My congratulations to Helen Stewart (14 February
) on setting out so clearly the appalling toll on Scotland's farmers triggered by the utter incompetence of Scotland's own government's shambles of a computer system for the payment of agricultural subsidies. It is not simply creating financial uncertainties for farmers, but causing depression and several cases of suicide, for which the government is fully culpable. Ministers concerned should be hanging their heads in shame.
I am not a football fanatic, but I was engrossed by Gerry Hassan's (14 February
) excellent article on Third Lanark FC. It was one of the famous names of an almost forgotten Scottish world, when Queen's Park FC was an amateur club in the top league (as Wullie McFlannel put it, you could always identify the gentlemen footballers of Queen's Park, because they were the ones who wore lace round the bottom of their pants).
As Gerry writes, Third Lanark FC originated in the Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers, a territorial regiment later incorporated into the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), in a direct tradition going back to the battle-hardened Christian morality of the 17th-century Covenanters. The Volunteers had another claim to fame, however, when one of their officers, a bookseller and pillar of the Kirk called William Smith, born in Thurso, had the idea of utilising the discipline and moral guidance of his regiment's 'true Christian manliness' to address the problem of licentious wantonness in the youth he saw surrounding him on the streets of Glasgow. The discipline of the Volunteers and the moral standards of the Presbyterian Kirk were to be combined in a movement tailored to the needs of a younger sector of the male population.
The result, in 1883, was the founding of the 1st Glasgow Company of the Boys' Brigade in a church hall – a step that would soon result in an avalanche of similar start-ups in Glasgow, elsewhere in Scotland, and eventually throughout the Empire. It was even copied elsewhere in the world, not always with salubrious results. Smith eventually became Sir William for his achievement, and moved to London to organise the expanding movement, which King George VI described as the fountain 'from which all our widespread youth training was destined to spring.'
One intriguing development was when Lord Baden-Powell, back from colonial adventures at Mafeking and elsewhere, was guest of honour at a Boys' Brigade mass event in the Albert Hall in London. Highly impressed with what he saw, he insisted that Smith should come home with him afterwards to talk about his aims, and offered to write a book, 'Scouting for Boys', for use in the BB movement, based on his South African experiences. This turned out to be such a huge success outside the BB that Baden-Powell, in his own words, was 'forced' to organise the Scouting movement in order to keep it under control.
The town of Thurso, Smith's birthplace, honours his name to this day. I knew both of his sons, Stanley and Douglas Smith, whom I encountered when I was vice-president and secretary of the Clydebank Battalion of the BB, but we never managed to trace a direct link with my own Mackay and Smith ancestry in Thurso. The BB has shaken off quite a lot of its Victorian legacy since then. I have been out of direct touch for many years, but from what I hear it has changed quite considerably in order to adapt to the needs of a new age. Still, its history and its global pioneer status qualify it as one of Scotland's nobler contributions to the welfare of humanity. And it all started with the Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers in the Covenanting tradition.
David Torrance (14 February
), describing the fortunes of the Conservatives in Scotland, states '...most of the 1980s, producing 21 or 22 MPs.' There were two general elections in the 1980s, in 1983 and 1987, in which the Conservatives took 21 and 10 seats respectively. (They did, in fairness, take 22 seats in 1979.) Subsequent tallies of seats taken were 1997: 0, 2001: 1, 2005: 1, 2010: 1, 2015: 1, 2017: 13.
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