This is a short and occasionally personal post on a land reform matter that partly relates to the place where I grew up, the Renfrewshire village of Kilbarchan.
Two pictures will set the scene.
This cairn was recently unveiled at New Street, Kilbarchan, opposite the Glenleven Inn. The plaque is gloriously succinct. To add a bit more verbiage, Mary Barbour had a key role in the Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915. This is explained on the Remember Mary Barbour blog.
In terms of why I am interested in land reform, I would not normally place my Kilbarchan upbringing as the main catalyst for any interest. Sure, I was aware of Kilbarchan’s radical weaving tradition, but I have actually mentioned my growing up in a suburban Renfrewshire cul-de-sac as a by-the-wayside remark to forestall any lazy critique of points I raise as being from someone: a) wanting to grab some land for himself; or b) defending his rights in the lovely land that he already owns. (Which is not to say the likes of tenant farmers, landowners or community representatives cannot make valid points. They can and very often do. But I digress.)
For any personal interest in land reform, that probably stems from my family’s occasional transhumance. Not proper transhumance, of course, but in my childhood and adolescence most of my Easter and summer holidays were spent in the Hebrides, staying with my mother’s side of the family. The land question just seems more of a thing in the Highlands and Islands. There may be many reasons for that, but it strikes me that one reason is that no-one told me about people like Mary Barbour or events like the Glasgow Rent Strikes whilst I was growing up and attending school in Kilbarchan.
Land reform is not Highland. Land reform is not rural. Nineteenth century action against rack-renting in what are now called the Crofting Counties is as much a land issue as twentieth century action against rent-increases in Glasgow.
As for the relevance of any of this to the present day, the contemporary land reform debate should not be driven by history, but it can be informed by it. If a few children growing up in Kilbarchan, or perhaps Govan, ask a question or two about Mary Barbour because of a memorial, that would be a very welcome thing indeed.