Recently I’ve gone to some lectures. Two were part of the excellent Edinburgh Lectures series. High quality free public lectures are a sign of a first rate cultural and intellectual environment so I consider it my duty to go to them.
The first was from Kim Winser who runs Pringle the borders knitwear company (Pringle invented and trademarked the term knitware a century ago). She has done a very impressive job of turning Pringle from a tacky golf clothes company into a leading fashion and luxury brand worn by a-class stars and appearing on the cat walk in London and Milan. Its an impressive business feat but I found the industry very sad, their use of stick thin models and the way marketing is so much more important than products is very depressing.
The other Edinburgh Lecture was from Stuart Cosgrove “Head of Nations and Regions, Channel 4” the job that should be called “fulfilling the licence requirement to have 30% of programmes made outside London”, which is a tragicly low number. He argued that Scotland is a vibrant and successful country stuck with a cultural attitude towards poverty and industrialism. Almost any film and TV to have come out of Scotland is based on schemies and criminals. Our media should celebrate the great achievements and history we have not the declined industry of the 20th century. Which is a fair point. Someone called Patricia Ferguson gave the closing thanks, apparently she is minister for culture or something.
The other lecture I went to was a computing science MSc presentation of a paper on hierarchical sorting. Two students presented the paper not very well and summed up saying that it was a useful paper. Except it wasn’t and I said as much, sorting by hierarchies is rarely any use, look at Yahoo or how easy it is to loose files on your hard disk. The course organising lecturer agreed with me. So here were these intelligent post-graduate people who had chosen to do this course persumably because they were so interested in the subject they wanted more of it after their first degree and yet they still can’t think for themselves. You would be better off going to a real conference like FOSDEM this weekend where people care and know about the subject matter than doing a university course. We scarpered quickly at the end before anyone realised we weren’t actually students at all.
In other new my favourite musician Martyn Bannett has died, his music is great.
The last part of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
Africa was the final continent to be explored and colonised by Europeans. Malaria was the main reason why it was impossible to discover its hidden depths. Journeys up the Congo usually ended in death for most of the crew. David Livingstone was a mill worker from Strathclyde who was part of a mid-19th century religious revival in Scotland. In 1840 he went to the British colony of Cape Town to join a missionary 600 miles north in the Kalahari desert but discovered it had only found some 40 converts. The next year he travelled to any remote village he could find, learning the local languages and culture. He was the first to use a drug called quinine which kept him from malaria but not from a lion attack which stopped the use of his right arm. By 1856 he had become the first European to cross Africa and discovered that its interior had a rich rainforest, not the desert which had been supposed. He returned to Britain a hero. He made two later trips to Africa and, as had happened in India, tried to promote an attitude of imperialism for civilisation. He was strongly against the slave trade which Britain had abolished but continued with Arabs buying and selling Africans. On a trip to Egypt he went missing for two years until found by an investigative journalist who discovered him sick in a remote village. His body was brought back to Europe and buried in Westminster Abbey.
Towards the end of the 19th century the rest of the western world had caught up with Scotland’s education system. Scotlands aristocrats now had an attitude of being British and Scotland’s culture became more of a self-parody. The Edinburgh Review and similar journals died and instead publishing innovation came from tabloids, Alfred Harmsworth set up the Daily Mirror in 1896 which was followed by many imitators. Scottish industry has had successes including the Singer Sewing machine factory in Glasgow, the biggest in the world in its time. A rise in serious Scottish Nationalism politics was caused by an increase in poverty and the view that British governments were working against the interests of Scotland which led to the rise of the SNP as a serious political force and eventually devolution. Devolution was first proposed by the Liberal government of William Gladstone in 1885 but it failed in Ireland due to religious divide and after the fall of the Liberals the idea was not taken up by the new Labour party which could not afford to loose Scotland. It came eventually but how well that fares is yet to be seen.
The second last part of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
Scots had been among the first to colonise Canada through Nova Scotia. Orcadians particularly were successful in the fur trade, they were able to suffer the cold of Canada. Alexander MacKenzie became the first person to cross North America in 1789 by following what became the MacKenzie river 3,000 miles to the pacific. Canada was united and brought to independence by Glaswegian John MacDonald, by negotiating independence with the British government he realised that given a choice Canada would rather remain loyal than completely separate. Sandford Fleming from Kircaldy was the Canadian governments chief engineer and finished the first railway across the country. In the 19th century time was measured from sun rise to sun set which ment it differed wherever you were, this did not matter in the days of horse travel but it ment chaos for railway timetabled. He divided the earth into segments each with their own time zone but not differing between, this was standardised in 1882 in a conference held in Washington and the on 17 November 1883 clocks around the world were set to the same standard for the first time.
Scots also had a large part in Australia. It was largely forgetted by the British until William Pitt decided to use it as a penal colony sending 160,000 convicts there. They were treated as slaves by the free colonists until sheep farmer John MacArthur was imprisoned by the governor and in revenge had the governor kidnapped and sent back to England. MacAurthur ran a militia rule for two years until the arrival of governor Lachlan Macquarie who brought order by treating the convicts with respect. He got them to clean up build roads and buildings in Sydney which was made of a dirt road and tents for buildings.
Many Scots emigrated to the US. In 1848 immigrant James Wilson Marshall discovered a piece of gold in California creating the gold rush and the first get rich quick hopes of the Americans. Scottish born shipbuilders created boats that could sail round the Americas to California in less than 90 days, a record until the age of trains. Samuel Morse, a Scottish ancestor, developed a system for sending signals along wires and his famous Morse code and in 10 years had covered the US in telegraph wires. These were later used for Alexander Graham Bell’s harmonic telegraph or telephone which was patented just two hours before his rival filed a patent application. Bell fought further rival patents but soon managed to become a monopoly and a millionaire. However the most successful Scottish-American businessman was Andrew Carneggie who invested in George Pullmans railway carrages to earn $400,000. He next invested in steel which he saw was about to become incredibly important in construction and through innovative production techniques his company was soon producing an amount equal to half entire British the output and discovered the principle of economies of scale. After a strike where 9 men were killed in riots he sold the company gaining $300 million, a fantastic sum in the days before income tax. He spent his money on public buildings including 2,800 libraries and 7,689 church organs.
Part six of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
Scots played a huge part in the shaping of the British Empire. The first part of the history of the British empire died when the trade monopoly over the Atlantic was stopped by the American revolution. The second was shaped by the ideas of Charles Pasley from Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire. He wrote An Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire which changed how Britons thought their empire should relate to the rest of the world. Britain would need to fight to gain its empire and by using the colonies as a resource for soldiers and sailors it grew by an average of 100,000 square miles per year between the Battle of Waterloo and the American Civil War. One reason for the success of the Scots in the new Empire was their world leading education system, even the poorer had impressive skills.
The Black Watch, with its distinctive blue and green tartan was started by the local Stuart clans to patrol the Highlands after the Jacobite rising to put down the remaining rebels. By 1815 there were 86 Highland regiments and were a backbone to the British army. They had included many who had previously fought for the Jacobites. Military innovation included a breech loaded rifle that could fire twice as fast as the muzzle loaded models and the percussion lock which used poattium chlorate instead of flint to fire and could shoot in any weather.
In 1806 the monopoly East India Company commissioned Scotsman James Mill to write a history of the British colonisation of India. The History of British India was the first attempt to apply the four-stage theory of civilisation to a non-western culture. He concluded that Britain should colonise India to civilise it with good government. This was done largely under Scottish leaders, the followers of Edinburgh-educated governor general Lord Minto. They negotiated and fought for peace with the Sikhs, Persians and between Muslims and Hindus. James Dalhousie (Lord Ramsey) was governor-general from 1848 for 8 years and create railways and national telegraph and postal services. He increased schools and irrigation projects and pushed for woman’s rights in a country where they had none. His changes caused a revolution which lasted for two years and was put down by two Scottish generals Colin Campbell and Hugh Rose, destroying any last rules from natives. Scots were skillful merchants in India and created a smuggling trade with China of opium. The Opium wars were so successful that the Chinese had to sign a treaty to legalise that and other trade in 1842 which included the founding of a colony there, Hong Kong.
Part five of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment.
In the lowlands a revival of highland culture took place. Rabbie Burns produced his great poems and the works of a long lost Gaelic poet called Ossian were translated by McPherson into English. The Ossian poems included epic works of beauty and courage including one of 8 volumes. They caught the publics imagination and sold in huge numbers, people were surprised to learn that Gaelic culture could have produced such high art work. They turned out to be complete forgeries but remained very popular. Walter Scott, a lawyer from the borders, did go round the countryside collecting Scotland’s oral history through passed on verses and published it very successfully. He was a Tory and liked the old notions of a romantic history. His most successful works were his Waverly novels (after which the train station was named), the first of which stars an English army man called Waverly who became a Jacobite and fought for Charles Stuart. Scott had invented the historical novel and it sold in its thousands. The successors to Scott are the likes of Tolstoy, Balzac and of course Robert Luis Stevenson. Scott’s novels played on cultural conflict, highland against lowland, English against Scottish, Christian against Jew etc. The Waverly novels defined a Scottish history as being the highland history and Scottish culture as being highland culture. Scott had met and got on well with the Prince of Wales who became George IV. In 1822 George visited Scotland, the first monarch to do so since James IV had left. Scott had convinced the fat and spoilt king that he could be like the romantic Charles Stuart. He started by searching Edinburgh Castle for the ancient Scottish crown jewels which after a lengthy hunt the discovered in a cellar, untouched since 1707 when they were last used. 300,000 people turned up for his visit to Edinburgh, one in seven of the population. Scott and the city had spent months preparing processions based on those of the opening of the old Scots Parliament but including as much tartan and highland imagery as possible. Only 5 clan chiefs turned up, including the MacGregors trying to loose their old royal problems and the Sutherlands trying to loose their image as cruel highland clearance drivers. The visit was a massive success and turned the highland costume, banned until recently as the outfit of savages into the romantic traditional dress it is today. A wool manufacturers called Wilsons of Bannockburn started attaching tartans to clan names and lowland feudal areas. When the Tartan society of Edinburgh started cataloguing the tartans there were surprised when the clan chiefs had no idea which was theirs. The clan chiefs were soon caught up in the spirit and eventually two men claiming to be the illigitimate descendents of Charles Stuart published a catalogue of tartans which they claimed to have found from Queen Mary’s old collection. It was Ossian all over again.
Scotland was beginning to lead the way in the sciences. James Watt developed the steam engine from a tool used to pump water into a machine which could make a continuous motion, it started the industrial revolution and he monopolised the industry with a patent for 25 years. The field of medicine was revolutionised by the hands on approach of Edinburgh University, at Oxbridge doctors were not allowed to touch their patients. A type of doctor called the General Practitioner was developed and lectures started being given in English. Unlike in England at Scottish universities anyone could participate not just Anglicans. James Hutton studied medicine but created the field of geology by publishing a book which said the earth’s age was much older than the bible said and the layers in the rocks were sediments from past ages. Scottish engineers were became the best in the world, firstly John McAdam devised a mix of crushed stones and gravel that would develop into today’s tarmacadam and secondly Thomas Telford who created a fantastic amount of roads, bridges, aquaducts, harbours and canals. The Caledonian Canal was his greatest achievement (out of many great achievements) costing a huge sum of a million pounds. It was the model for the Suez and Panama canals (Telford wanted to build a canal in Panama at Darien where Scotland’s colonial failure had happened years before but died before he could). Glasgow’s tobacco lords gave way to textiles, ironworks and shipbuilding and the population expanded four fold from 77,000 to 275,000. Only 5% of these were highlanders, most were Irish looking for work. Glasgow also saw the first class tension with riots and trade unions.
Part four of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
All three banches of the Scots family went to the American colonies. The Ulster Scots went in such numbers that the British parliament worried that they might be so depleated as to remove the protestant advantage in the area. The Highland Scots went with the highland clearances and the lowlanders followed the trade. Many who went were the fierce Calvinists of the old order in the Kirk who saw that they were loosing ground in their home land, their strong belief in their religion but also in personal liberty remains in the US today. The academic spirit of the Scots travelled with them. Princeton was a Scots run university ruled by the old Kirkists who did not believe in the teaching from the likes of David Hume or Adam Smith but nethertheless ensured they were studied on the understanding that you can not critisise what you have not studied. When the war of independence came Scots on both sides of the atlantic were divided. Strangly many of the Catholic Highlanders who had suffered after the fourty five under the Hannovarian government faught in their defence, relearning their warrier attitude with weapons and costume not allowed to them since the Jacobite uprising. French help won the war for the Americans (bankrupting France into its own revolution). One third of the signitories to the declaration of independence were Scots and they created a system of government based on the theories of Hume. No single entity was soverign and all branches of government were in effective competition. Only the right way of reason and common sense would be able to be passed by the government. The legal system was based on the reasoning of the Scots system and included a new feature where the supreme court could overrule the government, another check.
By the end of the 18th century the big names of the Scottish Enlightenment had died. They left behind them a legacy that would reform the English and British political system. Britain was in political crisis after loosing wars to the Americans, the Spanish and the French. A revolution was under way in France which would inspire the middle classes that they needed a political voice. Ireland was about to revolt and the Bank of England had to suspect cash payments. Scotland however had a self-confidence above that of England. Edinburgh was architecturally stunning with its Adam style new town and the new skyline on Carlton Hill by William Playfair. Less than one person in 20 in Scotland could vote. A new breed of Scottish Whigs became prevelant and restarted the Edinburgh Review, a quarterly lirerature review which mixed in opinion and bias and was very popular. Many were worried about a French style revolution (with all its terror) if the political contitution was not reformed. After 23 years of opposition and with the country in economic depression a Whig government comprised largely of Scots took office over the Tories led by the Duke of Wellington. They managed to pass the reform bill by 1 vote and later the Scottish Reform Bill. The change was not radical but it did pave the way for a second reform bill in 1867 which did let the working classes have a vote. By then the Whigs were calling themselves Liberals.
In the Highlands the clearances were taking place. Freed from the clan ties the chieftans realised they could get rid of their mounting debt by clearing most of the population of the highlands who went to work in the cities or to the new world. The highlands could not support the number of people living there, most had become dependent on tatties which could produce 4 times as much food as barley or wheat, but the tattie blight saw an end that survival means.
Part three of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
Charles lived in Rome but left in 1744 for France to try and gain political support, including an army and supplies to try and retake the Scots and English crowns for the Jacobites. France decided instead to fight the British on the continent by attacking Germany (home of the King George). The government in London was at the time at war with Spain who became allied to the French. The result was that most of the British armies were on the continent. Charles decided to go to Scotland without an army and raise support for a rebellion. The clan chiefs knew he was mad but some agreed to fight largely out of a sense of honour. They surprised themselves to be able to march to Perth and then Edinburgh. The City Council of Edinburgh had decided not to fight, they wanted a quiet life. Instead a merchant raised a malitia of 200 volunteers who trained using what weapons they could. They marched through Edinburgh to West Bow at the top of the Grassmarket but by the time they got there everyone of the malitia had quietly slipped away. Eventually the leader gave up as well. The gates of the Nether Bow were opened to let a coach through and the Camerons charged through. Edinburgh was taken before most of its inhabitants knew it and Charles was crowned at the Mercat Cross as James VIII. The castle was not taken. The Jacobites got their battle at Prestonpans against the Black Watch and scared them into running away. Eventually Charles moved south and won another battle but eventually realised he had decreasing support as he moved south, the English did not join him and the highlanders had no interest in seeing him become an English king. The retreat went to Glasgow where he found no friends at all, the city of merchants wanted to keep their prosperous union with England. Eventually the Jacobites lost at Culloden east of Inverness where they were defeated the Hanoveran army who killed any injured or anyone looking after the injured, the battle field was kept guard for 2 days afterwards to stop anyone helping the injured. Charles hid in the Great Glen before escaping to Skye then France and finally had to go to Rome. The government in London banned the highlanders using weapons (again), kilts or tartan. They also removed much of the power of Chieftans, no longer would they be virtual kings and be able to raise an army on their own. This was not a war of highland against lowland but of a modern commerce and competition led society against an old feudal society where everyone knew their place. The Jacobites promised certainties in life and will forever be a romantic image for that.
After the fall of the Jacobites Scotland’s cultural and economic activity exploded. Glasgow became the city of commerce while Edinburgh was the city of intellectuals. The Glasgow tobacco merchants became the most successful in the world. In Edinburgh Adam Smith invented the science of economics but was also a moral philosopher who like Frances Hutcheson and Homes asked why the nature of people was as it is, not completely selfish but not completely selfless either. Instead of giving a final answer he was the first to acknowledge the confict (Tony Blair might think of him as the architect of the third way).
David Hume was one of the most important philosophers to have lived, giving a new outlook on life to western thought. He was an athiest which made him something of an outsider in society. Previous philosophers had seen human reason as a struggle to overcome our emotions, Hume’s first book said “reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions”. Overturning 2000 years of moral philosophy he realised that our habit is to follow our desired to get what we want.
Society and laws are created to channel our desires into constructive output, to make it more profitable to set up a bank than to rob one. Frances Hutcheson and the Kirk were outraged at this but that is the nature of the Scottish Englightenment, a move from a society where everyone knows and keeps to their place to a liberal society based on personal freedom and self interest but resulting in a society that ultimately creates a better quality of life.
Part two of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
The founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment were Frances Hutcheson and Henry Home (Lord Kames was his judicial title). Frances Hutcheson managed to become the chair of moral philosphy at Glasgow university to much opposition from the Kirk which still had a lot of power over the universities. He was the first person to give lectures in England rather than Latin, broadening allowing for a much greater audience than he would otherwise have. He was Europe’s first liberal and wrote about the importance of personal freedom and natural or civil rights. Henry Home was a succesful advocate who rose to become one of the countries highest judges taking the title Lord Kames. His writings followed on from Hutcheson’s and were the first to decribe the importance of property in a succesful social system. He described how the politics of Scotland had never truly been about loyalty to a king but about royal land grants, the most important political tool available to a monarch. He also oversaw the case of Joseph Knight which ruled that there could be no slavery in Scotland.
After the union the issue of culture had to be tackled. Should Scots speak in English or Scots? Gaelic was not considered an option, by this time it was relegated to the Highlands and Islands. It’s difficult to image how at the time English and Scots were distinct languages, the words and grammer were so different and yet related that Scots found it very difficult to not slip back into the mither toungue. On arriving in London Boswell said to Johnson ‘I do indeed come from Scotland but I can not help it’. The English considered Scottish immigrants to be scroungers, ignorant and corrupt. This is a pattern many other cultures have had to contend with, up to the asylum issues in today’s tabloids. Rather than reject English culture the lowland Scots mastered and conquered it, becoming bi-lingual and writing some of the greatest works of the time such as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in a foreign language. The backlash came from the highlands.
Clans were not family groupings of people, they were creations of Scotland’s feudal system which ment crofters had to get their land in return for servitude to a clan chief. The Chief had full power of law, taxes and military service over his clan. The Chiefs had to be loyal to the King to keep their lands and they were often used for political advantage. The massacre of MacDonalds by the Campbells was started as a command from the King. James IV outlawed the MacGregor clan and pardoned the murder of anyone who killed a MacGregor which led to genocide. The ban on MacGregors was not lifted until 1774 and the hope that it would be lifed was one of the reasons why Rob Roy agreed to join the Jacobite rising. Similarly many other clans joined the rising in a hope of regaining land and power. The richer clans did not join the rising.
Scotland genuinly has a history to be proud of. From a backwards nation it became a country which changed the world in many areas. First with free education and a legal system based on reason not precedent (as in England) it created thinkers who changed the world forever. The Scottish Enlightenment by Arthur Herman is what real history books should be like, not a list of Kings and Queens but of the people who moved the world forwards. The author is not Scottish as the incorrect numbering of monarchs and bad translation of Scots shows but this helps to ensure he is not biased towards national pride.
The two most important historial events which allowed for the enlightenment were the creation of the Kirk and the union with England. John Knox was a persuasive man who could revolutionise a country and bring the downfall of monarchs. The Church of Scotland he created was fundamentalist and unforgiving, unlike the Catholic church which required bibles to be in Latin in the Kirk everyone had to read the bible which was to be in modern languages. This required The Schools Act which created a school in every parish, free education to all gave Scotland the highest literary rate in the world. The Kirk was also democratic (unlike the Scottish Parliament) with elders and ministers appointed by the parishioners. People were hung for blaspheming but the strictness was eventually weakened by the education the church itself provided.
The Union with England was required because Scotland was broke after the Darien scheme. Scotland was already largly ruled by an essentially English king. Many members of the Scottish parliament received bribes to enact the Act of Union. One of the big turning points in the debates over the act came when the Kirk agreed to support the Union. This was unexpected because the Act of Union did not guarantee the independence of the Church of Scotland, however the moderator (and Principle of Edinburgh University) William Carstairs turned the general assembly arguing that if they did not agree to the Union Scotland could end up with a Catholic king. With the Kirk behind the Union the votes in the parliament for the act went through smoothly (they were deliberatly ordered with trade access to English markets and colonies first and more tricky subjects such as the joining of parliaments at the end). Rioters took to the streets causing the Lord Provost of Glasgow to flee and none of the pro-Union parliamentarians could go out without personal protection. When the act was due to be signed the parliament was besiged and the signers had to flee. Twice more they tried to sign it and were discovered by rioters. Eventually they met in a cellar opposite the Tron Kirk and sealed the end of an auld sang. The union caused the downfall of a lot of Scottish industry and a vote a few years afterwards to end it was defeated in the House of Lords by only 4 votes. Before long however the freedom given by a stable government which largly ignored Scotland together with a flourishing trade with the (now British) colonies from Glasgow gave Scotland a much needed economic boom.
to be continued….
In a piece to camera on last night’s ITV News Tony Blair said the that Turkey being a muslim country is not reason not to let it enter the EU. The only person who thinks this is a significant factor is the pope, not a big presence on the political stage these last few centuries. Maybe Turkey’s treatment of Kurds, govermental ties with the military and indepencence of the judiciary, inability to help in uniting Cyprus and woman’s rights could be a bigger factor in Tony Blair’s mind. Or maybe he just wants an EU country close enough to bomb Iran or Iraq from.
Newspapers were recently suggesting David Blunket as the next prime minister. Now he’s resigned after abusing his position to fiddle with someone’s visa. The newspapers are interested in his affair but I would say the indefinite detention of foreigners without charge or trial should be a better reason for sacking him. Fortunately the law lords seem to understand the concept of justice. The Scotsman then call this a “headache” for the new Home Secretary rather than a significant win for human rights.
I went to the new Scottish Parliament building yesterday. Very fancy building, lots of strange angles and nifty bits. Absolute nightmare to find your way around however, a few signposts wouldn’t hurt. And too much concrete, concrete walls and ceilings look unfinished, not classy. The debate was on tourism but none of the 10 members who had bothered to turn up had very much interesting to say so I went away again.
Not a single instance of the old ScotRail logo is left anywhere on the route from Haymarket to Bridge of Allan, someone has been very busy putting First logo stickers everywhere. Some of the trains have even been repainted already to a purply colour.
The easiest thing that First could do would be to put litter bins back in Waverly station. Haymarket seems to manage fine with them. Someone at Bridge of Allan keeps wrapping up the litter bins with heavy duty bags presumably in the hope that this will stop terrorists blowing up the station. A quick slice with the penknife sorts it out quickly enough.
Meanwhile the old ScotRail sent me a letter apologising several times for their sleeper train being 3 hours late. Sleeper trains are great, first class travel for the price of a standard ticket, you get to use the waiting rooms with free coffee and the seats are almost comfy enough to sleep in. Best thing to do is get there early and grab two seats together so you can lie down on them. Unfortunatly I didn’t get a refund in money but in 4 £10 rail travel vouchers from which you can’t get change, how useless.