The Highland Clearances Revisited

Growing up in 1990s post-industrial Scotland, the harrowing narrative of the Highland clearances was evoked time and again as a metanarrative to explain (or excuse?) the pitiful state of the nation. I remember the none-too-subtle play The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil being performed (rather well) at the High School of Glasgow. In both History and English we studied the effects of the Clearances and were collectively outraged at the tales of woe and injustice as subsistence farmers were driven cold-heartedly out of their ancestral lands by absentee landlords who had contributed nothing to the value of the land but had squeezed the poor crofters for every last penny they had, so as to live it up in distant London. (Actually the reality may be rather that most of the landowners were probably Scots and not English, and were just as likely to have been squandering their ill-gotten gain in Edinburgh as in London, but that’s beside the point.)

We were rightly distressed at the tales of hardworking families were thrust onto the beaches to forage for kelp, forced onto boats to the New World or herded into slums in Glasgow and other cities. Why? So that their land could turned into more lucrative sheep farms. Surely this was an abuse of power and a moral outrage that made any claims of Scotland to be a ‘civilised’ country ring hollow. And yet it’s happening again, but worse. Not Crofters but Christians are being targeted this time.

Today a corrupt cabal of lawyers and ecclesiastical bigwigs are intimidating and driving out churches who take a stand for truth and grace. Last year the congregation of High Hilton church in Aberdeen left en-masse following the decisive anti-Biblical trajectory set by the General Assembly of May 2011. Having been at the heart of the storm for a time, they were stripped of their building and the assets which the congregation had poured into the church. And then over the last 6 months a tirade of threats, lies, libels, slander and misrepresentation has been poured out against the 500+ congregation of The Tron Church in Glasgow. The congregation and its leaders have been relentlessly pursued and told to pack up and go, to leave the place they had inherited from their spiritual forefathers and which they had invested their lives and substance in building up. Why? So that their land could be turned into a publicity stunt for the demonic denomination, so that they could be made an example of to silence further dissent. Surely this is an abuse of power and a moral outrage.

The ‘Church of Scotland’ did not even build the physical structure; the Glasgow City Fathers built it for the glory of God and to provide the newly-growing Western extremity of the city with a place of worship. While most ‘Church of Scotland’ parishes and parishoners seem to expect to get more than give, the Tron Church paid for everything they have on top of giving great swathes of their offerings to central denomination coffers over recent decades at the expense of their ability to carry out city-centre mission. Over 6 years, the church raised £2.6m of its own money from life savings, pensions and sacrificial giving of members to enable the 200-year-old site to be made fit for purpose in the 21st century. That is not to mention the hard work, sweat and tears of the congregation doing all they could practically. Then that old absentee landlord of 121 George Street, Edinburgh (the ‘Church of Scotland’) has the temerity to demand not only that the congregation leaves, but also gives even more money and leaves everything they have paid for themselves. Not even the worst absentee landlords of the Clearances did that!

So here we have it: the ‘Church of Scotland’, a shameful debauched institution thoroughly out of touch with reality, abuses its power to seize a building it does not need, to make a thriving church family homeless at Christmas time and all because they dared to question the denomination’s newspeak about the Bible and the nature of being human. They will demand everything they did not contribute to and expect to get it. There is no continuing congregation. There is no living church meeting in Buchanan Street any more. Welcome to the 21st Century’s Countrywide clearances. The story is being repeated far and wide.

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