Siol nan Gaidheal
Transportation can easily be described as the movement from one place to another by means of a conveyance. In cultural and social terms it can be used as a means of manipulating or annihilating an indigenous people. Developments to Scotland’s transport system throughout history have had, and continue to have, significant influence over the social, cultural and economic make-up of our people. The introduction of a roads system by Julius Agricola in 83 AD was not an attempt to improve the transportation infrastructure to the benefit of the indigenous population but conversely to assist in the subjugation of the native people by allowing his armies to maintain garrisons throughout the territory. The Caledonian roads, which covered 1300 miles, served as vital supply routes for these garrisons without which they could not have been maintained.
These same road links were later used by English invaders such as Edward I of England, Cromwell and the Duke of Cumberland during their campaigns to conquer Scotland. The road programmes in Scotland during the eighteenth century were primarily designed to assist the English government in the subjugation of the Highlands, which were perceived to be a cauldron of rebellious activity. Indeed the Jacobite risings of 1689, 1715 and later 1745 all had their genesis in the Highlands. The natural terrain served both as an ideal defence for the Scots and also required the input of tens of thousands of Pro-British troops to man the garrisons and maintain the military roads.
In 1726, General George Wade, an Irishman by birth, was appointed Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, with a brief to subdue the Highlands and hence the rest of the country. Wade set about building a series of forts and smaller barracks in an attempt to ensure that any future attempt at rebellion was met quickly and efficiently. Many of these forts were insubstantial and would not have been able to seriously stop a sustained assault, but they did serve as a psychological “deterrent”. The belief was that they would be able to frighten the “rebellious Scots” in to submission.
Like the Romans before him, Wade perceived the forts as part of a giant chain linked by his military road network. By 1733 construction of Garva Bridge had been completed. The road it carried spanned the River Spey and linked Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness with the barracks at Ruthven near Kingussie. Three summers of hard labour saw the completion of the Perth to Inverness road which employed 600 men of the Black Watch. Wade had formed the Black Watch in 1725 at Aberfeldy. As well as working as labourers they also acted as a military police force, were authorised to disarm clansmen and acted as guides for Hanoverian redcoats and dragoons.
By the time Wade had finished his work in 1734 he had supervised the construction of some 234 miles of road and 28 bridges in just under 6 years. General Ulysses S. Grant, the American civil war veteran once commented that war had to be fought at every level, cultural, political, social and economic. The introduction of a comprehensive road network in the eighteenth century, in Scotland, was in essence the forerunner of that concept. The road system was one strand of an all-out policy of subduing a nation and a people. It is a concept of total war in order to achieve total submission. It is a concept the English have practised in every corner of the world and it is a concept which was developed, tested and honed in Scotland.
Scotland at the beginning the eighteenth century was as difficult to travel around as it had been in the middle ages. Horseback was the quickest and easiest method of transportation inland. Shortly after the Act of Union, 1707, the Westminster parliament passed a law making it compulsory for every able bodied man to give six days’ labour each year on the King’s highways or “statute labour roads”. In effect, however, this merely served as an opportunity to gather together for a few hours of conversation and some road-making on what was called “parish road day”.
During this time carts and wagons were seldom seen outside the towns. Pack horses were used to deliver goods from one town to another. Baskets or “cadges” were slung over the backs of the horses with four or more horses strung out in single file under the watchful eye of the “Cadger”.
The first real, non-military improvements to the transport system came with the introduction of the Turnpike Road Act in 1751. The right to charge taxes on these roads rested with the landowners and occupiers of the land. Originally the toll-bars or turnpikes were merely bars of wood studded with pikes and swivelled on a post. By the end of the eighteenth century, at intervals of four or five miles, Toll-houses were introduced where the traveller had to pay his toll-dues. It was primarily for this reason that cattle drovers used to take their droves along the hill-roads. Tolls continued until 1883 when they were finally phased out.
Ironically enough, some of the leading men responsible for the technological developments in road engineering were Scots. Three men in particular, Telford, Rennie and MacAdam became famous for their work as civil engineers. In 1802 Thomas Telford, “The colossus of Roads” and the son of an Eskdale shepherd was appointed to undertake a review of the public works in the Highlands. He was also given the task of carrying out his proposals and in 18 years added over a 1000 new miles of road and built over 100 bridges.
John Rennie from East Lothian was instrumental in the introduction and construction of much of the canal system. His labourers were known as “Inland Navigators”, later shortened to Navvie, which became the term used to describe all forms of hard, manual labour. John Macadam was born in Ayr in 1750 and took up civil engineering as a hobby. His method of road building was pioneering and lead to the hard, smooth, tar-sprayed road surface called “tarmacadam” - Tarmac.
The road network today has come a long way since those early days. Inward development and upgrading have come reluctantly to Scotland. Improvements have been made largely to bolster the increase in tourist traffic. Economically Scots have to live with the fact that in spite of North Sea oil being brought ashore in our country we have to pay a higher price for our fuel than the rest of the so-called “United Kingdom”. The introduction of the Skye road bridge with its extortionate toll-rates, serves as an every day reminder to Scots of the price of Union with a country which exercises the highest tax rates in Europe.
Successive British governments have allowed Scots to bear the brunt of fuel tax increases because of the major traffic overcrowding on English roads. They claim high taxation on fuel has been introduced as an environmental measure designed to decrease the amount of traffic on the roads. Because of the comparative rural nature of our country this was bound to have a disproportional affect on Scots - for the worse. If the “green-loving Saxons” (a total contradiction in terms) were serious about the environment then they might be better advised to tighten up the growing nuclear embarrassment which has become Dounreay.
The historical record will show that the introduction of a roads system in Scotland did not facilitate freedom but actually stifled it. Roads were, and arguably still are, the enemy of freedom. They allow invading armies to move quickly through a conquering territory. They allow the easier access of invading cultures, primarily the dominant and imperialist culture of Empire and in our case, Britishness, to envelope and subdue the indigenous culture. It was for this reason that the Romans in Caledonia and to a larger extent, the British in Scotland were so enthusiastic about a roads system.
Transportation by sea has had, perhaps, the most influential effect on Scottish cultural identity than any other mode of movement. Had there been no sea travel then Scotland and the Scots would probably not exist at all. It is perhaps no coincidence that Scots have for hundreds of years exploited the sea. Our coastline is longer than that of England and Wales put together. All our major cities have been formed around the ancient waterways and sea-lanes.
Sea-going transportation has particular connotations for Scots. Once again the Saxon used this as an instrument of war against our people when they practised the genocidal policy which has become known as the clearances. Hundreds of thousands of Scots were forced out of their homes to be deported by sea to colonies all over the planet. The contemporary term clearances is unusually politically correct considering the barbaric nature of this most British of British policies. The word clearances does not fully encapsulate the murder, rape and utter brutality which went into effect under English patronage in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Ethnic cleansing is irrefutably what the policy was. It was a policy designed to wipe out Gaelic culture in Scotland and replace it with a culture the Post-imperialists respected and continue to respect... the culture of the sheep!
Scots however have not always been disadvantaged by sea transportation. The defining moment for the Scottish nation came around AD 560 when Fergus Mor, son of Erc, moved the capital of Dalriada from Antrim to Dunadd near Lochgilphead, though Scottish settlement in south western Caledonia was a reality as early as the fifth century. That historically documented move was made by perhaps only 150 people, but soon droves more followed by sea. The Scots were a Celtic warrior people and their power was as much sea-based as it was land-based. Within their communities the population was required to build one seven-benched boat for every ten houses built. Ship building was a habit the Scots found hard to break.
Under James IV Scotland built the mightiest warship in Europe, The Great Michael. It is believed that almost all the trees in Fife were felled in order to build this ship in 1511. She was 240 feet long and was capable of carrying 420 gunners and sailors and 1000 soldiers. During this time the English Navy were noticeable by there absence - "Britons", contrary to popular historical misconceptions, did NOT always “Rule the Waves”.
Much later Scots continued to lead the world in the field of ship engineering. Glasgow in particular became world-famous for her marine engineers. Scots like Charles Randolph and John Elder who were responsible for the compound expansion engine and James Howden who perfected the cylindrical boiler. Without Howden the development of the World’s railways may never have taken place at all. William Symington was born in Leadhills in 1763 and invented a method of applying steam power to a road vehicle by means of chains. This expertise would help him develop the world's first paddle steamer.
The results of the native genius of our people can be witnessed in every corner of the world. All forms of transport today would be thought inconceivable without the major economic and engineering ingredient which is the Western World’s life blood - OIL. Yet even here we discover that Scots lead the way. James Young of West Lothian discovered toranite. Young found that when this shale-like coal was heated gently it gave up crude oil. After patenting the idea Young set up the first commercial oil works in the world at Bathgate.
The Clyde has long since relinquished its title to be the World’s shipyard, yet in its hey-day Clyde shipbuilders were launching half a million tons of shipping a year. Some of the biggest ships the world has ever seen were built on the Clyde.
Transportation and the need for transport are becoming in certain respects less relevant issues as the world becomes an electronically smaller place. Scots have demonstrated their adaptability and native genius time and time again. Presently Scots are the most common users of e-mail in the world, second only to the USA. The pioneering nature of the Scots demonstrates to the rest of the world that we are as capable of innovation and development on the cyber highways as we have shown to be on the physical forms of transportation.
The historical Anglo-Saxon perspective of transportation can be viewed in the context of colonisation, domination and control over the population in which those transport systems have been introduced. It is a view which permeates British/English government policy even today.
Why is it that when most Scots seek to fly abroad they have to do this from English airports? If the reason is that Scotland’s present airport facilities would be stretched or could not handle international flights then we should put into action a program specifically designed to bring about a genuine Scottish International Airport. That facility should at least have equality in pricing to our “Southern neighbour”.
There is now no military reason for a comprehensive roads system in Scotland. It is the view of Westminster and most English owned companies that there is no real reason at all to invest millions of pounds into Scotland under any circumstances, not without receiving large financial benefits in return. The recent attempt at exploitation of our land by the extracting of aggregate, used in the construction of roads, in South Harris is one clear example of the colonial nature in which the “Bulldog” views our country. What compounded that particular situation was that the Company concerned were only going to be using the material to improve English roads! The Scar left in the ground should serve as a monument to the devastating vandalism carried out in our land and under the “safeguard” of Union. As ever, English economic concerns must not be allowed to dictate what should pertain to our own infrastructure, environment and indeed anything else.
The threat the Highlands once posed to England has long since disappeared. The importance of improving our transport system today is not given the same priority as it once was. Economically this leaves us at a distinct disadvantage. 87 per cent of all goods imported and exported from Scotland are done using road freight. Yet there is only one dual carriageway road in and out of Scotland. The other routes being primarily designed to take tourists. With the majority of Scotland’s trade leaving and entering through England the possibility of an independent England setting up one huge Toll-Booth at the border becomes a theoretical possibility, though of course current EU arrangement on freedom of movement, goods and services preclude such blocading. The need for Scotland to develop a comprehensive sea-going freight industry should be considered a priority in any case. Our roads system reflects the way in which those present-day empire-builders view our country - “a quaint little tourist attraction”.
When the dawn breaks and our country regains her freedom, we will have to look to our transport system. We should be prepared to do what the rest of Europe is preparing to do, and by-pass England, should that country persist in being the insular, uncooperative and obdurate little trouble-maker it has never ceased to be with all its neighbours. We should thus double our efforts to increase our traditional sea links with the rest of Europe. We will have to build a transport system which while environmentally sensitive, is specifically designed to the needs of our people, geared to our culture and driven by our desire to remain free.
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