Just a Wee Blether…

About America could learn from Mannie

At the summit of Ben Bhraggie, overlooking the village of Golspie in Sutherland, stands a massive memorial to the 1st Duke of Sutherland, George Leveson-Gower. The 100ft statue, dubbed ‘The Mannie’, was built after money to build it was raised by public subscription.

The Duke is a figure of hatred in the Highlands. He was the man most closely associated with the Highland Clearances, arguably the worst example of what can only be called domestic terrorism perpetrated by the landed gentry against Scotland’s rural population. Thousands were burned out of their homes and sent away in boats to Canada and the US never to see their homeland again. The land they once occupied was turned over to sheep. They were more profitable than humans.

Over the years the statue has been defaced, and there have been attempts to have it removed. So far, they haven’t succeeded. The belief among Scots seems to be that, while this was a hellish part of our history, it happened and it should never be forgotten. The Duke’s statue stands as a painful reminder of our past.

There was a report last week that parcels of the land are to be sold off to the descendants of the people who were cleared. It’s a very sensible, adult way of behaving. Compare it with the lunacy on this side of the Atlantic, where America has become convulsed by SRH (Statue Removal Hysteria).

The past two weeks have been horrible here. I was born 11 years after World War Two ended, and I never thought I’d see people – in my adopted home – marching through the streets carrying Nazi flags, wearing Swastika armbands, and gathering outside a synagogue chanting Sieg Heil. It’s chilling, to say the least.

There are obviously dark forces at work in America right now, and the planned removal of statues of Confederate ‘heroes’ like Robert E Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson have brought them out in force. Obviously, Lee, Jackson, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate Civil War leaders represented a chapter that right-thinking people in America find repugnant.

Of course, it isn’t just the memory of slavery that is the problem here, it’s that racism is so built into the American psyche. The economy of America’s southern states was once built on slavery, and there are many today who still believe that non-white people are inferior in every way.

But the people who invaded Charlottesville do not speak for America. Steve Bannon got it right when he referred to the alt-right brigade who showed up there as ‘a collection of clowns’. And he is one of their greatest cheerleaders.

If we put to one side the actions of the mob, and the gibberish that emanates from the President, it pays to listen to more reasonable, and interesting, voices.

Many thousands of southerners, proud of the Confederate past, have come out of the woodwork to say they are horrified by what is happening. One man, draped from head to toe in Confederate clothing, spoke of his pride at what his ancestors had fought for during the Civil War, but made the point that his grandparents had fought equally hard to defeat the Nazis.

The bottom line is that, unlike Scotland, America doesn’t seem able to have a grown-up conversation about its troubled past. Everything here seems to be – if you’ll pardon the expression – black or white. There is no middle ground, you are either for us or against us.

Just as the Clearances happened, so did the Civil War. It may have been one of the bloodiest and stupidest wars in history, but it happened nonetheless. Many of these statues were put up for all the wrong reasons, to goad people during the Civil Rights era, but tearing them down won’t erase the war. Moving them to a museum or somewhere more appropriate than a town square might be more sensible, but common sense hasn’t entered the debate so far.

Fort Bragg, the huge US military installation in North Carolina, is named after a Confederate general. What about Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi? There are hundreds of other examples. Should all these places be renamed?

Buchanan Street and Glassford Street in Glasgow were named for Tobacco Lords who made their fortunes on the back of slave labour in America. There’s Virginia Street and Jamaica Street? As a Scotsman report in 2007 put it, “These streets crisscross modern day Glasgow like scars from a slave-master’s lash.”

Believe me, Scotland looks like a haven of sanity right now compared with the USA. It baffles me that a nation with so much influence in the world, home to so many intelligent individuals, is unable to move forward and let go of its 18th century baggage.

Perhaps an American delegation should take a trip to the Lios Mor bar in the west end of Glasgow and see how Scots deal with things. The gents’ toilet has three urinals, each emblazoned with the names of villains of the Highland Clearances – Patrick Sellar, George Granville, and Colonel Fell.


A plaque on the wall reads, “This urinal is dedicated to the three men who participated in the Scottish Highland Clearances.
These men took part in what is now recognised as a form of central government endorsed ethnic cleansing.
Through their greed and bigotry, they and others have been instrumental in destroying a centuries old Scottish Highlands way of life.

Now if Americans could only pee on their old foes…how much better would they feel?

Just a Wee Blether…

About assaulting the Arizona cacti

It’s the kind of advert that would make you stop in your track if you saw it on eBay. For Sale. One Giant Saguaro Cactus Plant. Genuine Arizona Desert. Freshly Cut. Mint Condition.

This being Arizona, America’s unofficial ‘Cactus State’, the appearance of such an ad is at least possible. There are, after all, tens of thousands of very impressive cactus plants dotted all over the desert countryside, and in the back yards of suburban neighbourhoods.

Arizona residents don’t exactly have them lying around their garages. But there is a section of the population who steal and ‘assault’ cactus plants – sometimes in a vain bid to make money, but usually just for the hell of it.

They take their cacti seriously over here. There is an urban legend that someone who harms a cactus in Arizona can be jailed for 25 years. That’s not the case, but causing harm to a cactus – specifically the highly protected Saguaro cactus – is a class 4 felony.

There are different grades of class 4 felony, but removing or destroying a native cactus is categorized along with crimes such as negligent homicide, kidnapping, arson, and credit card forgery. It is punishable by between one year and three years, nine months in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000.

Cactus plugging is a form of vandalism in the Arizona desert. Gun-toting guys (always guys and usually tanked-up) head into the wilds and fire multiple shots at Saguaro plants to try and topple them. The practice falls under the category of causing cruelty or harm to a protected species.

In 1982 a student called David Grundman went cactus plugging with a mate just outside Phoenix. After firing at the cactus, he tried to knock it over. An arm of the plant weighing around 500lbs fell on him, crushing him to death. Just for good measure, the trunk of the cactus then landed on top of him.

That’s the trouble with cacti, they are big and very heavy. A Saguaro will live for around 175 years. They grow to 75ft and one of the giant arms takes between 75 and 100 years to grow. Driving along a country road with hundreds of these specimens on either side is quite a sight.

I made up that first paragraph about eBay. It was fake news as they say here. But stealing cacti is a major problem in Arizona and adverts for stolen plants have been known to pop up on craigslist and other sites. They can fetch several hundred dollars, and many people are happy to buy them on the black market for planting in their property.

That answers the question ‘Why do people steal them?’ But I don’t get the vandalism bit. Why go into the desert and chop off a 100-year old arm of a giant cactus? Or fire a ton of bullets at it in the hope of mortally wounding it?

I’ve only had one close encounter with a cactus. A few years ago, my leg brushed against a species called a jumping cholla cactus. Within a split second it had used its defence mechanism to fire about a dozen spikes through my jeans, into my leg, right through to the bone. It was uncomfortably sore for at least six weeks afterwards.

Despite the pain, I didn’t want to go back and kill it, or chop off one of its arms. In fact, I can’t imagine why anybody would. But they do. Cactus theft might seem minor, but the desert is a delicate place and, like I say, Arizonans are very proud of their cacti and serious about protecting them.