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The Social and Economic Condition of the Highlands of Scotland Since 1800

THE genesis of this little book was a Prize Essay written for the Gaelic Society of Inverness in 1888: it afterwards appeared as a serial in the "Celtic Monthly Magazine." Since then I have revised and extended the matter to its present form, which I now publish, partly through representations made to me that its value as a work of reference would be enhanced in book form, but chiefly from a long and ardent desire I have had of placing before the public a scheme evolved by me fifteen years ago for developing the many natural resources of the Highlands of Scotland, which from common-place familiarity have been overlooked by keen business men and speculators alike.

The glamour of gold and diamonds blind most men, and the common-place resources of their native country are too often neglected for doubtful ventures in foreign lands. Thus in the Highlands of Scotland, where millions of tons of water, capable of generating incalculable energy, have been running to waste for ages, only recently one industry has taken advantage of this economical form of power.

In a country where thousands of acres of land are practically lying waste, few have deemed it a good investment to plant trees or sub-divide tillable land into small townships except in a half-hearted fashion, and without any specific general scheme for future developments. In a country surrounded by a seaboard, whose waters are teeming with fish, no adequate harbours exist; and fishing generally is now prosecuted in practically the same primitive manner as it was two centuries ago.

True, the Fishery Board of Scotland has done something towards scientific investigation; and it and the Congested District Boards have helped in a feeble manner in the direction of providing harbours and piers; but a very great deal remains yet to be done.

The Government should issue much larger grants both for harbours and fishing equipments. Since the passing of the Congested Districts Board, in 1897, up to the end of March, 1905, the amount spent on works and land migration, but excluding the purchase of lands, roughly represented 130,000, of which amount nearly 12,000 were expended in administrative charges. It is, therefore, apparent that the present system of making grants in dribbling doles is anything but an economical policy.

The half-hearted modes of procedure hitherto adopted must be changed into vigorous action. The waste uplands must be re-afforested; the straths and glens must be cultivated. Harbours, piers, and creeks must be constructed. The fishing industry must be conducted, extended, and worked on more scientific and economic principles. Light railways should intersect districts now devoid of reasonable means of access. The existing principal harbours should have railway connections to admit of the rapid transit of fresh fish to the large consuming centres, and curing stations, constructed on the latest scientific lines, should be established at all important fishing stations. Then there would be an outlet for overcrowded labour, and a remedy for our congested cities.

Who has yet given any real, practical, or scientific consideration to the utilisation of the great peat deposits of the Highlands? Here is a fuel containing a large percentage of combustible material, dug out in the crude manner of almost pre-historic days, in a climate sodden with damp, in which desperate efforts are made to dry a still more sodden peat in an atmosphere already overburdened with moisture, when a simple mechanical process of compression and artificial evaporation would produce 66 per cent. of combustible material little inferior to the best coal, and apart from many valuable by-products.

These, briefly, are a few of the many points which I am anxious to bring before the reader's notice in this book, and, although in several cases I have only hovered around the outskirts of the subject, I hope to arouse sufficient interest in the problems, and to awaken the public from their apathy towards the starving masses of our large cities, and by co-operation obtain for them honourable employment and comfortable homes in the Highlands they so fondly cherish, instead of allowing them to be expatriated to foreign lands and climes unsuited to their temperament.

Were these schemes, which I have so imperfectly outlined, carried into effect, they would go a long way—a very long way—towards the amelioration of our compatriots, whose ancestors or themselves have been driven from their native soil, and the land they love so well.

I cannot close this Preface without expressing my gratitude to the Rev. John Sinclair, Parish Minister of Kinloch-Rannoch, for the many valuable hints given to me during the final getting-up of this book,, and for his kindness in revising the proofs during my absence in South Africa.


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