The Polish Connection.

January 18th, 2016

One of the greatest figures in Scottish history, Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led an ill-fated attempt to regain the British throne for his family in 1745, was half Polish. His mother was Maria Klementyna Sobieska, the granddaughter of Polish King Jan III Sobieski. But the blood-ties between Scots and Poles are far more extensive than this royal link. A long history of Scottish migration to Poland, starting in the 15th century, means the country boasts several villages and districts named Nowa Szkocja or Szkocja (New Scotland), and Polonised Scottish surnames are surprisingly common – MacLeod became Machlejd, for example.

Scottish merchants and craftsmen began arriving in Poland in the 15th century. They were welcomed and encouraged to trade in Poland and the religious tolerance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth made Poland an attractive place for Scots of many denominations to establish themselves.


Scottish mercenaries fought on both sides during the Polish–Swedish Wars of the 17th century.

By the 17th century, it is estimated that there were at least 30,000 Scots living in Poland. Krakow was one of the main cities in which they settled, and in 1576, the Scottish community in Krakow was large enough that Poland’s King Stefan Batory, assigned a district of the city for them to settle in. Seventeenth century city records include many references to Scots becoming citizens, such as this one: “John Burnet, a Scot, producing birthbrieve dated Aberdeen, in Scotland, 29th July 1603, was admitted citizen of Krakow on taking the oath, and paid 10 Polish florins, a gun, and half a stone (lapis) of gunpowder.”

Many Scots prospered in Poland and some managed to rise through the ranks to notable positions. Under King Stefan Batory, Scottish merchants became suppliers to the royal court in Krakow and one Scot, Alexander Chalmers (known as Alexander Czamer) became Mayor of Warsaw four times between 1691 and 1702. A plaque commemorating him can today be found in Warsaw’s Old Town at his former home.

Centuries later, Polish-Scottish links were refreshed when Polish forces found themselves in exile on Scottish soil during World War II. In 1940, after the fall of Poland to the Nazis, the Polish army was forced to regroup. In agreement with the Polish government in exile, many soldiers were sent to eastern seaboard towns in Scotland where they were entrusted with helping to defend the Scottish coastline from possible invasion. It is estimated that around 38,000 Polish soldiers arrived in Scotland between1940 and 1944, and many choose to stay after the war rather than return to a Soviet-occupied Poland.

One of these soldiers was Cracovian Jan Tomasik, who was stationed near Barony Castle in Peeblesshire during the war. Many years later, he bought the place, opened a hotel, and embarked on an extraordinary tribute to his adopted country – a giant, three-dimensional map of Scotland moulded from concrete. Known as The Great Polish Map of Scotland it measures 50 metres by 40 metres and is the largest sculpture of its kind in the world. Work on the map began in 1974 after Tomasik approached Professor Mieczysław Klimaszewski at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University with his idea. Design and construction was led by another Cracovian geographer, Kazimierz Trafas, and volunteers from the Jagiellonian University who came to Scotland over six summers to complete the map.


The Great Map of Scotland prior to restoration. Photo:

Forty years later, and with another flourishing of Polish-Scottish relations underway thanks to the migration of many young Poles to the UK, the Great Polish Map of Scotland has been ‘rediscovered’ and a group called Mapa Scotland are now engaged in a major restoration project (

The Scots’ hospitality to the Poles during World War II was notable. It was noticed that among the Polish soldiers arriving on Scottish shores from 1940, many were doctors, professors and students of medicine. Poland’s universities were being destroyed by the Nazis and its intellectual elite sent to concentration camps at the time. Edinburgh University decided to step in to help Polish soldiers continue their studies, and so the Polish School of Medicine at the University was born. The faculty operated from 1941 to 1949 and was the only official Polish institution of higher education in the world during the war years.

The story of Wojtek the soldier bear provides another link between Poland and Scotland. A 230-kilo Syrian Brown Bear, Wojtek became the mascot of Polish military units in Iran during 1942, and was officially drafted into Polish II Corps as a corporal in order to secure him passage on a British troop ship bound for the Italian campaign. Beloved by his human comrades in arms, Wojtek learned to drink beer, smoke cigarettes and tote artillery shells in combat – a role he performed during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

And the Scottish connection? After the war, part of Wojtek’s unit was demobbed there. Wojtek became a local celebrity in his new home of Hutton in Berwickshire, but in 1947 he was re-homed to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived until his death in 1963, regularly visited by Polish veterans. Statues commemorating the warrior bear have been approved for Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens and Krakow’s Jordan Park. It is hoped that the Edinburgh monument will be unveiled on May 18, 2014 – the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Monte Cassino. Funds are currently being raised for the statues in both cities.

In recent times, the connection between Krakow and Scotland has remained strong. Krakow has been twinned with Scotland’s historic capital, Edinburgh, since 1995 – a partnership that has yielded benefits to both cities, including closer cooperation between the University of Edinburgh and Krakow’s Jagiellonian University. The Polish presence at Edinburgh’s famed Fringe Festival grows every year and Scottish culture is evident in Krakow, especially around the time of Burns Day and St. Andrew’s Day.

For more information on these and other Polish-Scottish Connections visit

Trident IS a waste of money

January 18th, 2016

The bearded pacifists are right... Trident IS a waste of money 

Trident may seem to David Cameron to be a very useful weapon for attacking Jeremy Corbyn. But does it keep Britain safe?

Actually, no. There is a good, hard, patriotic argument for getting rid of this unusable, American-controlled monstrosity before it bankrupts us and destroys our real defences. And lazy, cheap politics shouldn’t blind us to these facts. I write as someone who has nothing against nuclear weapons. I used to deliberately wreck the meetings of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, by standing up at the back and asking awkward questions.

I was howled down at my local Labour Party (to which I then belonged) for supporting the deterrent against the Corbyn types (he may even have been there) who wanted us naked in the face of Soviet power.

There is a good, hard, patriotic argument for getting rid of this unusable, American-controlled monstrosity before it bankrupts us and destroys our real defences. Pictured, the Trident Nuclear Submarine HMS Victorious on patrol off the west coast of Scotland, April 2013
Pictured, the Trident Nuclear Submarine HMS Victorious on patrol off the west coast of Scotland, April 2013

When I went to work as a reporter in the Soviet empire, I was greatly amused by a visit to Kurchatovsk, HQ of Stalin’s nuclear bomb laboratories. All along the main street were witty banners jeering at the folly of giving up your weapons when your enemy kept his.

How I wished I could have shown them to British ban- the-bombers who (though they were shifty about this) always had a sneaking sympathy for the Soviet Union – as it then was – and scorn for the USA. In those days, vast concentrations of Soviet troops, tanks and planes sat in Germany ready to move westwards. I went to look at them. They were no myth.

Our nuclear bombs neutralised this incessant blackmailing threat. They made sure that if those armies moved one inch beyond their territory, it would end in Armageddon. So they never did move, and the threat was empty. It worked.

Then the facts changed. And, as that clever man John Maynard Keynes once drily remarked: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’

The Soviet Union collapsed. I watched it happen, before my eyes. Its armies and navies melted away and its empire dissolved. Modern Russia, for all the silly nonsense about a ‘New Cold War’, would be our friend if we let her be, and has no interest in attacking us or any conceivable reason for doing so.

The USA, meanwhile, has ceased to be the arsenal of freedom and has become instead the headquarters of a bumbling neo-liberal policy whose main achievement has been to turn the Middle East into a war zone, which we could easily stay out of if we wanted to.

The principal threat to this country’s prosperity, liberty and independence has been, for many years, the European Union, whose agents work tirelessly inside our borders to subjugate us, our laws, economy, trade and territorial seas, to foreign governance. Trident is useless against this, just as it is against the mass migration now transforming our continent, and against the terrorism of the IRA (to whom we surrendered, despite being a nuclear power) and Islamic State.

We do not even control Trident, relying on the USA for so much of its technology and maintenance that we could never use it without American approval. How independent is that?

Meanwhile the Army is visibly shrivelling, demoralised, ill-equipped, historic regiments hollowed out and merged, experienced officers and NCOs leaving. Something similar is happening to the Navy, saddled with two vast joke aircraft carriers whose purpose is uncertain, even if they ever get any aircraft to carry. The RAF is a little better off, but not much.

This is caused mainly by the giant bill for renewing Trident, which will probably end up more than £100 billion, at a time when we are heavily in debt already. If there were any obvious or even remote use for it, then maybe this could be justified. But there isn’t. We could easily maintain a small arsenal of H-bombs or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, just in case, for far less.

It is not just bearded pacifists who doubt its use. Senior civil servants, serious military experts, senior officers in all branches, privately and in some cases publicly reckon it is simply not worth the money. Even if we decide to go ahead with it, I confidently predict we will have to cancel it (at great cost) when the long-awaited economic crisis finally strikes.

It would be a great shame if we failed to have a proper debate about this, just because it was easier to take cheap shots at the Labour Party. A grown-up country, and a grown-up government, would address it now.


October 6th, 2015

WATER -WATER - WATER - Some facts for the people out there who are criticising Scot Gov on this one.

A summary of WHY the SG had to take the action it did over water... In essence It's STILL publicly owned!!! [ Here's what this relates to Scottish Water to lose £350m contract to private English-based firm]

"Right... in all the recent stories focusing on the SNP's failings you've not been entirely even handed. I agree with you, it would have been ideal if the contract had been awarded to Scottish Water's 'Business Stream'... BUT, what would YOU and others have said if The Scottish Government HAD awarded it to them at an extra cost of 40 million? Say that 40million had to come from somewhere else like the Bedroom tax mitigation... Anyway, the facts you're missing are readily available and are :
* The contract is worth around £80m a year over four years.
* Scottish Water remains the wholesale provider – only the retail element is subject to competition (reading meters, processing bills and offering water efficiency support).
* Scottish Water will continue to provide the water supply for 96.5% of Scotland’s population. The remaining 3.5% are connected to private supplies under their own individual arrangements.
* The Water Services etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 (UNDER LABOUR) established the framework for retail competition. This framework introduced competition into the Scottish water market. When there is competition in a market, EU rules stipulate that PUBLIC CONTRACTS MUST BE COMPETED, even when a publicly-owned company can deliver the service.
* By introducing competition for Business Stream’s services, the 2005 Act public bodies to tender contracts for Water and Waste Water services, even though Business Stream is owned by the public.
* There is no impact on households as the provision of water to Scottish households is not open to competition.
* Ministers will ensure that Business Stream, as a public entity, maintains the no compulsory redundancy policy.
Whilst this awarded contract lessens the hold that the public has on the service and its provision, like Scotrail, and Calmac IT HAS NOT BEEN PRIVATISED... the PUBLIC services has been contracted out and can, should the conditions allow, be taken back fully into public/national provision as it's STILL publicly owned!"

Crimes against Scotland ..

October 4th, 2015

Scottish Community's photo.

The Highland Clearances: In the reign George 3rd, Scots landowners, most of whom sat in the House Of Lords, started village evictions. Called the Highland Clearances it was terrorism pure and simple. Evicted tenants who could not afford a passage to the colonies were left by the roadside, to starve to death. Clearances carried-on throughout Queen Victoria’s 64-year-reign. Tens of thousands of tenant farms were 'cleared.' Villages burnt to the ground to make way for sheep farms, grouse moors, deer stalks & pheasant shoots.If the tenants refused to leave, old people, pregnant women, barefoot children and babes-in-arms had their homes demolished on top of them!December, 1851. The Dumfries Courier records. ‘This last ten months has seen 21,000 displaced persons leaving Carsethorn Jetty.’Carsethorn was one of the few minor ports that actually kept records. Records from major ports, 1850-99, show half-a-million, made jobless and homeless by ‘unholy landlords’ left Scotland. As with those forced to leave Ireland by Victoria’s landlords, tens of thousands were buried at sea. ‘Pox and Typhus travelled on the coffin ships.’ No reliable records survive to show how exactly many Scots starved to death. But we do know; to keep ‘starving gangs’ and ‘families of skeletons’ well away from the Balmoral estate, Victoria passed three Acts of Parliament to close public Highlands roads! Coal Slaves: Scotland 1901 While the Clearances forced most poor Highlanders into the grave or onto the coffin ships. Landowners' kept many coalmining families like farmers kept animals. In living accommodation no better than pig sty's. Victorian Values While the Highlands were being ‘cleared’ Albert & Victoria rebuilt Balmoral Castle, Scotland and rebuilt Osborne House, Isle of Wight. The Swiss Cottage (above) in the gardens of Osborne House, was built for their noisy children to play in. Television’s prim & proper portrayal of Victoria, is just the latest page of a century-old-book of palace-financed-lies.

Scottish Community's photo.

Victoria devoted her reign to looting the Civil List and ensuring her Empire profits were safely banked abroad - in case her subjects revolted and the royals had to flee. News reports of the day reveal the real Victoria & Albert.

The Highland Clearances is still a very emotive subject to many people, in many parts of the world, today. It consistently provokes people to take sides and has led to deep, and sometimes acrimonious academic debate.

Some historians try to give the topic an objectivity, by associating it with a process of economic and agricultural change which was widespread across Europe at the time. It is undoubtedly a part of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century. And yet it is much more than that.

Other writers are corruscating in their condemnation of the process - seeing it as an early version of 'ethnic cleansing'. The Clearances undoubtedly stemmed in part from the attempt by the British establishment to destroy, once and for all, the archaic, militaristic Clan System, which had facilitated the Jacobite risings of the early part of the 18th century. This approach, however, also over-simplifies the issues involved.

...the results have had a lasting significance for the people of the Highlands...

People at the time, and since, have seen the Clearances as an act of greed and betrayal on the part of the ruling class in the Highlands: an attempt to hold on to their land and preserve their wealth and status by sacrificing their people. Undoubtedly this motive was present in some instances, with weak people taking advantage of even weaker ones under the guise of economic reform or social reorganisation.

The weather has also been blamed - a succession of bad harvests and famine demanding a drastic solution. Rising population, putting pressure on land and jobs, also played a part, as did the persuasive, smooth-talking agents of ship-owners who ferried indentured servants to the rapidly expanding United States of America.

Indeed, in some cases, the final decision to go was a voluntary one - a desire to seek something better across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. All of these factors played a part in causing the Highland Clearances, and the results have had a lasting significance for the people of the Highlands, and indeed for many of those who left.

Reconstruction of the township of Raitts at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, based on archaeological and documentary evidence © In the first place, the Highland Clearances transformed the cultural landscape of the Highlands of Scotland, probably forever. In the space of less than half a century, the Highlands became one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe. And, it should be remembered, the Highlands and Islands comprise an area bigger than some industrialised 'first world' nations such as Belgium or Holland.

Scottish Community's photo.

But it was not only the people who disappeared. The settlement pattern, the homes of the people for a thousand years or more, has virtually vanished, becoming no more than an archaeological feature for those who stumble across the remnants.

...most highland families lived in such townships, in a kind of collective, or joint-tenancy farm, housing perhaps a hundred or so people...

Most countries in Europe can display examples of traditional peasant housing going back to the Middle Ages. This is true of England and, to some extent, southern Scotland. But when one comes to the Highlands there are very few buildings of this sort that date from before the early 19th century.

The only way a 21st-century Highlander can experience something of how his or her ancestors lived 300 years ago, is to visit the archaeological reconstruction of a Highland township (or baile) at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore.

Before the Clearances, most Highland families lived in such townships, in a kind of collective, or joint-tenancy farm, housing perhaps a hundred or so people, who were often kinsfolk. The buildings were substantial, but used materials alien to us in the western world today. The walls were of clay and wattle, or of thickly cut turf, with or without a leavening of rough stones, and the roofs were thatched in heather, broom, bracken, straw or rushes.

Once they were cleared, these structures quickly reverted to nature. And little or nothing was to replace them in the new economic order. In one glen near where I live, I can find traces of six or seven such townships, housing perhaps 500 or more people. View the landscape today, and you will see a couple of stone-built houses for the shepherds. They too are now abandoned, and the glen stands empty.

Even the sheep, which replaced the people, have gone - to a large extent. The great sheep farms were designed to provide landowners with an economic miracle, providing meat for the great burgeoning cities of the south and wool to the factories, but they became unsustainable by the last quarter of the 19th century, undercut by cheaper, often better quality products from Australia and New Zealand. (And is it not ironic that these lands were so heavily settled by the very people cleared from the Highland glens?)

The land was then given over to sporting estates to become grouse moors and deer forests, the playgrounds of the new industrial aristocracy. In recent years, this use too has declined and large tracts of the Highlands are now designated National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and, perhaps soon, National Parks. However, what is often viewed as one of Europe's last great natural wilderness areas, is also one of Europe's great human wastelands.

...the remnant of the Highland population would learn to diversify.

But not all of the people cleared from the townships were cleared from the Highlands. Many were resettled in new locations, on marginal land and on holdings too small to be viable economic farms. These crofting townships are still a significant part of the cultural landscape today, but they were never meant to provide people with a living.

In the economic theory of the day, powered by thinkers like Adam Smith, the remnant of the Highland population would learn to diversify. They would become weavers, kelp workers (burning seaweed used to make iodine), commercial fishermen, and so on.

Scottish Community's photo.

The croft would give them a measure of subsistence, while they transformed their lives. So new settlements grew up, like Bettyhill (named after Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, in whose name some of the most infamous clearances where people were literally burned out of their townships were carried out), Helmsdale, Spinningdale and a host of others, which were the forerunner of new industrial estates.

The state too had a hand in this early attempt at resettlement and economic regeneration. The British Fisheries Board established a number of fishing stations, designed to create a new industrial base in the Highlands. Ullapool in Wester Ross, Tobermory on the Island of Mull, and Pultneytown (now part of Wick) in Caithness. are lasting monuments to state intervention in the plight of a society in cultural shock.

The cultural changes in the landscape are easy to spot if you know where to look and what to look for. It is perhaps more difficult to identify today with the tremendous change in the political culture. Politics in the early 21st century seems to comprise events, issues and policies which are immediate and often short term. For many highlanders who experienced the Clearances, or the aftermath, the change was long-lasting, profound, and, one can argue, far-reaching.

The people of the townships were conservative with a small 'c'. They lived a lifestyle which would have been recognisable in the 12th or 15th or 18th century. Even those involved in the tumultuous events of the Jacobite risings were, to a large extent, fighting to preserve a traditional version of national political power.

The rank and file took part because being called to fight in the service of their clan chief was a traditional part of the system by which they held their land. Respect for the way of life involved dying for it when necessary.

Even their language was under threat...

By the time the worst of the Clearances were over and the remnants of that rank and file were settled precariously in the crofting townships - with no guarantee of security of tenure and subject to economic pressures totally beyond their control - that situation was altered for ever.

Respect for the traditional chiefs was fast disappearing, even where they had remained on their lands. But many had as little real benefit from the Clearances as their tenants did, and were forced to sell off land, including crofting land, to the nouveau riche of the industrialised south.

There were few certainties in the lives of these early crofters. Many of the economic initiatives, in which they had been expected to take part, failed, often because of the vast distances between remote crofting communities and their potential markets in the south. Others, like the kelp industry, were short-lived - overtaken and superseded by new industrial processes. The sporting estates offered, at best, only seasonal employment.

Even the language of these Highlanders was under threat, as the state education system vigorously and often cruelly promoted English in preference to their native Gaelic. The one certainty to which crofters clung was their affinity with the land.

They desired above all to feel that they would never again suffer the indignity of being removed from the land of their forefathers. This was no longer conservatism with a small 'c', but radicalism with a capital 'R'.

The middle decades of the 19th century saw the Highlands of Scotland at the centre of a national debate on land reform. A radical wing of the Liberal Party, then one of the 'big two' in Westminster politics, took the lead most of the time, and radical liberalism reigned supreme in the Highlands.

Many crofters associated themselves with this party and their church, The Free Church of Scotland, which had rejected any form of patronage from the landed classes - and they could easily have been nicknamed the 'radical Liberal Party at prayer'.

But there were many whose desire for reform took them beyond constitutional reform into the realm of direct action. The Highland Land League, closely linked to its Irish counterpart, was involved in actions of land reform agitation which saw police from Glasgow and even the British Army brought in to subdue land raids and other militant actions by the Highlanders.

This level of radicalism had a profound effect on national politics, splitting the Liberal Party and providing early leaders of the Independent Labour Party.

This level of radicalism had a profound effect on national politics...

The action was justified by the setting up of the Napier Commission, which heard evidence from people who had either been cleared themselves or, more usually, from people who were their descendants.

The outcome was the enactment of two Crofting Acts, giving the people of the Highlands a measure of protection in their tenure of land probably greater than they had ever had in the days of the townships. But the struggle had been a long and bitter one, which left scars on the psyche of Highlanders for generations to come.

Moreover, the new legislation did little to make the crofts more viable, or to solve the problem of there being very few alternative sources of employment. Neither did it end the steady drain of population from the area, as many of the young and ablest of its people left the land to seek a better standard of living in the south or across the oceans.

It is most difficult to capture easily the psychological impact of the Clearances on the culture of the Highlands. And yet, in many ways, this was the most profound result. The first clearance of townships for sheep occurred as early as the 1770s, and people were still being evicted in the 1870s. For a hundred years, then, this threat hung over the crofting population, and remained an ever-present reality in their lives. These people were truly the 'Dispossessed'.

For those who went away, the scars perhaps healed more quickly, but they left in their place an incredible sense of nostalgia and empathy with their former homeland. At first this was tinged with bitterness and regret, over what those who left might have become if they had not been forced out.

Certainly, however, by the beginning of the 20th century, this feeling been largely transformed into an emotion of high romanticism. The Scotland of townships lived on in people's memories as a real place, which one day they, or their children, or their children's children would visit.

There are far more expatriate Scots - often with only a quarter, an eighth, or even less Scots blood in their veins - than native Scots in the plethora of modern Clan Associations. It is ironic that they give respect to, or even venerate, the chiefly families who were responsible for their departure in the first place.

....Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia have kept alive customs and traditions which have disappeared from the culture of the homeland.

In some places, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia for example, they have kept alive customs and traditions that have disappeared from the culture of the homeland. In other places, they have created entirely new traditions - the 'kirking of the tartan' in the United States is one example - which help them to legitimise their Scottishness in a new world.

Tartan Week in America, Caledonian Societies across the globe, the international phenomenon of Burns Suppers - these are all really cultural legacies of the Highland Clearances.

For those who were left behind, the psychological trauma created a deep culture of dependency. This was not a fawning, ingratiating affair, for we have seen the deep-rooted radicalism that was present. Rather, it engendered demand upon demand that the state do something for them, rather than a drive to do something for themselves.

Government development agency followed upon government development agency, and crofters in time became more and more adept at working the system rather than trying to change it. Another century passed before a turning point was reached.

In recent years a strong Crofters' Union has emerged, inspiring crofters to seize the advantages of new transport systems, new communications networks and new technology, to build a better way of life for themselves. In the last decade crofters involved in community buy-out schemes have not only taken full possession of their own lands, but of whole landed estates like Assynt, or whole Islands like Eigg. Perhaps at last the gloomy memories, the shadow of the Clearances, are passing.

Find out more


The making of the Crofting Community by J Hunter (Edinburgh, 1976)

A Dance called America: The Scottish Highlands, the United States and Canada by J Hunter (Edinburgh, 1994)

The Highland Clearances by A Mackenzie (Glasgow, 1883)

The Highland Clearances by J Prebble (London, 1963)

A History of the Highland Clearances: Agrarian Transformation and the Evictions by E Richards (London, 1982)

A History of the Highland Clearances: Emigration, Protest, Reasons by E Richards (London 1985)