The Gypsy Traiveller “problem”
Ane o Scotland’s ain indigenous ethnic minorities is bein squeezed oot o existence afore wir een, just as wir leaders are preachin aboot keepin open the doors tae aa the cultures o the warld.
“We’ve been ettlin tae big new sites fir the traivellers,” says Peter Farrell o Heatheryfaulds traiveller site in Fife, “but ilka time, we batter intae a brick wa. The wa o Scottish politics, o local business and o the general public.” Peter warks fir Fife Cooncil at the site oot ahint Kirkcaldy.
“Oor site hasnae had a spare pitch in the twenty year syne Ah stertit here. We’ve a waitin leet as lang as yir airm.”
The brick wa Peter describes atween the guid intention o cooncil an the fouth o public ill-will agin traivellers is ane o the maist important social crises in Scotland the day. Sites fir traivellers tae bide intae oan an ad-hoc, seasonal basis just arnae appearin, an planned anes are aye whummelt by public ootrage.
But movement accordin tae season is inbiggit intae the traivellers wey o life, as Peter explains. “Whelkin is ane o the bigger industries fir Scottish traivellers. Fir whelkin ye’re needin tae stravaig up the strand wi the tides, warkin intae the beaches that are available tae be warked. Traivellers wouldnae bide intae [the traiveller site at] Kirkcaldy if the tide is up at St Andras, fir exaimple.”
This organic migration gars whelkers pull in tae unoffeicial sites sic as public parks that hae aye been seasonal staps fir traivellers, but noo host fitba pitches an the like. Fae the first meenit that the caravans stap oan the park, a fecht wi the local cooncil as weel as a stooshie wi locals lours. The traivellers are aye fashed wi the need tae flit tae some ithir body’s timetable.
There’s nae mair nor a few thoosan Scottish Traivellers that bide in camps aa the year roon. There’s anithir thirteen thoosan wha, in Traiveller Season fae Mairch tae October poor oot o their permanent hooses in toon an tak tae the road. The infrastructure cannae thole sic a summer spate, sae traivellers big thirsels places tae camp, whiles wioot permission.
The latest sic site tae fin itsel the cause o a stooshie is ane at St Cyrus, nae far fae Montrose. The fowk there hae biggit thirsels somethin nigh oan a clachan. Wee bothies, space fir their caravans an wee waas ringin roon the hail hing like a proper suburban cul-de-sac!
It’s been at the hert o controversy fae it’s appearance three year syne. The Planning Permission rules seem no tae hae been heedit in the biggin o it. In maist cases sic a brakkin o the rules wad hae brung doon the wrath o the cooncil, wha’d’ve gard them ding doon the development. Yet the site wis gied official status bi the cooncil in April this year. Noo meenisters in Holyrood hae recaad the case, spierin intae the safety o the clachan, that sits oan a fluidplain. This threatens tae owreturn the cooncils deceision, and aince mair the fowk wha bide there are faced wi an unkent future.
How shuild we gie a toss aboot traivellers? “Pauchlin wee tinkers, so they are. Bet ye they dinnae pey a bawbee o tax.” Ye dinnae hae tae gang far or spik tae mony fowk in Scotland afore ye hear sic views as thir. The European Human Richts Comeission haes cried wir attitude tae traivellers as “the last bastion of respectable racism” in Scotland. This stress an social rejection is haein a hellish effect oan wir traivellin community. They dee younger than average, hae the warst grades at scuil by a fair auld distance, an, waur nor thon, are 20 times mair likely tae experience the daith o a bairn than the Scottish average. Sic a situation cannae continue for aye. Traivellers are stertin tae gie up the auld weys. Gin they are tae disappear, hauf a millennia o Scottish cultur will gang wi them.
How shuild we gie a toss aboot traivellers? “Pauchlin wee tinkers, so they are. Bet ye they dinnae pey a bawbee o tax.” Ye dinnae hae tae gang far or spik tae mony fowk in Scotland afore ye hear sic views as thir. The European Human Richts Comeission haes cried wir attitude tae traivellers as “the last bastion of respectable racism” in Scotland. This stress an social rejection is haein a hellish effect oan wir traivellin community.
For five hunner year the traivellers hae flittit aa owre Scotland, mixin wi ilka type o fowk, takkin on words and tales fae the Gaelic, the Scots an the English. Thanks tae this the traivellers hae aye been kists for the gowd o Scots. They’re creditit wi carryin owre the Scots Ballads fae ae generation tae the neist, as weel’s gien a virr an smeddum tae the oral culture o Scotland. The indispensable Scots word ‘gadgie’ fir example seems tae hae meldit intae wir ain leid fae the Traivellers Cant. Same fir ‘nash’, as in tae ging awa, ‘peeve’ fir bevvy, an ‘hirey’ fir yir money.
Gypsies seem tae hae cam tae Scotland aroon 1500. The anes wha show in the records were kiddin aabdy oan that they were the deposed royalty o Egypt, or else were guid hertit Christian gadgies oan pilgrimage. By sic like means they won thir wey intae walth an poseition, as gien shelter tae pilgrims wis aa the rage for fowk in thae days. King James V gied a gypsy king an his follayers ludgins an a personal letter o introduction tae the king o Denmark, as weel as a pooch fu o hireys.
The lies wir debreeked an exposed in the 16th century. Afore lang we hae laws bannin ‘the idl fowk cryin thirsels Egyptians’ fae Scotland aathegither. Obviously they didnae nash, an we hae record o lawfu reprisels in ilka airt. Ae traiveller wifey in Fife hud her lug nailed tae a post fir a full quarter o an hour for bein a tinker. There were droonins an hangins galore.
Toonie/traiveller relations hae aye chynged wi the years but aulder readers o Bella will mind a time nae lang syne when the tinkers comin tae toon wis a source o fun an fascination. But noo they are a persecuted minority. Their treatment is pruif that we arnae some idyllic wee country whaur we’re aa Jock Tamson’s Bairns. In this regaird, we are a nation o hypocrites. Oan ae haun we are welcomin refugees, as we should, an gien them breid, barley-bree and paintit room as the sang says. Oan the ithir haun we’re forcin the traivellers oot o existence aathegither. Its time we tyned wir auld-farrant hatreds. Kindness cannae wait till independence. Kindness cannae be selective, it maun be universal.
Alistair Heather is a student o Historie, French an Gaelic atween Geneva an Aiberdeen Universities.