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Samizdata quote of the day

In brief, the SNP’s dislike of the UK is more that the UK might be a brake on their statism than anything else. Hatred of the English is actually hatred of the (vestigial) freedom that England represents.

– Commenter Mr. Ed

40 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed is correct.

  • I would actually go further and say that SNP-style model can only work while Scottish government largess is being funded by the UK taxpayers as a whole (even Scottish ones) to provide greater per capita spending on the Scots than anyone the majority of the UK except the tiny population of Ulster.

    In 2013/14, public spending per head in the UK as a whole was £8,936, broken down by country and region it was:
    – England £8,678 (3% below the UK average)
    – Scotland £10,275 (15% above the UK average)
    – Wales £9,924 (11% above the UK average)
    – Northern Ireland £10,961 (23% above the UK average)

    Public expenditure by country and region – Parliament

    Even with the most generous apportionments (all of the oil, none of the debt) an independent Scotland would be unlikely to retain the current level of expenditure per capita. The vision of Scotland touted by Wee Eck and his successor Wee Jimmy Krankie are optimistic to the point of delusion and while the dreams by Scots of an independent Scotland are understandable the price to be paid would be a balancing of the books that would either result in higher taxes and or a reduction in per capita spending and probably both.

    This is why the Scots have voted against independence twice and despite gerrymandering of the vote by extending it to 16 year old’s, still couldn’t get the Scots to vote for independence in sufficient numbers to ensure success.

    Nicola Sturgeon’s approach now seems to be to exploit the West Lothian problem to such an extent that the rest of the UK parties are forced to deal with the issue either by introducing legislation to deal with it or having YET ANOTHER referendum. As with EU referenda, the Scots will be forced to keep voting until they get “the right answer”.

  • James Strong

    Mr. Ed is not correct.
    There might be 6 or 7 members of the SNP who have used or considered the word ‘statism’. Many will never have heard it.
    There are many reasons why SNP members dislike the UK. The most important one is the idea of English domination of Scotland, and it would continue if there was a communist government in Westminster.
    And there are more reasons why SNP voters who are not members dislike the UK. For them it is more likely to be simply a dislike of England for non-political reasons. That is likely to be based on mis-understood history of Scotland/England conflicts centuries ago, and to continue with rivalry in sport, primarily football.
    As a very non-ideologically pure semi-libertarian I am aware how seldom people think about the role of the state at all.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    the dreams by Scots of an independent Scotland are understandable the price to be paid would be a balancing of the books that would either result in higher taxes and or a reduction in per capita spending and probably both.

    This is why the Scots have voted against independence twice and despite gerrymandering of the vote by extending it to 16 year old’s, still couldn’t get the Scots to vote for independence in sufficient numbers to ensure success.

    I’m sure I’m in a minority but this Scot voted no because the SNP are authoritarian psychopaths, not because I have a philosophical objection to independence, nor even that I fear financial hardships. If I thought I’d have been freer out of the UK than in, I’d have voted yes in a heartbeat. Again, while not a representative sample, many homeschoolers I’ve spoken to have said more or less the same thing.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Wasn’t that the very same reason for Old Labour’s dislike of the EC? (as the EU was known at the time.)

  • @Jaded Voluntaryist

    I doubt that many SNP supporters would come to a libertarian place like Samizdata. You might be a part of the majority that voted “No” in the 2014, but the overwhelming majority of Scots will be voting SNP in the 2015 election, so I suspect your opinion will avail little.

    The SNP’s authoritarian nature is spelled out clearly for all Scots to see with their ‘named person’ legislation. This explicitly demonstrates that an SNP state, like the Nazis and the Communists before them see the family unit as undermining the authority of the state.

  • hennesli

    I agree with James Strong, the reasons for Scottish nationalism, and Irish nationalism for that matter, are a little more complicated than “they hate our freedom!”

  • Mr Ed

    There might be 6 or 7 members of the SNP who have used or considered the word ‘statism’. Many will never have heard it.
    There are many reasons why SNP members dislike the UK. The most important one is the idea of English domination of Scotland, and it would continue if there was a communist government in Westminster.

    One does not need to use the word ‘statism’ to be a statist, any more than the word von Mises used, ‘étatism’.

    There is no English domination of Scotland. The only disservice that England does to Scotland is to subsidise its statism and allow it to wallow in an uneconomic situation with the monetary costs falling elsewhere. If the SNP wished Scotland to be independent, then they would also wish to leave the EU, plainly they do not, and not only that, they do not wish the UK to leave the EU unless Scotland agrees.

    As for football, there is no rivalry, the Home Internationals are no longer a fixture, and the Rugby is far more civilised and diffuse.

    the reasons for Scottish nationalism,… …are a little more complicated than “they hate our freedom!”

    That is not on point. I did not say that the Scottish Nationalists hate our freedom. You have misrepresented what I said. I said that the SNP hate freedom, and see an example of (relative) freedom in England. They know that so long as the UK subsists, they are vulnerable to an Act of the UK Parliament dismantling their statism in an afternoon, that is why it is intolerable to them. The EU presents no such threat, at least for now.

  • Raymond

    ‘Statism’ is not a word that would be recognised in the SNP vocabulary. But ‘voodoo’ might be one that they’d understand. How else to explain the hold they appear to have over much of the Scottish electorate?

    At the last general election, they polled 19.9% on a 63.8% turnout. Unless my arithmetic is off, that means that only around 12% of those eligible to vote could be bothered to state a preference for independence. Yet five years on, they are riding high in the polls. Their noxious brand of identity politics (ingredients: paranoia, grievance, the absurd manipulation of ‘facts’ to suit an agenda, the demonising of opponents, offence-taking, scaremongering and a side-helping of cultist absolutism) appears to be paying off.

  • GlenDorran

    @Jaded Voluntaryist:

    Yes, your reasoning for voting No was almost exactly the same as mine.

    The SNP are a frightening organisation. Only the iron discipline instilled by the leadership has stopped their true face being widely seen on the mainstream media. Scratch the surface on Twitter or Facebook and the true views of the rank and file come out. Scary, scary people. Despite all their talk of “welcoming and inclusive”, they would quite happily see the deaths of anyone who doesn’t support them.

  • John Mann

    the reasons for Scottish nationalism,… …are a little more complicated than “they hate our freedom!”

    True, of course.

    But there is no question that a lot of people have resented being part of the UK because

    1) UK politicians as a whole tend to be more sympathetic to free markets than Scottish politicians, and

    2) UK politicians as a whole tend to be less inclined to support giving people “free stuff” at the expense of tax-payers.

    Furthermore, there are progressives in Scotland who have no real problem with the English as such, or with the UK as such, but who do think that Scotland’s record since devolution in being in the vanguard of looking after people (see the things Brendan O’Neill is appalled by – which I also am appalled by) is a good reason for supporting independence and for voting SNP.

  • Mr Ed


    Wasn’t that the very same reason for Old Labour’s dislike of the EC? (as the EU was known at the time.)

    IIRC, the Labour Movement adopted the EEC/EU and it seemed to be an open affair from the time when M Delors, the Commission President addressed the Trade Union Congress in 1988, promising them social legislation that the British Government could not stop.

    Previously, the Brothers had been suspicious of the EEC, a potential brake on their plans, like the Labour Manifesto of 1983. (Note: the 1983 Manifesto does not appear to be on the Labour Party’s website, this is what Bing led me to, it might appear to be a spoof, but even then, you could not really tell.) It was termed the longest suicide note in history. They were even subsidising death: “Increase the death grant to at least £200.”, but most of it has now come to pass, barring a United Ireland and scrapping Trident (It was still Polaris in 1983). It was, apparently, all the resolutions adopted by (the Labour Party’s) Conference.

    The SNP are far more polished than Labour of 1983, and the Soviet Union is no more.

    Perhaps its sadness at being jilted by the fraternal British Comrades led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, liaisons between the monstrous lovers weren’t that covert.

  • Niall Kilmartin

    Mr Ed and James are both right. 🙂 Most SNP voters I’ve encountered don’t call themselves statists or even think about the term at all. (The disconnect of thought is not quite as extreme as the people who perpetrated the racism in Rotherham while calling themselves ‘anti’-racists.) Calling the party’s bigshots ‘statists’ is very just, and they sort of know it though they’d say it very differently: their union of socialism and nationalism leaves very few corners where a hesitation to acquire and use power can lurk. There are young and naive SNP voters who talk of ‘fairness’, as against ‘unfairness’ (e.g. of wicked Tories) in running the state, who live unthinkingly in a world where the state is always there, always the determining factor: the only question is what it should do, not whether. (As they grow older, they either grow wiser or less innocent.) Where the ethnic hostility that is essential to the SNP (though not consciously to some of its younger voters) is dominant, it compels an unreflecting statism: a 50%+1 vote in a referendum must bind all Scots; a 45% vote that gets a majority of SNP MPs must bind all Scots. “I’d be happy to appoint Alastair [Darling – his opponent in the debate] to negotiate the currency union”, said Salmond as his sign-off remark, “because we’ll all be part of Team Scotland then” [i.e. after he’d got 50%+1 in the referendum]. This way of thinking about his fellow Scots makes statism of the essence.

  • There are young and naive SNP voters who talk of ‘fairness’, as against ‘unfairness’ (e.g. of wicked Tories) in running the state, who live unthinkingly in a world where the state is always there, always the determining factor: the only question is what it should do, not whether. (As they grow older, they either grow wiser or less innocent.)

    If the whole SNP supported ‘named person’ thing goes ahead, the young will be even more subject to state interference and propaganda.

    Say No to the SNPs Named Person Legislation

  • Niall K: In short, nationalism is a subset of statism.

    A libertarian can be a patriot, and certainly a seperatist. Indeed, there’s a strong libertarian tradition of supporting seperatism on the grounds that it diminishes the reach of individual states. But he can never be a nationalist.

    And that’s what has really struck me about the SNP since they won their outright majority at Holyrood: it’s not just convenient shorthand for “the seperatist/independence party”; they really are nationalists. Where the UK, for all its faults, sometimes devolves power, and occasionally surrenders it to the people themselves (not to mention permitting two entirely seperate legal systems to pertain on its territory for three centuries; is this unique in the world?), I’m finding it very hard to think of any measure Holyrood has taken since 2011 that diminishes the state as supposed embodiment of The Nation. They really mean it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you Mr Ed. I was actually thinking more of an even earlier period, from accession to the EC (orchestrated by the Tories) to the referendum on the issue (called by Labour).
    Another way of putting it is, i was thinking of the period when this picture was taken.

  • JohnW

    The Scots’ view of their own history is beyond satire.
    I have lost count of the number of times I have had to correct them on the myth of the Highland Clearances – there were no clearances – just the bog standard economic effects of millions of people choosing a better life in the cities.
    Naturally, the Left don’t see it that way.
    Ayn Rand explained their motive in Global Balkanisation:

    Philosophically, tribalism is the product of irrationalism and collectivism. It is the logical consequence of modern philosophy. If men accept the notion that reason is not valid, what is to guide them and how are they to live? Obviously, they will seek to join some group — any group — which claims the ability to lead them and to provide some sort of knowledge acquired by some sort of unspecified means. If men accept the notion that the individual is helpless, intellectually and morally, that he has no mind and no rights, that he is nothing, but the group is all, and his only moral significance lies in selfless service to the group — they will be pulled obediently to join a group. But which group? Well, if you believe that you have no mind and no moral value, you cannot have the confidence to make choices — so the only thing for you to do is to join an un-chosen group, the group into which you were born, the group to which you were predetermined to belong by the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient power of your body chemistry.

  • I was actually thinking more of an even earlier period, from accession to the EC (orchestrated by the Tories) to the referendum on the issue (called by Labour).

    Another way of putting it is, i was thinking of the period when this picture was taken.

    I don’t think it was Labour’s position as such. As I recall Harold Wilson used the election of ’74 (both of them?) as an platform for “Talking tough to our partners in the European Economic Community” and “The referendum being necessary for powerful renegotiation”.

    It was all bollox. After the election was done and referendum hype over, Harold casually decided that everything with the EEC was hunky dory and nothing needed to be changed.

    Canny old sod was our Harold.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    JohnW I’m afraid you’re quite wrong about the clearances. While some of what happened could be classed under simple restructuring of the economy, there was without a doubt tremendous abuses that occured. Factors would evict families at short notice, sometimes burning their cottages down behind them to prevent them returning. They were then often forcibly relocated to the coast where new cottages were provided for them, with attached parcels of land which were carefully calculated so as to be inadequate for farming. The “improvers” you see wanted those poor ignorant Highlanders to learn a new trade: kelp farming or fishing. It was for their own good you see.

    In other words, the Improvers were proto-socialists, and the Highland clearances were a trial run for the forced relocations and famines we saw caused by that pernicious doctrine in the 20th century. When you deny that this happened at all, it has a vibe decidely similar to when Turks say “Genocide? What genocide?….”

  • In other words, the Improvers were proto-socialists

    Yes that was always my understanding too. Indeed it always struck me as a product of the tenuous security of title and a lack of freehold ownership, another pernicious consequence of the clan system as it morphed into something considerably different.

  • JohnW

    @Jaded Voluntaryist
    Absolutely, not.
    The Highland population stood at 250,000 in 1755 and during the worst time of the clearances had fallen to…er well no. By 1840 it had risen to 400,000!
    The whole thing is a myth.

    And it is not proto-socialism – it was early capitalism and the results facilitated an enormous fall in land rents as a proportion of the economy as a whole.
    Could the industrial revolution occurred without land enclosure?
    I doubt it.

  • John, the problem I have is that effectively clan chiefs went from leaders of social groups with nebulous property rights, to land owners collecting rents from people who really should have had some claim to the land they lived on. But unlike England, no ‘yeoman’ class or intermediate class of minor gentry was able to emerge.

    For many decades Brazil reminded me a bit of Clearance era Scotland actually, where people who had occupied land for many generations either got turned into renters or simply dispossessed by people whose own claims to the land were rather ambiguous. I would not take that analogy too far, but it is hard not to see how the clan system was changed into something that no longer about a clan but simply about the clans leadership, giving them complete title and the right to evict in ways that several generations earlier would have seemed extraordinary.

    But yes, perhaps “proto-socialist” is only a bit reasonable when talking about ‘improvers’ in a very loose sense.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    JohnW, you seem to be arguing against a straw man. I never claimed that the Highland Clearances were about the population falling (although that did become an issue once the potato famine started to bite in Scotland). I argued that the clearances were about the often violent expulsion of people who did not wish to go, coupled with a disturbing brand of “mother knows best” authoritarianism.

    The conduct of people like Patrick Sellar is a matter of the historical record, and no amount of hand waving can just wish it away. If you evict 2000 families from their crofts in the glens, and force them to move to the coast, they are still going to be in the Highlands. If you force, or coercively incentivise, people to move to the cities or overseas, while replacing them with sheep farmers who can afford your massively increased rent, you’ve replaced the population, not reduced it. You wouldn’t expect the population to fall under these circumstamnces.

    That doesn’t mean the Highland Clearances were non-existant. Were there mass evictions of people from properties they had inhabited for generations? Yes. Were there forced relocations, often using violence? Yes. Was much of this done out of a belief that it was for the Highlanders own good? Yes. Was the fabric of the society destroyed to the extent that those who weren’t forced to ultimately left anyway? Yes. Are the highland glens still filled, to this day, with adandoned villages and crofts whos tennants were driven out? Yes, I have seen it with my own eyes. That is what the Highland Clearances were about.

    But equally, just because not everyone, or even the majority, who left the glen farming lifestyle was forced to go does not mean that force was not used in many cases, and that coercion was not used in many others. How many Yemeni Jews are actually forced to leave, and how many saw the way the wind was blowing and went voluntarily? That doesn’t mean Yemen has no case to answer for its conduct.

    You’re the only one who is trying to make a numbers game out of this. The clearances were not about capitalism. Capitalism stopped the clearances from becoming a genocide by giving the Highlands somewhere to go when they sought work in the cities or overseas.

  • JohnW

    Perry, I am sure that during the course of the enclosure period many individuals did not receive compensation for the loss of their traditional source of livelihood and it would have been better if they had been awarded shares in “absentee landlord rent” but such a provision would have been an example of more capitalism not less.
    But that would not have suited the Left either – we all know how much they hate absentee landlords.
    What they really hate though is the notion of private property rights.

  • What they really hate though is the notion of private property rights.

    Yes that is certainly true, but forget how the left subsequently decided to spin the historical reality (and indeed the nationalists, spinning it as something the English did to the Scots: in no small part at least it was Scots doing it to Scots)… my point is that my understanding is clan leaders simply ‘owning’ all the land of a clan as personal property was far from some ancient right, but rather a post-rebellion invention, a statement of de facto reality based on a preponderance of force. Now whilst I think it was also true (and I do not claim to be an expert) that crofters similarly did not own unambiguous title, it seems they certainly had as much individual several right to it as their clan lords did.

    My view is that the problem was not lords exercising their rights over what was clearly their property, but rather the people working that land also had quite plausible rights to the land they occupied.

    In reality the net outcome would probably have been crofters selling up and moving out as the economics impelled them anyway, but selling up is materially different to the often brutal gunpoint dispositions that were recorded in many cases.

  • Regional

    You Englanders should kick the Scotlanders out of the Union.
    You don’ need the submarine bases in the north of Scotland as your only enemy is France and since the world is going Fascist reclaim Normandy and Brittany and anywhere else you like. One Sunday just load the Army onto cross channel ferries as England is covered by Autobahns, sorry motorways, it’ll be over lunch time.

  • JohnW

    The Clan leaders didn’t “own” the land either – the clansmen were just another bunch of feudalists. [I do actually admire clansmen btw.]
    Under feudalism the productivity of land is prohibited by “entail legislation” and a thorough repudiation of the right of ownership in order to secure the preservation of “bloodlines” – not living people.

    Under feudalism neither the serf nor his master is free to sell any land nor even his labour; he is more akin to a state bureaucrat than a businessman, his medieval income resting on the ability to collect feudal dues (i.e., taxes) under the threat of flogging or hanging.

    The enclosure movement, by contrast, upheld the right of landowners to fire unnecessary workers, to pursue selective animal breeding, better seed, better drainage, better irrigation, better tools, and better labour [!] thereby reducing the quantity of labour required to produce food.
    [Imagine, for example, what would happen to car production if workers were only permitted to use the most primitive tools and work practices: hello Leyland motors!]

    These developments are essential to the division of labour principle [Adam Smith, again] which is free to proceed only to the extent that fewer people are required to produce more food, thereby raising real wages through increases in quality and reductions in costs.

    The “vibrant” and “traditional” way of earning a livelihood by subsistence farming in the highlands, which had been the case for generations past, probably as far back as human history goes, was a living hell.

    The Highlanders in particular were particularly entertaining – I would rank them as the world’s no 1. most psychopathic nutjobs – at the “Battle of the Spoiling Dyke” 1578 when practically the entire MacDonald clan was massacred, a particularly irate son of MacLeod of Unish continued to fight and kill MacDonalds on his stumps after having both his legs hacked off!

  • JohnW

    @Jaded Voluntaryist

    IT IS A MYTH!! This whole absurd neo-Marxist narrative of John Prebble only started in 1963!

    When all that nonsense first began the Historiographer Royal for Scotland, Professor Gordon Donaldson of Edinburgh University, objected in the strongest possible terms. “I am sixty-eight now, and until recently had hardly heard of the Highland Clearances. The thing has been blown out of all proportion.”
    [Cole and Postgate’s classic popular history “The Common People” is dated 1938 is referenced by Prebble but Cole and Postgate were Fabian Marxists and colleagues of Beatrice Webb who thought Stalin’s regime to be the ideal democracy.]

    The census of Scotland calculated the population of highland areas at 266,085 by 1755.

    By 1800, at the mid-point of the so-called clearances, the population of highlands had risen by 14% to 303,612!

    Measured by slightly different parameters, Devine [Devine, T.M. (1983) Highland Migration to Lowland Scotland, 1760-1860. The Scottish Historical Review, 62] quotes a rise of 20% across the highlands as a whole for the period between 1755 and 1795.

    Similarly in Sutherland, alleged to be the most notorious clearance area, we also see a growing total population throughout the time of the Sutherland clearances (1811-20) peaking around 1830-50, only entering a decline after the period of the clearances.

    And again in both Inverness and Caithness the population continues to rise after 1830 peaking in 1851 in Inverness and 1851-81 in Caithness.

    I could go on, but suffice to say there is not the slightest evidence that during the time of the clearances either Inverness, Caithness of Sutherland experienced any net decline in population; the decline started well after the time of the clearances.

    Far from supporting the Marxist narrative of systematic oppression in the 18th century, the population statistics tells a totally different story: a growing population and prosperity, particularly in the large towns of Inverness and Wick.

    During the time of the “clearances” of the 18th and early 19th century Scotland was booming: population growth was not only enough to fuel local growth, but enough to supply other areas as well such as the central/lowland zone.

    Not until 1831 did the population exodus from Argyllshire lead to a decline, not until 1841 in Sutherland and not till 1851 in Inverness, and Ross and Cromarty.

    For more confirmation see here-

    “If you go to the bother of actually reading up about the Highland Clearances, not in rubbish like John Prebble’s book and similar, but in the scholarly literature, the real picture is revealed as being far from the popular myth of tens of thousands of persecuted Highlanders who had their houses brutally torched and who were then forced to flee to Canada, Australia and elsewhere. That myth seems to be part of an ongoing ‘victim culture’ that attempts to place the blame for some perceived Scottish ills on outsiders. Some modern day political campaigns continue to be couched in terms of these inaccurate historical misconceptions.”


    Suppose the view of Highland history underlying that catalogue of complaint is a false one. Scotland has generated many dubious myths, after all – about Mary Queen of Scots as a sort of feminist icon, about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the whole Jacobite cause, about John MacLean and a missed revolutionary moment in George Square, Glasgow. Scots seem to need myths to make up for lack of reality as a nation.

    But probe the myths and they fall apart. Perhaps this process is necessary before reality can impinge and something can be done to start dealing with it: see:


    For example, the claim that sheep farming helped to cause depopulation but the opposite is true:

    “And the evidence does confirm that the introduction of sheep helped stem the tide of emigration from the highlands as there is a lack of correlation between the spread of sheep farming and population as shown by detailed local studies. For example of Gray shows that of 14 parishes which in the 1790s had a ratio of sheep to population above the average in Argyllshire, 7 bucked the general decline and had an increase in population between 1755 and the 1790s. But of the 12 parishes with less than the average number of sheep relative to population, only 4 experienced a rise in population. It is therefore clear that sheep (I.e. improvements) were not a cause of population decline indeed introducing sheep seemed to cause population to increase.”


    I could go on but the point is this – nothing exceptional happened, I quote from my notes on Reisman:

    “Far from constituting some sort of historical injustice, as many claim, the enclosure of land has been responsible for the progressive and rapid increase in the production of agricultural commodities [and minerals] of all kinds and thus for the minimisation of the economic significance of land rent.

    In the Great Britain of 1750, for example, wealth centered almost wholly on land ownership and the disproportionate income derived from it.

    A hundred years later, it centered on manufacturing and commerce, and the formerly-wealthy land-owning aristocrats were reduced to beginning their current principal occupation – hunting for wealthy American heiresses in order to finance the restoration of the roofs of their leaky and crumbling mansions.

    On the European continent, the replacement of feudal land tenure with genuine private property occurred only in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the subsequent conquest of most of Europe by the French under Napoleon.

    In the USA – probably the most important instance of all – the privatisation of the vast land area stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to several hundred miles west of the Mississippi river has proven an inordinate benefit not only to every American but to all mankind .

    These developments created the incentive basis for long-term investment in land and the development and adoption of ever more efficient methods of production. The result was historically unprecedented increases in output both per unit of labour and per acre of land, rapidly falling real prices of agricultural [and mineral] output to the very great advantage of everyone – the poor especially.
    Indeed the increase in land productivity has been so great that a considerable amount of land has been retired from the production of many items.

    In this environment the significance of land rent in the overall economic system plummeted.

    Naturally there are some people who talk endlessly of “forcing working people out and away from their traditional access to areas of land that had enabled them to be self sustaining for centuries” but such opinions are contrary to the facts and economic logic and should not be taken seriously.

    In summary, the facts are clear – until the nineteenth century, the control of land was probably the single most important form of privilege by which labour was forced to accept less than its product as a wage.

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in all advanced countries, the proportion of the labour force employed in agriculture has been steadily declining. This has come about not as the result of people having been driven from the land or being denied access to it, but as the result of millions upon millions of people voluntarily abandoning agriculture in favour of moving to towns and cities to work as wage earners.

    The rapidly growing productivity of labour in agriculture is a direct consequence of private ownership of land in the context of a capitalist society i.e. the division of labour, saving, competition, the profit motive, the price system, private ownership, common law etc..
    This rapidly rising productivity of labour in agriculture, in combination with people’s limited need and desire for additional foodstuffs and other agricultural commodities, has resulted in a continuous decline in customer spending on food and a continuous increase customer spending for the products and services of the rest of the economic system.

    This in turn has operated to depress incomes in agriculture relative to incomes in the rest of the economic system and thus to bring about the fact that the wages to be earned in towns and cities came to exceed the incomes that could be earned in agriculture. It was in response to these facts that the sons and daughters of farmers made the voluntary choice to leave the land and move to towns and cities.

    The reason that neo-Marxist perpetuate their illogical tropes is because they are opposed in principle to the private ownership of land and indeed they are opposed to the private ownership of all property. Instead of seeing the obvious truth that all tax is theft they prefer to promote the belief of criminals and French philosophers that “all property is theft.” In accordance with the strictures of the greatest French philosophers they think we should all be living in Pol Potist communes on common land, that ‘we should be born in the palaces of mating and die in the homes of the useless – from cradle to grave no individual “I” but a great collective “We.”‘

    “You didn’t build that,” says Obama.
    “Oh yes, I effing did.” says Steve Jobs.”

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    JohnW I note with interest that you didn’t answer a single one of my points, instead adopting a rather histrionic “It’s a myth, the population didn’t fall see?” argument. If you’ll consult my post above, you’ll see that I never claimed the population fell. I claimed there was mass evictions, something which even Highland Clearance revisionists don’t deny.

    THe revisionist position on the Clearances is that they have been exagerated, not that they didn’t happen. While I’m quite willing to accept that people for various reasons have sought to capitalise on the Clearances and exagerate them till they’re the equal of, say, the Armenian genocide (which they weren’t), that doesn’t mean it was a case of “nothing to see here, move along….”. The clearances were an example of authoritarians with a master plan run amok. We should be keen to learn from the mistakes of history, not to deny they ever happened at all.

  • JohnW

    @Jaded Voluntaryist
    It is the Marxists who are the revisionists – they have created anger and hostility where none before existed and they have pursued their policies without any economic justification.
    I have already said it would have been better if the Highlanders had been offered shares in absentee landlord rents but that would have been an example of more capitalism not less.
    When people talk of the Highland Clearances they do not mean let’s be thankful for the Duke of Sutherland who genuinely cared for his people and was so appalled by their deteriorating conditions – their routine famines and starvation driving them to criminality and violence – that he built new villages, roads, railways, harbours, slipways, piers, paid for land reclamation and the latest steam technology etc. out of his own pocket in order to make his estates profitable and his tenants self-sufficient.

    They mean something entirely different.

    They see his monument which was built through widespread public donation, and which reads:
    “In lasting memorial of-George Granville – Duke of Sutherland Marquess of Stafford KG – An upright and patriotic nobleman – a judicious kind and liberal landlord – who identified the improvement of his vast estates – with the prosperity of all who cultivated them – a public yet unostentatious benefactor – who while he provided useful employment – for the active labourer – opened wide his hand to the distresses of the widow the sick and the traveller – a mourning and grateful tenantry – uniting with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood – erected this pillar. AD 1834” as an affront and they try to blow it up with explosives.

    Why? Because they have an idealised view of the crofters lifestyle but no understanding of the economic fact that subsistence farming on submarginal land is unsustainable in a market where land productivity has greatly increased and the longer crofters remained in the Highlands the longer they would starve in the Highlands.

    Did forcible eviction save lives? Probably.

    The second point I want to make is that the whole “they stole the best land” argument, which forms an ancillary part of this exploitation narrative, is thoroughly spurious.
    The “best land” produces nothing independently of the individual human minds guiding production.
    Destroy those productive minds and you destroy production. Seize their farms and their farms return to wasteland.
    That is the lesson of land clearances and would-be land reparations everywhere – the very opposite of what young Scots are currently taught today.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    JohnW, the Duke of Sutherland might have had the finest intentions in the world, but none of that excuses his paternalistic and authoritarian attitude to governance. There have been numerous instances in history where people with “good intentions” have caused chaos because they did not respect the liberty and autonomy of their fellow man. Even Michael Fry, who started the trend for re-evaluating the Clearances, described them as

    social engineering which met neither the hopes of the benefactors nor the needs of the beneficiaries, but produced social disaster

    In other words, exactly the same as every single attempt by authoritarian central planners to reorganise the rural economy. We’re lucky they didn’t bugger it up even worse and cause 60 million deaths like we saw in China. And how highly are we supposed to think of a man whose factors burned down cottages with people still inside them? Not his fault? A few bad apples? Where have I heard that sort of talk before? Let me see, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Guevara, Castro….. basically any left wing mass murderer you care to mention has been the guy with good intentions whose wishes were misinterpreted by a few hotheads who totally didn’t represent the movement or the dear leader.

  • JohnW

    The highlanders had about as much grasp of liberty and autonomy as a dead fish.
    Fry has just bought into the PC mantra.
    Patrick Sellar, Sutherland’s estate factor, was acquitted of culpable homicide in the sole instance of a death caused during the clearances – an old woman inadvertently left behind hardly counts as “social disaster” comparable to Red China.
    There was a sort of social disaster despite the economic boom but it was emphatically not of the landowners making.
    The social disaster was the end a long-outdated social system which, incidentally, had made life a living hell for all highlanders and their neighbours.
    That collapse was inevitable – the feudal system had simply been surpassed by the 18th. century agricultural revolution whereby even the precarious existence provided by subsistence farming had been rendered obsolete – and you cannot blame the Highland Clearances for that.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    JohnW, the old woman in question, Margaret Mackay, wasn’t “left behind”, the factors attempted to burn her to death inside her own cottage. She was rescued by her daughter, but died shortly afterwards, Sellar was aquitted because the deed was carried out by his subordinates and they couldn’t prove his involvement, but what is not in doubt was that this event happeed. Sellar was implicated in the deaths of two other old people whom he evicted in winter and who died of exposure on the forced march from their homes.

    If you’re really so blind on this subject as to be an apologist for murderers, I suppose there is no point in talking to you further on this matter. The Highlanders may have been economically backward, the Kulaks may have been bourgeois drags on the dream of socialist happiness, the Chinese farmers may have interfered with the great leap forward into national harmony. All of this may be true, it doesn’t confer the right to play God on those in power simply because they’re convinced they know best.

    Thank you so much for correcting my view of my own history.

  • Niall Kilmartin

    (I shall probably regret putting my oar into this ‘clearances’ debate and will not return to it, but here goes.)

    Firstly, the historian who complained that the clearances were being ‘blown out of all proportion’ is right FWIW; we are talking about a relatively small number of instances. Even a single callous act is still a callous act and should be judged as such in history, but the attempt to exploit these stories in modern politics certainly required – and got – some ‘blowing out of proportion’.

    Secondly, after the union, the defeat of the 45 and the end of the clan’s military importance, the highlands moved very rapidly – far faster than any other part of the UK – from a ‘feudal’ (using the word as a loose analogy to indicate what the clan system was) to a modern economy. The Campbell chief who asked, “Will the sheep fight for me, Angus?”, when advised to clear, was stressing the feudal constraints on the power of the chief. When the reply was, “They’re no longer allowed to fight for you – or against you”, then the old system disintegrated leaving a few powers that a minority of highland landholders used in the attempt – often as fruitless as for the rest – to avoid being swiftly bankrupted by the new money-based economy. The powers of chiefs over their tenants had been part of welding the clan into a military force, of maintaining its discipline. Its destruction left wreckage of which the clearance-enabled powers were part. Adam Smith’s insightful discussion of ancient v. modern landowning in Wealth of Nations was informed by first-hand observation of the change.

    Thirdly, the custom of burning the thatch was old in Scotland (both highlands and lowlands). In England, they had the window tax, as the sight of bricked-up windows in old houses can still sometimes remind us. In Scotland we had the roof tax. Neither landlord nor state would have got money from old-time Scots merely by denying them windows. Only if the roof was off a house was it exempt from rent or tax. (That’s why Scotland has fewer old houses than England. A bankrupt Englishman bricked up his house’ windows – thus preserving it – before going to the continent or the empire to recoup. A bankrupt Scot burned his own roof before doing the same – thus ensuring the house’ rapid decay.) We would not be surprised to read of some mediaeval foray that burned the thatches of its target – we might even think it mild by the standards of the time. When we meet it in Sutherland in 1814, we _are_ surprised; the juxtaposition of modern economic goals and mediaeval methods startles us – and startled other parts of the UK at the time. The intent was not murder but just the latest – and as it turned out last – instance of applying the standard Scots eviction method.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall, so is that why the Scots reportedly disliked Mrs Thatcher? 🙂

  • Laird

    FWIW, I am very much enjoying this sidebar discussion of the Clearances, an event about which I know nothing other than the standard (and evidently erroneous) modern account. Niall’s contribution was especially enlightening. Thanks to all.

  • JohnW

    Ah, but we now know with hindsight that Adam Smith and David Ricardo [and thus Malthus] were dead wrong with their theories of land rent, overpopulation and capitalism’s alleged destiny to produce diminishing returns from land.

    Jaded Voluntaryist has got this whole story completely back to front.

    The myth says that land, in the hands of the government, clan, tribe, bloodline, or some other collective, serves everyone, but land in the hands of private individuals provides unearned income to idle landlords.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    And even if you accept the myth and the “violent appropriation doctrine” of the reparations squad and say well, lets divide the estates and give individual lots back to “the people” you will still end up gifting some people better land than others which would constitute an injustice on its own terms. Full communism would be the more consistent policy!

    But I reject the myth and I reject the doctrine and I do so because I reject the assumptions underlying the myth i.e. the iron law of wages, the law of diminishing returns, ever-escalating land rents etc..
    Contrary to Ricardo, a great hero of mine incidentally, agricultural production increased at a much greater rate than the overall population in the 19th c. [and ever since].
    The enclosure movement and the extension of property rights to land ownership throughout the UK and the US had facilitated an agricultural [and mining] revolution.

    Private property in land and natural resources enabled a shrinking workforce to supply a growing population with an abundance of agricultural commodities and minerals. Improved technology and industrial practices had dramatically reduced the scarcity of productive land. As the rest of the economy grew the economic significance of income derived from agricultural land actually fell, which was the opposite of the predictions of Ricardo and Malthus.

    The crofters had no such luck.

    Their condition was akin to hunters, nomads and self-sufficient farmers everywhere. There, a rising population, in the absence of a continuing progress in agriculture and mining, DOES unleash the law of diminishing returns against them which of necessity forces them to seek ever wider hunting grounds and a forcible dispossession of their neighbours land and livestock in a desperate, brutal and ofttimes futile fight for survival.

    As Von Mises records in Socialism there is more than a little irony in the practice of those who deny property rights. They boast of their physical force and weaponry and despise any counter argument but when the ground begins to tremble beneath their feet they suddenly revert to the alleged illegality of violating property rights!

    Economic progress is unlimited given our knowledge and power over nature under the incentives of private ownership of land and natural resources.
    The physical stuff of nature is virtually infinite and our means of transforming it to suit our purposes is virtually infinite too.

    Neofeudal mentalities who desire a world of broad open spaces for themselves, spaces that are essentially ownerless, who care nothing for the huddled starving masses who are to be denied the privilege of ownership, should be ignored.
    There is no injustice in disregarding the claims of the right to feudal ownership.
    Governments are instituted among men to secure individual rights to private property not feudal custom.
    It is only within a context of private property and continuing progress of production that a harmony of interests among men is possible.
    In any conflict between a division of labour capitalist society and feudalists the former possess an overwhelming and decisive moral superiority. The assimilation of feudalists heirs enables them to enjoy a longer life and greater wealth than their own customs which are fundamentally at odds with the facts of economics.
    If any moral charge is to levied then it should be directed at the feudalists themselves for their refusal to be assimilated and their rejection of the manifest benefits of integration into the international division of labour system.

    [C.f Castro, Mugabe, Mandela, Gandhi etc., etc….]

  • Chris Morrison

    Fascinating. I knew nothing at all about this before reading the thread. Mind you. Good plan about invading France. We’ve got all the right ingredients when you think about it. (1) Spurious historical claim to the turf. (2) Probably enough chutzpah left to just about overcome initial resistance once we turned up as the citizenry is well cheesed off with the incumbent regime as it is. (3) neighbours might well be reticent to get critical through cowardice (in one case) or fellow guilt (in another). (4) Decent claim that we’re doing it in the name of virtue given the horlicks they’re making of running their own affairs…….heh heh heh. Better float that with the main parties. We’ve just got time to get it onto the manifestos.