Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tom Devine- Scottish Clerances Lecture University Highlands and Islands

FROM UHI website

Leading historian answers a national puzzle
by EO01AN — last modified 2006-10-04 09:23

The Scottish clearances created a successful new life for Lowland Scots, but left the Highland population destitute and starving, historian Tom Devine told a packed audience at the UHI Millennium Institute Annual Lecture 2006.

This was the reason, he said, why the clearances were associated only with the Highlands. The Highland experience was seared into the nation's memory, while little was known about the clearances elsewhere.

"Lowland cottars thrived in the new townships, but Highlanders suffered destitution and famine. There was a great and intense period of removal of a destitute population; a dismemberment of society," he told around 300 people at Dornoch Cathedral.

He also criticised the schools curriculum - a "national scandal" - for failing to address the Lowland experience, and said he hoped to inspire debate and attempt to correct a distorted picture of the clearances.

Before addressing his subject, Professor Devine described UHI - the Highland region's higher education collegiate which is due to gain university status next year - as an extraordinary development which would have a seminal part in the history of "this wonderful part of Scotland".

"It is the most exciting higher education development since the inauguration of the Open University in Scotland. People are coming from all over the world to learn from this place. Universities are now at the very heart of the Scottish nation - research and talent are the future of old Scotia. UHI will become one of the drivers of the 21st century Highland economy. It is vital to the area."

Professor Devine entitled his lecture, The Scottish clearances - why were the Highlands different? He said the clearances were part of a great rural transformation throughout Europe from a subsistence-based society to one which catered for markets. "This process had enormous social and economic benefits. But it also had supreme and sometimes very difficult social costs, because it meant the re-fashioning of old traditional society and led to clearances. It was a time of rampant individualism, and the end of the old world."

"In Scotland, the speed of movement from subsistence to capitalism was extraordinary and the fastest in Europe. Market forces were unleashed, penetrating and fragmenting ancient social structures and established communities. Estates treated property like chess boards and moved people about. Land became an asset."

Professor Devine argued that significantly more people were affected by the Lowland clearances, yet driven by the same commercial interests and methods of removal as in the Highlands. He also believed that Lowland Scots would have put up a fight, against contrary opinion.

But he said the Highland experience, Sutherland's in particular, was different. In the Lowlands, there was consolidation of land and the relocation of people to new villages and townships was successful. In the Highlands, infant industry was undercut and boom activities of the late 18th century, like kelping, military employment and fishing, all evaporated.

"The horror was this - while the Lowland policy became a success, in much of the Highlands there was criminal abandonment of people on the basis of far-fetched economic programmes. There was destitution, and the population became redundant."

Professor Devine, the Sir William Fraser chair of Scottish history and palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, was introduced by UHI's own Professor Jim Hunter, director of the UHI Centre of History, based at the Dornoch campus of North Highland College UHI which hosted the fifth annual lecture. He described Tom Devine as the leading historian of Scotland, and praised him for engaging fully with the Highlands - unlike many prestigious historians before him.

Rosemary Thompson, principal of North Highland College UHI, thanked Professor Devine for a "thought-provoking" speech. Gemma Bateman, North Highland College student of the year, presented Professor Devine with a bottle of 38-year-old malt whisky.

Guests were welcomed by Colin Mackay, chairman of the UHI board of governors, who said the journey towards university title was nearing an end, although it was more or less a university in practice and funding.

UHI principal, Professor Bob Cormack, spoke of the dynamism which had replaced a MOPE (most oppressed people on earth) mentality in the Highlands.

He said this dynamism could be seen in the development of North Highland College UHI which was punching above its weight. Branch organisations the Environmental Research Institute and the UHI Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation Centre were gaining an international profile. "It is quite remarkable that a small college should have this portfolio of research, but it is being led by people of vision."

Professor Cormack promised that UHI, a collegiate network for the whole region, would continue to be different and break new ground. He said that a university for Inverness alone would have done great things for the Highland capital, but not for rest of the region. "Shortly we will gain university title and a new phase will begin. At the core will be our collegiate structure which we must continue to promote and ensure that it is understood."

Honorary fellowships were awarded to Robin Lingard, the first director of the UHI project from 1993 to 1997, and Ullapool Cllr Jean Urquhart, a member of the UHI Foundation, the UHI board of governors, and the University of the Highlands and Islands Development Trust, in recognition of their dedicated support for the university cause.

There was also a presentation to the first UHI Student of the Year, Shetlander Margaret Johnston.

Other events of the day included a students' and UHI network showcase, a golf handicap tournament, a ghost walk around Dornoch, and a ceilidh.

Piper James Mackenzie, aged 17, from the Isle of Lewis, a student of music at Lews Castle College UHI, played for guests, while a procession from Ross House, the Dornoch campus of North Highland College UHI, to the cathedral was led by the Sutherland Schools Pipe Band.

At Ross House, where a reception was held before and after the lecture, there were musical performances by Lews Castle, North Highland College and Dornoch Academy musicians.


Post a Comment

<< Home