service, the remainder, mainly Fencibles, primarily for Home Defence but frequently reinforcing the Line. Com­plete figures are unobtainable, but General Stewart estimated the forty years' contribution by the Cromartie and Seaforth estates in:


Ross to the 71st, 72nd, and 78th as 11,000 men. That county also contributed largely to other regiments and within the period raised two Fencible battalions. Skye in thirty years gave to the army 43 general officers, 650 other officers and 10,000 men. Other districts contributed proportionately.


The sending of newly-raised regiments to India caused much trouble, such a contingency being unforeseen by the men who foolishly imagined they had been enlisted for their country's defence. Highland losses from disease were appalling. At an early period Sir Eyre Coote and other general officers unsuccess­fully appealed to the War Office to send no more Highlanders to the East. Of the 72nd, 247 died on the voyage, and when at last the regiment stood on Indian soil, only 360 of the original 1,000 were "fit for service." A memorial in St. Giles, Edinburgh, records that within six months, 669 men, women and children of the 78th Highland Regiment "died on the banks of the Indus in Scinde." So unpopular was this service owing to the wastage of life that in 1809 the eleven surviving regiments were reduced to five, those with long tropical service being deprived of their Highland garb and designation owing to the difficulty of obtaining men in their original recruiting areas.



The regiments which served in healthier climes also suffered severely. Wolfe had cynically suggested their use as cannon-fodder— "No great mischief if they fall. How can you better destroy a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?" Soon a sense of unfair discrimination spread throughout Scotland. "I had a letter from Torboll," wrote a Ross-shire man shortly after the 42nd first proceeded overseas, ''that the Highland Regiment does very hard duty and are sent on all commands of great danger." The Edinburgh Advertiser, 18th July, 1763, was more outspoken. "Were not the Highlanders put upon every enterprise where nothing was to be had but broken bones ?"


After Waterloo the diminished number of Highland regi­ments with difficulty preserved their distinctive character. War, emigration and clearances had drained the Highlands of men and military service had become distasteful. Though in 1881 the kilt was restored to several battalions deprived of it in 1809, they had to rely on the Lowlands to fill their ranks. But the outbreak of war still brings thousands of Highlanders to the armed forces in the R.N.R., the 51st Division and until 1914 in the Special Reserve battalions of Highland regiments; the reservists to take their places almost immediately in the fighting ranks, while the 51st, drawn largely from the region with poorest resources of man-power and least facilities for peace-time training in the United Kingdom, is invariably the first Territorial Division to bear the brunt of fighting.


An article in The Scots Magazine dealt with the effects of the 1914-18 War on Lewis. Of a population of 29,603 in 1911, 6,712 or practically every fit man joined the forces; and 1,151 were killed. Many promises had been made of betterment of conditions on the cessation of hostilities. As usual, they were not- fulfilled and, as after the Seven Years' War and the Waterloo campaign, emigration was put forward as the only possible prospect for the returned soldier, so that in three years (1920-1922) 3,000, mostly ex-servicemen, sailed for Canada from the island. Thus the population, increasing before 1914, showed at last census a decrease of 4,000. while notwithstanding the dis­banding of Special Reserve battalions of Seaforths, Gordons and Camerons to which Lewis formerly contributed largely, the R.N.R. strength at the outbreak of the present war was only 50 per cent, of that of 1914. The population is not only dwindling but ageing, and its downward trend must become steeper after the present war. Already at the end of 1942 the percentage of naval casualties was equal to that of all services at the end of the 1914-18 War.


The loss in killed among the armed forces of the Empire (1914-18) was 12 per cent. In Lewis it was 17.6 per cent. The three sparsely populated seaboard parishes of south-west Ross had 76 killed out of 367 serving or 20.3 per cent. Out of exactly 100 Seaforths and Camerons (locally the most popular regiments) from that district, 35 were killed or nearly three times the Empire's average. These are not specially selected cases. The figures can be equalled or surpassed elsewhere in the Highlands.


The Highlands' tragedy is that its men go early into battle and suffer unequally. They have fought unsparingly for King and Country, but for which country and whose ?


HIGHLAND emigration to America began in the first half of the eighteenth century. The accusation is made against certain Skye chiefs that they contrived the kidnapping of some hundreds of their tenantry for sale in the American plantations and it is generally believed that knowledge of this fact and the threat of prosecution for their actions by Lord President Forbes led to their betrayal of the Jacobite cause in 1745.


After the Seven Years War and the War of American Independence, Highland soldiers on discharge received grants of lands in North America. There was also voluntary emigration, many Highlanders disliking the conditions which followed the break-up of the Clan System. In general, 18th Century Highland chiefs opposed emigration, some no doubt from the prestige which influence in raising men gave them with the Government; others, still Scottish in outlook, were strongly and genuinely attached to their tenantry by the kindly ties of clanship and old associations. At times 'even Government circles expressed alarm at the prospect of emigration drying up a reservoir of manpower necessary for the conduct of war; a sentiment echoed in our own day by Mr. Churchill who, paying tribute to the 51st Division, stated that in bearing the brunt at Alamein it had brought honour to the Highlands and to Scotland, and expressed his regret that the Scots were not more numerous. Such solicitude for the survival of the Highland people, however, is never expressed by responsible politicians in peace-time.



Emigration in the 18th century had been largely voluntary; in the 19th it became forced. In a free country the return to peace conditions would bring the ex-soldier resettlement on his native soil and some measure of reconstruction to a region which had made great sacrifices. In Scotland the conditions which invariably follow the return of peace only accelerate emigration and consequent depopulation. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the absence of Highland manhood on military service afforded a golden opportunity to landowners and large-scale sheep farming interests to evict the soldiers' dependents. The authorities had become indifferent to these activities. Emigration saved them much trouble: the Highlands were no longer the recruiting ground they had been: the disappearance of a people with distinctive characteristics was desirable in the interests of British unification and the liquidation of Scottish nationality. Scotland's difficulties were Britain's opportunity.


The Government's share of guilt in this matter is admitted in the Departmental Report on Deer Forests (1919) which states: " The power of eviction by private persons is one that ought never to have been permitted " and continues in explanation or apology:—" No doubt the recollection of the Rising (1745) rendered the Government more blind than it would otherwise have been to these Clearances, and to the sinister part played by the land speculator." More than a century passed between the suppression of the '45 and the last big eviction. The long toll of Scottish sacrifice from Fontenoy to Waterloo had surely atoned even in Great British eyes.


In Sutherland (as in other districts) the men of the 93rd had been promised on enlistment security of tenure in their holdings for their parents and wives. In their absence abroad eviction began. Not long ago the descendant of one of these men told the writer of the experience of his maternal great-grandfather. Discharged at Dover, he tramped to his native glen to find his home in ruins and no person left in the township to tell him of the fate of his wife, and family. For six months he searched the county of Caithness (where so many of the evicted sought refuge) before he and they were re-united. Small wonder that at a later period of crisis the Duke of Sutherland appealed in vain for Sutherland men to join the 93rd. The descendants of those who had filled its ranks told him to call on the four-footed creatures which had supplanted the native people to rise and defend his lands for him. In 1884 a witness told the Napier Commission there was but one Sutherlander in the 93rd, once most Highland of all regiments. The modern regimental title ''Argyll and Sutherland," lacking any apparent connection with the latter county, sometimes puzzles people. The traditions and prestige of the 93rd were too precious to discard but the authorities saw, no doubt, that its associations with its native county revived unhappy memories. There it had become the memorial of a great betrayal. Even as late as the Indian Mutiny a Highland newspaper had to state :—


"At the very moment when Cawnpore was gallantly taken, the fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters of the Invincible 78th were being forcibly evicted from their native soil."


The motive behind the evictions was greed though, as always, philanthropic aims were advanced. Large scale sheep farming had become profitable. The holdings of the people stood in the way of its development. Contributory causes were the association and intermarriage of the landed class with the English aristocracy with its great ostentation and wealth: the education of the younger generation of that class in England with their consequent adoption of an alien outlook and the widening of the gap between laird and people: the bringing in of efficiency experts in agriculture—planners whose standard of success was based on profit-making rather than on human values. The -underlying cause of all the wrong done was the decay of "Scottishness" among the upper classes. Country and kinsfolk had come to mean nothing to them. In becoming British they had ceased to be Scots.


Says the Shepherd in the Nodes Ambrosianae :—" Weel! if the gentry lose the land, the Hieland anes at onyrate, it will only be the Lord's righteous judgment for dispossessing the people before them." For the most part they have now lost it.



Highland eviction 19th centurySome of the overseas countries of the British Commonwealth may be free : the same cannot be said of the more ancient nations of these islands—Wales, Ireland, Scotland. Towards each of them the dominant partner has been the '' cuckoo in the nest,'' seeking their complete destruction as living nations. In this the British attitude does not differ materially from that of Germany and other aggressive imperialisms" towards weaker neighbours The process of extermination is slower, more subtle but more , effective. The individual, it is true, may climb into the ranks of the Herrenvolk, but for the minority peoples as a whole there is only extermination or assimilation. This is Scotland's intended fate : death by slow poisoning for the Lowlander : for the High­lander a quicker end. The early destruction of the one would later render more easy that of his fellow.


War's wastage and the more or less voluntary emigration of the eighteenth century had failed to destroy the Highland people. In the North was a hard core of patriotic nationalism, impervious to alien influence, which had perforce to be pounded, softened, pulped and destroyed in the interests of a unifying anglicisation. Strongly attached to land and language, clan and kin, the Gaelic remnant obstinately refused to emigrate. They must be forced to do so. Willing agents were found in the land-owning class, Carlyle's "selfish, ferocious, famishing, unprincipled set of hyenas from whom at no time, and in no way has the country derived any benefit whatever." Financial gain (from the develop­ment of large-scale sheep farming) was sufficient inducement to many of them to betray country and people.


Their actions, however cruel and oppressive, won the benevolent approval of the authorities, but let the wronged peasantry lift a finger in self-defence and all the terrors of the Law were unloosed. The heart, we might say, was taken out of them. Navy, Army and Police were ready to enforce the oppressors' will. A subservient Church preached the duty of abject submission. Education, as doled out to the people, rotted them from within, teaching them that all their fathers held dear —their country and kin, their language, music and poetry (however worthy of preservation in others), their simple pride in their own past, its honourable poverty and its pathetic loyalties —were beneath the contempt of civilised men. They must become the sedulous apes of their " betters." Some would even have denied them the consolations of religion by opposing the translation of the Gospels into the language of Columba. The Rev. Dr. McLachlan, of Edinburgh, saw in a flash the motive behind the evictions. "The cry seemed to be”, he said, “do away with the people. This is the shorthand way of doing away with the language”. The Gaelic language was deliberately destroyed to bring about disintegration—that the unity of the Highland people might be destroyed.



No short pamphlet can fully recapitulate the tragedy of the Gaelic-speaking areas since the Union of 1707. From Strathnaver in the North to Arran in the South, from the isles of the West to the eastmost outpost of Gaelic in Braemar, practically no district escaped. Tom Johnston has estimated that at least 125,000 suffered eviction, and that in all probability the number was not short of 200,000. There were methods, too, of getting rid of tenants other than by actual eviction.


Despite the philanthropic motives advanced by the planners of the day, the Clearances were carried out in circumstances of ruthless brutality. Crops were destroyed; cattle driven from their pastures and left to starve; houses unroofed and burned lest their former occupants again find shelter there; their furniture and poor belongings smashed; the helpless, aged and children of tender years left without protection from the in clemencies of the weather to lie (and in many cases to die) in the open or among the ruins, neighbouring tenants being forbidden to give them shelter on pain of instant eviction. When assisted emigration proved a heavy tax on the landlord, crofts were subdivided to accommodate the evicted, thus aggravating the very conditions the landowners (according to their apologists) had set out to remedy. But it brought them financial reward, and while the kelp industry was profitable and labour in demand, this sub­division was stretched to the limit. People from inland glens were dumped on the seashore, given patches of potato ground at excessive rents, and left, without equipment or knowledge, to wrest a living from the sea. Or they were turned adrift to wander South to rot in the slums of the fast-growing cities.


The sufferings of the Highlanders did not cease with departure from their native soil. The plight of many on arrival in Canada aroused indignation there against the heartless land­owners who had thus rid themselves of all responsibility for their victims. Mr. Labouchere in the House of Commons on 11th February. 1848, stated that of 106,000 Scots and Irish emigrants, 6,100 perished on the voyage, 4,100 after arrival in Canada, 5,200 were in hospital and 1,900 remained in the ports of disembarka­tion, unable through poverty or weakness to proceed farther. Of 400 passengers in one coffin-ship carrying emigrants from the Duke of Argyll's Mull estate, only fifteen survived the voyage— such was the toll of disease. The sea, too. claimed its victims. In 1807 a Thurso ship sank off Newfoundland with the loss of 130 emigrants from Sutherland and Caithness. There were many other shipwrecks.


The wonder is that a people so high-spirited did not turn against their tormentors. They sometimes did, but evictions were usually carried out piece-meal; the flower of their manhood had been wasted in the wars; the absence of the young on seasonal employment in the South frequently facilitated clearance opera­tions; the gentry and clergy', their former protectors and leaders, for the most part deserted them. The men of Easter Ross did combine in an attempt to drive the sheep south of Inverness, but their action was frustrated by military force. Sometimes resist­ance was offered to the evictors, but the result was invariably military or police intervention, bloodshed and imprisonment. Those who fled to the hills were pursued by the police, brought back and shipped in handcuffs, frequently on other vessels than those which carried their relatives and friends, whom they might find as best they could on the other side of the Atlantic.


Often the emigrants had no choice of destination. If assisted, they might not go to those colonies where they already had friends. The landlord was sole arbiter of their fate. They must go where passages were cheapest. The aged and helpless were forced to go lest, remaining, they became paupers chargeable to the rates, a burden to the landowner and the sheep speculators.


Our school history text-books when they deign to mention so trivial a matter as the enforced depopulation of half our country, tell us that it was inevitable, it was progress and that all was for the best. "Who dies if England lives?" and "There'll always be an England" are their cheerful theme, offering cold comfort indeed for those of us who see Death's icy fingers creeping over the Scotland we love. We can well repeat the words of Isaiah:


"Your country is desolate! Your cities are burned with fire! Your land strangers devour it in your presence; and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers”.



Immediate results of the Clearances gave the lie to the philanthropic motives advanced by their perpetrators and apologists. Poverty on the seaboard : desolation inland. Con­version of large districts into extensive sheep walks, according to the Report of the Coast of Scotland and Naval Enquiry (1802-1803) not only required fewer people, but in general an entirely new people, so that to-day clans like the Macfarlanes and the MacDonnell’s of Glengarry have entirely vanished from their native territories. The evicted, when not deported overseas or drifting to the towns, huddled on the seaboard to pick up a precarious livelihood at the expense of the original residents for whom conditions became more difficult as the population became more congested. Others settled in established townships as additional crofters, causing further subdivision of the small area of arable land, or as landless cottars dependent on casual work or on the bounty of their more fortunate neighbours for grants of small potato plots in return for services.


In many places crofts were divided so minutely (to the laird's financial advantage) that only one cow could be kept, its calf having to be sold through inability to feed it; while frequently the crofter had to pay distant large farmers for the summer grazing of his cattle, the old high summer pastures of the shieling days (essential to the township's economy) having been handed over to sheep farmers with in most cases no corresponding relief in rent to the crofter. Yet the immediate ancestor of the latter might have had ten or twelve milk cattle, and in the Report of the Napier Commission we read of townships where until 1850 each tenant had had the right of sending twenty young cattle and one horse to the summer pasture.


The landless cottars became largely migratory. Fishing, harvesting in the low country, repair of the Caledonian Canal, construction of roads and later of railways, sheep and cattle droving provided the men, and, in harvesting, the women too, with work away from home. While sail was in vogue, sea transport afforded employment, supplying local needs and carry­ing for other coastal regions in Scotland, England and the West of Ireland; locally built vessels sailing as far as Archangel, the Tialtic and the Mediterranean. These sources of remuneration soon failed and the people, despairing of improved conditions, found once again in emigration their only relief.


Mass evictions came to an end about the middle of the 19th century. The growing influence of public opinion and the Press, and the development of railways rendered it impossible for the tyrants to hide their misdeeds. Their crimes had brought ample reward : they accepted no responsibility for the consequences. The Government was indifferent. Let the last of the people be driven by poverty, misery and injustice from their native soil .and there would be no Highland problem.



It seems to us (as it had to Sir Walter Scott and Stewart of Garth) that other steps should have been taken, rents gradually raised as stock prices; increased, holdings enlarged rather than reduced, industries provided for the surplus population; but few proprietors attempted anything of this nature. The people's welfare was the last consideration. In the kelp industry cheap and abundant labour was required and over-population encouraged. In Sutherland marriage was forbidden except by permission of the Duke or his factor, the penalty for disobedience being banishment from the county.


In many places the size of crofts limited population, only those young people remaining whom duty to aged parents-kept tied to the holding until too late to begin living; their; own lives. Repeatedly in evidence before the Napier Commission the .in-frequency of marriage is mentioned. To-day in consequence there are decaying townships in the West where no child has/been born for forty or fifty years, Politicians now lament a falling birth rate and declining population but no such concern was expressed in the case of the Highlander. In his own country he had come to be classed as " vermin." Not so long ago it was customary in the advertisement columns of those journals catering for wealthy aliens in search of Highland estates to insert unblushingly " no crofters " as the crowning amenity.


Australian and New Zealand development led to a fall in the price of wool and by 1884 in the price of sheep which rendered large areas of hill pasture unprofitable. Following Victoria's occupation of Balmoral, deer stalking became fashionable and the possession of a Highland estate essential to social prestige. The English occupation began. The country ceased to produce food. One export remained—men and women. The country was dere­lict, the playground of wealthy aliens.



Highland riot 19th century

SUDDENLY in 1882 the heather was on fire. In Skye there was trouble owing to attempts to eject from their holdings tenants who had fallen into arrears with their rents. Sheriff Officers and their assistants had summonses of ejectment taken from them. Militant action and resistance to the Law spread through the Isles and the western mainland. Outside police were drafted in to maintain order; gunboats dispatched to the scenes of unrest; bluejackets, marines and soldiers landed.


But the great cities of the South were now able to show their sympathy. Public meetings were held to protest against the inhuman treatment meted out to the Highlander. Several cities refused the use of their police forces. Petitions were signed calling for the appointment of a Royal Commission to enquire into the grievances of the crofters. Common suffering drew together the sundered branches of the sea-divided Gael. The Irish Land league subscribed £1,000 for any action that might be taken in connection with Highland grievances. Parnell at a great meeting in Glasgow promised the support of the Irish National Party. Resistance spread. The great Lewis Deer Forest was raided and occupied by a large force of crofters.


The General Election of 1884 gave the Highland counties their opportunity and they sent to Westminster a small but solid group of representatives pledged before everything to secure justice for their countrymen by obtaining security of tenure (thus putting an end to arbitrary eviction), fair rents, compensation for improvements, and compulsory breaking-up of deer forests and large sheep and arable farms.


In 1886 the Crofters' Act was passed which fixed fair rents, reducing them in many cases by 60 or 70 per cent., and cancelled most of arrears of rent as excessive. This Act applied to the northern Highland counties but left out Argyll, Bute and Arran, the Highland area of Perthshire, and other borderlands. The-Congested Districts Board was set up which had powers in over­crowded areas to transfer the surplus people, and gave to former neighbours the extension created by their transfer. These benefits checked but did not stem the tide of emigration. Additional pasture land was now added to many townships but it was only the older and more comfortably provided crofters who could afford to stock it as all demands for Government loans to aid building and stocking newly-acquired lands were refused.




The Crofters' agitation has its lessons. Determined political action and the election of representatives who place country and people before self and party may wring concessions from West­minster but it is hopeless to expect from that body any adequate measure of reconstruction. Even the limited success of the Crofters' Act cannot be repeated. It should be remembered that in most matters of secular politics Scotland had in those days the powerful aid of the Irish Nationalists, an advantage denied us since their departure from Westminster. To-day we are, should we be united, in a weaker position than ever before and proposed measures of electoral redistribution must only emphasise our weakness as a minority.


Self-government for Scotland is the only hope for the Highland people.


But after the modified success won by the Crofter rising came a gradual weakening of effort. Party politics again prevailed : unity was lost. There were sporadic outbreaks of land raiding sometimes fairly successful. The unerring instinct of the people told them that settlement on their native soil and the utilisation of their land and sea resources were the only solid bases for their survival, but generally speaking the forces working for their destruction were allowed full play. The British Government followed a policy of makeshift concessions, palliatives and doles, carefully avoiding' any action which might provoke widespread dissatisfaction yet never departing from the good old plan of postponement to an indefinite future of any real settlement of Highland problems. It was always ready to appoint Commissions and Committees to draw up Reports and make recommendations on which it had no intention of acting, but which for the moment might diminish criticism.


Invariably the evidence obtained by these Commissions led to the scheduling of vast areas of land in the Highlands as suitable for settlement. Thus the Royal Commission (1895) scheduled as suitable for small holdings 800,000 acres, for extensions 440,00(3 acres, and for moderate sized farms 550,000, a total of If million .acres. In spite of the powers of compulsory acquisition of land for small holdings given under the Scottish .Smallholders Act of 1894 the area under deer forest increased, until by 1920 it totalled -3| million acres, and included better land than in the old forests. Over the fourteen years 1912-1926 (which included the War years and those following) there were altogether in the five northern counties over 14,000 applications for holdings, yet only about 3,000 were granted.



War came in 1914. History repeated itself. Recruiting was at first voluntary and the Highlands as always gave gener­ously of their youth. This sacrifice, said the politicians, would be remembered and justice at last be given to a people who had suffered grievous neglect. Peace came . and with it betrayal. Many ex-servicemen recalled these promises later, and, driven to desperation by the Government's delays and indifference to their claim to a home and a portion of their native soil to support themselves and their dependents, boldly seized land. Imprison­ment followed, and though the Government had been forced to act in the matter of land-settlement, it was expressly stated by Sir John Gilmour, Secretary for Scotland, that those who had participated in the raids were to be debarred from any share of the land their efforts had won for their fellows. The more fortunate did not receive their grants under favourable conditions. The small size of many holdings foredoomed them to the old cycle of decay. Other successful applicants had to take over the outgoing farmer's sheep stock at the exceptionally high valuation prevailing at the end. of the war, to find that when prices slumped they had more than paid the value of the stock and yet must go on paying.


It would be unfair to say that the British Government had no solution for Highland problems. As after every war, emigra­tion was brought forward as the panacea for Scotland's ills. We were bidden to give up our narrow conception of patriotism, to become Empire minded, and emigrate. After the War large-scale emigration took place especially from the Islands, in conse­quence of which Lewis at the 1931 census showed for the first time a downward population trend.



Other plans, too, there were in the post-war years. Rosy pictures were painted of the benefits that proposed hydro-electrical construction work would bring to the Highland ex-service man, who was, however, to find that 'once the powers to proceed with the work had been obtained, the promoters lost interest in him on the grounds that immigrant Irish labour was best suited for such work. A visit to Rannoch at the period of construction was sufficient to dispel any belief that Big Business was seriously interested in the provision of employment for local people. Irish labour monopolised the unskilled work; administrators and tech­nicians were English.


Afforestation was put forward as another solution and plausibly its claims were advanced, but the areas afforested were in the main food-producing with the result that regions once noted for their grazings, and self-sufficient and even exporting as far as meat and dairy produce were concerned, are to-day reduced to obtaining such commodities from the South, too often in the form of imported tinned goods. The deer-forests were little affected by this development. As the forests have apparently been planted from consideration of Britain's war-time timber supplies rather than from any interest in the welfare of rural Scotland, probably most of the employment has been given to the Hondurans, Canadians and Newfoundlanders who are invariably imported into the Highlands for war-time forestry work while native workers are dispatched to the early battlefields.


In the eyes of the older people accustomed to the dilatoriness of Government officials, the unwonted activity of the Forestry Commission aroused suspicion, for they saw in it, not without some reason, a deep-laid plot between the- Government and the landowners to deprive them for ever of the land their fathers had held.


On the seaboard, the post-War years found the fisheries in decay. Loss of foreign markets, depredations of trawlers, poor transport service, expensive freights, deterioration of boats and gear during war years and lack of funds to make good these losses—all tended to the industry's decay.


From Conservative Governments nothing much was ever expected. Labour proved less helpful, its sole contribution to the amelioration of Highland conditions being the compulsory evacuation of St. Kilda.




As once in Ireland, and to-day in Wales and Lowland Scotland, British policy seems to aim at the elimination or assimilation of minority peoples through the medium of more or less compulsory emigration. How successful this policy has been in the Highlands may be seen by comparing population figures over a period of a century.





Loss of Population









Small Isles




Tiree and Coll










On the mainland the following parishes may be taken as typical examples of population decline over the same period. Kintail 72 per cent, loss : Glenshiel 54 per cent.; Weem 70 per cent. : Durness 57 per cent. : Reay 75 per cent. : Ardnamurchan 50 per cent. loss. It may be somewhat unjust to attribute the whole of this decline to British mis-government. There were other causes at work, but it can be fairly claimed that such a serious decline would not be permitted to continue in any free country, without some attempt being made to remedy the condi­tions which give rise to it. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to why nothing was ever done for the Highlands.


Here is the record of the rural school at Auchtertyre in Ross attended by the writer in 1897. (Boys only are given, but the same conclusions hold for girls.)


Boys on roll - 48

Remained in Parish                          1

Emigration overseas                      6

In district (next parish)                      1

To U.S.A.                                     7

Returned from abroad                       2

To Canada                                    2

Died Young                                     4

To Australia                                  2

Killed in 1st World War                     5

To New Zealand                            2


To South America                         1


To India                                       1


To Eire                                        1




                       Total                     20



To other parts of United Kingdom went :— Glasgow 2 :  Edinburgh 6 (mainly one family) : London 1 : Aberdeen 1 : Other parts of Highlands 4 : At sea 1.


Before the outbreak of the present war the desperate condi­tion of the Highlands gave much cause for anxiety. As a result of agitation the Hilleary Committee was set up, and made recom­mendations, most of which were welcomed by all interested in the welfare of the Highlands. As usual, nothing came of it. There was, it is true, the offer of £65,000 a year for five years subsequently withdrawn by the Government at the outbreak of hostilities without ever a penny of it having been paid.


How different the treatment of other peoples both inside and outside the Empire—the West Indians, the Czechs, Iraq, Palestine where to set up a national home for the Jews millions have been spent and Scot lads, Highland and Lowland both, called on to shed their blood for what is denied their own people. Compare, too, this miserable sum of £65,000 for five years with that lavished on the building of a Parliament House for Northern Ireland at Stormont.

One summer many years ago I sat by the roadside in a Western glen talking to a returned exile from Oregon. Highland reconstruction was in the air, and he spoke with some bitterness. " Yes, the day will come when the land will be used once again, but not until the British Government is satisfied that the end is in sight for our people. Then they will plan. Strangers will come in to fill the places where our fathers dwelt."

Delenda, est Alba!


This booklet was originally printed in Glasgow 1944 by the Scots Secretariat