Visiting Culloden Battlefield

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I recently visited the site of the Battle of Culloden, the final battle of the 1745-46 Jacobite rebellion against the British government and Hanoverian dynasty.  Located a few miles east of Inverness, I had long appreciated the importance of this location, having studied the rebellion both at school and at university.  Here – so the narrative goes – the Jacobite Highlanders engaged in a valiant last stand against the British redcoat army, who had pursued them north from their advances into England the previous year.  It marked the end of Charles Stuart’s, or Bonnie Prince Charlies’s, rebellion, and the end of a fifty-year-long attempt to restore the Stuart dynasty to the British throne.  The Jacobite defeat also led to a government campaign to pacify the Highlands, dismantling the clan system of governance and suppressing Highland culture through banning clan tartans and suppressing the use of the Gaelic language.

So, a very important moment in Scottish history.  For a site which was essentially left over two centuries as a field full of mass graves, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  However the visitor centre, opened in 2007, does an expert job of providing the historical background for the battle.  There are the standard museum displays showing Jacobite- and Hanoverian-branded items, 18th-century weapons, clothing and so on, annotated by boards chronologically detailing the events of the rebellion.  These are interspersed with more visual illustrations of the conflict, including an animated map showing the movement of armies throughout the eight-month insurrection, an instalment which particularly appealed to me.  Perhaps the best design decision was to display the opposing narratives of each army on either side of the wall, combining primary sources from soldiers with the wider historical context.  At the end of this rather traditional museum experience, although expertly put together, we entered a room with video footage of a battle re-enactment projected on all four walls.  With surround-sound, it felt as though we were in the centre of the battle itself.  We watched and listened as the armies lined up against one another, began to fire cannons, and finally as the Jacobites charged into the slaughter.

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Afterwards, we were able to explore the battlefield itself, guided by useful – if temperamental – audio headsets.  These were helpful as it’s difficult to appreciate how the field would have looked during the battle, a problem worsened by the fact that the battle site was simply a random field neither side had particularly chosen.  I had always imagined a grander setting for the end of the rebellion.  We followed paths cut through the field, including two particularly long paths along the army lines, giving a sense of how many people fought in the field that day (15,000 in all).  These were annotated by flags to illustrate the distance between the opposing forces as they lined against one another.

The most shocking and, for me, unexpected feature of the battlefield were the mass graves.  I hadn’t realised the bodies, overwhelmingly Jacobite (about 1,500 compared to 50 on the government side) had been buried on the battlefield itself.  I was touched to discover that they been buried by clan; at least the governing army awarded them that final respect.  These would have remained anonymous mounds had it not been for the local landowner Duncan Forbes who, in 1881, placed stones marking the clan buried in each grave.  Somewhat amusingly, a stone described these graves as marking the brave Highland soldiers who had fought against the ‘English’, despite many clans having actually fought on the government side, most notably the Campbells.  I found it interesting how Forbes, perhaps along with many of his Victorian contemporaries, had chosen to remember the battle.  Through a celtic romanticist prism, the battle may have appeared as a final showdown between English/British modernity and Scottish traditionalism.

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By Shadowgate, via Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, the conflict had even less nationalistic undertones than I had been led to believe.  After seizing Edinburgh, Prince Charles was urged by several nobles to reconvene the Scottish Parliament, abolished in 1707, and to consolidate Jacobite control over Scotland.  Charles, however, had no interest in such an action and instead pushed southward into England.  While there were undoubtedly elements of conflict between Scottish and English identity, it seemed to me that the most useful means of framing the uprising is a dynastic power-struggle precipitated by political disagreement over the role of the monarchy, with the British government favouring a Whiggish, constitutional view, and the Jacobites arguing in favour of the divine right of kings.  It’s fascinating how many different historical angles can be applied to the conflict.  The role of the clans and their relationships with the state must also be considered: did the uprising constitute the final assertion of the dominance of the British state and the end of clan sovereignty?

I would highly recommend a visit to the Culloden battlefield to anyone that finds themselves in the Inverness area.  It would be of interest to both avid historians and the less knowledgeable alike, bringing to life this crucially important episode of Scottish history.

 

10 Freshers’ Tips for University

Now that I’ve been at university for approximately 24 days, I’ve largely overcome the major stumbling blocks and issues which are likely to crop up during the first weeks and may even be close to feeling settled (though each time I say that a new challenge arises, so I’ve probably jinxed it again…).  Therefore, I feel somewhat in a position to compile some tips for the freshers of the future:

  1. Be organised during your first week.  I stay in catered accommodation and was handed a massive bundle of stuff upon arrival, which I proceeded to lump into a pile once I found my room.  As a result of this I lost the card needed to gain entrance to meals, which was a rather stressful way to start the semester! (I suppose you could argue the true moral is to not enter catered accommodation, a view I’m increasingly likely to agree with.  Food’s nice, however!).  You’ll be handed plenty of other things throughout the week too, so keeping things organised really will make life easier.
  2. This somewhat depends on how you’re travelling (I assume I’m in the minority for arriving via a 14-hour ferry), but I’d say you should only bring with you what you need.  Anything else is just more clutter, and you will be acquiring plenty of items (most useless, granted!) throughout the semester.
  3. Meet as many people as possible during Fresher’s Week.  Be it flatmates, people in halls, societies, people in your classes, etc.  You might not have anything in common with most of them but it becomes incredibly reassuring to begin recognising faces during your travels.
  4. Get involved with as much of Fresher’s week as you can.  Whether this be nightclubs or tamer events during the day, these are among the best ways to meet new people and learn about the university.  I was shocked to discover that some people didn’t go to any of the events at all during the week.  Most of the friends/acquaintances I’ve made thus far have been through societies, of which most universities will have an incredibly variety – you should be guaranteed to find something of interest.
  5. Find your way around.  Take walks along major streets and around the university, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar city.  It’s definitely easier to learn your way around the campus as early as you can, too.  Familarise yourself with maps.  This is also useful for if you’re ever walking across a city after sundown, as I’ve found myself doing frequently – walking with a sense of direction is supposedly one of the best ways to prevent unwanted attention.
  6. Do all the ‘touristy’ things during Fresher’s week.  Well, I found this useful anyway.  I’ve still yet to climb Arthur’s Seat (it calls me every morning through the window) and the Scott Monument, but now I’ve seen most of the tourist attractions I can now feel more like a resident of the city than a visitor passing through.
  7. Keep diaries and notepads, perhaps containing details like your new addresses, phone numbers, timetables, and so on.  I don’t know how I’d have managed without taking down so many notes in the first weeks.
  8. Don’t expect to settle in overnight.  Some people might have the ability to feel settled wherever they live – how I envy them if they exist – but I’m willing to bet most of us can’t.  I wouldn’t even say I feel at home now, over three weeks on, but I’m gradually getting there.  Homesickness is okay.
  9. Take as much from university as you can.  There are probably more opportunities open to you here than you’ll ever experience again during your life, so make the most of it.  Always keep your eyes open for things to participate in.
  10. Finally, I’m not yet really in a position to discuss making friends, but this BBC article is very useful on that front.  Some people are better at making friends than others, especially in this bizarre, artificial environment we students have been thrust into, and I don’t believe taking a more paced approach at getting to know people is necessarily a bad thing.

So yeah, these are basically the main things I’ve learned in the last few weeks.  Maybe useful, perhaps common-sense.  To be honest, university is such an incomprehensibly vast and overwhelming experience that I could easily write new lists of tips every few weeks.  Perhaps it should be a regular feature!  Or would that become incredibly boring?  Anyhow, have another picture.

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A Brush with Nationalism

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As I mark two weeks of living in Edinburgh I finally have something to  post!  I’m planning to write a summary of my ever-growing experiences at some point, but as I walked through the bustling crowd of today’s independence march I knew this post would have to take priority.  Also, I apologise for the quality of the pictures – I only had my phone with me and I later realised that I left my USB connector back at Shetland, so I had to take second photos with my other camera.  Not the most efficient method…

activityI was only able to briefly witness the initial gathering before the march to Calton Hill, which seems to have become a focal point for Scottish nationalism, as I was due to attend an ‘activism training day’ (I love Edinburgh).  Even so, with the march in a semi-formed state, this was still the most significant political event I have ever witnessed.  Flags were waved, some in frantic excitement, others rippling gently in the wind; whistles blew all round, often by children too young to understand the politics but clearly enjoying the carnival atmosphere; and bagpipes filled the air.  I once wrote about a fictional demonstration – which is, admittedly, a completely different context to here – and I’m glad I at least got the tone right.  Such joy, hope; visions and dreams were palpable through the crowd.  Whether these are justified is a different matter, yet almost didn’t seem important at that moment.  This march created an idyllic vision; cold reality can come later.

greensI was also struck by the vast variety of groups coalescing into this unlikely alliance.  I was most excited to see the Scottish Green Party who had a section in the crowd, though I was too shy to say hello.  In addition I came across the Scottish National Party, the ‘Radical Independence’ group, the Socialist Worker newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Party and even a ‘Christians for socialists independence group’.  Some single-issue organisations were there too, including anti-Trident pressure groups.  I think I even saw some Catalan flags, perhaps as a bid for pan-European solidarity.  Yes, a quick Google search tells me this was the Estelada, a flag used by Catalan nationalists.  I wonder if Saltires have even flown in Barcelona, then?

policeWhat is most impressive about my experience of the march is how peaceful and ordered it was.  This feels that it should go without saying, yet my studies of history indicate time and time again this isn’t the case.  For a movement so at odds with the interests of the ruling elite to be granted such freedom must be virtually unprecedented in the majority of human history.  There was a notable police presence* but even this seemed relatively relaxed, their prime concern being to prevent overcrowding.  There wasn’t even a hint of violent tension, which again would have been unimaginable for most comparable political movements in history.

I continue to be impressed by the optimistic vision advocated by the pro-independence cause.  Whether there’s reason to be optimistic is up for debate, but I can’t imagine anywhere near a similar atmosphere at a unionist march (do these even occur?).  I wouldn’t say this brief brush has changed my view of the debate but it has made it seem all the more real and, certainly, all the more exciting.  I am thrilled to be spending the next year here at a time of such debate and political activity.

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“What do we want?”
“INDEPENDENCE!”
“When do we want it?”
“NOW!”

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A lonely union flag despairs.

Related articles:

*I’m aware of section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which brings into doubt the legality of photographing police officers.  Since I’m neither directly or indirectly helping terrorists by the publication of these photographs I know I’m acting perfectly within the law, but it’s unfortunate we must worry about such things in the first place.

University Beckons

Steven Hill [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, at approximately 5:30pm, I will begin the 20-hour journey which shall take me to university in Edinburgh.  This is both nerve-wracking and exciting beyond belief – and my time will probably be significantly taken up by concentrating on settling in, Fresher’s week, studies, and so on.  So this blog might be quiet for a while.  Hopefully I’ll find time to write a thing or two here and there, but I won’t even attempt to stick to any schedules until I’m fully into the flow of university life.  Once I am, I’ll probably aim to continue the rate of something like 3 posts a week.

There’s a few elections coming up and I was initially planning to cover each in depth in a similar vein to how I discussed Australian polling a month ago, but since I’ve simply run out of time I’ll just have to give a brief summary of each one:

7th September 2013 – Australian General Election
When I made that last update on Australian polling it looked as though there might be some hope for the Labor Party, which experienced a boost in ratings since Kevin Rudd usurped Julia Gillard as party leader, but this seems to have since subsided.  No poll has shown the Labor party ahead in the Two-Party Preferred Vote since the end of July, in in the last week the Liberal/National Coalition has regularly been ahead by 2-3%.  This would be enough to give them somewhere around 83 – 86 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives – a clear majority.  So while nothing can ever be certain in politics – the race is tight enough for this to not entirely be a foregone conclusion – it’s difficult to envisage a scenario in which Tony Abbot doesn’t become Australia’s next Prime Minister.

7th September 2013 – Maldivian Presidential Election
Because the issue of elections in the Maldives is so complex, and as I know so little about it, nothing I can write here will really do it justice.  The island-nation of 320,000 experienced its first free polls in 2008 and, despite hiccups, seemed on generally the right path towards democracy.  Unfortunately, like most first tries at democracy, this collapsed in 2012 with what is widely considered a coup which removed President Nasheed and replaced him with his vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.  Mohamed Nasheed claimed to have been forced to resign at gunpoint, effectively making this a military-backed coup.  I haven’t particularly followed events since but I have noticed an upsurge in stories of human rights abuse which have concerned rights groups including Amnesty International.  So I can’t really say what I think will happen in this presidential election, but I really hope it can put the country back on the track towards democracy.

9th September 2013 – Norwegian Parliamentary Election
Things don’t look great for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway since 2005.  Leader of the Labour Party, he has governed Norway as part of the ‘Red-Green’ coalition, also including the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.  He only just clung onto power in the 2009 elections, when his coalition won fewer votes than the opposition but through quirks of the system managed to win the most seats.  This resulted in calls for an overhall of the electoral system, which as far as I’m aware haven’t been implemented.

A look at opinion polls shows that recently, beginning in May 2012, the Conservative Party began to enjoy a lead.  Since I last checked the Labour Party had actually managed to get ahead by a few percentage points as the most popular party – I wonder if Stoltenberg’s side job as a taxi driver helped? – but the Red-Green Coalition as a whole is being overtaken by the opposition due to the poor results for the Socialist Left and Centre Parties.  In terms of seats, while it’s possible that the Labour Party might be the largest party, the Conservative-led opposition coalition looks set to pick up a lead of 20-30 seats as a whole in the parliament of 169 seats.  The latest estimate I can see it 96 seats for the opposition and 71 for the Red-Green Coalition, despite the Labour Party beating the Conservatives by 54 seats to 46.  In conclusion, I would imagine that this result would see Stoltenberg be replaced as Prime Minister by either Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party or Siv Jensen of the Progress Party.  Like Australia, red will probably fade to blue.

What Do Adults Do With Their Lives?

So, four weeks ago today I left school.  I had feared that an unfillable void would consume my life for the following three months until I left for university in September (Edinburgh, to do English Literature and History – extremely exciting!).  Such a void didn’t immediately come to pass due to a couple of social events in the first week and then being involved with a great play.  However, in the week since that play finished I have found myself at kind of a loose end and I realised that I have no idea what one is meant to do with the rest of their life after they finish school.

Ideally, upon entering this adult world an individual would find a job.  In the last few months I’ve applied for a handful of jobs and asked in a multitude of local businesses if they were in need of temporary staff.  Of these, one turned me down (Boots, because I failed the online test – apparently stating men and women should ignore gender labels on perfume and arguing that make-up is pointless makes me undesirable?), and the rest simply didn’t get back to me.  Of these, I found out that one wasn’t hiring temporary staff so I’m hoping that’s the reason for the rest – I can’t really blame the national youth unemployment of rate of 20% because we’re generally lucky with low unemployment in the area I live.  So, yeah.  I’ve kept my eye out for vacancies but I’m starting to think there’s really no point getting a job for two months only to then move 300 miles away.  Instead, I’m planning to volunteer.  I’ve applied to the local credit union who will hopefully take me on but failing that I might stalk the charity shops.

As a result of this unemployment, I really have entered a mild state of panic as to what adult life actually entails.  Even with a job, unless it’s a dream job – which is unlikely – I’m envisaging adult life as a constant struggle for fulfillment.  I’m sure it isn’t, but I’m allowed my adolescent moment of terror for adulthood, right? (If not, how else do you explain The Catcher in the Rye’s popularity?  Certainly isn’t its groundbreaking narrative!).  For the remaining two months I’m planning to piece together various idea to try to fill up time.  Make crépes, travel to the northernmost point of the country, write a novel/dragged out short story, make more crépes… Oh, and I’m getting a piece of work published in an anthology at the beginning of September (probably)!

Well, I’m sure I’ll have more to do which interests me once I arrive in Edinburgh.  Museums, libraries, societies, the parliament, studying… Ahh… Also, I was wondering whether I should start making ‘vlogs’ when I get there.  My reasoning is that there will be so many visuals of my new life I’ll want to show off which words alone won’t be able to do justice.  I’m not that great a speaker, but perhaps vlogging would actually help with that?  Anyway, I’d put them onto my Youtube account if I do decide to go with that.

Stay tuned!