What’s Wrong with the Sleepy Hollows, and Especially Scotland?
There is nothing much wrong with Scotland as a piece of territory. The natural beauties we love; to the climate we have become acclimatised and find it bracing in proportion to its keenness; to the corruptions of speech we are accustomed, and on the whole dislike them less than the abused aspirates, wh’s, and g’s of South Britain; they are part of a mode of speech which abounds in euphonies, short cuts, and sly humour. Scots literature is one of the glories of the world, so that ‘Quentin Durward’ has as much of a vogue in France as in the country of its origin, and ‘Scots Wha Hae’ appeals even to people who, like Micawber, haven’t the least idea of what a ‘willy waught’ is.* Scots music, product of the soul-stirring violin rather than the pounded piano, takes the world by storm; and the Scots character comedian is the most universally popular of his not very illustrious tribe.
*It should, of course, be ‘gude-willy waught.’
When we come to deal with Scottish institutions and social tendencies, much of what is to be deplored applies less or more to other nations. But Scotland’s case is acute; and her much-flattered people are still obsessed with a douce conceit which refuses to recognise that there is anything amiss. The land goes out of cultivation, and although there is more grass there are fewer cattle. The people flock to the four cities. The slums are alleged without serious contradiction to be the worst in the world. Despite old age pensions, widows’ pensions, maternity benefit, and the dole, the number of paupers is double what it was fifty years ago. In Scotland in 1878 there were 26 persons per 1000 of population in receipt of Poor Law relief. Last year, in spite of all the latter-day relieving agencies, there were 49 persons per 1000 in receipt of Poor relief. The meaning of this is that Scotland is becoming to an increasing degree a country of old people, the young having cleared out to enrich other communities and to impoverish the land that has bred and educated them - the greatest of all losses if there be any truth in the saying that there is no wealth but life. The people of other nations regard expatriation as a punishment, as indeed it once was regarded in this country; but the emigration figures would seem to indicate that the latter-day Scot thinks any country better than his own.
There is, however, another reason for the pauperism - the invasion of Irish people, many of whom come upon the rates. While the number of Irish in Scotland was but 600,000 last year, their birth-rate is such that every fifth child born is Irish: in Glasgow in 1926 it was 2.8½ per cent. of the total, or getting on for one child in every three.
What Is a Living Patriotism?
Faced with facts like these, what remedies are offered? Hardly anything definite. Colonel John Buchan, writing in the Scots Observer, suggests ‘A Living Patriotism.’ But what is that? In war-time patriotism meant fighting abroad and working and keeping cheerful at home. But what does patriotism mean in peace time? It means several things.
First, it means staying in the country. A scavenger living and working in Scotland is obviously of more value to it than an Archbishop who has deserted the land of his birth and the faith of his fathers; or an author who writes tales about Thrums, but prefers to live in London; or a ‘clever Keith’ who elects to work at the London College of Surgeons rather than to farm Kinnermit, where he was brought up, and where, by putting science into farming, he might do much more good to the country, by showing what could be done with our soil and climate, than by anything he can possibly do in the realm of more or less abstract science. Anyhow, science can be furthered in Scotland as in England, if the Watts, Murdochs, Murchisons, Listons, Hunters, and Listers would stay at home, following the example of Napier of Merchiston, Simpson the pioneer of anaesthetics, a successions of Gregories - doctors., oculists, and mathematicians; and in literature Burns, Hume, Scott, Hogg, Jeffrey, Lockhart, John Brown, Alex. Bain, Crockett, with Neil Munro, Patrick Geddes, J. F. Tocher, and J. Arthur Thomson, the last four still happily with us, and the Southron coming after them instead of their hunting the Southron.
It may be said ‘Ah, but think of the honour to Scotland and the career to the talents!’ I grant that the career is what the careerist thinks of; but we are not speaking of personal advantage, but of what Colonel John Buchan calls ‘a Living Patriotism.’ Patriotism means the devotion of the individual to the good of his country – devotion and if need be sacrifice; though personally I can see no sacrifice about remaining at home among one’s kindred and living in peace and quiet a healthy and useful life as a grower of great crops. A breeder and feeder of fine animals, and in public life a participant in the work of securing better conditions of every kind for one’s fellows. It is fine to sympathise with sickness and to relieve suffering; but Scotland herself is sick and bleeding to death, and the first duty of patriotic citizens is to stay at home in it, and try to set the house in order.
Always a Rover.
The Scot always was ‘a truant bird that thought his home a cage.’ In the days when Scotland had only a tithe of its present population the Scot went abroad on the plea that there was ‘no room.’ The trouble quite obviously was that there was too much room and too few people. And that is still the trouble. It is population that makes a country rich, and the want of it that makes a country poor.
I make no claim to patriotism, but I have some public spirit. I want to be surrounded by as many well-fed, well-clad, well-housed, well-mannered, healthy, and happy people as possible. When Queen Victoria visited Manchester she wrote in her Diary that ‘the people looked painfully unhealthy.’ It was another monarch who wished to see every peasant in the land have a fat capon in his pot. They are both wishes very becoming to persons of public spirit, as kings and queens should be.
My late friend Prince Peter Kropotkin was a royal person if ever there was one. I am not thinking so much of the fact that the Kropotkins were the ancient royal house of Rurik, beside whom the Romanoffs were parvenues. I am thinking of how the regal spirit worked out in practice. Peter Kropotkin, man of science as he was, exiled from Russia and his estates confiscated, devoted the later years of his life specially to the study of the capabilities of the soil. His book, ‘Fields, Factories, and Workshops,’ showing the immense potentialities of the land under proper treatment, is a social gospel. He marshalled the facts prefiguring what he called ‘The Coming Reign of Plenty’ from a multitude of sources, showing not merely what could be done, but what already had been done here and there and could be done more or less everywhere.
I mention him and his facts and conclusions because they are at the bottom of my whole inquiry as to ‘What’s Wrong with Scotland.’ His main conclusions are three:-
Can We Feed Ourselves?
(1) If the soil of the United Kingdom were cultivated only as it was 45 years ago [this should now be 65 years ago], 24,000,000 instead of 17,000,000, could live on home-grown food; and this culture, while giving occupation to an additional 750,000 men, would give nearly 3,000,000 wealthy home customers to the British manufacturers.
(2) If the cultivable area of the United Kingdom were cultivated as the soil is cultivated on the average in Belgium, the United Kingdom would have food for at least 37,000,000 inhabitants; and it might export agricultural produce without ceasing to manufacture so as freely to supply all the needs of a wealthy population. And finally -
(3) If the population of this country came to be doubled, all that would be required for producing the food for 90,000,000 inhabitants would be to cultivate the soil as it is cultivated in the best farms of this country, in Lombardy and Flanders, and to utilise some of the meadows which at present lie almost unproductive, in the same way as the neighbourhoods of the big cities of France are utilised for market-gardening.
All these are not fancy dreams, but mere realities; nothing but the modest conclusions from what we see round about us, without any allusion to the agriculture of the future.
What Is Done.
That these are really modest conclusions is at once apparent to those who know the facts. Britain has only 389 persons to the square mile, and only a third of these are fed on home-grown food. So much of our land is under grass that on a railway journey one is apt to think, from the fields on both sides of the line, that golfing rather than farming is the chief rural industry. But Belgium supports 700 persons to the square mile, mostly with home-grown food, while she long ago exported 48s, worth of food a-year per head of population. Jersey supports 1300 and Guernsey 1400 persons to the square mile, and both export more than they consume. China, without artificial manures and only the most primitive implements, feeds 3000 persons to the square mile.
So that if all the Scots people born continued to live in Scotland they could not only be fed upon home-grown food, but could live even better than they do now. What I want to establish is that there is no need for the Scot to emigrate, or even migrate to the towns. £4oo,000,000 worth of agricultural produce comes into Britain that could quite easily be raised here. In one recent year over £2o,000,000 worth of eggs were imported, so that there is room and need for an immensely increased production of eggs, and it is the easiest of all branches of production. You pop in a meal, and the silly hen does the rest. Nay, it is easier even than that. The hen will pop in the meal herself. You will not even need to lay it all down for her. Give her freedom to range, and she will pick up the large part of it as it were from the void.
The great excuse for migration to the cities and emigration to the colonies is that we have no local industries. There were no industries anywhere till the people made them. Farming is a neglected or misconducted industry. The Scottish farmer produces corn and cattle - corn to compete with the produce of virgin soil paying no rent at all or only a nominal rental, and with cattle bred and fed by peon labour on the ranches of South America, both the corn and the meat being imported at freight rates which are as low as rail rates to the home producer are high.
The British farmer mostly does not trouble about the yield of his milk cows. He regards them as pets, and of a poor milker, giving as little as 400 gallons, he will say ‘She gave me a bonnie black calf last year,’ as if the colour mattered. Brooklands Barbara, an eight-year old Friesian cow, shown at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, has established a milking record. She gave 13 gallons in twenty-four hours, and in the four months before the Dairy Show she yielded 1500 gallons. She could be relied upon for an average of 7o gallons a-week.
Barbara is, as said, the champion; but 2000 gallon cows are common. I do not know what the wholesale price of milk is at present. Retail it is eighteenpence where I live. Two thousand gallons at 1/6 is £150 a-year from one cow’s milk. Barbara’s 364o gallons is getting on for double that figure.
Egg production is now being more or less seriously taken up; I heard the other day of a Scots poultry farm with 30,000 laying hens; but that is still startlingly exceptional. It is only a year or two since the Turriff Society for the co-operative marketing of eggs was started; and the experiment has been so successful that butter has this summer been added to the society’s trade: several months ago I learned that half-a-ton of butter was being collected and sold per week, and the amount was being steadily increased. It may well be so; for last year there was imported of butter £48,289,000 worth; of margarine £4,687,000 worth; and of cheese, just under £14,000,000. It may be said that the special foreign cheeses, such as Gruyere and Parmesan, must be imported; but if so-called Pilsener laager beer can be made in Glasgow, as it has long been, if Banbury buns and Eccles cakes are made everywhere, there is no reason why Camembert, Gruyere, Parmesan, Cheddar, Stilton, or Dutch cheese should not be made in Scotland. The great element of cheese is milk, and there are all the time complaints of surplus milk; though in Britain the consumpt of milk per head is very low by comparison with such countries as Sweden or even America.
Tomato culture is now being taken up by farmers, an obvious addition to the old staple crops, in view of the fact that over four million pounds’ worth were imported last year. The Scots tomatoes are said to be the best, and they certainly fetch by much the highest price.
The immense developments possible under a system of organised marketing are indicated by the detailed figures of imports, some of which I have given. We are still invaded by an army of onion vendors. I once visited their hostel in James Street, Aberdeen, and found there were 14 Frenchmen working the county. They seemed to live well; and that they should be able to travel 1oo miles for a day’s work, paying rail fare and expenses, indicates that there is money in onions. There were imported last year over two million pounds worth of this easily grown and profitable crop, of which an acre of ground produces, it is said, up to 1oo tons. At even a penny a lb. this gives a return of £933 6/8 from a single acre.
Before coming to Turriff I spent four happy productive years in the old East Yorkshire town of Cottingham. There the industry was orchard and market gardening, and the process of the seasons could be traced by the produce that appeared on the station platform. Everybody grew apples and pears, which were sold by the stone. Two shillings a stone for pears was considered a high price, though it is less than 2d. a lb. But what then? There was little to do beyond gathering the crop. Owing to fantastic railway rates, the apple crop in Kent is sometimes left to rot on the ground, while foreign apples are carried over sea and inland at less than the cost of carrying flat Kentish apples 20 miles to London. But Yorkshire, and still more Scotland, are on a different footing. I have eaten very nice apples grown out of doors within eight miles of Turriff. These and a thousand times as many could be eaten in the immediate neighbourhood, paying no rail rates at all. We imported over £9,000,000 worth of apples last year. The other night I bought green cooking apples in Turriff at 6d. a lb. - far too much, but rail freight and the profits of the wholesaler would swell the price.
The effect on population of developing the production of food is strikingly illustrated in some figures printed in the Daily Mail with reference to Shenley Farm, Headcorn, Kent, of which the occupant is Lieut.-Colonel Delme Radcliffe. On this farm of 400 acres 6 men were employed previous to Colonel Radcliffe’s occupancy. The number is now increased to 77, with 200 dependents. There are 75 acres of plough-land. Fifteen acres are devoted to pigs, of which 400 are kept. There is accommodation for 1900, and the number kept, it was reported, is to be increased. The sales of pig (I suppose in varying forms - on four legs, and as pork, bacon, and ham) averaged £248 per week. Fifty-two acres are given to poultry. 4280 laying hens are kept, to be increased to 9000. The average production of eggs was 2200 to 2500 daily at the time of reporting - December, 1926. I have seen no further account of this food factory, nor was a balance sheet given; but there is no reason to believe that Colonel Radcliffe was merely plunging or that the farm will not develop according to plan and the accommodation available.
The Standard of Life.
The meaning of this kind of development is that we can keep the people on the land fully employed and enjoying a good standard of comfort. The French market gardener retires with a competency at 55 to 6o, handing over the marais, or garden, to his family. The editor of the Scots Observer, my brilliant friend William Power, on holiday in Norway, found the people of that remote ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ mainly prosperous farming folk. They cultivated the mountain sides up to the snow-line, and everywhere in the fjords were little piers and jetties where bustling packet boats, belonging to co-operative syndicates of the farmers themselves, called to take up and set down passengers and merchandise. There were, he said, ‘no big hooses or plus fours.’ In other words, the husbandmen kept no grand seigneur, with his swarm of parasites, on two legs and on four. There has been discussion in Parliament recently as to the crippling freight rates imposed by the MacBrayne Line, whose steamers ply between the Clyde and the West Highlands and Islands. The system is being reorganised, thanks to the exposures by the Labour members and the Forward. But it will not yet be organised on the Norwegian principle of ownership by the people who use it.
Those who assume that a farming and pastoral community must needs have a low standard of life overlook the facts. Food prices are high by comparison with the prices ruling in industries out of which high wages and large gross profits are taken. Mr. Henry Ford pays wages of £1 a-day as a minimum, and is himself a millionaire. But a new Ford car may be bought retail for £150, and if Ford receives £120 of that, it will be the outside figure. There are 16 cwts. of metal, wood, rubber, leather, cloth, paint, and upholstery to find for £120. This works out 1/1½ a-lb. Now, the price of a lb. of butter would probably average quite two shillings the year round. But while the cow eats her own food and generates milk automatically, every ounce of the car has to be laboured over by a whole series of workmen, from the miner and the smelter of the metal to the leather-worker who attaches the last strap and button before the car is run out completed,
If agriculture and horticulture were carried on as is the production of motor cars, there is nothing to prevent the Ford standard of life, or a better, being enjoyed by the producers.
The Last Golden Age.
The Golden Age of labour in this country is admitted by all conversant with the facts to have been the 13th to the 15th century. Wages for men were 6d. a-day to 10d. in harvest time. The value of these wages, measured by their purchasing power, as all wages must be, was comparatively high. Professor Thorold Rogers, M.P., ransacked the carefully kept account books of the estate bailiffs employed by monasteries and colleges, and has embodied very complete details as to wages and prices in his books ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages’ and ‘The Economic Interpretation of History.’ Here is a list of prices current in Merrie England five hundred years ago, with the corresponding figures of to-day taken from the market reports:
Wheat, per quarter - 4s. to 5/4; now 45s.
Barley, do. - 3/2 to 4/10; now 32s. to 37s.
Oats. do. - 1/10 to 2/4; now 24s.
Oxen and Bulls - 12s. to 16s.; now £27 to £33
Calves - 1/4 to 2/8; now £10
Sheep - 1/2 to 1/4; now 57/6
Lambs - 4d. to 8d.; now 31s. to 55s.
Capons - 3d.; now 3s. to 4s.
Chickens - ½d. to 1d.; now 2s. to 3s.
Ducks - 1½d. to 2d.; now 2s. to 3s.
Pigs (Young) - 2½d. to 5d.; now 11s. to 35s.
Rabbits - 2d.; now 1s. to 1/6
Pigeons - 3 a penny; now 1s. to 1/6
Fresh Congers - 4d.; now 15s. to 25s. a stone
Cheese - ½d. per lb.; now 1/4 to 1/10
Honey - 3d. a quart; now 2s. a lb.
Eggs - 25 a penny; now 2s. a dozen
A day’s wage (6d,) would thus buy 12½ dozen eggs. Taking 2s, as a medium present-day price, the normal day’s wage of the fifteenth century labourer, as measured in eggs, would equal in purchasing power 25s. of our money. The life then was mainly agricultural and pastoral; but it was free of the hundred and one wastages of contemporary civilization - no railways, advertising, commercial travellers, banks, insurance offices, stockbrokers, standing fleets and armies, few roads, and just as little need for them, goods being produced for a local market; no publicity experts, no beauty parlours with manicurists and face lifters, no motor buses, et hoc genus omne. The people did get about, but it was on foot and on horse and donkey hack. The word ‘canter’ is derived from the pace at which pilgrims went to Canterbury. A ‘roamer’ was one who had been to Rome. The ‘saunterer’ had travelled slowly through the Saint Terre, or Holy Land, and the surname Palmer has a similar origin, showing that even people in humble life saw the world before there was a Blue Train or a Mauretania. A large part of the traffic upon our roads and railways is pure waste. I used to get a certain typewriting paper sent from London to Turriff, till I learned it was made in Inverurie. Even now I have to get it from Aberdeen, as Tait’s mill sells only in quantities too large for me. I give that as a type of the waste of commercialism, from which they were free in the Middle Ages. The workman’s food and drink were not burdened with tax and transport charges.
Part Two will follow next month...
To find past articles please use monthly archives.