Scotland and Scotsmen
is the second time I have had the privilege of standing in this hall. I
visited Scotland once before, but only Glasgow. I came in by night in a
Pullman car, and I went back again by night in a Pullman car, and I saw
nothing of the country. The audience that I then addressed was an Irish
audience — it was on St. Patrick’s night. This audience is a general audience;
I presume a Scottish audience.
Now, I have been pretty well abused. I read
in the papers all sorts of things about myself, and if I did not know Henry
George pretty well, I had thought he was a cross between a thief and a fool.
These charges I have never noticed; nevertheless, there is one charge that
has been made against me since I came to Scotland which I would like to say
a word about; I have been accused of flattering Scotsmen.
The first place where I spoke in Scotland was
in Dundee, and I was glad to get before a Scottish audience. It so happens
that in my own country I know very many Scotsmen, and among the men who
stand with me are very many Scotsmen. These Scotsmen have always been telling
me: "Ah, a Scottish audience is the thing; wait till the Scottish people
take hold of this question, and they will go to the logical end."
I was glad to get before a Scottish audience,
and I told them about my Scottish friends, and I told them about the letter
I had received from a good ‘canny’ Scotsman, who said to me: "Don’t waste
your time on these English people. They are a ‘beery’ set. Beer confuses
and dulls their understandings. You can do far more good in Scotland, where
they are a logical, clear-headed people; and if they drink anything at
all, it is only whisky, which does not have such a confusing effect on the
"Well, I told them that, in the frankness of
my nature, and next morning the papers, in their usual denunciation, said
I took an advantage by flattering a Scottish audience. Now, I may have been
accused of many things, but I don’t think those who know me would accuse
me of such a thing as attempting to flatter Scotsmen about Scotland. I doubt
if that is possible.
When I came from New York to California, a Scottish
banker sought me out and said: "I had a wager about you, and I want to
ask you a personal question. You are an American by birth?" And I said:
"I am." "Have you not Scottish blood in your veins?" "Well," I said: "My
mother’s father was a Glasgow body." Says he: "I have won my bet; it’s
through your mother that you get your talent." That man had, and still
has, a theory that every great man is a Scotsman, with two or three exceptions,
and in these cases a mistake was made. Now, joking aside, I do not want
to flatter anybody; and if Scotsmen don’t like to be flattered, will you
let me tell you tonight some home truths — some things, that are not complimentary?
I draw my blood from these islands. But it so
happens this is the only place to which I can trace my ancestry with any
certainty. I do not know but that some of my own kindred perhaps today
live in Glasgow, and it is from Glasgow men and women some of my blood,
at least, is drawn. I am not proud of it. If I were a Glasgow man today
I would not be proud of it.
Here you have a great and rich city, and here
you have poverty and destitution that would appal a heathen. Right on these
streets of yours the very stranger can see sights that could not be seen
in any tribe of savages in anything like normal conditions.
"Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the
word" — that is the motto of this great, proud city. What sort of a word
is it that here has been preached? Or, let your preaching have been what
it may, what is your practice? Are these the fruits of the word — this poverty,
this destitution, this vice and degradation? To call this a Christian community
is a slander on Christianity.
Low wages, want, vice, degradation — these are
not the fruits of Christianity. They come from the ignoring and denial of
the vital principles of Christianity. Let you people of Glasgow not merely
erect church after church, you also subscribe money to send missionaries
to the heathen. I wish the heathen were a little richer, that they might subscribe
money and send missionaries to such so-called Christian communities as this
— to point to the luxury, the very ostentation of wealth, on the one hand,
and to the bare-footed, ill-clad women on the other; to your men and women
with bodies stunted and minds distorted; to your little children growing
up in such conditions that only a miracle can keep them pure!
Excuse me for calling your attention to these
unpleasant truths; they are something that people with hearts in their
breasts ought to think of.
John Bright, in his installation speech to the
Glasgow University in 1883, made a statement, taken from the census of Scotland,
in which he declared that 41 families out of every 100 in Glasgow lived
in houses having only one room. He further said that 37 per cent beyond
this 41 per cent dwelt in houses with only two rooms; thus 78 per cent,
or nearly four-fifths of the population, dwelt in houses of one or two rooms;
and he went on to say further, that in Scotland nearly one-third of the
people dwelt in houses of only one room, and that more than two-thirds,
or 70 per cent, dwelt in houses of not more than two rooms. Is not that
an appalling statement; in the full blaze of the nineteenth century, in
the year of grace 1884, here in this great city of Scotland — Christian
Now, consider what it implies — this crowding
of men, women, and children together. People do not herd that way unless
driven by dire want and necessity. These figures imply want and suffering,
and brutish degradation, of which every citizen of Glasgow, every Scotsman,
should be ashamed.
Here I take at random from one of your papers
of this evening a story, a mere item of an inquest held at Peterborough.
The deceased was a married woman, the house had no furniture, and the four
children were half starved. There was no food in the house, and the only
protection against the chills of night were three guano bags — a basket
of litter for the whole family. The dead body of the mother was found to
be a mass of sores, and the left arm was shrivelled up. The daughter stated
that when they got food the father would bite first, and pass it round
in turn. The dying woman craved a bun, but they could not give her even
In their verdict of death from natural causes,
paralysis, deep-seated sores, and exhaustion, the jury stated that the husband
had been guilty of gross and unpardonable neglect to his wife and family.
But this seems to be based upon the fact that he had not taken his wife to
the almshouse, though, as he stated, he had tried to get her into the almshouse,
but had been refused, unless he would go too. There is nothing to show that
he was idle or drunken. He was but a labourer, and seems to have tried his
best to get what work he could, and came home every night to lie beside
that poor woman on the rotting straw.
But take the bare facts. Among what tribe of
savages in the whole world, in anything like a time of peace, would such
a thing as that be possible? I have seen, I believe, the most unfortunate
savages on the face of the earth — the Tierra del Fuegians, who are spoken
of as "the very lowest of mankind"; the black-fellows of Australia; the Digger
Indians of California. I would rather take my chances, were I on the threshold
of life tonight, among those people, than come into the world in this highly-civilised
Christian community in the condition in which thousands are compelled to
The fault of the husband, the verdict says!
I know of this case only what the papers say; but this I do know, from
the testimony of men of position and veracity, from officials and ministers
of the Gospel, that such things as that are happening every day in this
country, not to drunken men, but to the families of men honest, sober, and
Why, in this great, rich city of yours, there
are today numbers and numbers of men who cannot get employment. Here the
wages of your engineers were reduced a little while ago, and they had to
submit. The engineers of Belfast had also to submit to a reduction of wages,
because there were so many unemployed shipwrights and engineers in Glasgow
that they feared they could not maintain a strike. Am I not right in saying
that such a state of things is but typical of that which exists everywhere
throughout the civilised world? And I am bound to say that it is a state
of things you ought to be ashamed of. I speak, not because they do not
exist in my own country, for in their degree there is just the same state
of things in America. But is not the spirit that, ignoring this, gives thanks
and praise to the Almighty Father, cant of the worst kind?
Can we separate duty towards God from duty towards
our neighbours? Yet here are men who preach and pray, while they look on
such things as matters of course, laying the blame upon natural laws, upon
human nature, and upon the ordinances of the Creator. Is it not cant and
blasphemy of the worst kind? How can people love a God whom they believe
responsible for these things — who has made a world in which only a few of
His creatures could live comfortably — a world in which the great masses
have to strain and strive all their lives away to keep above starvation point?
It is not the fault of God! It is due to the
selfishness and ignorance of humanity. And when you come to ask the reason
for this state of things, if you seek it out, you will come at last, I believe,
to the great fact, that the land on which and from which it was ordained
that all humanity must live has been made the private property of a few of
their number. This is the only adequate explanation.
Humans are land animals. All their substance
must be drawn from the land. They cannot even take the birds of the air or
fish in the sea without the use of the land or the materials drawn from the
land. Their very bodies are drawn from the land. Take from a human all that
belongs to land, and you would have but a disembodied spirit. And as land
is absolutely necessary to the life of humanity, and as land is the source
from which all wealth is drawn, those humans who command the land, on which
and from which other humans live, command those people.
Take the opposite course; trace up the facts.
Why is it that people are crowded together so in Glasgow? Because you let
dogs-in-the-manger hold the land on which these people ought to live. Here
is one fact that I happened to see in a communication in one of your papers
recently. There is a field in Glasgow called Burnbank, comprising fourteen
acres, worth £90,000 — it is surrounded by houses — and ought to
be used for buildings. But the owner is holding it till he can get a higher
price from the necessities of the community. You let him hold it. You don’t
charge any taxes for it. The taxation you put upon the houses.
The same article says, if that field were covered
with houses, these houses would pay not less than £7,000 a year in
taxation. You charge and fine a person who puts up a house that would give
accommodation to the people, yet the person who holds land without making
any use of it you do not charge a penny for the privilege. How can there
be any doubt as to the reason why you are so crowded together? Or, take the
fact that wages are so low; that men are competing with one another so eagerly
for employment that wages are brought down to starvation rates. What is
the reason? Simply that men are denied natural opportunities of employment
This city of Glasgow has been crowded with people
driven from Ireland and your Highlan~5 where they were living. When I was
over in Ireland two years ago 1 saw the process. I followed some of those
red-coated evicting armies, and saw how, at the behest of men who had never
set foot in Ireland, the military forces of the Empire were being used
to turn out poor people from the cabins and the land on which their fathers
had lived from time immemorial Where were they forced to go? Into cities
to obtain Work at any price.
That great man who has stood on this platform,
Michael Davitt, is One of that class. His mother, forced from her home, carried
him around begging, rather than go to the almshouse; and coming Over here,
he had, at an early age, when he ought to have been at play and at school,
and not at work, to enter One of your factories, and that empty sleeve on
his right side is a memento of that tyranny. Thus is your labour market
crowded with people who must get work or starve, who cannot employ themselves,
who are forced into competition for anything they can get.
So with your own people — the people of Scotland
They have been crowded here in the same way. There is the explanation. This
is the explanation of the fact that, although during this century, by reason
of invention and improved methods, the productive Power of labour has increased
so Wonderfully, wages have not increased at all save where trades Unions
have been formed and have been able to force them up a little.
I have now seen something of Scotland, and let
me tell you frankly that what 1 have seen does not raise my estimate of the
Scottish character. Let me tell you frankly — seeing I have been accused
of flattering you, and you say you can stand unpleasant truths I have a
good deal more respect for the Irish. The Irish have done some kicking
against this infernal system, and you men in Scotland have got it yet to
The Scots are a logical people, as my friend
says. I won’t gainsay that; but their major premise must be a very curious
one. I have really been wondering, since I have been in Scotland, whether
you have not got things mixed a little. The Scots are a Bible-reading people.
I have sometimes wondered whether, instead of reading "In the beginning
the Lord created the heavens and the earth" they haven’t got "In the beginning
the lairds created the heavens and the earth."
Certainly the lairds have it all their own way
through Scotland. Theirs is the land and all upon it; theirs is all that
is beneath the land; theirs are the fishes in the rivers and in the lochs;
theirs are the birds of the air; theirs are the salmon in the sea, even the
seaweed that is thrown ashore, even the whales over a certain length, even
the driftwood? Theirs are even the water and the air.
Why, in Dundee, do you know, the people there,
in order to get water, had to pay £25,000 to the Earl of Airlie for
the privilege of drawing water for their use out of a certain loch. The water
alone; he retains the right to the fish. The very rain as it descends from
heaven is the property of the Laird of Airlie!
Why, just think of it! You know how that the
chosen people were passing through the wilderness and they thirsted, and
Moses struck the rock and the water gushed forth. What good would it have
done if that rock had been private property, and some Earl of Airlie had
been there who would say: "You cannot take a cupful until you pay me £25,000?"
And this Earl of Airlie does not live in Scotland at all — at any rate,
he does not live in Dundee! He never drinks a cupful of that water. Why
—just think of it; here, when you have dry weather, the preachers pray for
rain, and then when the good Lord listens to their prayer, and sends it down,
it belongs to the Earl of Airlie!
But the people of Scotland have the air — that
is, what they can get in the streets and the roads! There is at Dundee a
hill they call Balgay. It was never cultivated, and the only thing about it
is that there is good air to be obtained there, also fine views. That hill
belongs to a non-resident. I think the man’s name is Scott, and he lives in
Edinburgh. The people of Dundee want to take their walks on that hill. How
do they get that privilege? By paying him a rent of £14 per acre! Talk
about the taboo!
Do you remember those superstitious South Sea
Islanders to whom we sent missionaries, and who are now dying out from
rum and disease? Do you know these people had a custom that they called
the taboo? Their high chiefs, whom they venerated as gods on earth almost,
could say of a certain thing: "That is tabooed," and one of the common sort
dare not touch it or use it; he would have to go around for miles rather
than set his foot on a tabooed path, go thirsty rather than drink at a tabooed
spring, and go hungry though fruit on a tabooed tree was rotting before his
eyes. You have just precisely the same thing here. There are miles and miles
of this Scotland of yours — that is, the Scotland that you common Scotsmen
call your country — that is, the Scotland for which you are told you ought
to lay down your lives if necessary — there are miles and miles of it in
a state of nature, which one of you common Scotsmen dare not set his foot
There is one of my countrymen — an American
named Williams — who made a great deal of money in Russia; he comes over
here and has a playground stretching from sea to sea, in a state of nature,
tenanted by wild animals, and from which every one of you Scotsmen is rigorously
excluded. And that is only an example of the country all over. If you were
heathens, if you were savages, many of you would be far better off. People
would not have to live on oatmeal and potatoes while the streams were flashing
with fish and the moors were alive with game.
All the fish are preserved. I got hold of a
book the other day, The Streams and Lochs of Scotland, and I had the curiosity
to look over it. Why, every bit of water in which you can paddle a tub
is preserved; it belongs to Lord This, or Lady That, or Sir Somebody Else.
And the quail!
Why, to go back to what I was just talking about.
You remember how, to feed the hungry Israelites, quail were sent from heaven.
If they had been sent into Scotland, you common Scots would not have dared
to touch them. Here the quail are preserved. Why, through the country that
I have been, the common, ordinary working Scots live on potatoes, and are
well off when they get salted herrings or a little oatmeal. If the potato
rot were to come, you would have just such a famine as occurred in Ireland
in 1848. In point of fact, this year there is on the Island of Skye a crop
of potatoes only by the charity or the people who subscribed to the destitution
fund, and so furnished those people with seed.
Full-fed, comfortable people, who eat hearty
dinners every day, professors of universities with good salaries, gentlemen
with nice steady incomes and pensions, say: "Oh, everything is going right;
the working classes are getting better off"; and they deny most bitterly the
assertion that poverty is keeping pace with progress, and they give you long
tables of statistics to prove it. Everywhere that I have been I have asked
the working people themselves what they thought, and I found everywhere that
the very reverse was their opinion.
Certainly, after going through this country,
there can be no question that all this progress and civilization has only
ground this people lower down, that they were better off hundreds of years
ago when they were half-heathen savages. They have now been driven from the
good land they used to cultivate, and have been forced upon poor land. Their
little holdings have been curtailed, so that they cannot keep enough stock
to pay their rent. The rent has been increased and increased, and their
only way of paying it is to trench upon their revenue and sell off their
There are places where they used to fish, where
they have become so impoverished that they now have no fishing boats. There
are places where they used to have horses, where now they have none, and
where women — Scottish women — have to do the work of beasts of burden!
You can see them today carrying manure and everything else on their backs.
Go to the Highlands and you will see a state
of society — of industrial society — that belongs to past centuries. You
will find people cultivating the ground with the old-fashioned ‘crookit spade’
reaping with a hook, and beating out their little harvest of corn with a
flail. Civilisation has done nothing for them save to make life harder. Those
people, large numbers of them, have to pay rents which they cannot possibly
get out of the ground. They are forced to go fishing, or to come down to
the Lowlands to seek work, in order to get money to pay their rents. It is
not merely for the ground they are charged, not merely for the virtues of
the soil; they are charged for a mere breathing space, a mere living place.
Yet those people who live in that way are called
lazy! Lazy! I would like to have some of those well-fed people who talk
about the crofters’ laziness go up and take a week of that sort of work.
Let these men go up and dig a little with the crookit spade, and then go
out and face the rough sea in one of those fishing boats; and let those
fine ladies go to the Highlands and carry turf on their backs as the women
do there. As far as I learned when there, it takes, on the average, about
one person’s labour to keep up these miserable peat fires in the centre of
the hut. As for flowers; since I have been in Scotland I have never seen
a single flower around one of those miserable cabins, where most of the people
live. I asked one crofter in Glendale if they had ever any fruit. "Well,"
he said: "They used to have some kail."
I went, as Americans would say, to the jumping-off
place — to John o’Groat’s. There I saw two very bright fellows bringing
up stones from the seashore. One of them stooped down upon his knees to help
me to hunt for ‘groatie buckies’, and we had a talk. He said he was going
to build a house. The gentleman who was with me asked if he had any surety
in building it except the word of his landlord? He said he was a good landlord.
I asked: "How much have you to spare?" I think he said £5. His father
lived there, and there were other two sons. I asked:
"What do you make out of it?" One of them said:
"We generally get the meal." I said, "Do you get enough to pay your rent?"
"No; we have got to make it up. I go off to the fishing, and my brother
goes off to work. Sometimes we get enough to pay the rent, but generally
I said, "The goodness of this good, kind landlord
of yours amounts to this, that he lets you live there, and takes from you
all that you make, save just enough to live." He said: "That is just about
so." But then he said, "He is really better than many other landlords."
Well, so he is; some of those landlords are there skinning the people alive.
It is not the crofters who have the worst lot
— it is the cottars, who come under the tacks men. The crofter can only
be put out once a year; the cottar can be put out at forty-eight hours notice.
The cottars are the absolute slaves of the tacks men. There is just as much
slavery as there existed in any land where human flesh was bought and sold.
Why, there was the testimony before the Royal
Commission. By-the-by, that Royal Commission — to a man who does not know
anything about it — looks like a committee of wolves to investigate the
condition of the sheep. I would like to see labouring people represented
on some of these commissions. Anyhow, a very intelligent Gaelic witness said
all the land he had was for a cabin and the grass for a cow. Lord Napier
asked how much rent he paid. He replied £5. The Commission did not
believe it — it seemed so incredible. They said: "How do you pay it?" He
replied: "I work a 100 days in the year at 1/- a day." Is it any wonder that
wages are low in your city when that is the state of labour in the outskirts?
Poverty and destitution! There is enough to
make you sick at heart if you listen to it. Why, a banker in the Highlands
told me that only last week a young fellow had come to him who he knew
was an honest, sober, industrious, hardworking man, and a cottar, and asked
him for the loan of a couple of pounds. "Well," the banker said: "I can’t
lend you that as a matter of business. What is the matter?" The man replied:
"I don’t know where to get anything to eat; myself, my wife, and four children
have had nothing but potatoes for over two months, and not enough of them;
and now there is not a particle of food in the house. All I have in the
world is a cow and a stirk. If I sell them now, I can get nothing for them.
If you lend me this money, I will sell the stirk at the term time and give
it back to you."
My friendly informant said: "1 will give you
so much meal, enough to keep you" — I forget how much, so many stones you
call it — "to last you up till the time, and bring the money when you sell
the stirk." The man dropped down and burst into a flood of tears. My informant
said to me: "I never felt so humiliated in my life as to see a human creature,
a fellow man driven to such a pinch." And then he said: "The man told me:
‘You don’t know what anguish I have suffered. Morning after morning I have
seen my little children going to school fearing they would fall down from
sheer weakness on the road."
And the treatment of the poor — the poor broken
creatures who have nothing of their own — is something outrageous. This endeavour
to keep down the poor rates! Do you know that in some of these parishes
there are poor decrepit creatures who get an allowance of 2/- a month, and
in other places 14 lbs of meal for two weeks? Well, I asked, over and over
again: "How do they live? They can’t live on that." What they live on is
the charity of the poor people. The landlords, the rich farmers, shunt this
burden of providing for the poor that their rapacity creates upon the hardworking
people, who themselves can hardly keep from starvation.
One of the London papers said, jeering at me,
that I proposed to take all the property from the landowners, and they
supposed, however, I was very kind — I would send them to the almshouse.
Well, now, I wish
— I have no ill-will towards them — but I heartily
wish that a lot of your ruling classes could be sent to the almshouse.
I think if some dukes and duchesses and earls and countesses were treated
as these poor people are treated, that the wickedness of it, the sheer cold-blooded
barbarity of it, would become apparent to your so-called Christian people.
Utter slavery! Why, as one man said to me: "We
have feared the landlords more than we have feared Almighty God, and we have
feared the factor as much as the landlord — perhaps even more — and the
ground-officer as much as the factor." Why, they are absolutely in their
There is a case, I am told of, where the factor
was a fish merchant, and compelled the people to sell him the fish, and fined
them £1 if they sold the fish to anybody else. Why, a gentleman was
telling me — a professional man — how he had ridden, just a week or two
ago around with the factor on the estate of one of your members of Parliament.
They came up to a man, and the factor said to him: "Look here, why were
not your children at school yesterday?" Well, the man sheepishly replied,
and the factor said: "Look here, don’t you allow that to happen again. See
that they are at school." "Yes, your honour," the man replied.
"Heavens and earth, how can you talk to a man
like that?" said the professional man, and the factor said: "I can make
him toe the mark; I have plenty of power." Why, take the Island of Skye,
the factor there is everything except the parish minister.
I spoke at Portree the other evening. I went
up there, and some of the inhabitants came to me, like Nicodemus, at night,
and said: "You must not leave Portree without speaking here." I said that
I did not want to thrust myself upon them, but if they secured a hail I would
speak. They went away, and by and by they came back and said: "There is
not one of us who has the courage to ask for a hail." They were afraid, and
"I will take the whole responsibility, and offer
myself, if need be, a vote of thanks."
I wrote a letter to the factor. I suppose you
have heard of that factor —Mr McDonald, I think his name is. He is Justice
of the Peace and everything else, and he has charge of the only hail there.
I wrote him a polite note, stating that some of the people wanted me to
speak on the land question. He wrote back to me to say that he could not
let the hail for a lecture; he could not take the responsibility without
consulting all the proprietors. Anyway, we got a schoolhouse. A clergyman
at the head of the school board was good enough to grant the use of a schoolhouse,
although there were threats of interdicts and other terrible things made
I remember reading in an English book, written
some years ago, about an aristocratic Pole in the old times, who took an
English traveller over some of his ground, and pointed at some ~j8~rable-lookmg
objects. He told the traveller he could kick any of them he wanted to. It
was much like that in Scotland today. Your aristocracy take a pride in all
that sort of thing. They like to keep up those Highland romantic notions,
the feather bonnet and the kilt, and all that sort of thing. Well, now, really
when you come to think of it, those Scottish Highlanders have been an ideal
people with the aristocracy. They fight like lions abroad, and they have been
taken abroad at the dictate of the very power which has oppressed them, to
rob and plunder, and kill other people; but they are as tame as sheep at
home. Don’t you think that alongside of the Scottish lion you ought to put
a Scottish sheep?
There is one thing that has greatly displeased
me. The most displeasing thing I saw in Ireland was the police force — the
Royal Irish Constabulary. Well, now, you are keeping up here in Scotland
an institution very much the same. When I was in Skye I saw policemen loafing
around just as the Irish Constabulary loaf about. In a little bit of a village
named Dunvegan, where I don’t think there are more than six or seven houses,
there are two policemen all in uniform. The police of the County of Inverness
have been increased by fifty, at a cost of £3,000 to the ratepayers,
and £3,000 more to the whole country, on account of the fears of the
I have been pointing out the evil. How can it
Well, it cannot be cured by any halfway measures;
it cannot be cured by any measures that will be agreeable to your aristocracy.
You know that at the beginning of big sheep farming in the Highlands, and
the eviction of their brethren by chiefs who had become landowners under
an infamous English law, there was a good deal of misery, and one of the
earliest measures to relieve that misery was to get up those Highland regiments.
They were got up about the time of the American war, and a lot of them were
sent over there to fight the American people. You can’t relieve poverty by
any such measures as that.
In the beginning of the century, when the Duke
of Sutherland and other men of that kind were evicting their people with
a barbarity that will hardly find a parallel in the annals of savage warfare,
there was another measure got up to relieve the destitution — that was the
making of the roads. Some £267,000 of public money, in addition to
£5,000 a year from the public funds, was, for many years, spent on making
roads through the Highlands; but this grant was finally abandoned, on the
ground that all it had done was to improve the rents of the Highland landlords.
No such measures as that will relieve poverty.
You cannot get rid of it by such measures as
you Glasgow people adopted in your City Improvement Trust. You have taxed
the masses of the people only to foster corruption; to put large sums into
the pockets of speculators and landlords; to improve the property of other
landowners; and you have not a whit relieved overcrowding or destitution.
You have simply changed the place of the disease. It is like putting a plaster
on a cancer and driving it somewhere else.
You cannot cure this deep-seated disease by
any such measures as these; you must go to the root, boldly and firmly.
Take no stock of those people who preach moderation.
Moderation is not what is needed; it is religious indignation. Grasp your
thistle. Take this wild beast by the throat. Proclaim the grand truth that
every human being born in Scotland has an inalienable and equal right to
the soil of Scotland — a right that no law can do away with; a right that
comes direct from the Creator, who made earth for humankind; and placed man
and woman upon the earth.
You cannot divide land and secure equality.
It could be secured among a primitive people, such as the children of Israel,
who, under the Mosaic law, divided the land; but in our complex civilisation
that cannot be done. It is not necessary to divide the land, when you can
divide the income drawn from the land. You can easily take the revenue that
comes from the land for public purposes. There is nothing very radical in
this; it is a highly Conservative proposition.
Why, I had the pleasure of reading a speech
delivered in this Hall by your member, Dr Cameron, proposing substantially
the same thing. Dr Cameron and myself, I am glad to say, stand upon the
same platform in this respect. He wants to re-establish the old, ancient
tax upon land that the landowners have thrown upon the masses of the people.
That is what I want to do; and when we have done that, I want to go a little
further, but I have no doubt that Dr Cameron, when he had got so far, would
be quite willing to go a little further. The real fight will come on some
such proposition as that made by Dr Cameron, and I have not the shadow
of a doubt that, if the people do their duty, the landlords will be routed
— horse, foot, and dragoons.
Now, see the absurdity of the present system,
even as a great economic measure. Here, in Glasgow, take that field of
Burnbank. The owner allows it to be vacant, and pays nothing; but if he
puts houses upon it you will then get £7,000 a year in taxation.
Have you got enough houses in Glasgow? Why should you tax houses and not
land? The person who puts up houses is a public benefactor. The more you
tax houses, the less houses you have. But you may tax the value of land 20
shillings to the pound and you will not have an inch less land.
A good part of this city used to belong to your
people. It was purchased by a Lord Provost named Campbell. I don’t know
how he got it. It reminds me of the story I heard in Cardiff, how an ancestor
of the Marquis of Bute got a great part of the common of that town — now
most valuable property. A predecessor of Lord Bute gave the freemen a dinner
every year. In a fit of generosity they voted the common to him; but he
did not continue the dinner. I don’t know how the Lord Provost got this
property. But I am informed he paid £1,500 for it. Now, his successor,
Sir Archibald Campbell, draws £30,000 in feu-duties, and he does
not pay a penny of the rates of the town. Would it not be better to take
that £30,000 in taxation, and remit your taxes on some other things?
I want to call your attention to what an enormous
fund you would get for public purposes in this way. The chief advantage
of putting taxes upon land is that you would choke off those dogs-in-the-manger,
who are now holding the land without using it, or making deer forests of
what ought to be the homes of people; who, that they may compel a larger
blackmail, are withholding land around your towns from building uses, while
whole families are crowded in four-storied houses, a family to each room.
A great stimulus would be given to industry,
to the investment of capital, to production of all kinds, by the removal
of the taxes that weigh and press them down. Arid by taking that which goes
to the landowner and using it for public uses, you could establish libraries
and museums, and public parks, and gardens, and baths, if you chose, in
every town; you could all around this coast build safe harbours for your
fishermen; and you could give a pension of enough to live comfortably on
to every decrepit person.
Preposterous does it seem? Well, it does — this
thing of doing anything for the common people. It is highly demoralising,
we are told, to give people something for nothing. You don’t hear anything
about that when individual pensions are granted up to thousands of pounds.
Your parliament votes £25,000 a year to a young prince as though it
were nothing at all. Judges, officers, and that sort of thing, get most
handsome retiring pensions. It doesn’t hurt them, it doesn’t demoralise
And see how enormously your other expenses would
be reduced. Why, I saw in an office today a chart showing the expenses
of this nation diagrammed, and, according to that chart, it was nearly
all for war, and the cost of war, and preparation for war. You have been
warring with other people, and out of the present taxes, according to that
chart, you pay 16/9, I think a year, for war, the expense of war, and the
costs of war, and 3/3 for other expenses. Why is that expense placed upon
you? Because you are governed by a landowning aristocracy. The army is a
good place for younger sons. You have been governed by the class that likes
to make war, and that finds a profit in making war. With the rule of the
people that would cease.
There is enough here for all of us. There is
no natural reason for poverty, or even for hard work. The inventions and
discoveries that have been already made give humankind such a command over
material conditions, that we all could live in ease and luxury if we did
not scramble and tread each other underfoot. Once give the people an opportunity,
give mind a chance to develop, and the forces of production would increase
at a rate never dreamed of. Where wages are highest, there is labour always
most productive, there is invention most active. And certainly it is time
that something were done. Why, think if one of us, having a family of children,
were to go away from home, and come back and find the big ones leaving
the little ones out in the cold, keeping them in ignorance, in squalor and
misery and disease — what would we say?
Do you believe that the laws of justice can
be outraged with impunity? Not so, The whole history of the world shows
that, though, on the narrow scale of individual life and individual action,
injustice sometimes seemed to succeed, yet on the great scale of national
life, the punishment of national crimes always comes sure and certain. And,
so sure as God lives, that punishment must overtake such nations as this.
The cry of the oppressed cannot go up for ever and ever without bringing
Look back at the greatest nation that ever played
its part on this world’s stage — Imperial Rome. What was its fate? That
very fate may be seen coming over this nation today. Italy, when the Roman
power went forth to conquer the world, was the home of hardy husbandmen,
independent and self-reliant. As fortunes grew, these men were drained off
to the wars, evicted, driven out, and Italy was given up to sheep and cattle
and great estates. That very same thing is going on in these islands today.
What was Scotland made for? What was this earth
made for? Was it not for humankind? Was not humankind given the dominion
over the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? Was it not made humanity’s
duty to subdue the earth? Is not humanity the highest thing that earth
can produce? And yet here, in this Scotland, you are driving off people
and putting on beasts, and the vengeance is coming.
We know something of the laws of the universe.
We do not yet know them all. But there is a strange thing that has been noticed
in new countries, and that is the influence that people seem to have by
their mere presence upon nature. The bee follows the pioneer across the
American continent; where settlements are made more rain seems to fall,
new flowers without planting seem to spring up, and the earth to bring
forth more abundantly; and, where people retire, nature becomes more savage.
See how in Italy fertile districts, when depopulated, became the haunts
of fever. Look to the arid wastes of North Africa, once such a teeming
hive of population.
The very same thing can be seen in Scotland
today. Upon this land the curse that follows the expulsion of people is
coming. People have been driven off the richest and best land, and the sites
of their little homes and their little cultivated fields given up to sheep,
and the sheep fattened. It was good grass where the people had been. That,
everywhere, I learn, is giving way. I am told by capable authorities that
where a thousand sheep twenty or thirty years ago could be kept, in places
people had been driven off not 700 can be kept now.
There is a fungus moss creeping over the ground;
Scotland is relapsing into barbarism again; even sheep are giving way to
the solitude of the deer forest amid the grouse moor. Will you, people who
love Scotland, let it go on?