Highland Scots - Economy



Work Cycles in Crofting. While the Highland Scots have a somewhat mixed economy, most of the literature focuses on crofting and fishing. The intensity of participation in these activities is partially determined by seasonal changes. In crofting communities agricultural work requires interHousehold cooperation for tilling, planting, and peat cutting from March to April. Potatoes and oats are the main agricultural products. Harvesting of oats is in August; potatoes in October. Intense and extended cooperation is required in April or May when lambing takes place.

Work Cycles in Fishing. Fishing has had a differential Impact on local economies, either as a food source or wage labor. In the Outer Hebrides, agriculture has never provided enough for self-sufficiency, and incomes have been supplemented by exporting cattle or by fishing. During the summer months, herring is available fresh; for the winter, salt herring is purchased. In the nineteenth and the early twentieth Century, crofters worked on foreign-owned boats engaged in Commercial herring fishing. The crofter-fishermen, and sometimes women, would follow the migrating herring north to Shetland and then down the east coast to East Anglia in England. In other locations (e.g., Skye) there was very little fishing by crofters. Since World War II some Highland Scots have obtained grants and loans, along with training, to become commercial fishermen. They are found at the major ports on both the east and west coasts. Smaller boats are sometimes used by the crofter-fishermen to catch lobsters, which can provide a cash income. There has been some attempt to develop small fish-processing factories that employ local labor. In general, since the turn of the twentieth century there has been a decline in the numbers of crofter-fishermen. But in those areas that have specialized in fishing the population has either remained constant or has increased.

Tourism. Another contribution to local economies is tourism. The clearances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were not only responsible for the depopulation of the Highlands; they also introduced tourism. Deer and salmon, once a source of food, attracted and continue to attract outsiders who are willing to pay for the rights to hunt and fish these animals. The pheasant was even introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century as a sport bird. Hunting and fishing do provide employment for gamekeepers and gillies, along with temporary work for beaters who drive the game to waiting hunters. Poaching of deer, salmon, and sea trout may provide some illegal income for Highlanders. But the major source of tourist income comes during the summer months. These temporary visitors require housing, camping sites, food, and other services that employ local labor and younger workers from other parts of Great Britain. When the migrant labor and the tourists leave at the end of the summer, public entertainments, such as galas and dances, disappear.

Industrial Arts. Knitting, weaving, and craft work for export provide income for some Highlanders. This is largely a home industry.

Division of Labor. In crofting communities, male/female distinctions in labor vary by activity and historical time period. In the Hebrides, during the herring days, the most Significant group of wage earners were the "herring girls," women who followed the herring fleet, gutting and packing the fish. On Lewis, when the men were away fishing, the croft and home were operated by women. In traditional activities such as peat gathering, men cut the peat blocks while women lifted them into creels and took them to where they were stacked. In Glen Fhraoich, the household was Democratic in principle, but two major activity domains existed. The women's domain included the interior of the house, the "green" and the "byre." The area between the house and the byre, which contained the peat pile, henhouse, and clothes-line were also included in her domain. The men's domain encompassed the wider croft area, the fields, peat bogs, and common grazing area. In addition, men were the only wage laborers. This same pattern was observed on Lewis, except that the men's domain included the fishing boat as well. Decisions involving major purchases were joint unless one partner relinquished his/her authority. In crofting, the Household is the economic unit, and regardless of the number of people in the household, there is only one male and one female in charge. Armstrong found that women in Kilmory worked in the fish factory, shops, or in activities associated with tourism. With the decline of the male-dominated fishing industry, the role of women has become increasingly important. On Barra, Valee found decreasing differences in the sexual division of labor. In the study of Kinlochleven, an industrial community, there were fewer and lower-paying jobs for females than for males.

Outside the household, the division of labor is rooted in occupational differences. On Harris, this distinction is sometimes marked by language. Crofters or fishermen speak Gaelic; professionals speak English. In Kintyre there is casual labor including road work, forestry, and seasonal services to tourists. On Islay the major occupations are working in the distillery, limestone quarrying, and farm and estate work. The historical trend has been away from employment in agriculture. For the Highlands, including Orkney and Shetland, Between 1871 and 1971 the proportion of agricultural workers declined from 40.5 percent of the work force to 9.9 percent.

Development. In 1965, the Highlands were designated a development area, and the Highlands and Islands Development Board was established to increase industrial production, alleviate unemployment, and stem out-migration. Grants have been given to maintain crofting and develop local industries. Another development scheme has been the reforestation of certain areas of the Highlands. Although Forestry accounts for just over 2 percent of the total employment, it is four times more important to the Highlands than to the United Kingdom as a whole. The oil industry has contributed to some local commercial, service, and construction industries. A major theoretical dispute related to the role of development has emerged in the recent literature on the Highlands. One observation is that the Highlands are simply underdeveloped and have had a history of boom-and-bust Cycles since 1700. Others suggest that the Highlands are part of a larger capitalistic economy, and "traditionalism" is an adaptive response to that economy, not some form of vestigial survival from a past state of peasantry. Condry observes that characteristics associated with "traditional" Highlands Culture were "modern" practices of the past, and he suggests that such "modern" practices of the present will become absorbed into future "traditionalism."


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