The Crown of London…

I have been listening to some music by Lau’s Kris Drever of late.

One song has stuck with me- writen by Kris’s brother, all about the fate of the 17th C Covenanters after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679.

It seems all the more poignant a song in the wake of the recent Independence referendum, reminding us of the mess of politics and religion that gave birth to the Union of the United Kingdom. Some people remember the Covenanters as Godly heroes who stood up for truth against oppression. At the time they were seem more in the way we would see the Taliban fighting Jihad. Disenfranchised people in the grip of religion that proclaims truth whilst entirely missing the point.

The so called ‘English’ Civil war involved many thousands of Scottish soldiers fighting on both sides, but most tellingly on the side of the Parliament. Many of these were lowland Scots who saw themselves as fighting a Holy war to free Presbytarian Scotland of all Popery and Catholicism. There was some skulduggery along the way though- the Covenanters switched sides for a while and eventually invaded the North of England but were defeated at the Battle of Preston. After the Civil war, they were eventually defeated in Scotland by a Parlimentary army under Cromwell. The trouble did not end there though, as after the Resoration of the Crown, Charles II did not remember the deal he had made with the Covenanters.

Following the restoration of Episcopacy rebel ministers began to preach at secret open-air meetings in the countryside known as ‘conventicles’ A period of sustained persecution began. Oppressive measures against these illegal field assemblies where attendance was made a capital offence[1] led to an outbreak of armed rebellion in 1666, originating in Galloway. Advancing from the west towards Edinburgh, a small force of badly armed Covenanters was defeated at theBattle of Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills, a location which caused the whole tragic episode to be misleadingly named the Pentland Rising. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland, the government brought in 6,000 Highland soldiers, described by its enemies as an “inhumane and barbarous Highland host” which was quartered on suspected Covenanters and was accused of committing many atrocities.[1]

A further rebellion broke out in 1679, after the unexpected success of a group of covenanters, armed with pitch forks and the like, against government forces led by John Graham of Claverhouse at the Battle of Drumclog. For a time the authorities looked in danger of losing control of the south west of Scotland, as more and more people joined the rebel camp at Bothwell near Glasgow; but only a few weeks after Drumclog the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. In the weeks before the battle the Covenanters spent more time arguing among themselves than preparing for the inevitable counterstroke, which did much to contribute towards their downfall. Of 1,200 captured rebels taken to Edinburgh, some 400 were imprisoned in an area of Greyfriars Kirkyard over the winter months.[2]

It was the survivors of the Greyfriar Kirkyard that found themselves shipped off as slaves in the fateful ship ‘The Crown of London’. There is more of the story here.

This from here;

So, in November 1679, these unfortunates were lead on to a ship, the Crown of London, in Leith, where they were to be transported to English plantations in America to become slaves.

Under the command of one Captain Patterson, the Crown of London set sail in December 1679.

The captain’s planned course is unknown, but the ship’s first port of call was Orkney where, on December 10, 1679, she sheltered from a storm off Scarvataing, a headland in the parish of Deerness, a mile or two from the sheltered bay of Deer Sound.

In gales typical of the season, the ship was driven on to rocks after her anchor chain snapped. The captain and crew escaped the doomed vessel by hacking down the ship’s mast and clambering across it to reach land.

The prisoners, however, were not so fortunate.

They had been confined to the hold and the hatches battened down under the captain’s orders. The reasoning behind this act was simple – the captain would be paid for the number of slaves on board the vessel and recompensed for those who died on the voyage. He would receive nothing for an escaped prisoner.

So, when the ship left port, Patterson took steps to make sure none did.

One member of crew did attempt a rescue by breaking through the deck with an axe. His valiant efforts meant that around 50 prisoners escaped and made it to the Deerness shore.

The remainder perished as the ship broke up and sank. It is said that over the following days, bodies washed up over three miles of the Deerness coastline.

Why do these things matter?

They are part of what made our nation. Upheavals that led to the death of thousands. Power ebbing and flowing, rebellious ideas flaring and then being snuffed out. Religion being employed as a cutting edge. And in the middle of it all cruel powerful forces use small people to achieve their own ends…

The peaceful democratic process of the recent referendum seems such a blessed contrast.

We would do well to honour this process- no matter whether we are saddened or relieved by the outcome. Let the killing times be at the back of our minds- after all, not so far away, just across the Irish sea, they never quite stopped…

Here is the song;

That’s what set’s the poet free…

I am sort of in between jobs at the moment- one of the joys of doing agency work. There is a song that keeps coming in to my mind;

Having said that- on Sunday, I got paid for talking about poetry all day! It was such a lovely day that I kind of feel bad for even taking the money. The soup was good too- not a cold dog in sight.

I am referring to the poetry workshop that I ran for the Castle Lachlan Trust out at Inver Cottage Restaurant. I had three punters- and it was such a privilege to share a day full of words with them. Each person used poetry in different ways, but it felt like something was being set free in each of us…

Blog Action Day 2014…


I am going to take part in this again this year.

The theme this year is inequality. If you are blogger you might like to join in…

Over the last seven years thousands of people from over 100 countries have taken part in Blog Action Day, creating global conversations on poverty, water, climate change, food, the environment, Power of We and Human Rights.

So it was natural for the team to look back through the fantastic posts from our amazing Blog Action Day community for inspiration for this year’s theme.  And we found it.

We quickly noticed a common thread within your posts, across the varied Blog Action Day themes of the last several years that always aroused great passion and empathy. Inequality.

Your collective passion to highlight, take action and overcome inequality in it’s many forms inspired us to make it our theme for 2014 Blog Action Day.

The Blog Action Day community are not the only ones concerned about inequality. If you take look at your news, documentaries, top political or social concerns or even the conversations you have with your family and friends, inequality a hot topic.

Whether it is economic, racial, gender, disability, faith, sexuality, health, education, political, social status or age, inequality unfortunately seems to be on the rise, affecting more people and limiting the opportunities they have, in many different ways.

For Blog Action Day 2014, we want you to think about inequality and contribute to the global discussion on October 16, by writing blog posts, creating video or graphics, taking photos, sharing interesting stats and facts, or just commenting on other people’s posts.

You might want to cover how you, your friends, family or community have been directly affected by inequality, how an historic situation was overcome, or a current issues that needs addressing.

Over the coming weeks we will be adding suggestions and insights from our not for profit partners that you can use in your posts, but if you have a great idea on how to discuss Inequality, please share it in our comments below and remember to register your blog or social media profile so you can be listed on our participants page.







End of the Cricket season…



We played our last matches of the season on Saturday…

This was a 6’s tournament hosted by Vale of Leven Cricket club. The format of these tournaments does not normally suit my game- each side has only 6 players, and 5 of them bowls one over each. Vale added a few more rules to ensure as even a contest as possible; no LBWs, and a different pair of batsmen had to open in each game. 6’s cricket is all about high impact hitting, athletic fielding and tight bowling.

Innellan CC (my team) really struggled to pull together a side, and so in the end I pulled in some help. This included Euan, Louie and his dad Phil.

And we beat everybody! It is an unusual thing for me- I am not really used to winning cricket matches, let alone whole tournaments. Louie batted out of his skin- he is a rising star and is on the verge of the national Scotland under 15’s team. We all bowled well, but somehow I managed to find a crop of fast spinners that people found impossible to hit. One of my overs was a maiden. Will kept wicket rather than bowling- something he loves to do, hiding from the pressure of being the bowler that everyone (but Will himself) thinks he is. In the end I decided that he was due a rest- and he crashed a few fours to complete his day.

I was very proud of my little team- not only did we win, but we played the game as it should be played. We were courteous, friendly and fair, and when others were getting angry and aggressive we just ignored them and carried on doing our thing.

Now the season is done. The dark space of winter welcomes no cricket. We are left only with memories.

And a trophy on the mantelpiece…



Independence, and the super-rich…


What ever your views on Scottish Independence, one of the most compelling arguments that I have been grappling with is the one that deals with social justice. Independent Scotland, it is said, will be a more just society, free from the Tory party, controlled as it is by the super rich clustered in the golden South East, and in London in particular. We can go it alone, responsible for our own fate, and become a more compassionate caring place…

In truth the decision most of us make next Thursday has little to do with economic arguments, little to do with whether or not Alex will keep the pound or stay in the EU- for most it is an instinctive feeling around which facts are bent. It is about national passion, deep identity and a sense that after all these years we can thumb our noses at the big oppressive cousins down south. Forget the nuances, we have a set of goggles to simplify all those years of shared history and broken dreams… Raise up the Saltire, conjure up Bannockburn and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Damn the English and may their football team continue to fail.

Because of this, I feel an unreality in the air which deeply troubles many of us. I can not feel the same sense of identity in an idea of nationhood- it is simply not possible given my mongrel origins (English/Irish, living in Scotland.) Therefore the actual arguments often seem entirely hollow. As an outsider to national pride, I fear it’s dark side, and struggle to find much that is positive in it. Relationship to place, to culture, to our deep roots in the soil- I envy this, but this is not what is being conjured up in much of the nationalist debate. Rather it seems to paint a version of Scotland defined AGAINST our nearest neighbours. I hate this kind of in/out thinking. So what in all this might I focus on?

What is left for me is to try to wonder how an independent Scotland changes things not just for the poor in Easterhouse, but also the poor in Bangkok and Birmingham. How does an independent Scotland (whose economic future is dependent on oil production above all else) turn us from our addiction to fossil fuels? How does an independent Scotland break our addiction to consumption or distraction by facile entertainment?

Yes campaigners promise me that it can do all these things.

I hope this might be true- but I fear also that the power wielded by international capital and the dominant ideology of so-called free market capitalism will simply not notice the border. It has hardly been impeded by those put up elsewhere. And this kind of focus on the poor/the environment/change to the way we consume has hardly been the centre of the political debate. Where are the genuinely new ideas? Rather the Yes campaign treads that familiar difficult middle ground- things will be the same, but better.

I fear distraction. Divide and rule. The natural opposition to the forces of capital have been on the back foot for many years in this country. Blair’s government broke our hearts and now in Scotland, hot bed of left wing ideas in the past, we have a splintering of the radicals because of the simplistic polarity of yes/no.

Meanwhile, here are a few interesting facts about we Scots.

Research repeatedly shows that the English, Welsh and Scots have very similar attitudes to most things – welfare, Europe, immigration, liberty versus authority and the rest.


The point is different from political divergences. We all know old party allegiances are fracturing for a lot of reasons, but not the kind the yes camp promotes. Put it another way, a Ukip MEP was elected in Scotland this year.


Also, as Ferguson puts it, the Daily Mail sells more copies in Scotland than its loftier Scottish rivals.

The issues remain for me though- social justice. Weak people being used as pawns in other peoples power games. Change that might change the window display, whilst in everything else it is business as usual. And the rich will still get richer…

Which bring me back to the point of the piece. I read this article today and found myself seething with anger. Here are some of the main points;

If the national minimum wage had kept pace with FTSE 100 CEO salaries since 1999, it would now be £18.89 per hour instead of £6.50. However, for some reason broadcasters rarely ask CEOs about the gulf between their pay and that of the poorest staff in their organisations. The unstated implication is that the lowest-paid staff are lucky to have any job at all, and only have what they have thanks to the benevolence of the 1%, with their superior leadership skills.


If the top 1% actually created more jobs as they became wealthier, then ordinary people would be surrounded by employment opportunities in both the US and the UK. Instead, it is in Germany, where the wealthiest 1% receives in pay and bonuses half as much as their counterparts in the US, that unemployment is at a 20-year low. In countries that keep their top 1% in check, the highest earners work more effectively for the good of all, or at the very least create a little less misery.


The article goes on to say what we mostly already know- that the tax regime that allows the rich to get richer contributes to a de-humanisation of poor people, and allows us to ignore them as undeserving, feckless and responsible for their own fate.

The change to this requires some kind of tipping point. Marx used to call it ‘class consciousness’. He thought sooner or later we would see it all for what it was and say ‘enough!’

Can this happen in isolation north of the border?

Or do we just break down the problem into smaller and smaller segments so that the one truly international force in our midst (international capital) can just carry on more or less the same?

There is one thing that gives me some continued hope- here in Scotland, things are changing. People are engaged in something, for good or ill. I just wish I could believe that it is the former…

Either way, after Thursday we have to live together. We have to find ways to solve the problems affecting our nation, our communities, our broken. Perhaps we will no longer be able to blame the English- and this will be a good thing!


September song…

Tree, symetrical

Autumn is close. You can feel it in the evening as the cold tickles the hairs in your nose. Or perhaps it is the wood smoke. The fact of sunny days just makes the end of the summer that much more poignant.

flower, early autumn

Something is coming to an end. But it was glorious.

exotic fruit

Nothing lives for ever but perhaps every change of season leaves behind a record of its passing, left like a tree ring on our souls; a record of our living- some good years, others lean and hard.

Life is beautiful both in the coming in, and the going out…


Watching those who watch…

beach, crowd, b and w

I finished my contract working in Inverness, and am back home catching up on all sorts of jobs. I have just been reviewed some photos I took up there. I went out to Chanonry point to sneek a peek at the dolphins that the Scottish Tourist Board pay to entertain tourists…

Of course, I was NOT a tourist. I stood back from the mob, aloof, alone and superior. Or at least that is how I like to see it. A dog was laughing at me though which was rather unsettling.


The performing dolphins did not disappoint. Shrieks of excitement in twenty different accents competed with the sound of the sea and the cry of seagulls.

I suspect one of them was mine.