The constituency was represented by Francis Pym – yes, a Conservative, but not always a supporter of his Prime Minister – who once said, “Landslides do not on the whole produce effective government.” So our Prime Minister can rest assured of an effective and smooth five years. And it was the home of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated the Scots at Dunbar, incorporated Scotland into his protectorate and transported the Scots as slaves to the colonies. Now, there is an answer to the West Lothian question – but not one, of course, that I would recommend.
The Conservatives were never known for their sensitivity, but Lucy Frazer’s contribution today was remarkable even by their standards.
A bit of perspective on the aftermath of Dunbar from Subrosa Blond:
On 3 September 1650, Scottish defence forces suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s invading English army at the Battle of Dunbar. Cromwell went onto ruthlessly ransack Edinburgh and other Scottish towns and cities and take control of the country south of the Highlands.
Immediately after the battle, Cromwell’s forces rounded up around 5,000 Scottish prisoners and embarked on the ‘march of shame’. You will hear little about this in the history books probably because it marks a profound disgrace in the annals of English military history. The battle weary Scots were brutally forced on an 8-day, 118 miles march south to the English cathedral city of Durham with virtually no rest (the first 28 mile stage to Berwick being undertaken non-stop through the night) and with no food or water, other than what could be scavenged. Of the estimated 5,000 who started the march only around 3,000 were left at the end when they reached their destination on 11 September.
Of the survivors, Durham Cathedral and Castle were used as a makeshift prison and an equivalent disgraceful episode commenced. The condition the Scots were kept in were utterly appalling. Records indicate that the Scots died at an average of 30 a day between 11 September and 31 October and it seems this reached over 100 a day with virtually no food, clean water or heat and the linked spread of disease and infection.
By the end of October 1650, approximately 1600 Scots had died horrible deaths in Durham’s much-revered House of God and Durham Castle. This was a desecration of the holy Cathedral. The military leader appointed by Cromwell to take charge of the prisoners (Sir Arthur Haselrigge, Member of the English Parliament for Leicester) later claimed in a letter to the Parliament that adequate food, water, bedding and fuel for heating had been provided, however the facts speak for themselves that this was merely an attempt to excuse his own conduct during the horrific weeks in September and October 1650. The Scots in a desperate effort to create some heat and reduce the death toll stripped the Cathedral bare of all wooden items, including pews and the organ for the making of fires, save for one item – a clock embossed with a carved Scots Thistle, which remains to this day.
Only 1400 of the estimated 5,000 men who started the march from Dunbar were still alive less than two months later, when they were sold as slave labour by their captors. Nine hundred were sold to the New World, mainly Virginia, Massachusetts and the Barbados colony in the Caribbean. Another 500 were forced the following spring to serve in the French army and were still fighting seven years later against the Spanish, side by side with a contingent of English soldiers sent over by Cromwell.
Dunbar was far from an isolated incident: Scots in slavery happened before and since.
April 1666 City fathers of Edinburgh were exporting beggars and vagabonds because they were “not fit to stay in the kingdom”. A ship named “Phoenix” which was captained by James Gibson would sail from Leith loaded with the unfit and poor to be sold in Virginia. These people were seen as a commodity in Virginia to be bought and sold like tobacco or firewood.
In February 1659 merchants in Barbados requested a ship load of “shiftless people and vagabonds” to be sold on the block. The Burgh Council was happy to comply, this would clear some of the streets of Edinburgh of the unwanted and unfit.
Many men and women were slaves in Scotland working in the coal mines until 1799. Their status as slaves was hereditary being passed on to their children.
Ships sailing to Virginia needed a cargo. A good example was the ship “Charles” sailing from Leith in 1669. The syndicate that owned her was granted “saleable cargo of any loose beggars or gypsies plus any poor, or unfit they could find on the streets of Edinburgh, Canongate or Leith. Some of these were termed “indentured labor ” a polite term.
In 1681 a ship’s captain who sailed from Port Glasgow told the government he was ready to sail to Virginia, if they had a cargo of “sorners, lusty beggars or gypsies”
It is said many Edinburgh ships in 1690 would top off their ships with mugged and kidnapped people before sailing to the colonies. In 1694 a merchant from Glasgow one James Montgomerie Jr. requested to the Edinburgh Council “collect dissolute women” for shipment to the colonies.
There is a manuscript in the British museum which states that any two judges in any city, towne of the commonwealth can from time to time issue warrants for the arrest of any beggar or vagrant. The said beggars or vagrants to be shipped to the colonies as cargo. The judges in Edinburgh from 1662-1665 ordered the enslavement and shipment to the colonies of any rouges, beggars or any other persons of low class who are a plague on society.
The calendar of state papers, colonial series 1701 records 25,000 slaves in Barbados, of the 25,000 slaves it is noted 21,700 were white slaves.
The term Redlegs or Redshanks in Barbados was used to describe Scots slaves whose fair skin legs would burn in the tropical sun.
It happened following the Act of Union, too:
Alexander Stewart was herded off the Gildart in July of 1747, bound with chains. Stewart was pushed onto the auction block in Wecomica, St Mary’s County, Maryland. Doctor Stewart and his brother William were attending the auction, aware of Alexander being on that slave ship coming from Liverpool England. Doctor Stewart and William were residents of Annapolis and brothers to David of Ballachalun in Montieth, Scotland. The two brothers paid nine pound six shillings sterling to Mr. Benedict Callvert of Annapolis for the purchase of Alexander. He was a slave. Alexander tells of the other 88 Scots sold into slavery that day in “THE LYON IN MOURNING” pages 242-243.
Jeremiah Howell was a lifetime-indentured servant by his uncle in Lewis County, Virginia in the early 1700’s. His son, Jeremiah, won his freedom by fighting in the Revolution. There were hundreds of thousands of Scots sold into slavery during Colonial America. White slavery to the American Colonies occurred as early as 1630 in Scotland.
I recall when the Alex Salmond effigy was blown up. We Scots had to lighten up, get a sense of humour, don’t take anything so personally. Same with the constant barbs about deep fried Mars Bars, our dour nature, our apparent tightness with money. Every nation puts up with stereotypes, why get worked up about it just because it’s your nationality?
Only sometimes I have to wonder just what it takes to cross the line, to go beyond banter and into outright antipathy. Alcohol abuse is a serious problem for Scots. It’s also a serious problem for Native Americans. Yet while the stereotype of the drunken injun is relegated to the past with the other hateful stereotypes, the drunken jock persists. Why is one harmful caricature viewed as awkward and offensive today, and the other remains a regular punchline? Likewise, when 12 Years A Slave came out, Steven Fry was excoriated on social media for an ill-judged joke. Surely slavery is slavery, and all humour derived from it equally offensive – or not, as the case may be?
This is not to say that offensive humour should be curtailed: far from it, I think it’s important and healthy to push boundaries. But the question must always be why something is offensive, and who the target is. The best satire, from Swift to South Park, uses outrageously offensive things to challenge and provoke people into thinking. Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was not making fun of the victims of the Irish Famine, but attacking the Middle Class chattering classes who view the people of Ireland with such contempt that they would suggest infantiphagia as a solution.
Who were the targets of Ms Frazer’s little joke? Difficult to say anyone other than the Scots. Yet even if it was a self-depracating attempt at humour, it carries none of the emotional weight that justifies offensive satire – no real challenge or criticism was made to the British Establishment who might ostensibly view deportation as a solution to the West Lothian Question. We can’t really expect them to – after all, the Conservatives’ collective history is warped by myth-making and social engineering to lionise the British Establishment, and they were never slaves.
Perhaps even more of an issue is that slavery is not purely historical. Slavery still happens in this day and age, be it in human trafficking or the highly sophisticated form of indenture known as workfare. It thus seems spectacularly ill-advised for the Conservatives to make any sort of joke about slavery. And the people of Scotland – indeed, the UK – are paying attention to the elite like never before.
So remember, Conservatives: you do not joke about slavery. Not while we’re watching you.
Post Script: just noticed this post has been linked to by BBC Scotlandshire. I am beyond honoured.