Colonel Buchan, in the article to which I have referred, says he hopes for something from the Clydeside members of Parliament, and he thanks God that they are ‘not genteel.’ It seems an odd aspiration from a Tory M.P. and romancist; but I take it he means that to be genteel means to be feckless. And he is right. The parts of the country that have done well for themselves are parts where the son has followed in his father’s footsteps, developing and perfecting the business and employing more people generation after generation. That is the opposite of the Scots way. In Scotland useful production is despised as not genteel. If a boy show some aptitude, his father, instead of taking him into his own business, concludes he must be doctor, lawyer, parson, or officer. The one who is taken into the business is usually the stupid one. The farmer makes his clever son a doctor and his dull son a farmer, with the result that talent is expatriated to England, India, or the Colonies, and the dulness is carefully conserved at home, to breed more dulness and let business stagnate or run to seed. I think probably the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son is to be found here. The enterprising lad was allowed to go away and make a hash. The boor was retained at home, probably more or less despised by his father, who would naturally think the clever son was more credit to him, even if he did do a bit of plunging. If the hankering after gentility is responsible for the production in Scotland of so many teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, and journalists, who mostly have to leave the land that has spent its money upon them - then we do need to set our faces in the other direction - that of producing useful things, and especially the food and clothes of our own people.
I think Colonel Buchan is right in his expectation that the ungenteel Labour M.P.s will do something for Scotland. One of them, George Hardie, a younger brother of Keir, was asked by the Lord Provost of Glasgow to get a warship to build for the Clyde. Hardie replied that he would rather have houses built than warships. It was a creditable sentiment, and the houses have been built. But if and when there are no shipping orders for the Clyde it will be found that there are too many houses in Glasgow already. A sane social system would abolish cities like Glasgow, sending the people back to the Highlands and to Ireland, where so many of them came from originally.
It was another Labour M.P. - David Kirkwood - who told Mr. Lloyd George that an engineer was worth half-a-dozen lawyers - a highly ungenteel remark, but with some truth in it. At least engineering employs more people and has more to show for their work than the lawyer, who is largely concerned with quarrels which he is said sometimes to foment and with the administration of property which should not have been accumulated.
This brings me to another point. There is far too much saving in Scotland. A half-crown turned over eight times becomes £1. It does that amount of service as a medium of exchange, and at the end of the eight transactions it is still a half-crown in someone’s possession. As member of a pensions authority I am amazed at the savings of elderly people who have omitted to take the good of two, four, and even five hundred pounds of the money they have earned, and come upon the pensions fund at 7o. Those who have employed these people will probably be, in some cases, overdrawn at the bank.
When I read of the number of War Savings Certificates that have been taken up, I recollect that many of those who waste their money in this way are living in hovels, with a stone floor, a thatched roof, a box bed, a paraffin lamp with a single wick, and are denying themselves proper food, clothing, books, newspapers, amusements, a holiday and a sight of the world. There are many persons, in saving Scotland especially, who might well grudge to die, since they have never been more than half alive. But they will probably be all the more willing to die, since life has intrigued them so little that they have not cared to live it.
The properly constituted person is more interested in the game of life than in the stakes. Too many Scotsmen think all the time of the stakes and neglect to play the game. Money withdrawn from consumption is a double robbery. It robs the man to whom it belongs and who does not use it, and it robs industry and trade of orders that would help to keep it brisk and further the economic development and all the civilization that comes of it. It is better to live rich than to die rich.
One specific remedy for Scotland’s troubles is Home Rule; and with this Colonel Buchan, being a Tory, has no sympathy. The Government he supports, indeed, is taking away a large part of the Home Rule we have. Any proposal that tends to rob the rural areas of the elements of political life and of interest in public affairs is entirely bad. We want as many persons interested in the business of Government as possible. Town Council work has been efficiently and intelligently done according to the standards of the time. The shopkeepers and business men of the small towns know more about local affairs than the lords, lairds, major-generals, factors, and farmers who form the county council.
A Parliament in Scotland would tend to revive interest in Scottish national affairs, in which the prevailing views of the Scottish representatives at Westminster are overwhelmed by reactionary English votes. If tyranny be, as De Toqueville said it was, the imposition upon a people of a will in opposition to its own, then Scotland has the genuine article. The same principle holds in local affairs. If decentralisation and local responsibility carried to the fullest extent be good principles in national government, as I believe they are, the same considerations apply to local government. If the work of local bodies had been neglected, or had been done either wastefully or parsimoniously, there would have been a case for interference and alteration. But this cannot be alleged. If here and there it can be, then the same charges could be brought against County Councils to a much larger extent. The stripping of town councils of their functions is a step in the wrong direction, a checkmate to democracy which will exclude the best element in the people in favour of the leisured class, who are comparative amateurs in life. I can only hope that the next Labour Government will reverse a piece of flagrant class legislation and restore the local councils, with greater powers and responsibilities than they have ever possessed.
Summing up my points, I say Scotland is kept back by the migration and emigration of her people. A healthy community absorbs its own natural increase. The country has no moral right to dump its sons and daughters wholesale and as a matter of course on the cities, which have to absorb their own much greater natural increase.
Scotland is slow. I heard and saw a local auctioneer one day offer two yokels a run in his car. They were slow to respond, being apparently unable to realise that anyone should offer them a ride out of pure good nature. When at last they jumped in, overjoyed, he swore, although an elder of the Kirk. The incident is typical.
Scotland is churlish. In the East Yorkshire town of 9000 population which I left to come here, my shop was a haunt of the six local clergymen, the two local doctors, an M.P. resident in the place, and a member of the House of Peers. In Turriff neither of the two parish ministers has called upon me in twelve years, nor have I ever had a pennyworth of custom from them. In Cottingham I had hospitality all round; here I have rarely had a meal (except in two quarters) that I haven’t paid for. Even a trade competitor who lived in my last town, but had his premises in Hull city, was very agreeable to me, though I had taken the work of all the local churches from him. Here the representative of my nearest trade competitor cuts me, and used to say of certain jobs I did that they were not done in Turriff, till one day a local chemist assured him that he (the chemist) was present while one such job was being done and saw the work going on. Another (a Macduff) competitor came and ranged over my place in my absence, spying of course. The English people spoil Scots folk with kindness.
Scotsmen are not greedy, but they are frugal, and it comes to the same thing. The canard about Sandy in London is that when he discovered he could see the Big Ben clock out of his bedroom window, he stopped his watch. What is true is that Sandy often does not wear his watch on weekdays. I have heard a neighbour ask the time thrice in one day, his own watch being laid up from Sunday to Sunday.
Sandy rarely has time for a job that is not paid for; but attach a small honorarium, and he will come to canvass you at eleven o’clock at night for it.
Sandy will not wear an overcoat on workdays, however cold it may be, unless he be a railway employee, who gets a red-collared coat from the company, and takes the good of it. The Scots country mason will rather risk the collapse of a newly built wall than be at the expense of a tarpaulin to keep out the rain. From this cause the house I live in is still exuding damp after a year’s occupation, with fires and open windows.
Considering how many Scotsmen go abroad among strangers, a newcomer ought to have a less churlish welcome from Sandy at home when the stranger comes with good intentions and does not ask anything for nothing.
All these are aspects of Scottish small-town life in which I think there is room for improvement, and I trust that criticism so mild will not fall upon stony ground. There are nice people everywhere. With all their faults, I love my countrymen, and have twice shaken the dust of England from my feet because I prefer to live and work in the country and among my own people, having an idea that the less they want me the more they need me. My life has been largely spent in public work wherever I have gone, and if I left Turriff now it would be substantially in my debt. I should go poorer than I came, which for an industrious man is hard fortune. I shall not complain if Sandy will but wake up and take his part in the world’s progress, as he is being exhorted on so many hands to do, and as his decaying country demands. We were celebrating Armistice Day on Sunday, and very properly so. A German conqueror would not have suited us. But to defend this country against the threat of foreign invasion, and then leave it to Italians, Jews, and Irishmen, all of whom come with low standards of life, is the depth of futility. Where there is no vision the people perish. I look ahead to a great future for the race, and I should like to see my mother country taking her full share in the work of building it.
In writing thus I am not as the ill bird that fouls its own nest. The nest is not so much foul as empty, and I want to see it keep its own birds, not as a nursery, but as a permanent home. I am sorry to see any old, settled land being stripped of its greatest asset, its people. The Scotland which is good enough to be a pleasure-ground to the rich should be made better worth living in to the common man. It can be made so only by definite changes. A vague, backward-looking patriotism of song and sentiment, confined to St. Andrew’s and Burns nights, and celebrated with most unction by Scots who have run away for more money, is merely nauseous. What ails the Sleepy Hollows is their sleepiness, and, as a country of four cities and the rest a spreading desert, Scotland is in special need of being stabbed, if possible, broad awake.
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