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On Myths of Genocide

In recent weeks there’s been discussion of the claim that Scotland has suffered its own ‘genocide’ during the Highland Clearances.

I consulted Sir Tom Devine and James Hunter, two of Scotland’s most respected historians.

Tom Devine is Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh University and has recently completed The Scottish Clearances: a History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900), forthcoming October 2018(Penguin).

I spoke first to James Hunter, Director for the UHI Centre for History and Chairman of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust. James is an award-winning historian and author of a collection of definitive works on the Highlands including: A Dance Called America, Last of the Free, Culloden and the Last Clansman, and Glencoe and the Indians.

Is it accurate to describe the Highland Clearances as “Genocide”?

“I wouldn’t use the term genocide, no. This implies a mass slaughter of people. That’s not what happened. There is of course a strand of thinking that identifies Highlanders and Celts generally as racially and culturally inferior. That’s very evident in the thinking of the notorious Patrick Sellar for example.

But it’s important to make the point that these attitudes were held just as strongly, maybe more strongly, by Lowland Scots as by English people.

Whatever else they were, the Clearances were not some sort of English-inspired attack on Scotland. After all, many, indeed most, clearing landlords were themselves Scots.

What these landlords wanted was to get people out irrespective of who they were. There was oppression. There was misery, hardship, and dispossession. But there was no genocide in the sense of a coordinated attempt to kill people.

In fact the origins of crofting are bound up with the determination of landlords to keep people in the Highlands and Islands to provide a workforce for what was called the kelp industry – involving the highly lucrative manufacture of a crude industrial alkali from seaweed.

That changed when the market for kelp collapsed and landlords decided that they’d be better to be rid completely of what they now declared ‘a redundant population’.

To use the term ‘genocide’ is a kind of insult to people who have genuinely experienced organised slaughter on a huge scale – such as in Rwanda or in the Holocaust. It’s not seeking to find out what really happened. In fact something closer to genocide is at play in the actions of colonists in Australia – including Highlanders and other Scots – ironically to make way for sheep. And Australia’s indigenous people, unlike a lot of Highlanders, were certainly given no chance to get on a ship and leave for a better life elsewhere.”

We asked Tom Devine the same question: is it accurate to describe the Highland Clearances as “Genocide”?

“It is ludicrous to suggest a genocide or anything like it”.

“It’s a bizarre assertion”.

“There is no direct evidence at all of any levels of increasing mortality caused by clearances.”

You can see that at the end of the Clearances in the late 1850s the population of the four Highlands counties of 300,000 had increased by 36,000 since 1801.

“We can see also that the period where people left in large numbers was due largely to the mid-century potato blight. If you take the Census of 1841 and 1861 you can see that about a third of the population left for the Lowlands or for Americas and Australasia. That famine could have resulted in increased death rate but the Highlands did not starve because of government and charitable intervention.”

The Highland clearances was a terrible period in Scottish history, a reality covered in considerable detail by both Devine and Hunter over many years. Put in the context of the concentration of land ownership, and with the attacks on the cultural base of Gaelic and Highland culture, the clearances were, and remain a destabilising process for Scotland.

In no way do I wish to undermine the reality that the clearances were brutal, oppressive and at times violent and coercive. Nor do I suggest that the clearances weren’t a process that has had a lasting and damaging legacy or that this wasn’t a shameful period.

However, I don’t think that the case for Scottish independence is strengthened by bad history or by claiming a victim status that isn’t supported by the facts.

The sort of manufacture of grievance and the idea that anyone who challenged this narrative was somehow a ‘British nationalist’ is both offensive and ahistorical. It doesn’t serve the movement for Scottish independence to create a hysterical account of the past.

The case for Scottish democracy rests on the appalling mismanagement of our society and our economy by successive governments we didn’t elect, the abject failure to protect and develop the potential of people living in Scotland, the reality of whole communities disfigured by poverty and the toxic legacy of the British State. It does not rest on pretending that we experienced genocide.

Much of the recent debate around adopting the term ‘genocide’ in relation to the Clearances has been done via a retrospective interpretation of Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Yet, reading Article II in its entirety shows specifically what does not constitute genocide.

“The intent is the most difficult element to determine. To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group. It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, what makes the crime of genocide so unique.”

Further Reading

Tom Devine:
To the Ends of the Earth, Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 (Penguin, 2011)
Clearance and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland, 1700-1900 (John Donald Publishers Ltd, 2006)
Clanship to Crofters’ War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (Manchester University Press, 1994),
To the Ends of the Earth, Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 (Penguin, 2011)
The Scottish Nation: A Modern History (Penguin. 2012)

James Hunter:
A Dance Called America (Mainstream 20101)
Last of the Free (Penguin, 2010)
Culloden and the Last Clansman (Mainstream 2010)
Glencoe and the Indians (Mainstream 2010)
See also The Making of the Crofting Community (forthcoming, Birlinn April 2018)

See here for these books and more by the author.

Comments (109)

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  1. Patricia Scully says:

    Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aimed at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. [Lemkin]

    Word Origin and History for genocide Expand
    1944, apparently coined by Polish-born U.S. jurist Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) in his work “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe” [p.19], in reference to Nazi extermination of Jews, literally “killing a tribe,” from Greek genos “race, kind” (see genus ) + -cide. The proper formation would be *genticide.

    1. Denny McCabe says:

      Id say that the Glencoe massacre was genocide and a warning to others who may want to resist the Crown.The Highland clearances may not have many examples of Genocide per se, but I fully agree that an environment was created over many years to ensure the scots would believe any resistance would be futile.

      For me it was Genocide by means of subversion of culture

      1. Sam McIntyre says:

        I wholeheartedly agree Denny! I also do not appreciate this articles use of victim blaming by saying “claiming the victim status.” As a licensed psychotherapist, that is CLASSIC abuser language here being used to undermine a pretty obvious argument that yes in fact what happened after Culloden – the eradication of the clan system, its culture, peoples lands, violent brutal deaths (and war crimes like killing the wounded at Culloden), WAS at the VERY least ethnic cleansing, and the glencoe massacre absolutely genocide. The lines between the two become very gray and this article appears to really miss that

  2. BLMac says:

    Perhaps they should look at the UN definition of Genocide.

    It does not have to include mass slaughter.

    Clearance and destruction of culture, and language qualify.

    1. DialMforMurdo says:


      Much of the recent debate around adopting the term ‘genocide’ in relation to the Clearances has been done via a retrospective interpretation of Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Yet, reading Article II in its entirety shows specifically what does not constitute genocide.

      “The intent is the most difficult element to determine. To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group. It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, what makes the crime of genocide so unique.”

      Here’s the direct link to Article II http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.html

      1. BLMac says:

        Thanks for the clarification. Good link.

        1. DialMforMurdo says:

          Thank you, it’s always important to read all the instructions!

          For me the most important part in this debate, is what doesn’t constitute genocide and the UN are particularly clear on this point:

          “Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group.”

          As bad as the Clearances were, evicting people whether singly or in groups, is not a crime of genocide.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

    I think we must also look at the wider picture related to the concept of ‘improvement’ and the ‘agrarian revolution’. There were significant ‘clearances’ of people from the agricultural areas across the entire United Kingdom, and, indeed, in parts or Europe. ‘Clearing’ was undertaken by a variety of means, of which physical removal by armed men and police was but one. This is not in any way condoning the actions of the landowners and their factors and tacksmen, but, it is evidence against the application of the word ‘genocide’ to what happened.

    We need to base our arguments on real arguments and not fictitious ones (e.g. ‘genocide’)

    1. Sam McIntyre says:

      “clearing” …let’s call it what it is, “cleansing” – ethnic cleansing, which yes, is NOT genocide but a very horrific and completely unacceptable cousin, at least in my book.

  4. Wullie says:

    What was at the heart of depopulation was the provision of an income for the lairds & their tacksmen, cattle produced for export south required manpower, the kelp industry likewise. The change-over to sheep production for wool for the mills did not need the people & Insecurity of tenure ensured that that those who were surplus to requirements were dispossessed. The gentry required the produce of the land to maintain their lifestyles in Edinburgh & London. It was strictly business & peacetime depressed the demand for cannon-fodder!

    1. MBC says:

      Actually the landlords wanted rid of the tackmen too and that was one of the biggest problems. The tacksmen were the educated middle class of thd Highlands, the natural leaders of the people and the landlords wanted them out for that reason.

      1. Wullie says:

        These “natural leaders of the people!” were not slow off the mark to turn the screw on the people once the 19th century progressed. It was the tacksmen who set the rents & demanded free-labour to cut their peats & corn. The folk who lived on the forfeited estates were generally better-off under a government factor than the sub-tenants of tacksmen who paid a rent to the laird, rack-rented the sub-tenants & pocketed the difference. The lairds gradually replaced them with factors. For tacksmen read parasites, they had their uses before the disarming acts made a military society obsolete!

        1. MBC says:

          The landlords wanted rid of the tacksmen because they were the middle men and stood between them and greater profits. That was why they replaced them with factors.

          1. Wullie says:

            True Dat!

    2. Sam McIntyre says:

      Wow, “simply business” – I can only imagine how many acts of ethnic cleansing. slavery, and other horrific acts of violence and oppression have been justified by that phrase. Yikes.

  5. McDuff says:

    So why is there no figures for those who died as a result of being made homeless and jobless .
    And as far as I am aware it was the aristocracy and landed gentry who were responsible for that atrocity and almost all Unionist pro English/Westminster.
    These people were the enemies of Scotland then, and there successors are the enemies of Scotland now.
    Is there grievance. Bloody right there is.

  6. alex armstrong says:


  7. Edward Andrews says:

    However, I don’t think that the case for Scottish independence is strengthened by bad history or by claiming a victim status that isn’t supported by the facts.
    The sort of manufacture of grievance and the idea that anyone who challenged this narrative was somehow a ‘British nationalist’ is both offensive and ahistorical. It doesn’t serve the movement for Scottish independence to create a hysterical account of the past.
    The case for Scottish democracy rests on the appalling mismanagement of our society and our economy by successive governments we didn’t elect, the abject failure to protect and develop the potential of people living in Scotland, the reality of whole communities disfigured by poverty and the toxic legacy of the British State. It does not rest on pretending that we experienced genocide.”
    Thank you for saying this. It cannot be said loud enough as we continue our march towards an Independent Scotland.

  8. Derek c says:

    Yeah but you wouldn’t have interviewed these 2 historians if you didn’t think it was beneficial to the nationalist cause..and alas they both took the wind out your sails with their accurate assessment..as they alluded to the Scots were knee deep in genocide down under and in America..as most colonial nations were..in those centuries..but to keep trawling the history books for means of vengeance??sorry..no one of my current generation blames or has a grudge against anyone from modern day Germany ..and we certainly don’t look for grievances..of course all civilised societies which Germany most certainly is ..have shame in the past but learn and move on..and those attrocoties are in family members lifetimes..without harping back to a bygone era..don’t look back in anger..let’s move forward and make it right..

  9. seonaidh says:

    Just wondering who actually said it constituted ‘genocide’?

    The article on it’s own is a fine one but is it necessary to respond to perhaps one or two folk on Twitter getting their descriptions wrong?

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      This article by Jason Michael describes the Highland Clearances as genocide.


    2. Cameron McNaughtan says:

      “Just wondering who actually said it constituted ‘genocide’?”

      Excellent point, I have not seen The Clearances being referred to as genocide.

      I have seen many people asking why there has not been an apology from the british government?

      1. DialMforMurdo says:

        The Scottish Parliament apologised in September 2000:

        ‘That the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores.’

    3. I responded because the claim gained traction – even if it was obviously false. Fact matter. History matters.

      1. Anagach says:

        I was wondering what made it seem “obviously” false to you.

      2. seonaidh says:

        This article though has opened one ugly can of works. One of your regular contributors weighed in by calling other ‘nutters’ and ‘dodgy nationalists’ for even questioning this and then, incredibly, dismissing the work of a Gaelic poet. Anglosplaining? This kind of abuse does more harm to the Yes cause than some people considering the Clearances as genocidal – which isn’t even relevant to why most of us want independence.

        Having researched this more in the past few days, it’s clear that referring to the HCs as genocide is neither new nor a Scottish trait. The Genocide Studies programme at Yale studies it, for example.

        I myself am unsure though I can now see why referring to two historians – neither of them Gaels btw – does not strengthen your case. You might as well have asked Jamie Oliver for an opinion on the grounds that food was scarce. Maybe consulting the large body of Gàidhlig poetry might have given some pointers.

        1. History tends to happen in the past. Historians who study periods tend to have insights.

          When you say “Having researched this more in the past few days” it would be good if you could reference what texts, source materials, books
          or authors you’re referring to.

          People need to think about how they present to the world reflects on the wider movement.

          1. Andy Ellis says:

            Still dancing ever more frantically on the head of that pin I see Mike? First you claim that only your interpretation is the truth, and therefore any other interpretation is not factual.

            Then after your hysterical over-reaction & firing up of the People’s Front cadres to denounce the heretics, you claim to be concerned with the damage being done to the broader Yes movement. It’s like Trump has infected the Yes camp. It can’t be long before Bella is hosting some Labour hack railing against wasting money on Gaelic signage or riduculing the Scots language.

            Small wonder Bella nearly disappeared up its own fundament recently; you’re increasingly talking in an echo chamber, emerging only to throw rocks at the broader movement in a desperate attempt to cling to some relevance. The truth is you’re going the same way as Better Nation and for much the same reason.

          2. Really astonishing comments Andy given that Bella is one of a very few outlets to publish in Scots and Gaelic? You do know this, right?

            ‘Small wonder Bella nearly disappeared up its own fundament recently’ – I really don’t know what this even means?

            I never claimed my interpretation was the only truth – I just presented the analysis of the most respected historians in the country. Sorry if that’s upset you for some inexplicable reason

          3. Andy Ellis says:

            Oh dear…..

            Yes, I am aware but don’t see what relevance it has to this debate or my comment. That’s probably because it has no relevance to either.

            If you think Bella is in rude good health and can afford to alienate (more?) folk in the broader Yes movement after the recent “near death” experience of the site Mike, then have at it. Your intolerance of opposing views and argument is hardly news, as many of those you have blocked will no doubt testify. If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, huh?

            You presented the views of 2 respected historians. Claiming victory on that basis is……courageous. Historians, even eminent ones, are as fallible as the rest of us. They often disagree. As others have pointed out, both here an elsewhere, the “truth” of the matter, and agreement about whether the term genocide is justified in this context or not, is likely to rather more nuanced than your petulant and simplistic responses.

            Oh, and I’m not in the least upset Mike; you considerably over estimate your impact. Mildly perplexed and amused perhaps?

          4. Glad to hear you’re not upset Andy, good to hear.

            When you wrote “It can’t be long before Bella is hosting some Labour hack railing against wasting money on Gaelic signage or riduculing the Scots language” I thought you were maybe ill.

        2. Sam McIntyre says:

          THANK YOU. Agreed.

    4. Josef Ó Luain says:

      Excellent question: “who actually said it constituted ‘genocide’?”

      I find it difficult to believe that the narrative of the Highland Clearances, thus far, seemingly manages to lack many parallels with the horrific experiences of the Irish peasantry leading up to and during the years of the potato-blight.

      If you tear-down dwellings and evict the inhabitants into the wilderness in all weathers, it’s pretty damn obvious there will be resultant fatalities. Quibbling over definitions of genocide, in this context, seems, to me, crass in the extreme.

  10. McPhearson says:

    “But it’s important to make the point that these attitudes were held just as strongly, maybe more strongly, by Lowland Scots as by English people.”

    Professor James Hunter again perpetuating the myth of Highland and Lowland division. How many Lowland Scots is that you’re talking about Jim? What proportion? This is further divide and conquer.

    1. He’s not perpetuating myth he’s reporting fact. Sorry but facts matter and history matters.

      1. Anagach says:

        Yes he is reporting facts, antipathy and lack of understanding was rife amongst the lowlanders, especially the press (Scotsman articles) which downplayed or even welcomed the removal of Gaels. An attitude and ignorance that remains in digital lowland press.

      2. McPhearson says:

        I like my historical fact quantified. Which Lowlanders, how many? The scientific racism of Knox was there, but to claim it as a universal or even a majority is just plain wrong. Before the late 18th century there was no strong highland/lowland division in Scotland. Look at the pattern of the Reformation, look at who fought on which side in the war of three kingdoms, look who came out as Jacobites.

        Look, even, at the act of Proscription: “within the shire of Dunbartain, on the north side of the water of Leven, Stirling on the north side of the river of Forth, Perth, Kincardin, Aberdeen, Inverness, Nairn, Cromarty, Argyle, Forfar, Bamff, Sutherland, Caithness, Elgine and Ross” Nowhere near exclusively Highland.

        But it is the said act which calls this “The Highlands of Scotland”. It’s enforcing division. We need to knit our country back together.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          We need to do our best to understand our history, with all its nuances. It is not the job of history ‘to knit our country back together’.

          1. Colin Mackay says:

            Couldn’t agree more Graeme Purves. It is desperate and more than slightly worrying to see supposed civic nationalists attempts to create a history that exists entirely inside their own heads.

          2. McPhearson says:

            Graeme, is it the job of history to perpetuate division that was fomented to suit a hegemonic power?

            There is not a ‘neural position’ on this. For all its convenience, dividing Scotland into Highland and Lowland is a false division that originates in Scotland’s invention of scientific racism, out of the desire to classify us into a Saxon half that is indifferent to the English and a Celtic half that functions as a post Jacobite scapegoat.

            Surely it’s the job of history to expose this? And, to clarify, it is our job, as Scots, engaging on this forum, to knit our country back together.

          3. Edward Andrews says:

            Was there not tensions between the highlands and the lowlands fr at least the 17th Century- statues of Iona?

        2. Anagach says:

          I appreciate your point, and the many ways to see division inside Scotland, both in Gaelic peoples and lowland, borders, eastern seaboard communities. The history and people of Scotland are far more diverse than the simple Highland, Lowland division used as shorthand.

          Its a changing and complex picture, perhaps if you get a copy of Mìorun Mòr nan Gall it paints it a bit more depth whether you sympathise with the authors or not.

          1. Crubag says:

            It’s worth remembering the Highlands used to come a lot further south – Deeside, Perthshire, Arran all had Gaelic populations. So there was much greater scope for friction, if there were differences in social structure, language, economic activity, religion, etc.

            One of the strongest opponents of the 1707 union was Alexander Fletcher (the “Patriot”), and who I think the SNP still dedicated an annual lecture to him. He was also well respected in America by their founding fathers. However, he also lamented the Highlands as producing robbers and thieves:

            “Nor indeed can there be a thorow reformation in this Affair, so long as the one half of our Country, in extent of ground, is possessed by a People who are, all Gentlemen only because they will not work, and who in every thing are more contemptible than the vilest slaves, except that they always carry Arms, because for the most part they live upon robbery. This part of the Country being an inexhaustible source of Beggers, has always broke all our measures relating to them. And it were to be wished that the Government would think sit to transplant that handful of People, and their Masters (who have always disturbed our peace) into the Low-Country, and people the Highlands from hence, rather than they should continue to be a perpetual occasion of mischief to us.”

          2. Graeme Purves says:

            No McPhearson, its the job of history to help elucidate our past. You appear to be confusing history with myth-making. Not that myths are always bad. As the discussion around Murray Grigor’s ‘Scotch Myths’ in the 1980s recognised, positive national myths can be enabling. They give us things to live up to. Myths based on victimhood or grievance on the other hand are a bad idea. They are in the end disempowering and self-defeating. They are for losers. We ought not to indulge in them.

    2. Tommy Aikenhead says:


      1. McPhearson says:

        Graeme Purves, expose as in exposition.
        Not all that different from “elucidate” but perhaps you have a strong belief in objective history. Again, then, quantify this attitude. Demonstrate a Scotland practically split into highland and lowland through history. It’s a construction.

        It’s full of circular reasoning like this: “It’s worth remembering the Highlands used to come a lot further south – Deeside, Perthshire, Arran all had Gaelic populations.” Does Highland = Gaelic? It’s Ethno-blethers.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          Your speculation is generally wide of the mark. I’m not a believer in objective history. I do not believe that Scotland is irredeemably split between Highlands and Lowlands, but I see no point in seeking to deny that the perception of such a division has played a significant part in Scotland’s development. I tend to agree with you about the futility of microplotting supposed changes in the Highland-Lowland boundary. My grandmother came from Upper Deeside and had Gaelic and Scots in her vocabulary. Rather than fretting too much about Highland and Lowland constructs, wouldn’t we be better focusing on making Scotland a better place?

          1. Sam McIntyre says:

            Ummm I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know the definition of ethnicity is literally ALL about culture right? (language, ancestry, land, and everything else that comes along with culture). So your point “It seems to me to be much more about culture than ethnicity” does not make sense.

        2. Crubag says:

          Ethno-blethers? The Gaelic-Anglo difference was very real, though our ancestors were also more polyglot than us.

          The Gaelic strand also has to be understood as crossing seas – parts of Scotland and Ireland were part of one cultural community which didn’t fit with nation-state divides then or now. Exercises like the Fife Adventurers or the Plantations were a recognition of that political reality.

          But Edinburgh was already Anglo, and the language of the state was English and initiatives like the Statutes of Iona (1609!) were bringing the Scottish Gaelic power brokers into the Lowland orbit (eldest sons or daughters to be raised to “to speik, reid and wryte Englische”). Which would have consequences later, like the Clearances.

          1. Graeme Purves says:

            And what proportion of those who have been identified or identify themselves as exclusively Highland or Lowland might alternatively be seen as ‘ethnically’ Pictish (or Strathclyde British or Norse)? It seems to me to be much more about culture than ethnicity.

          2. Alf Baird says:

            Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Lowland Scots were shipped away to the colonies as well Graeme, forced to leave Scotland due to the total lack of socio-economic opportunity in a sick and impoverished, jobless, class-ridden land, and also because of acute shortages of housing. Many of my family left the Lowlands of Scotland in the 1950s and 60’s for these same reasons, which is not that long ago, and with British state incentives offered to the people of the Lowlands to leave Scotland. I myself would now be an Australian but for a quirk of fate, my father holding tickets for all seven of my own Lowland family in 1964. Scots disproportionately populated the former British overseas colonies now independent states yet do we really have to ask why that is? It wasn’t just the romantic notion of seeking opportunity, it was socially engineered as well, Scots people were pushed out of Scotland. The socio-economic clearance of Scots was Scotland-wide, affecting highly populated Lowlands and Highland areas, and it was intentional, and it is relatively recent, i.e. within many of our own lifetimes. Perhaps Lowlanders should also seek an apology from someone?

  11. Cameron McNaughtan says:

    The Clearances happened on the uk watch of Scotland, the westminster government could have intervened to mitigate the brutality.

    The lead up to The Clearances was 500 years of fending off war and incursion by England, Culloden sealed the deal, then the destruction of our culture and language began (& is still on-going).

    A question for scholars, does Culloden count as a component of The Clearances?

    The Clearances aligned to british government objectives, a perfect match.

    Would emigration have happened if The Clearances had not taken place, yes, but not to such an extent or with such a long standing negative impact.

    1. DialMforMurdo says:

      They did, these were evictions by landed aristocrats. Not that I’m keen on defending Westminster, but the UK government had nothing to do with it.

      In fact, they sent a relief officer with the rather prescient name of, Sir Edward Pine-Coffin who condemned the actions of the landlords for ‘seeking to exterminate the population.’ he claimed that the actions of the aristocracy would lead to “The unsettling of the foundations of the social system… and the depopulation of the Highlands.” He also organised naval vessels to bring oatmeal and other supplies to the Highlands during the potato famine.

      The Clearances were a Scottish made catastrophe, made real by an avaricious aristocracy, many of whose families still ‘own’ the land today. Defining it as Westminster/English crime is plain wrong.

      1. Anagach says:

        DialMforMurdo – the Clearances were not initiated as a UK Government policy, although they were not opposed or prevented by any act of government, and it is the role of Govenment to protect the people. You quote Sir Edward Pine-Coffin who condemned landlords for ‘seeking to exterminate the population.’, now I have not checked the vercity of that source, but you go out of your way to make the quote and then to claim he was wrong.

        The Clearances, like the post Culloden acts of the military, like the post Culloden legal Acts (Proscription, Dress, Heritable Jurisdictions) of the State, such things as the restriction of language in education, all these things taken together can be used to make a case that there has been genocide against the Gaels of Scotland.

        Now it may not be a winning case, but its not “obviously false” as our dear editor would have us believe.

        1. DialMforMurdo says:

          “You quote Sir Edward Pine-Coffin who condemned landlords for ‘seeking to exterminate the population.’, now I have not checked the vercity of that source, but you go out of your way to make the quote and then to claim he was wrong.”

          Sorry, where do I claim Pine-Coffin was wrong?

          You’ll find the quote on p60 of ‘Clanship to Crofter’s War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands’ Tom Devine.

          Adopting the term ‘genocide’, particularly with its contemporary associations of mass murder, atrocities, carnage, holocaust etcetera and applying that to events of over 200 years ago is ‘obviously false’, particualry as the intent was to add an extra layer of sentimental grievance to the Independpence campaign, when it demonstrably does not need one.

          1. Anagach says:

            “Sorry, where do I claim Pine-Coffin was wrong?”

            He claims extermination will be result of planned policies, thats genocide. You claim its not genocide. You cant have it both.

            There are a list of criteria for genocide, and the event being recent isnt one of them, nor is the political views or the intention of the person making the case. Either the events meet the criteria or they dont.

          2. DialMforMurdo says:


        2. Sam McIntyre says:

          THANK YOU. Agreed. This article completely misses nuance and the interconnectedness of events. What many people DONT realize about genocide is that it actually doesn’t just “happen” over night. The resulting violence and mass murder of the Rwandan genocide had YEARS of lead up to it as detailed in the book “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” by Philip Gourevitch AND the impacts of the violence continues to this day despite the Rwandan governments (and Western governmental backers) would like the world to believe.

  12. Anagach says:

    I am shocked at the ignorance shown towards genocide, it has a well defined meaning. Its entirely possible to commit a genocide without killing anyone. As an example, consider removing children from their parents, and brining them up with a different language, stories, taught history, so even if 30 years later they track down their original community they cannot even talk to them. Its been done in at least one country. The case in the highlands is that landowners and the State actively persued policies to destroy the culture, by surpression of language, dress, teaching, removal of population, substitution of population, marginalisation onto poorer lands and even direct violence. And there is a fairly strong case.

    1. Sam McIntyre says:

      AGREED. THANK YOU. I too am frustrated (not at all shocked) by the ignorance shown in the comments and the continued use of language that undermines the gaelic oral tradition – another thing totally wiped out by British imperialism, colonization and systemic violence.

  13. Colin Mackay says:

    Thanks Mike. ‘The sort of manufacture of grievance and the idea that anyone who challenged this narrative was somehow a ‘British nationalist’ is both offensive and ahistorical. It doesn’t serve the movement for Scottish independence to create a hysterical account of the past. ‘ You are being polite here but quite correct. It’s extremely offensive in many ways whilst designed to further rile an audience unfortunately desperate to believe their now ever increasing delusions.

  14. Ian McKay says:

    As one who spent much time in the Balkans, both during and after periods of ‘ethnic cleansing’, and also writing as someone who spent a substantial part of my 8 yrs research for PhD researching representations of collective trauma relating back to the Holocaust and the industrial killing of Jews, Roma/Gypsies, and other significant ethic/religious/social groups, I have mixed feelings about this issue. There are many measured responses in the comments here that I broadly agree with.

    Patricia Scully makes an important point worth noting – as does BLMac. Edward Andrews’ response (“…I don’t think that the case for Scottish independence is strengthened by bad history or by claiming a victim status that isn’t supported by the facts) is apt, in one particular sense that I can relate to, too.

    I believe Gore Vidal writes in his autobiography (someplace… I don’t recall exactly where) of an encounter between the writer Christopher Isherwood and an unnamed third party discussing the Nazi Holocaust. The said third party announced to Isherwood that the Holocaust was ‘the Jewish Holocaust’ because far more Jews were murdered than were Roma, Homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovahs Witnesses, etc.– to which Isherwood’s reply was: “And what do you work in? Real Estate?”

    His point? I take it to be this: The focus on numbers of deaths is frequently trotted out as a means to claim a special case for certain instances of genocide. That is the route to a form of league table of atrocity, however. It is a dangerous path to go down, though it is a path well-trodden. It leads to a ‘hierarchy of posthumous privilege’ in the most heinous and negative sense of the phrase. Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Irish Famine (the list is long but you know it) become ranked ‘according to scale’ and ‘death toll’.

    As Anagach writes above, however, “genocide […] has a well defined meaning. Its entirely possible to commit a genocide without killing anyone.” As Anagach continues, and I repeat it because it is highly relevant, in my view, anyway: “The case in the highlands is that landowners and the State actively persued policies to destroy the culture, by surpression of language, dress, teaching, removal of population, substitution of population, marginalisation onto poorer lands and even direct violence. And there is a fairly strong case.” I saw this firsthand in Bosnia and Kosovo also.

    As your historians know well, there is not just a fairly strong case of “direct violence,” (to take the last example in Anagach’s list, i.e. the burning of crofts with inhabitants still inside? As stated, I’ve witnessed the more recent evidence of such actions in the burned out buildings of certain Balkan states, and yes, the perpetrators (some) were tried for genocidal ethnic cleansing (using that term figuratively as the list of indictments was long, indeed).

    It matters not, the numbers, but more the intent and relative *success of the intent* in forcing others who evade death via embarkation and departure from their homeland as refugees of oppression (often termed ’emigration’). There are several reasons why the variant of Scots Gaelic in Nova Scotia is spoken there, and it has much to do with why other languages are carried over into the unknown/foreign territories by native speakers, today, as refugees.

    Deal not with figures, nor the subtle nuances of history (as nuanced by historians, that is – for there is much to learn by seeing this through the lens of the German experience of the 1970s and the ‘Historikerstreit’ controversy… see: http://bit.ly/Historikerstreit for a first cut into that issue).

    It’s important, I think, to also remember that the Highland Clearances took place *contemporaneously* with other systematic abuses of power throughout the British Empire, culminating in such ‘events’ as the Great Famine in India, which though caused by an intense drought followed by crop failure in the Deccan Plateau, was exacerbated (some maintain, deliberately so) by the export of Indian grain from other regions of the country by the colonial government of the time, when it could have been diverted as famine relief. The Viceroy of India at that time, oversaw a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat exported from India while 5.5 million people died of starvation.

    But, why is that relevant here?

    Primarily because, seen against the wider spectrum of ‘events’ perpetrated at this time, the Clearances may be seen to reflect a much wider mindset – a global/imperial mindset, which also led to the Irish Famine, the Great Famine in India, and other atrocities between 1750 and 1900. All of those atrocities (is it necessary to list them all?) do indicate a thinking that, it is possible to argue, was genocidally predisposed in outlook.

    Just as Germany has had historic burdens to reconcile (and has done so with some not inconsiderable debate across decades) so to does the wider example of the British Empire generally represent a historic burden of responsibility, including towards those living within the British Isles, and particularly with reference to your posted article, the Northern Highlands – before clearances began, during, and after.

    This is an interesting thread, and one that does need to be debated, though I’m doubtful a consensus on the issue will be reached for some years yet; not because of lack of will, but by the failure of historians to engage in debate in terms of the much wider Imperial picture, too.

    1. Andy Ellis says:

      Excellent response Ian; as you say the chances of consensus are small and given the Scottish independence overlay things are likely to get just as ugly as the Historikerstreit did.

      As for those insisting use of the term genocide is inappropriate, I have a fairly simple question; what other term suffices for the reduction of the proportion of Scotland’s inhabitants who were Gaels from 1 in 5 in the 18th century down to 1 in 100 today?

      We can of course argue the toss about apportioning responsibility, the numbers involved, the causation, the political and social environment over the period and the culpability of various groups both outside and inside Scotland. It seems pretty clear to me however that failing to label the virtual extirpation of both Scots and Irish Gaelic society, culture and language qualifies as genocide.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Andy, the possibility does exist that the process you speak of is not yet ended. The census of several years back suggested only some 1.6 million Scots spoke Scots, i.e. less than a third of the population of Scotland, and this is declining. Historic census trends also tell us that, over the twentieth century whilst emigration of Scots continued mostly from the more densely populated Lowlands, the largest group of immigrants to Scotland came from England, the latter oriented towards the professional classes; were this group given preferential access to the major socio-economic opportunities in Scotland, as in e.g. business, senior civil service, schools, universities etc? Whilst during the twentieth century Scotland’s population struggled to expand due to continued outmigration especially during the first half, plus wars of course, the last twenty years since 1996 shows a rapid inflow to Scotland of some one million people from rest-UK. One might conclude from this, as I do, that Scotland’s population (and culture, language etc etc) continues to be replaced. Is this genocide?

        1. Andrew Ellis says:

          No, it’s not genocide. Even if you agree with those like Mike Small and his ilk that the virtual extirpation of Scots (and similarly Irish) Gaelic don’t equate to genocide, I’d argue you’re making a false equivalence. I have few doubts that many of the loudest critics of the use of the term genocide are also those complaining most loudly about the use of Scots dialect (and particularly that it is a language at all worthy of promotion or protection), Gaelic signs and the audacity of teaching lowlands Scots in Gaelic. We all know the types who are loudest in such complaints, and it ought to give pro-independence folk pause for thought who they are jumping into bed with.

          I think there is quite a big difference between “managed” emigration and forced ethnic cleansing and the virtual extirpation of a millennia old society and language, don’t you? We all know that Bella’s “Peoples Front of Jockistan” Cappuccino Communists screeching loudest that the use of the term genocide is misguided or even insulting, would be storming Pacific Quay if any other group which had been reduced from 20% to 1% of a population WEREN’T described as victims of genocide. For some reason Gaels aren’t worthy because the holocaust of their language, culture and society didn’t involve the 18th or 19th century equivalent of the Killing Fields or the Wannsee Conference.

          It’s a sign of their desperation that they cling to the approbation of two historians, and claim a crushing victory on the back of of it. It’s not the manifest intellectual laziness of their attacks which is most troubling, it’s the use of this argument (and their triumphalism over their perceived “rightness”) as just another stick to beat their intellectual opponents within the Yes movement, or indeed anyone with the temerity to disagree with their Manichean and scantly supported world view.

          1. “Peoples Front of Jockistan” Cappuccino Communists – love it – going to get that printed up, thanks Andy

        2. Graeme Purves says:

          No. And, insofar as it was ever a process, important elements of it (particularly Scottish diffidence and deference) have declined or disappeared since the 1970s. This is just another self-limiting, “puir wee us” myth of victimhood and disempowerment – and I’m struggling to see what relevance it has to the Highland Clearances.

  15. Simon Barrow says:

    Thanks, Mike.

  16. Willie says:

    Not sure whether we are getting too technical on the word genocide.

    To me what happened in the Clearances was genocide. A whole race of people were brutally cleared from their homes wherefrom many died.

    Concomitantly, in the light of the current discussion of what constitutes a genocide, it is likely that they great hungers in Ireland, or indeed India would not constitute a genocide. But they were every bit as much a genocide as the Nazis marching people into the gas chambers.

    I think we talk too many words sometimes.

    The Clearances were an evil crime, just like many others commited under the Great Union flag.

    So let’s not get hung up about first, second or third degree genocides with or with mitigating circumstances.

    And that I think is really the question asked of our two eminent historians.

    1. Conor says:

      A whole race were not cleared from their homes.

      It comes down to greed. Peasants were cleared from the land they toiled on to make more money for stinking rich landowners.

    2. Sam McIntyre says:

      Agreed. Thank you.

  17. Tommy Aikenhead says:


  18. Tommy Aikenhead says:

    Interesting discussion.

    Might I add that the terms ‘Scots’ and ‘Gaels’ are not interchangeable. Much of what happened to the Gaels was carried out by the Scots, and the author does well not to try to make bogus claims relating to current circumstances. There is currently a reclamation of elements of Scotland’s history by zealous nationalists desperately trying to gain political capital in the here and now.

    There is voluminous evidence to suggest that the clearances were the culmination of the tide of history sweeping away antiquated ways of living, a process that began in the early modern period, and continued into the 19th century at the peripheral corner of the continent.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Regarding the Highlands of Scotland as “the peripheral corner of the continent” is part of the mindset that led to the Clearances! There were, of course, no clearances in Norway, which lost its aristocracy in the break with Denmark in 1814 and embarked early on democratisation.

  19. Conor Cheyne says:

    Calling it genocide and carrying on this myth that this was some “Westminster vs Scotland scenario” is doing no good what-so-ever.

    What this was, was a small, rich, landowning class forcibly removing poor peasents from the lands they relied on to live.

    This came down to nothing but Greed.

    The issue here is not nationality or culture, the issue here is capitalism. When people accept that then they can start asking the correct and relevant questions.

    At the minute too many are barking up the wrong tree.

    1. Tommy Aikenhead says:

      Agreed Conor, it was capitalism overpowering Feudalism, and the residual Feudal elites did what elites always do…..preserve and maximise their privilege and options in the face of major change.

  20. Not a nationalist but... says:

    Thanks Mike, an interesting article and useful topic to address.

    Maybe you could make it a series? Addressing other ideas and/or myths.
    You could do another similar article on whether Scotland or people in it were or are colonised?
    (addressing the issue for Scotland as a whole (I’d say no), for gaels/highlanders (in some ways – treatment of and attitudes against gaelic culture and people similar to people in ‘the colonies’), and in terms of the concept of the colonised mentality (e.g. sense of inferiority experienced by imperial colonies or say Catalans/Scots; interesting and arguable – certainly our schools teach us little about Scottish culture and achievements – e.g. Scots and Gaelic, the enlightenment etc.)

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      It’s been done! The arts magazine ‘Cencrastus’ supported a lively debate on Scottish mythologies and representations of Scotland inspired by Murray Grigor’s ‘Scotch Myths’ exhibition throughout the 1980s.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      “..on whether Scotland or people in it were or are colonised?”

      Its been done here: http://newsnet.scot/archive/brexit-vote-underline-scotland-not-country-colony/

  21. Dougie Harrison says:

    Thank you Mike. I don’t always agree with you but you’re right on this. ‘Genocide’ is an emotive word, and much abused. We don’t need to abuse it in the long struggle to regain independence (at least from London.) Reason is on our side. We don’t need ahistorical mythology. We need as near as we can get to truth.

    Only that way can we convince our people.


  22. Jackie Kemp says:

    A good piece. Actually FYI Neal Ascherson refers to ‘genocide’ talking about the Clearances in his book Stone Voices.
    I think using that term is a distortion of history. The real history of Scotland is fascinating- I prefer the complex reality to some reductive anti-fairy tale.

    1. Thanks Jackie – re-reading that now. He does refer to the belief that the Picts ‘had been massacred by Cinead in act of systematic genocide. This is certainly untrue. Instead it was probably the case of what German scholars of the early medieval period like to call ‘fictive Ausrottung’ – fictional extermination.’ (p. 52)

  23. Wullie says:

    The Gaels had the Bible, the Picts did not!

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      The Picts also had the Bible. There were several Pictish monasteries, including one at Portmahomack which was a centre of vellum manufacture.

  24. William Davidson says:

    Conspicuous by its absence from the “further reading” is another book by Prof Tom Devine, which I read some time ago, namely “Scotland’s Empire : the Origins of the global Diaspora,” (2003) in which he describes the enthusiastic participation of Scots in the British imperial project, with highlanders being particularly prominent in Canada and Australia and more generally as the “warriors of Empire.” There’s a lot of good stuff on the movement of Scots eastwards to Europe and westwards to Ireland in the 17th century, with Ireland being replaced by North America for westward movement in the 18th century. His overall thesis can be summed up in the last sentence of the book : “The Scots were not only full partners in this grand design, but were at the very cutting edge of British global expansion.”

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “The Scots were not only full partners in this grand design, but were at the very cutting edge of British global expansion.”

      Devine takes a rose-tinted generalist and simplistic view here and seems to lump all classes of people together as they were somehow homogenous, which is rather ridiculous. We are talking about a class ridden society over most of the period in question, many remnants of which still exist and continue to exploit Scotland and our people even today. The reality is that a relatively small number of elites (old and new) made plenty out of the empire’s exploitation of cheap and slave labour and the general theft of resources in lands they stole. The masses of Scots who left Scotland, however, were relatively poor and were leaving a largely impoverished economic wasteland bereft of opportunity, sufficient decent food, or adequate housing, a situation created thus by Britain’s upper classes who were also the government. They were also escaping from Britain’s frequent wars and the need for a large military resource which Scots disproportionately filled in their droves. To the alienated impoverished masses of Scots all across Scotland still with some energy or ambition left, getting themselves and their families out of Scotland by any means would seem a rather obvious imperative. Data I am looking at shows that well over two million people left Scotland between 1841 and 1931, which is incredible. What the hell was the British Government doing to make so many Scots want to leave our country? And this ‘process’ continued until at least the 1960’s with state incentives used to further incentivise the removal of people from Scotland. To assume that this ongoing mass removal (and partial selective replacement) of Scotland’s population was not ‘managed’ or intended would seem naïve.

  25. Brian watters says:

    The Clearances may not have been a genocide but they would certainly fall under the definition of an ethnic cleansing.
    There have been numerous attempts recently to portray the clearances assome kind of a voluntary and natural economic migration. Maybe this genocide claim was an attempt to fight that “myth”.
    There is no doubt that the Unionist cause has tried to weaponise history, we had the ludicrous celebration of the beginning of WW1 in 2014 and we are now seeing glorified Great British “history” from the likes of Dan Snow and Neil Oliver.
    Id say one article over egging the clearances is like a pebble in the pond compared to all that pro British bullshit we are forced to pay for. Our Tvs are now full of “history of British……whatever” that is actually just English history that cant even be arsed to mention Scotland, Ireland or Wales unless it is to paint us as people in desperate need of civising either by the Ronans or the English.
    When can we expect an article from Bella on that torrent of phoney history?

    1. Hi Brian – we make no claim that to downplay the horrific nature of the clearances.

      To compare the work of James Hunter over many many years dissecting the reality of the period to British nationalist revisionism is just wildly inaccurate and completely insulting to Hunter’s work.

      If you’re not familiar with them here’s some details.

      A Dance Called America (Mainstream 20101)
      Last of the Free (Penguin, 2010)
      Culloden and the Last Clansman (Mainstream 2010)
      Glencoe and the Indians (Mainstream 2010)
      See also The Making of the Crofting Community (forthcoming, Birlinn April 2018) here:

      See here for these books and more by the author here:


      It is completely irrelevant to their work as professional historians but both Devine and Hunter were pro-Yes and Hunter has been I believe a n SNP member for many years.

      If you chose to ignore the considered academic research of these (and many other historians) over decades and chose to believe the analysis put forward by a part-time blogger then that’s your choice to do so. But you might want to reflect on that?

      You say “There have been numerous attempts recently to portray the clearances as some kind of a voluntary and natural economic migration. Maybe this genocide claim was an attempt to fight that “myth”.

      I’d suggest that if our history is being distorted – the response shouldn’t be just to make up a ‘claim’.

  26. Alistair Livingston says:

    Nineteenth century Scotland was not ‘a largely impoverished wasteland’ Alf Baird. It was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, second only to England as an industrial powerhouse.

    By 1913 Scotland produced 43.2 million tonnes of coal and 140 000 people or 10% of the Scottish population were employed in the industry. In the same year, Scotland produced 1.3 million tons of pig iron and 1.4 million tons of steel. On the Clyde, 756 973 tons of shipping were launched equal to 1/3 of UK production and 18% of world wide production.

    But along with locomotive building for export, another Scottish speciality, this industrial growth was frequently interrupted by periods when trade was ‘depressed’. This led to lay-offs and wage cuts. While one response to this roller-coast ride of good times and bad times was the growth of trade unions and then a Labour party, another was emigration. Over the course of the nineteenth century, 1. 9 million Scots left the country. This figure includes those directly forced from the land by the Highland Clearances, but most came from the Lowlands.

    Of the Lowland emigrants, some left directly as a result of the Lowland Clearances in the early part of the century. But most of those who left later were a generation or more removed from the land. Even as late as the period 1951-1960 which was an ‘interlude of comparative prosperity’ for the west of Scotland, 127 000 people emigrated from the region. As Anthony Slaven put it ‘The region failed to generate enough jobs to offer the economically-active age groups.’ [The Development of the West of Scotland 1750-1960’ (London, 1975)]

    While the term ‘the Industrial Clearances’ has been used to describe the loss of Scotland’s heavy industries in the 1980s and 1990s, this period marked the end rather than the beginning of the Scottish Clearances.

    From http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-scottish-clearances-part-six.html

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Thank you Alistair. When you talk about Scotland historically being “one of the wealthiest countries in the world” I assume you appreciate that wealth inequality was even worse then than now? Most Scots up to the 1950’s at least, lets say 80%+ shall we, lived in abject poverty on poor wages or none, with a lack of decent food, being subject to many prevailing illnesses, and living in dire unsanitary overcrowded housing. It is therefore inaccurate to imply this was somehow a “wealthy” society, as you and even Tom Devine seem to suggest, as if Scotland were some homogenous classless industrial paradise. The bottom line here is that millions of Scots were effectively forced to leave Scotland (i.e. had no choice, as to stay would be futile) over a period of 100 or so years in what remains one of the largest non-war socio-economic refugee movements and population clearances ever seen in Europe for a nation of its size/population.

      1. Alistair Livingston says:

        Alf- If Scotland was not a wealthy country due to the inequality of wealth, then neither was England. I have found some figures on 19th and pre 1950 poverty in Scotland. The numbers in abject poverty were between 4% in the early 19th century falling to 2.5% by the beginning of the 20th century. Where does your figure of 80% living in abject poverty pre- 1950 come from?

        My source https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_5Income.pdf

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Alistair, ok lets take away the word ‘abject’, but you cannot dispute that we still had enormous levels of poverty throughout Scotland even in the 1950s. And even today a large percentage of Scotland’s children endure life in poverty; incredibly more than one in four (260,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty, compared to 22% (220,000) in 2014/15. This is considerably higher than most other European countries. For some of us our memories do go back to the 1950s. Yes England was/is subject to wealth inequalities, however emigration as a proportion of total population from Scotland was far greater than from England. At one point in the 19th century some 25% of people in New Zealand were Scots, and Scots accounted for half or more of all British immigrants to Canada. During/after the 1930’s depression, as well as heading to empire destinations Scots emigrants, a million or so, headed south to England where there were evidently more decent job opportunities provided. In the early 1960’s my father bought a £10 ticket to Australia for the 7 in my family to follow our Scots uncles, aunts and cousins and neighbours who had gone out there, however my mother decided at the last moment not to go due to her mother’s illness, and to stick it out in Scotland, despite the poor pay, unemployment, inadequate damp housing, and limited prospects for working class Scots. If this interesting thread has done anything it has confirmed to me that an underlying (secret?) policy aim of the British Establishment running Scotland for a century and more was evidently to facilitate (in one way or another) the clearance from Scotland of as many Scots as possible, i.e. to remove (and in part replace) what was at least half of Scotland’s population. The scale and uniqueness of Scotland’s population loss simply cannot be construed as any accident of history. From what I can gather here it may even be termed genocide. Or maybe we are just parading the “puir wee us myth of victimhood and disempowerment”, and imagining this all simply never happened to our country and its people. Though that does seem a bit like denial.

          1. Alistair Livingston says:

            Thank you Alf- you said

            “an underlying (secret?) policy aim of the British Establishment running Scotland for a century and more was evidently to facilitate (in one way or another) the clearance from Scotland of as many Scots as possible, i.e. to remove (and in part replace) what was at least half of Scotland’s population. “

            I disagree. Or rather I suggest that what drove so many Scots from Scotland was the effect of agricultural and industrial capitalism. The British Establishment was (or became) committed to the free market economy which cycled between boom and slump.

            The cotton industry and later the heavy industries of west central Scotland were focused on exports- Scotland itself could not consume the volume of goods produced. The Scottish owners of the factories, iron-works and shipyards responded to booms by raising wages to help increase production. But as soon as there was a down turn in trade, the wages were slashed.

            Industrialisation created a two tier workforce made up of skilled and unskilled workers. Many of the Scottish emigrants in the later 19th century and in the 20th century were skilled workers and their families who were looking for an escape from the boom and bust economy. Anthony Slaven’s book ‘The Development of the West of Scotland 1750-1960’ published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1975 is an excellent account of this part of Scottish history.

            My own research has uncovered the forgotten story of how a group of young men from New Galloway left the district in the 1780s
            to become apprentices to a textile machine maker- also from New Galloway- in Lancashire. They then moved to Manchester in the 1790s and by 1815 had created a complex of steam powered cotton mills which employed 3000 workers…

            But were they pushed out of Scotland- or were they pulled to England’s more rapidly developing capitalist economy?

            I have written about them here

          2. Alistair Livingston says:

            I have also researched and written about the Galloway Levellers and the Lowland Clearances. This is a talk I gave about the Galloway Levellers last year.


          3. Alf Baird says:

            Appreciate the sectoral info Alistair. However, the exodus of some 4 million Scots over the past 200 years inevitably reflects the impact of the union and the turning of the British State screw on Scotland in various ways, whether by industry (increasingly London controlled) or state policy/design, or both. And then there is the inflow over the same period of at least two million people, mostly from England, in a consistently sustained focus toward the professions, as well as Irish manual labour in the 19th century. Demographics continue to alter Scotland, with inflows from south of the border exceeding one million people over the last 20 years alone. Today almost 70% of secondary teachers in the Borders are English, 60% in Dumfries & Galloway, 50% in several other counties, and a third across all of Scotland; meanwhile in England a shortage of teachers there is partially filled by teachers from Ireland. Given the ever diminishing number of people here who have a strong cultural affinity to Scotland it is not so surprising that two million residents voted against independence in 2014. And the prevailing demographic trend does not auger well for indyref2. It is these ongoing and fundamental population changes, and with it a changing cultural orientation, that seems to be diminishing the prospect of independence.

          4. Alistair Livingston says:

            Does place of birth dictate cultural affinity Alf? My own children were born in England but now identify as Scottish and voted Yes in 2014. I still remember my English born grandparents taking me to Culloden in 1964 and telling me how my Livingstone ancestors fought with the Stewarts of Appin against the Hanoverian army. A few years later they took me to Bruce’s Stone at Glen Trool so I could read the inscription”In loyal remembrance of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, whose victory in this glen over an English force in March, 1307, opened the campaign of independence which be brought to a decisive close at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314″.

            Place of birth has no bearing on cultural affinity.

            On a family history note- I did not have an ancestor who fought for the Jacobites at Culloden. My family are descended from a Calvinist Presbyterian minister and Covenant supporter http://www.thereformation.info/Livingstone.htm

          5. Edward Andrews says:

            Thank you Alistair Livingston. I am glad to see that the Reformed tradition is not being forgotten in this debate. My Dinghy is called Eaglewing after the ship of 1636. We have to remember teh different traditions of Scotland and not permit ourselves to get caught in some kind of argument as to who true Scots were. Had I been about in 1745 I would have opposed the whole Jacobite enterprise remembering the disaster that the Stewarts brought on Scotland.
            I believe that – as I have written before – that while the actions of the Clearances were cruel and extremely unpleasant, there was not the continuity of though for them to be Genocide. I feel however we are getting over exercise about a word with a legal definition as opposed to an act of cruelty where people were driven from their homes certainly for economic reasons, and perhaps for linguistic/social reasons.

          6. Alf Baird says:

            “Place of birth has no bearing on cultural affinity.”

            I did not say it did, Alistair. Socialization and family connections has a lot to do with one’s dominant culture, as you imply in your own case. There are no doubt some people born in Scotland to English parent’s who perhaps support England at sports, and who oppose what they regard as Scottish ‘separation’ because of their dominant culture and the fact they have extended family in England. There is also the voting intention surveys to consider, which indicated that some 80% of those born elsewhere in the UK would vote ‘No’. And if there are one million or so people every 20 years people coming from rest-UK to live in Scotland then that is a very big ‘No’ and a serious blockage to the self-determination of ‘Scots’. There is also the census, which indicates where significant concentrations of people from rest-UK live in Scotland, and this reflects the ongoing rise in the unionist vote in Tory and Libdem constituencies, i.e. it is an anti-independence vote. So yes, one’s cultural affinity and dominant cultural heritage does have a large part to play in the Yes/No decision.

  27. Stan Reeves says:

    And tell me Mike? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin! Yes facts are good and yes the clearances might not have been a genocide, but they were a very bad thing. Sometimes people get a bit carried away. They really don’t need tutting school teachers telling them off for a wee bit of hyperbole. Perhaps Bella Caledonia could concentrate on getting on with the job of convincing folk in Scotland that Independence might just be a good thing, not bad like the clearances and trident and economic dependence, and political impotence, and cultural invasion(Yes i here folk puffing themselves up at this ” What do you mean? ” We were never a colony Blah blah!!. ) One or two folk in a very small academic circle exaggerate and we waste our energy arguing the toss. Bah!!!

    1. Yes facts are good.

      We intend to get on with it but we also believe people should have a think about what the political task is – ie not wallowing in an indulgent and closed sub culture …

  28. Stan Reeves says:

    I don’t think the way to win hearts and minds is to be telling people off. One first step might be to remove all pejorative adjectives from the repertoire of ones discourse. Telling folk they are “Wallowing in an Indulgent and closed sub culture” is as much a overstatement of the case as is the loose use of the word genocide. We are dealing with a mainstream media driven by sensationalism, hyperbole and downright lies. No need to play that game. It is of course important to maintain a critical mind, but in my view its much more important to emphasise the positive possibilities of Independence. That’s the job in hand.

    1. I certainly agree with your last sentence Stan

  29. Frank says:

    If you google – “the destruction of a people’s way of life and livelihood is genocide” you will find a book that can be viewed online –
    “Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights under International Law:”
    While the book addresses the issue regarding contemporary indigenous people the same principles would apply to the indigenous Scots of the past. And I use Scots rather than Gaels since the clearances weren’t confined to the Highlands and Islands, they happened in Galloway too. They also took place in England but there it was called “enclosures” but in each case they had the same effect, they deprived the people of their livelihood and destroyed their way of life – all in the name of “Progress.” Now that progress via AI appears to be on the verge of making large numbers of people redundant it might be pertinent to ask who the real beneficiaries of progress are. The past always has implications for the future

  30. goofballs cross says:

    here is the united nations criteria for genocide

    article 2, U.N. convention on genocide.

    in the present convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, or race, ethnicity or religious groups as such

    a) killing members of the group

    b) causing serious physical or mental harm to members of the group

    c) deliberately inflicting on the members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

    d) imposing measures to prevent births in the group

    e) forcefully transferring children of the group to another group

    seems fairly cut and dry,

    its really hard to argue this did not occur in Scotland or in Ireland in regards to the deliberate targeting and aim of eradication of Gaelic culture and language, or the violence inflicted on Gaels at the hands of the ruling classes under which ever convenient banner they may have been flying.

    Genocide and its criteria isnt a competition between which peoples got it worse, native Americans or Rwandas, or Jews or gypsies or Gaels .or (put in any other of many many many peoples that suffered it)

    if any of the above criteria are met then its genocide.

  31. graham lait says:

    In fact, the clearances saved many more highlanders from death then were ever killed because of them. By the late 18th century the highlands were becoming dependent on a potato economy, as in Ireland, because potatoes are an excellent source of cheap food that can be grown on marginal land and thus support a growing population. The clearances meant that when the famine struck because of potato blight, there were far fewer people dependent on the potato as their prime food source in the highlands than there were in Ireland and thus, in relative terms, far fewer to starve to death. This is the paradox of the clearances, but since it doesn’t fit with the traditional (Scottish) view that the clearances were a huge and wicked injustice perpetrated on the poor highlanders by greedy landlords it isn’t much known and certainly isn’t publicised… after all, why would the average Scotsman want to give up the chip on his shoulder and face the reality of the situation?

  32. MA HAMID says:

    Can understand what is being said about the abuse by the low land Scots however no mention about for example the psychological abuse against all the Scots at the time creating a feeling of ”lesser than”, for example this may be one way to describe in modern terms.. take the example of the ”Culture” in the Philipines and self-poisoning that is going on today but due to past ”Cultural Oppression”, from years of Colonialism entrenched in the make-up of society to the extent they harm themselves.. because they feel they are ”lesser than”.. this is a psychological problem of self-abuse and it appears the Scot’s had a similar fate.. for more about what constitutes Genocide you can contact us here at; [email protected]

  33. Rose Hearn says:

    Every day I long for my homeland. I will never see it again. I miss the culture that I grew up with….the songs, the stories and the language of my people that I will never hear again. And, to be reduced to an inferior human being… Is that not genocide?

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