The War in the North

The War in the North

We are evidently on the brink of hostilities in the far North. Every train to Scotland is heavily laden with its cargo of guns, ammunition, and provisions of all kinds; and every evening there is a busy scene at Euston Square and King’s Cross, at the time of the departure of the night express. Is it then a new war? Has the Jingo element predominated in Lord Salisbury’s Cabinet?  Let us be calm; for unless we are much mistaken, there will be no war, in the usual acceptance of the term, on this occasion, though hostilities of a certain kind will undoubtedly break out on the twelfth of this month. If the bombardment of Alexandria, as Mr. Gladstone maintained to the last, was not an act of warfare, then surely some milder name may be applied to the operations soon to be commenced in Scotland, the more so, since the expeditionary force is composed not of soldiers but of sportsmen, and the object this time is to shoot down not Egyptians but grouse; not Arabs but “black game” of a different kind. The jaded statesmen, who have done so much benefit to the English people in their late parliamentary labours, the “mashers” and “men about town,” who naturally need some recreation after the exhausting duties of a London season, all these useful members of society are now off to Scotland to shoot grouse. It is right and proper that after much idling they should do a little killing. It is magnificent, but it is not War.

How grateful the people of Scotland ought to be for this annual incursion! For, as capitalist economists often remind us, this expensive kind of sport gives employment to various classes of poor people; and, far from being an one-sided form of selfish employment, it is, like mercy, “twice-blessed.” The manufacture of guns and ammunition, the purchase of provisions, the wages of game keepers, the money spent by the shooting parties during their stay in the North, the subscriptions to local charities—all these are evidently a great stimulus to trade, and therefore a public benefit! On the other hand, there are some discontented people who are ill-natured enough to point out the fact that even this kind of mimic warfare carries with it certain disadvantages. It is an unpleasant feature of aristocratic sport that it requires a battlefield of large dimensions to be perpetually kept in readiness. Whole districts must be depopulated, and lie waste and desolate, in order that a few millionaires may have better deer-forests and grouse moors. This particular form of selfishness is not content with anything short of a vast solitude in which to disport itself; and many are the collisions that annually occur between the tourist who is possessed with the desire of ascending some particular mountain, and the indignant landlord who possesses the mountain itself. A more serious consequence of this despotic government by landlords is seen in the ruined and deserted villages which are often met with in some parts of Scotland, records of a time when once a thriving community could exist on land which is now devoted to the sacred purposes of sport. In the eulogy pronounced on the benevolent sportsmen, capitalist writers are shrewd enough to omit this aspect of the question.

There is a striking passage in Lord Macaulay’s History of England where a contrast is made between the state of the Highlands of Scotland in this century and what it was a hundred and fifty years ago, the age of civilization and the age of savagery. The comparison is of course drawn all in favour of our modern civilization; but those who have studied the grievances of the Scotch Crofters will hardly be inclined to bear out this conclusion. For instance; when Lord Macaulay remarks that if a well-qualified observer had visited the Highlands in 1689 he “would have found that that robbery was held to be a calling not merely innocent but honourable,” we cannot but remember that the same phenomenon may be observed at the present time in the case of the grasping landlords who have their tenants to revolt. “He would have been struck,” he adds, “by the spectacle of athletic men basking in the sun, angling for salmon, or taking aim at grouse, while their aged mothers, their pregnant wives, their tender daughters, were reaping the scanty harvest of oats.” But this is almost precisely the spectacle afforded by modern sportsmen, the only difference being that the mothers, wives and daughters, who may any day be seen toiling under heavy burdens in Skye and other parts of Scotland, and not their own relatives, but merely those of the poor natives, whose land they have bought with gold. The Highlands are not yet a paradise, even under a beneficent English rule; indeed a very clear proof of the contrary may be seen in this annual incursion of English sportsmen, and the annual exodus of dispossessed Scottish crofters.

Henry S. Salt

Justice, No. 82, August 8, 1885, 4