An Unimagined Community

unimagined-image‘A nation is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.’ – Benedict Anderson

Dumfries and Galloway is a region rather than a nation. It has a population of about 150 000 spread over 2400 square miles. Dundee has a similar population, but covers an area of 25 square miles. The citizens of Dundee do not require a leap of imagination to grasp their identity as Dundonians.

Scotland is a nation and its members have a whole range of imagined connections to the nation. The strength of the Scottish imagination was tested in the 2014 referendum and again in 2016. In 2014 the power of the imagination was not enough for another Scotland to become possible but in 2016 a clear distinction between the imagined community of Scotland and the imagined community of Britain (England and Wales) emerged. With a second referendum now to be held, the ability of Scots to imagine themselves as an independent nation will be tested again.

In 2014 only 33% of the voters in Dumfries and Galloway could imagine independence. In 2016, 53% voted to Remain in the EU, but this was well below the national average of 62%. The United Kingdom as imagined in Dumfries and Galloway exerts a strong counter-influence to the imagined community of Scotland.

But if the ability to imagine Scotland as national community is weak in Dumfries and Galloway, identification with the region is even weaker. Dumfries and Galloway is an unimagined community.

What is an unimagined community? The idea emerged while thinking about the Galloway Viking Hoard and how to broaden the reach of the campaign so became a region wide campaign, rather than one focused on Kirkcudbright and the Stewartry district of Dumfries and Galloway. I noticed that the Stranraer based Wigtownshire Free Press had not covered the launch of the Galloway Viking Hoard campaign.

The Newton Stewart based Galloway Gazette covers eastern Wigtownshire and the western Stewartry. There has been coverage of the campaign in the Gazette. The Galloway News covers the Stewartry, although it is now based in Dumfries rather than Castle Douglas. The Galloway Hoard has had front page coverage. The Dumfries and Galloway Standard is Dumfries based , sharing offices with the Galloway News. It has given limited coverage to the Hoard, re-using Galloway News stories, but a few pages in.

East of Nithsdale and Dumfries, the Annandale Observer has had one story on the launch of the Galloway Viking Hoard campaign as has its free sister paper the Dumfries Courier but not the Moffat News. The Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser which covers the far east of the region has not reported on the Galloway Hoard.

BBC Scotland has a base in Dumfries and provide six five minute local news reports broadcast on Radio Scotland across Dumfries and Galloway. The region is also covered by West Sound Radio based in Dumfries and by Border Television from Carlisle. All have covered the Galloway Viking Hoard campaign story. The Herald, Scotsman, National, Times and Daily Mail online have all had one report on the campaign.

On one hand then, there is a Dumfries and Galloway news story which has been, if only fleetingly, reported at national level. On the other, it has not registered at all in the far west nor the far east of the region.

The local newspapers which serve Dumfries and Galloway are based on and reflect communities where relations between community members are geographically intimate and connected by overlapping personal social networks. There is no need to imagine such communities, they are tangible and concrete.

The members of these communities- Stranraer and western Wigtownshire, eastern Wigtownshire, the Stewartry, Dumfries and Nithsdale, Annandale and Eskdale- are also part of two imagined communities, Scotland and Britain. What remains unimagined and unarticulated as a community is Dumfries and Galloway.

Does this matter?

Very practically yes. Dumfries and Galloway is one of the 32 local authority areas which are the political, social and economic building blocks from which present day Scotland is constructed. If/ when Scotland becomes an actually imagined national community, it will become one of the buildings blocks of that future state.

If Dumfries and Galloway remains an unimagined community, then that creates a structural problem, a structural instability. This leads to anomalies like the whole of Scotland being represented at UK government level by an MP elected by part of the region.

What can be done to help Dumfries and Galloway imagine itself as a community?

Thinking about how forge links between the Galloway Viking Hoard and Kirkcudbright, it can be connected with the whole of Dumfries and Galloway, an immediate exists in the shape of the Kilmorie Cross which can be seen at Kirkcolm, 6 miles from Stranraer.

It dates from the tenth century so is from the same period as the Hoard. It is of Viking origin and style, but the Norse symbols are matched by a Christian cross. The complex interaction of Norse and Christian symbolism has been described as revealing the ‘otherwise unsuspected presence of sophisticated theological thinking in tenth century Galloway’.

Moving across to Annandale, the Ruthwell Cross is a larger and even more complex sign of ‘sophisticated theological thinking’ in the region. Although it dates from the eighth century, it has runes carved on it. As the Centre for the Scots Leid explain:

alang wi Latin text, but gauin doun the sides the’r a poyem carved in runes in the Auld Angles leid. Cryed the ‘Dream o the Rood’ (rood bein the auld word for cross) – this is noo the auldest text in Auld-Angles that we ken belangs Scotland. It is fae this self an same Auld-Angles tongue that the Scots spoken the day – in modren Scotland – is sprung.

Other connections exist. These include the early tenth century Nith Bridge Cross near Thornhill, which is overlooked by a Viking grave site, the Whithorn collection of sculptured stones which include the fifth century Latinus stone and where there was a Viking settlement and the Pictish inspired carvings on Trusty’s Hill near Gatehouse.

The picture which emerges from these sculptured stones is of a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Dumfries and Galloway.
The land beneath which the Viking Hoard was buried contained people still speaking the P-Celtic Brittonic language, Old English/ ancestral Scots, Norse and Latin.

The first speakers of Gaelic, which was to survive in the region for another 600 years, were also present. The Gaelic speakers were closely linked to the Vikings through their contact with Gaelic speakers in Ireland and Argyll. The Dublin based Irish Vikings extended their control into Wigtownshire, bringing Gaelic speakers with them. The second group, the Gall-Ghàidheil or ‘Gaelic speaking Vikings’, gave their name to Galloway.

It is likely that the ‘sophisticated theological thinking’ represented by the Kilmorie Cross was influenced by the linguistic and cultural complexity of tenth century Dumfries and Galloway which a shared faith- Christianity- was adapted to reflect.

Through religion, the different communities of the region could imagine themselves as part of single faith community. Tenth century Dumfries and Galloway was not an unimagined community.

By the eleventh century, as part of a ‘greater Galloway’ which stretched from the Firth of Clyde to the Solway Firth, the region had acquired a common language- Gaelic. This represented a change from the linguistic diversity of the ninth and tenth centuries . However, what emerged, perhaps through Viking influence, was a society which resembled that of Iceland in the same period, with a very ‘flat’ political hierarchy.

The diverse communities of the region reflect, and were a product of, the complex geography of the region. Areas of good quality land suitable for arable farming, which could support more people, lie scattered along the coastal fringe and on the flood plains of the larger rivers which flow down from the poorer quality lands of the Southern Uplands which rise to nearly 3000 feet in places.

The westward expansion of the kingdom of Northumbria in the seventh century brought the region’s dispersed communities under their control. The Viking influx of the ninth century disrupted Northumbrian power and no central authority exercised power in the region again until the twelfth century, when David I, King of Scots, confirmed a grant of Annandale to Robert Bruce in 1124.

However, it was not until 1490 that a Scottish parliament finally abolished the traditional Norse-Gaelic laws of Galloway and Carrick (south Ayrshire). Scots law now prevailed and with it the Scots language. Within a generation or two, the Gaelic of Nithsdale, Galloway and Carrick had faded away. By 1560, when John Knox preached the Reformation in the region, he was able to do so in Scots and Bible English without needing to translate his message for the ‘common people’.

As the events of the seventeenth century were to show, the Reformation took a strong hold on the common people of south-west Scotland and their bonnet lairds (= small scale landowners). The ‘flattened hierarchy’ of Presbyterianism resembled the historic Icelandic style political and social structure of the region while the Calvinist rigour of the new religion acted as a replacement for the cultural cohesion which the shared Gaelic heritage had formerly provided.

As Richard Oram noted in his book on the medieval Lordship of Galloway (2000 p. xxii) the distinctive history of south-west Scotland persisted and as a centre of covenanting radicalism in the seventeenth century, Galloway, Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire were ‘governed by the Edinburgh-based regime as a rebellious subject territory rather than a stable part of the kingdom.’ Galloway, Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire were still strongly Presbyterian and anti-Jacobite in the first half of the eighteenth century.

The cumulative effect of Dumfries and Galloway’s distinctive history makes it difficult to fit the region into an overarching national narrative.

From the eighth century origins of the Kingdom of Alba, which was to become the Kingdom of Scots, to the Union of 1707, Galloway and at times Dumfriesshire as well, were not a ‘stable part of the kingdom’. However, the need to develop a popular national narrative as a form of resistance to the assimilation of Scotland into an unequal union has required a glossing over of Dumfries and Galloway’s peculiar history. A history which is effectively unimagined within ‘Scotland’s Story’.

Benedict Anderson himself in ‘Imagined Communities’ (2006 edition, p.89) criticises Tom Nairn for treating Scotland as ‘an unproblematic, primordial given’ in ‘The Break-Up of Britain’ (1977). To re-imagine Dumfries and Galloway is therefore also to re-imagine Scotland as a more complex and ‘problematic’ nation.

If a future independent Scotland is to become a modern rather than a primordial state, the complexities and contradictions of Scotland’s past must be understood, must become part of the nation’s historic self-consciousness.

If the Galloway Viking Hoard is absorbed in to the National Museum of Scotland’s collection of treasures, it will become just another glittering but depthless and contextless spectacle.

The very same objects placed in their deep context, placed in Dumfries and Galloway, will have the potential to reveal within Scotland’s past the existence of a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society. The imagination of visitors to the region will be empowered, but so will the collective imagination of a Dumfries and Galloway as a community.


Comments (28)

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  1. AlexM says:

    Interesting piece, but concentrates on history too far back. The reason that there is currently no cohesion is because of the amalgamation of the counties, into an amorphous grouping for administrative convenience in 1975, in an exercise to distract from growing Scottish Nationalism. In Finland with a similar population to Scotland there are about 400 local authorities, which raise Income Tax amongst exercising other significant powers. That is how we should build local identity. Our Local Authorities are a parody of democracy

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      There is quite a lot of history because I am a Galloway historian. There was even more history but I edited it down. I grew up in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright when Castle Douglas had its own provost and Town Council. But I don’t think we will ever return to those days.

  2. Gordon Peters says:

    As a Gallovidian exiled in London, I feel a wee bit uncomfortable with this despatch of Dumfries and Galloway as differently imagined and troubled in the Scots narrative. We should not be blamed – if only by mild association – with the pathetic Mundell. The last Covenanting martyr, Renwick, indeed has his monument in Moniaive and is well remembered for the impact he had on the imperial military in Edinburgh, but equally Burns wrote and performed his excise duties in Nithsdale and Cairndale and left a legacy of poems and songs of a Scottish imagination and rooted in the south-west.Then Alistair Corrie and many other story-tellers of our ilk. And nowadays Hugh MacMilland Rab Wilson, and others.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      I was reading the 1938-40 volume of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society last night [Third series, vol 22, pages 95-129] and found a history of the Mundell family. There is an obscure link to Wigtownshire and then the earliest Mundell appears as John de Mundeville, Parson of Moffat in 1296. There is also the ‘Dying Testimony’ of James Mundell who died in 1724. Included among the list of preachers he was a hearer of in his youth is James Renwick. I don’t know the family history of MP Mundell and MSP Mundell, but there may well be a link to James Mundell and through him to James Renwick.

  3. Graham Hogg says:

    Really interesting article – I’m particularly interested in the Nordic slant as we are working alongside the Stove Network in Dumfries on a project called Our Norwegian Story which is re-establishing connections with Norwegian communities who made up some 20% of the town’s population during WWII. We are launching a Norwegian heritage Trail on the 13 / 14th of April and want to reach out to the wider Dumfries and Galloway region to consider its Nordic past and how it could influence the future identity of the region. Can find more information here on that project:

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      The Stove is a great resource for Dumfries. The Icelandic ‘model’ comes from Richard Oram ‘Domination and Lordship Scotland 1070-1230’ (Edinburgh, 2011) pages 204-209. Oram suggests it may have applied across the western and central Southern Uplands, the central and west Highlands, and the Isles.

  4. Dougie Blackwood says:

    An interesting story on the history of Dumfries and Galloway. Most of Scotland,if similarly analysed would produce tales of amalgamated communities.

    The council’s that we have are called “local” but, in truth, are nothing of the sort.

    I live in the nonsense that is Argyll & Bute. It should be split and divided into at least 5 and probably more real local councils based on significant towns with their hinterland. Some of these are: Helensburgh, Oban, Dunoon, Campbelltown and Inveraray; then there are the islands.

    Scotland needs to deal with these diverse communities in a more realistic way and in doing so create more robust building block for our nation.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      I have just found but not read, a 30 page paper by Andy Wightman/ Scottish Greens on ‘Renewing Local Democracy’ – it might be worth looking at to see how it relates to your ideas.

  5. Jon says:

    Interesting, although the localism described in Dumfries and Galloway is not unique to that area. Arguably each of the regions on the map could be similarly described. Even the counter-example of Dundee is not as simple as it seems from outside. For example, many people in the Ferry don’t think of themselves as from Dundee at all even although the burgh was subsumed into Dundee over a century ago. Similarly Leith in Edinburgh, and no doubt other examples across the country.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      Everywhere is local of course… when I lived in east London I was amused to see the graffiti ‘E5 skins rule’- the skins territory defined by a post code. The equivalence in population between Dundee and Dumfries and Galloway was something I came across when researching ‘rural proofing’. The Southern Upland Partnership had done some research and found that the Scottish Executive as it then was applied rural proofing to the Highlands and islands but not the rural south/ Southern Uplands. Policies on health care for example cannot be applied equally to a city like Dundee where the population and areas of deprivation are concentrated; and a rural region like Dumfries and Galloway where the population is widely dispersed and and ‘micro-pockets’ of deprivation in otherwise undeprived areas.

  6. Craig P says:

    One of my dearest wishes on independence is to create far more autonomous areas – Galloway, Argyll, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, an-t Eilean Siar, the cities – they could all do with more local control.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      Such areas would be permanent autonomous zones rather than temporary autonomous zones…

  7. DialMforMurdo says:

    Beautifully written Alistair, thank you.

    An excellent analysis of D&G through the ages. Contrariness and rebellion were never too far under the surface. Sadly today, the region is far too supine.

    Decades of Tory and Labour governance at all levels of power have left the community, by and large, gelded. The fury and fierce intellect of the past, via Burns, Maxwell, McDiarmid, Carlisle et al have all but vanished as the ‘region’ finds itself in a strange ‘No Man’s Land between the Sark and the Clyde, where as you say TV is provided by Carlisle dominated Border TV and BBC Scotland’s presence amounts to a mere 6 minutes a day, a huge chunk of which is taken up by weather, sports and traffic reports.

    It is a geographically challenged area. When I lived in the West I preferred taking my young family to Belfast for escapades, rather than the dull plod behind ferry traffic down the A75 for a wander around the multiple branded shops of Dumfropolis, selling the same tat as every other town, both North and South of the Border. A quick aside, I remember the look of incredulity on the Waterstone managers face, when I asked him why he’d devoted the entire shop front to selling, the England captain David Beckham.s autobiography…

    For me the best example of how far righteous indignation has fallen away is best viewed through this recording of the Doonhamer response to the 1707 Articles of Union, when the Provost was in no uncertain terms told to deliver the peoples response to Edinburgh or forfeit his right to oxygen.


    ON 20 November, 1706, the articles of the Treaty of Union were burned on the point of a pike at Dumfries. Those behind this act produced an account of their reasons which was read at the town’s mercat cross at one o’clock “with great solemnity, in the audience of many thousands; the fire being surrounded by double squadrons of foot and horse; in martial order”.

    The crowd gave their consent by “huzzas and cheerful acclamations”.

    The account reads:

    We have herein no design against Her Majesty, nor against England, or any Englishman; neither against our present Parliament, in their acts or actings, for the interest, safety and sovereignty of this our native and ancient nation.

    But to testify our dissent from, discontent with, and protestation against the twenty-five articles of the said Union, subscribed by the foresaid commissioners; as being inconsistent with, and altogether prejudicial to, and utterly destructive of this nation’s independency, Crown-rights, and our constitute laws, both sacred and civil…

    [W]e must say, and protest, that the commissioners for this nation have been either simple, ignorant, or treacherous, if not all three; when the minuts of the treaty betwixt the commissioners of both kingdoms are duely considered; and when we compared their dastardly yeildings unto the demands and proposals of the English commissioners; who, on the contrar, have valiantly acquit themselves for the interest and safety of their nation.

    We acknowledge it is in the power of the present Parliament to give remissions to the subscribers of the foresaid articles; and we heartily wish for a good agreement amongst all the members…

    [I]f the subscribers shall presume to carry on the said Union, by a supream power, over the belly of the generality of this nation: then as we judge, that the consent of the generality of the same, can only divest them of their sacred libertys, purchased and maintained by our ancestors with their blood: so we protest, whatever ratification of the foresaid Union may pass in Parliament, contrar to our fundamental laws, liberties & privileges, concerning church & state, may not be binding upon the nation…

    And so we earnestly require, that the representatives in Parliament, who are for our nation’s privileges, would give timeous warning to all the corners of the kindgom; that we and our posterity become not tributary and bond slaves to our neighbours, without acquiting ourselves, as becomes men and christians: and we are confident that the soldiers now in martial power, have so much of the spirits of scotsmen; that they are not ambitious to be disposed of, at the pleasure of another nation.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      Ah- the reverend John Hepburn of Urr and the Hebronites. It is a few years ago, but I did once find a contemporary account of the Burning of the Articles in Dumfries which suggested the actual event was not quite as dramatic as the Account version. My suspicion is that Hepburn had the Account printed up before the event- an early press release.

      One of the printed press releases survived and has become the accepted version of the event.

      I will now have to try and remember where I found the alternative account…

      1. DialMforMurdo says:

        “My suspicion is that Hepburn had the Account printed up before the event- an early press release.”

        An expensive exercise even in that day. There are other accounts, which suggest the crowd grew to thousands.

        1. Alistair Livingston says:

          Union of 1707 in Dumfriesshire. The -Whitelaw, J.W. Transactions Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society Series II, Vol 19, pp. 103-105

          Whitelaw confirms that a copy of the pre-printed Account was attached to the Mercat Cross in Dumfries on 20 November 1706, and that a second, more legible copy exists- in 1907 it was held by the Advocates Library in Edinburgh where Whitelaw read it. At the foot of the pre-printed Account the legible copy says ‘A Coppy hereof has [been] left affixed to the Cross’.

          Defoe gives a figure of 200, not thousands, involved- but Defoe is not a reliable witness.

          1. DialMforMurdo says:

            Cheers Alistair.

            Re Dafoe, or Foe, which was his actual name, I’m reminded of John Clerk of Penicuik saying, “He was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.”

            I have a copy of Donald Smith’s excellent, ‘The English Spy’ somewhere. A fantastic fictionalised account of Defoe’s shenanigans at the behest of Queensberry…

  8. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I think that those who have commented here have identified an important point. That is the destruction of genuinely local politics and local political control by both Labour and the Conservatives since the 1960/70s

    On a strategic level the authorities like Strathclyde and Lothian did have a number of strategic successes. There was a substantial failure at the District level and the powers residing there were too insignificant against the powers of the regions. And both were skewered by the centralising of power by the Scottish Office (as it then was) in Edinburgh, but a colonial office of Westminster.

    I had hoped that Holyrood would begin to devolve more to regions of Scotland and to smaller and smaller localities. It has not done so, for a range of reasons. I hope that the raft of Land Reform legislation can start things moving and that via the Community Empowerment Act, we can begin to learn the kind of participative democracy that there is in the Nordic countries for example. Leslie Riddoch has written well about this.

    However, with the exit from the Eu and the barely veiled threats from Mrs May and her satraps -Ms Davidson, Ms Dugdale and Mr Rennie – we might face serious removal of powers to Westminster. So, we really have to get more of our fellow citizens to start imaging what an independent Scottish nation can be and to work for it.

    If we achieve that, then we have to maintain the momentum to devolve powers to progressively more local levels.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      “we really have to get more of our fellow citizens to start imaging what an independent Scottish nation can be and to work for it.” Precisely.

      Or as the Situationists in Paris May 1968 had it ‘All power to the imagination’. But, at the same time, as Marx said

      People make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. 

  9. John Young says:

    I have high hopes that a new SNP led Council in Dumfries and Galloway will be transformative in empowering local communities in a manner similar to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar with it’s Creating Communities of the Future initiative.

    The SNP has not only given us Land Reform legislation and the Community Empowerment Act but also the opportunity offered by 1% of all local government spending being decided through ‘Community Choices’.

    I also have memories of the D&G Region being much better managed when we had the four distinct administrative districts of Wigtownshire, Stewartry, Nithsdale, and Annandale and Eskdale.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      I share your hopes John- but I am worried that if the Galloway Viking Hoard decision goes the wrong way on Thursday 24 March, this will provide the local Tories and Labour with a major opportunity to claim that the Scottish Government cares more about Edinburgh and the National Museum that Dumfries and Galloway and the new Kirkcudbright art gallery. The technicalities- that the decision will be made by the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel and the Queen and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer – will be lost on the Galloway News/ Galloway Gazette headline writers : FURY AS VIKING BID SNUBBED while Finlay Carson and Colin Smythe stir the pot with suitably overt the top “SNP don’t care” quotes.

      As I state in the article ‘In 2014 only 33% of voters in Dumfries and Galloway could imagine independence.’ Within two years there will be another independence referendum. We are going to have to do a hell of a lot better in that referendum.

      To conclude by misquoting Stalin, ‘How many votes does the Director of the National Museum have?’

  10. chris avery says:

    Would a prohibition or limitation on internal migration from rUK help the region develop a sense of Scottish national identity?

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      No. Overcoming the problem requires developing regional consciousness and at the same time getting positive feed back from Edinburgh eg making sure the Viking Hoard comes home to Dumfries and Galloway. Plenty of people from the rest of the UK move here and become fascinated by Dumfries and Galloway, its history and culture. Including three of my grandparents, my mother and three of my children…

      To make an awkward point- it was the settlement of Scots and their language in the region in the 14th century by Robert I and David II which led to the decline of Gaelic and the loss of Galloway’s distinctive medieval culture.

  11. Alistair Livingston says:

    And finally, here is one I made earlier.

    “In Scotland then, there are two fronts in the war of position. One front is the struggle is to secure independence. It is a counter-hegemonic struggle directed outward against the UK state and aims to break-it up. This in turn requires building up solid support for independence among the doubtful, people who voted No in 2014 but are no longer certain if that was the right decision. It also requires keeping the ’non-nationalist’ Yes voters on board, especially the more active ones who campaigned for a Yes vote 2012-14.

    The second front is the runs parallel with the first. Here the struggle is internal and is another counter-hegemonic struggle, directed against the forces of reactionary nationalism. This struggle ’ must consistently produce relations of democratic control and mobilization wherever possible, together with institutions of direct democracy which are consciously antithetical to bureaucratism in all its aspects.’ The aim is to ensure that, when it comes, independence will involve substantially more than simply hauling down the Union flag and raising a Saltire in its place.”

  12. Allen J Scott says:

    Excellent article. I was always under the impression that what is now D&G actually decomposes into two rather distinct historical-cultural regions, an eastern half and a western half. I’d be interested in your views on this. All the best.

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      Hmm… I think that depends on which historical period you look at Allan. For example in the Northumbrian period 650-850 the whole region was under Northumbrian control/influence. In the 12th century Fergus’ kingdom was confined to Galloway but the Douglas Lordship of Galloway 1369/72 to 1455, especially after Archibald the Grim became 3rd Earl of Douglas in 1388 was part of a much larger area of Douglas control and influence.

  13. Ian Wight says:

    A very informative, and constructively provocative, piece – especially in the tenor of many of the comments elicited, which – to my mind- are very much on the mark with the concern over the local democracy deficit in today’s Scotland. The historical depth of analysis is very pertinent – it can help to establish what I call the (past) ‘primalcy’ of place (and its associated future ‘potency’), if we can see such original ‘places’ of communing as having been ‘made’ by the people in/of the places in question, folks who were really invested in the place, practically and spiritually.

    A rebuilding of local democracy, from the bottom-up, could begin with more attention to the geography of the primal localities – possibly at the parish scale, to establish when the original ‘parochialities’ were subsumed into larger ‘localities’ – before ultimately being lost in the current ‘regionalities’. Perhaps we can reframe these as communities, and then communities of communities, and then communities of communities of communities… noticing the respective ‘fitness for purpose’ recastings as more complexity and greater scale comes into play. It would also help if we had a ‘transcend and exclude’ orientation, consciously bringing forward the ‘best’ of the earlier constructs (rather than trashing them wholesale); this would have us always carefully discerning the enduring ‘dignities’ in the earlier construct, as well as the associated ‘disasters’ (such as undue parochialism) that deserve to be consigned to the historic dustbins.

    We might also want to ‘play’ with new constructs, such as ‘convivialities’ – higher ‘communings’ of communities where some interdependence is acknowledged, that merits ‘marking’… but with the main deliberations on this proceeding from the bottom-up, rather than the top down – as has been mostly the case in the modern local government ‘reform’ (make that ‘deform’) era.

    There will always be a tension between ‘the territorial’ and ‘the functional’… they are in fact the basis of a permanent irreconcilable contradiction (by which society coheres); but this should not preclude efforts to come to better terms with such a contradiction – and this hinges on the quality of the intermediating ‘democratics’. The Dumfries’ and Galloway’s of this world are a complex of aspirational territorial autonomies and classic functional interdependencies. We need to operationalise ‘both/and’ (rather than ‘either/or’) thinking and acting, to better negotiate, and navigate, this complexity.

    Thank you for stimulating this, and best wishes for your campaign – a worthy cause.

    1. Thanks Ian – we’ll be bringing more on this soon – and related campaigns soon

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