Scotland and Scotsmen
by Henry George
Address delivered on 18 February 1884 at the City Hall, Glasgow
This 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 intellect.
“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 Scotland!
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 that.
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 live.
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 industrious.
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 do.
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 on.
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 stock.
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 we don’t.”
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 power.
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 hall 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 hall.” They were afraid, and I said:
“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 hall 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 hall 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 against him.
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 landlords.
I have been pointing out the evil. How can it be cured?
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 them!
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 down punishment.
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?