Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Scotland says 'No'. But now that you're listening...

So what should those outside these shores make of our Independence Referendum?

In short, the 'No' vote won but we are now in a much better position  - with more devolution on the way - than we were a month ago.

Much passion has been generated and it has sadly left some bitter divisions. In my personal view, this was a wasted opportunity: we were asked to vote on a general principle (which would be binding) without any knowledge (or rather with two totally conflicting opinions) as to what the balance sheet of an independent Scotland would look like. A 'Yes' vote would have been an enormous leap of faith.

The vast majority in the UK is very relieved. It did at one stage seem quite possible that the votes of two million people in Scotland could break up the 300 year old United Kingdom, (pop. 64 million). Any UK government will think carefully about a future referendum.

The good news is that Scotland has put down a marker. We want more devolution and we want it soon.

This genie will not be going back into its box. Many people are distraught. They feel betrayed by the majority. In their hearts they cannot accept this decision. Expectations have been raised.

Alan Little, the BBC Scotland correspondent makes some very good points...
  • Almost all the mainstream media (including Scottish media) were hostile to independence.
  • The banks would move to London. 
  • The financial services industry would collapse. 
  • Mortgage payments would rise. 
  • Scotland would have to get in the queue behind Kosovo for EU membership. 
  • The oil is running out.
  • No one knew what currency we would use.
  • Supermarkets prices would go up. 
And still 45% voted 'Yes'!!


Well, its mostly the fault of the Romans. For three hundred years the Celtic tribes in the north were walled off from their southern neighbours who began to favour baths, wine and a trip to the amphitheatre over the traditional Celtic entertainments of warfare, feasting and song. And because these southerners became so soft they were easy meat for the Angles,Saxons and Danes who imported a different language and a different culture. Two kingdoms were born.

Joining them together was a success.We defeated Napoleon, built the Empire, suffered together in two World Wars, built post-war prosperity and the welfare state. But now we are both part of Europe and subject to its laws ('independence' is a relative, not an absolute, concept nowadays). Scotland's coal, steel and shipbuilding is now worked out. Now, more than ever, the centre of gravity is in London. There isn't really a joint project any more. We feel different.

It hasn't helped, over the years, that the English regularly beat us on the battlefield (as well as on the rugby pitch). It hasn't helped that English Victorians who bought Scottish castles and estates, tended to treat the locals as serfs. It hasn't helped that successive Prime Ministers - Douglas Home, Heath and Callaghan - have promised more devolution than they have delivered. But mostly it's because we feel different.

Unscrambling the constitution,  - which is now what is needed - will be very tricky. I'm not going into that now. But, despite the infighting, we are a lot better off now than we were a month ago.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Come home to Scotland!

How lucky we are in Scotland to have a colourful and vibrant clan culture to underpin our tourism industry! But are we looking after our Diaspora?...making it easy for folk to find and enjoy the experiences that they seek?

Yesterday I was at the very successful 'Bannockburn Live'. An effective 'battle performance', great music and good local food were marred only by some rain and a wee problem with traffic management. The clan tents were busy, especially when Robert the Bruce himself was doing the rounds.

Tomorrow I am at a meeting to discuss how to 'develop the potential of clan tourism in Scotland'. So, as I mow the grass, my mind inevitably turns to what can be learned from 'Bannockburn Live' and how we can build on it...

Correcting my un-straight lines, I conclude that Highland Games elsewhere are in many cases grander affairs than here in Scotland, but an event such as 'Bannockburn Live' or a Scottish Highland Games offers a 'Rooted Authenticity'. This may come from some or all of the following...
  • A historic setting - castle, battlefield, iconic venue such as Holyrood Park, or somewhere that resonates in clan history.
  • Clan events before or afterwards, and/or the opportunity to tour remote clan lands, seek out family heritage - or visit popular attractions.
  • What surrounds the event - people, architecture, whisky, music. An American friend who was at the event yesterday evening has uploaded a video of a music session in a local pub commenting " Just another reason I love Scotland!!!"
  • Meeting native Scots of the same name. This may seem trivial to us in Scotland, but after 12 years of running tours with an ancestral theme, I know it is not.
  • Our funny Scottish ways: local people with impenetrable accents enthusing about ...something, the Atholl Highlanders, Lonach Highlanders, nobility, Royalty.
Atholl Highlanders
There's a bit to think on there - and I'd be very grateful for any feedback, especially from those in far off places. Have I got this more or less right? 

If so, the way we get the message out and make all this more accessible is a longer discussion.

Maybe we should be doing more events like 'Bannockburn Live'? There are Highland Games and Gatherings all over north and central Scotland and this year the Highland Tattoo at Fort George. What about something to celebrate Border clans and families during the Common Riding season with participation by cornets/callants? Bannockburn again perhaps? Or a massive 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 2020?

Finally, I was chatting to this man in the beer tent yesterday. Clearly a passionate Scot.
Where does he come from?


Food for thought...
maybe another beer...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rewriting the Battle of Bannockburn

I am Edward II of England, facing King Robert of Scotland, played by the Chief Guide at the Bannockburn Centre. It was an interesting encounter: I led my cavalry straight into his foul calthrop trap but he was so keen to protect his king (yes, it's a bit like chess) that I outnumbered him in various encounters. Then he gleefully pointed out that whilst I had lots of archers and cavalry left, I had no infantry with which to relieve Stirling Castle - which had to be done by midsummer's day to comply with a gentlemanly deal done with the Scots by the castle's governor, Sir Philip Mowbray. (The Russians may have a similar plan in eastern Ukraine although as yet no date has been set).

Of course in 1314 it was a Scottish victory, indeed it was our last 'home win' against England and the encounter will be replayed on 28 and 29 June at Bannockburn this year, a 700th anniversary celebration.

I enjoyed the new attraction and all the fun of 3D glasses with the effects of knights galloping past a mere arm's length away. The talking figures of various characters in the battle are excellent in every detail - don't miss any of these. But the much hyped war game is, I think, overambitious. It's designed for 30 players, each with a division or two to command, and an understandable need for quick decision-making so that the battle does not take all day. Commentary and advice from staff is essential to make some sense of it all. It's great to see hi-tech options being embraced, but I wonder how much each learned about the actual course of the battle...

The seeds of this conflict were sown by the untimely death of King Alexander III of Scotland, whose only heir, his granddaughter Margaret, died on her way back home from Norway. Edward I of England ruthlessly exploited the resulting power vacuum and took Scotland under his control. The Scottish victory at Bannockburn was a game-changer and in this year of the referendum on Scotland's independence it is understandably cited as a source of national pride and patriotism. Conveniently forgotten is that the Scottish solution to the problem of King Alexander's death was to make a good marriage for his heir, Margaret the 'Maid of Norway'. The intended bridegroom?... none other than the future Edward II of England.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What is a 'Broken Clan'?

Clan Cunningham website announces jubilantly, "We are no longer a broken clan!".
Indeed there is now a Chief of the Name and Arms of Cunninghame (sic) which, after 218 years without one, is good news.

A chief-less clan is often cited as 'broken'. But I wonder if members of Clan Cunningham knew we were a 'broken clan' before we ceased to be one? Of the 324 Scottish clans or families within which individuals have coats of arms recorded, only 121 currently have a chief, as recognised by the Lord Lyon. It does sound a little dramatic to suggest that the rest are 'broken'!

Historical documents often use the phrase 'broken men', also known as thieves, vagabonds, caterans, 'unanswerable men' and 'clanless men'; men who, in a subsistence agricultural society, have lost their land, perhaps due to a larger clan taking over their traditional clan lands. These men, without the protection of a chief, without any source of income, relied on their wits, turned to crime and were a constant problem to the authorities in Edinburgh. A look through the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 gives 49 references to 'broken men' and the resulting problems. Interestingly there is not a single reference to a 'broken clan'.

Amongst the several Acts for the "repressing of the insolence of the barbarous people and broken men of the highlands", only one clan is specifically mentioned: "that wicked race and name of the Glengregor, notorious villains and malefactors".  The MacGregors were displaced from their clan lands by the Campbell Earl of Argyll but they never lost their chief. The present chief is Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor Bt., much respected convenor of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

So what is a 'broken clan'?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When is a castle not a castle?

A castle is advertised for sale. So I took a look.

Cavers Castle (or maybe Cavers House?) in its prime.
Cavers Castle, a tower house of the Black Douglas, was destroyed by the English in 1545, remodelled in the 1750s and much extended in 1887. It has been a ruin since 1953 when the last Palmer Douglas laird, quite remarkably, sold the contents and allowed the army to use the building for target practice. Now mature spruce trees surround and oppress the sad skeleton, swaying arrogantly in what was drive, lawn, flower bed.

Cavers now.
I chatted to some people from a cottage nearby. "It's not really a castle", they said, "more of a mansion house". And when I looked in my favourite reference book, the entry under Cavers Castle read, 'See Cavers House'. 

So which is it?
The generally accepted definition of a castle is a 'private fortified residence'. When built in the 16th century Cavers was undoubtedly a castle; but in 1887 it was rebuilt for gracious living with no thought for defence. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert did not build Balmoral as a fortified residence in 1856 but, unlike Cavers, it does have many of the architectural defensive features of a castle.

Balmoral Castle.

Blair Castle, seat of the Dukes of Atholl, started as a castle, was remodelled in 1740 to be a stylish country house with no turrets or castellations then in the 1860s, under the influence of Balmoral, was transformed back into a castle!

So it is a grey area... which could confuse the potential castle purchaser. Or, more unfortunately, a visitor to our shores; Castle Venlaw in Peebles, for example, is a very good hotel, but no more a castle than your house or mine!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Roxburgh Castle

It's difficult to imagine, as I walk by the River Teviot to ruinous Roxburgh Castle, that King David I (1124 - 1153) governed Scotland from here, that it saw royal marriages and births, and was one of the principal strongholds of Scotland, ceded to England (with Edinburgh and Stirling) after the capture of King William 'The Lion' in 1174.

It's a wet and windy January afternoon and it's also hard to imagine an iron cage hanging from these walls, a cage containing a king's sister. She was Mary, sister to Robert the Bruce, held here by the English, 'exposed to public view' from 1306 to 1310, then removed to a convent, (presumably to stop a valuable hostage from dying of exposure). She was released after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) in exchange for English noblemen.

Ah yes! Bannockburn. There's a happier story! Our last 'home win', 700 years ago on 23 and 24 June. And Roxburgh Castle was taken for the Scots by 'Good' Sir James Douglas earlier that same year by creeping up on it with sixty men disguised, they say, as cattle; though sadly we don't have the exact day to celebrate it. This left Stirling as the only Scottish Castle in English hands... fanfare and cue Bannockburn re-enactment later this year.

But returning to Roxburgh, this is what Andrew Spratt (and he's normally pretty good) thinks it looked like.

The two rivers join just below the illustration and the Teviot was partially diverted (top) to surround the castle with water (just like Caerlaverock on the Solway Firth and Old Inverlochy Castle at Fort William).

Roxburgh changed hands between Scots and English 13 times and was eventually destroyed by the Scots in 1460. But this was another bitter and uncertain time: our king, James II, had been killed standing by a canon, firing on English-held Roxburgh Castle from the grounds of Floors Castle across the Tweed.

The magnificent  building that now smiles benignly across the river is a modern structure (of 1721) but well worth a visit. And if you do go, look for the holly tree marking the spot where James II was killed by his favourite canon. And perhaps you will take time to wander up to the thought-provoking ruins of Roxburgh Castle.