Memorandum - Sir Kenneth S Mackenzie


IN signing the foregoing Report, I have reserved the right to append a dissent from a part in which I am unable to concur, and to note certain considerations material to our inquiry which made me hesitate somewhat before signing it.

Past experience seems to me to indicate that the recognition of township units, conferring a legal status on village communities, would go far to confirm and perpetuate the poverty which, as has been pointed out in the Report, forms the burden of contemporary literature devoted to the social condition of the Highlands and Islands at all periods. It must indeed be acknowledged that, in the present crowded state of the population, there can be no allocation to individuals of the common pasture, and that the time cannot even be very precisely foreseen when circumstances will permit it; but I hold none the less strongly that legislation which might tend to protract the existence of joint-tenures would be of a baneful character.

An excessive subdivision of holdings, a ruinous system of cultivation, recurrent destitution which calls for State aid or public benevolence, and lethargy in the people, are perhaps the most prominent of the evils which attract attention in the Highlands; and it is of significance that they are to be found chiefly, if not solely, side by side with the common pastures. Where these exist, the first money which a lad can save from his earnings is invested in a sheep or a cow, instead of going into the savings' bank. The young man with cattle on the hill must have wintering for them; he gets a corner of his parent's croft, or a share of his crop, and thus lays the foundation for future subdivision on his marriage. The arable land of a township is individually held, but the hill stock winters over it indiscriminately, as has been repeatedly mentioned in the evidence. It may as a whole be sufficiently fenced off from the hill pasture, but public opinion in the township prohibits an occupier from enclosing his individual croft and monopolising the wintering; so the early sowing of the crop becomes impossible, there is no inducement to introduce sown grasses, and little encouragement to grow turnips. In short, improved agriculture becomes to some extent forbidden, and hence the increasing sterility complained of in the soil, the miserable crops, and the poverty of the cultivators so far as they are dependent on them. It was indeed frequently contended by the crofters that continuous cropping was a necessity arising from the smallness of their holdings; but it came under our notice that tenants of ten acres or more of arable land adopted the same system, and it is a matter of notoriety among those in the Highlands who understand the value of improved agriculture, that these common grazing rights form the real obstacle to improvement. Again, the township system offers little or no opportunity of social advancement, for nowhere is there more jealousy of social inequalities than among communities possessed of common rights of which a rich member might be in a position to take unequal advantage, and the existence of such rights is therefore inimical to a gradation in the size of tenancies. Moreover, wherever there is common pasture, herding the cattle seems to be customary, and it is frequently devolved on the children. This not only affects their attendance at school, but occasions the contraction of loitering habits. Whether these evils are inseparable from the right of common pasture may of course be questioned, but it cannot be denied that at present they are almost always associated with it. In saying this, exception must be made in favour of pasture which is grazed by the common stock of a club farm. This has no relation but in name to the common pasture of an ordinary crofter township, for the cattle belonging to an individual club farmer would be trespassing if they strayed on to it; it is simply a large sheep farm held by a joint-stock company, in which the club farmers only are shareholders; they have a voice in controlling the management, but do not themselves take any active part in the work unless as paid servants of the company. It may be feared that in practice it would be found difficult, under the provisions recommended in the Report, to convert a crofter township into such a club farm.

It is affirmed in the Report that pasture is indispensable to the profitable occupation of land in the Highlands and Islands, and that the choice does not lie between separate pasture and common pasture, but between common pasture and none at all. The first of these propositions, so far as it relates to the western side of the north Highlands and the neighbouring islands is indisputable; the second I have already admitted to be true in the present condition of that part of the country. But the important question is whether that condition is one which should be stereotyped by giving statutory recognition to the village community as an industrial unit; I find it impossible to suppose that the township, legally organised with a communal constitution and common rights, could be easily dissolved, or that in practice it would be otherwise than immutable. On the ground, therefore, that joint pastoral tenancies of the character contemplated are adverse to the attainment of a state of prosperity, and that the prospect of their eventual dissolution, if they now receive legal recognition, is visionary, I must dissent from all that part of the Report which relates to the organisation of crofter townships as agricultural units; and I may add that, in many of its particulars, the details of the scheme also seem to mc
open to objection.

My concurrence in some other parts of the Report was not given without hesitation. I felt that it would be a misfortune if any of the measures recommended should have the effect of permanently differentiating the Highlands from the rest of Britain, and I doubted whether all of them would be suitable and likely to be made applicable to the whole country. It is improbable that, if once introduced, the period of their operation in the Highlands could be limited.

If exceptional privileges were to be conferred, if it were only as the subjects of special favour that it was possible to contemplate Highlanders as thriving, the grant of such privileges, while it might patch up existing evils for the moment, could hardly fail also to protract artificially the existence of the causes which had produced them, and to ensure their recurrence. In my opinion, the faulty tenure under which they have arisen should rather be brought to an end as speedily as proper consideration for the crofters will permit, and encouragement should be given to the gradual replacement of the crofting system by one of small farms, to winch the land law reforms desirable for the rest of the country would be applicable. I have come to believe that those recommendations of the Report to which I have not taken exception need not at least discourage such a consummation.

It was said of the crofters thirty years ago : It is a misapprehension and one that may lead to many others, to regard them as a class of small farmers who get, or are now expected or supposed to get their living, and pay their rent from the produce of their croft. They are truly labourers, living chiefly by the wages of labour, and holding crofts or lots for which they pay rent, not from the produce of the land, but from wages.' There has been little change in the crofter's position since this was written. So far as there has been any, the rise in the rate of wages has resulted in an even larger proportion of his means being derived from this source. Now, to ensure the prosperity and consequent contentment of the wage-receiving classes, it is of first necessity that they should be able to find, in the place of their residential settlement, full industrial employment, but this is just what the crofter in the West Highlands and Islands cannot do. For six months in the year he has to absent himself from his family, in order to provide for them, and for a great portion of the remaining six months immediate inducements to exertion are wanting.

In these districts there are no industrial pursuits, except farming and fishing; as at present conducted they do not supply anything like constant work for the population, and no instance came under the notice of the Commission where a combination of the two industries produced a thriving community. In the Lews, with the extension of harbour accommodation, probably a considerable number of the people might adopt fishing as an exclusive profession; but in other parts of the Highlands and Islands of the North West, it seems less likely that very many would do so. Of farming it may be said generally that the larger a farm the less in proportion to its size is the labour required to work it. The creation of large farms was the means of clearing many parts of the Highlands of people, and the small farm system must be reverted to if a large agricultural or pastoral population is to be maintained. At the same time, if the people are to be prosperous, where wage-paid employment is wanting, no holding should be of less extent than would afford the tenant constant occupation. The evidence taken by the Commission went to show that even the larger crofts were found, in the experience of their occupants, to be of insufficient size to provide them with a comfortable living, and I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion, that the popular estimate in the Highlands of the holding necessary to place a crofting tenant in a safe an independent position—an estimate which has influenced the adoption of some of the figures in our Report—will be found in practice considerably below what is requisite for this purpose, when the produce of the holding is the sole source of income.

That the west Highlands and Islands are more suited to pastoral than to agricultural farming is generally admitted, and consequently, in the absence of other industries, they cannot be expected to maintain a dense population. Nevertheless, if the large grazing farms were subdivided, some extension might be given to agriculture; and with the present price of black cattle, mixed arable and pastoral farming might be a profitable method of utilising the land, while the adoption of such a system would be consistent with the maintenance of a considerable number of people. The smallest sized farm of this character recommended by Mr Greig (who gave very suggestive evidence at Helmsdale), was one which would usually be rented at something like £50. By some this may be considered an exaggerated view, but his estimate related to the mainland, where the holdings have a value nearly twice as great as in the Islands. It may also be observed, that though spade cultivation has its advocates, it is not generally looked on as profitable labour in the climate of the Highlands, except for garden purposes. Its strongest supporters have never ventured to farm on this principle with hired labour, and it need not be expected that a cultivator, under the conditions presented in the Hebrides, can secure independence if confined to this system of tillage. Under cultivation by horse labour the arable land on a farm should not be of less extent than would give half work to a pair of ponies. On two such farms adjoining one another the work could be done by arrangement between the tenants, each of them owning one of the pair, and so avoiding wasteful expenditure on the keep of idle horses. The amount of pasture land (or the value of the club farm share) to be attached to such a holding would depend on the nature of the country and the capital of the tenant, but the rent might be expected to range from a minimum of £15 in the Hebrides up to £50 on the Mainland. On a farm of less size the occupier would find but intermittent employment, and, as a tenant farmer, this would be inconsistent with his stability and independence, unless he had opportunities of engaging in other undertakings which would not interfere with his farm work; but a smaller holding might suffice for an occupying owner who, having no rent to pay, could afford to some extent to indulge in the leisure of a capitalist. A n admixture of larger sized farms would be desirable, and, with these, a few labourers' crofts of just sufficient size to provide the occupants with milk and potatoes. Such a distribution of the soil would clothe the Highlands and Islands with the greatest population which could be maintained in prosperity ; but it will be evident to every one acquainted with the country, that it would not provide for the numbers who have come to be resident on it under the crofting system. It is necessary that this fact should be faced, distasteful though it may be. There has been too great a tendency to propose remedies for the Highlands either exclusively from the economic, or exclusively from the social point of view. It is hardly too much to say that no reform can be considered worthy of the name which does not take both into consideration. If the clearances are the melancholy result of economic theories, it is to be feared that at the present day the revulsion of feeling these have inspired is leading persons of most excellent intention into the opposite extreme, and causing them to urge a division of the land in relation to the numbers upon it, rather than in relation to the numbers it is calculated to support in prosperity.

The character of farming in a pastoral country makes the possession of capital indispensable, and the first great obstacle with which Highland land law reformers are met, is that the crofters whom it is proposed to turn into farmers have no sufficiency of capital to make pro/i.fao/% use of a holding large enough to give the occupier a certain livelihood. A second obstacle to the creation of such holdings is that a subdivision of the large pastoral farms would involve the erection of a number of small homesteads at an expense which neither proprietors nor tenants are very well able to undertake; and again, if improved buildings should be erected on enlarged but still insufficiently-sized holdings, suited to the means of the better-class of crofters of the present day, the existence of these new buildings would be a standing hindrance to that further consolidation which would be desirable.

It can only be by a very gradual process that the Highlands and Islands will become dotted over with small farms occupied by a nourishing peasantry. This might, however, to some extent be facilitated by the offer of cheap loans for the erection of the necessary homesteads, and for the stocking of farms. Now that the landlord's hypothec has been done away with, expansion to the credit of the small tenants might be given in a much required direction, by legalising (under proper restrictions as to publicity) the assignation of their farm stock at entry, as a preferential security to any one supplying them with the means of procuring it. Even if such an assignation might not warrant the direct advance of State funds, it would frequently suffice for the interposition of the landlord's security, were advances for stocking farms to be obtained at a low rate of interest. Some amount of State assistance might also be offered to the occupiers of self-sustaining farms who were willing to purchase them. These are measures which, though of special advantage to the Highlands, might form part of any general scheme of land law reform for the whole country.

If I appear to concur somewhat reluctantly in the recommendations of land legislation for the Highlands, which may prove inapplicable to the rest of the country, it is not because I am less earnest than my colleagues in m y desire for the people's welfare, but that I fear the evils that are likely to attend such legislation.

Already, self-reliance has been impaired and personal exertion restricted by the hopes excited of obtaining exceptional privileges ; and local concessions, which would certainly be received as inadequate, would, I fear, only lead to continued agitation and renewed expectations, with the same deplorable result, In my own time, the progress of the Highlands, consequent on the spread of education and the increased facilities of communication, has been very great; and if a continuance of that progress, fostered by extension of these means, be not artificially impeded, it will of itself bring about developments which, in conjunction with general reforms, will gradually place the land tenure of the Highlands on a sounder footing. If, in addition to this, the encouragements to the fisheries and the facilities for emigration recommended in our Report should be afforded, provision would to some extent have been made for the superfluous population, and the progress of improvement would proceed with even greater rapidity. It is right to add, that in these remarks I have had mainly in my view those districts in the Highlands and Islands where the frequent recurrence of destitution has given evidence of the prevailing poverty, and of the narrow margin which, in ordinary seasons, separates the people from want. These are the districts where the crofting system is in fullest operation,—a system which, however valuable as affording a home with pleasant surroundings to the labourer in those parts of the country where wage-paid labour is required, is elsewhere a general cause of poverty. If palliatives must be applied to the evils which it has produced, care should at least be taken that the source of evil is not invigorated; and it is because I am impressed with the importance of keeping this in view, if exceptional legislation should be adopted, that I have permitted myself to extend this Memorandum to so great a width.


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