Myths of Genocide: Answering Bella’s Experts

by Jeggit

On Wednesday this week Mike Small published an article on his blog Bella Caledonia in which he sought, through the opinion of certain eminent Scottish historians, to debunk the “myths of genocide” – as he sees them – that have been circulating in recent weeks in relation to the Clearances. His reason for this interjection, as he writes, is that this “manufacture of grievance” – as a “hysterical account of the past” – does not “serve the movement for Scottish independence.”

Small’s piece, however, is entirely vague on the question of who precisely has been doing all this grievance mongering and hysterical storytelling; leaving Seonaidh to ask in the comments: “Just wondering who actually said it constituted ‘genocide?’” On the face of it, Mr Small was putting right a matter no one appears to have put wrong. Of course this was not the case. The author was simply unwilling to credit the original source of these “myths.”

Omitting this detail was rather dishonest, but I would say this – because I am that original source. On 27 May 2016 I published “The Scottish Genocide” on this website suggesting just that, that the behaviour of the British authorities towards the Highlanders and Islanders during the Clearances was genocidal. More recently on my own blog, Random Public Journal, I revisited this topic, arguing that – in light of international law – there is a case to be made vis-à-vis the perpetration of genocide in Scotland at that time.

In the original 2016 piece I pre-empted Mike Small’s disingenuous effort to reframe my proposition as the deliberate manufacture of grievance as part of a cynical ploy to bolster support for Scottish independence. I state this more firmly in an article due for publication in March in iScot Magazine (submitted prior to the piece in Bella Caledonia) in which I write:

It is not the purpose of this article to instrumentalise the experiences of those expelled from the Highlands and Islands in order to aggravate or antagonise those who deny this proposal… Nor is this intended to create a new grievance with which to pursue a political agenda or to elicit a sense of shame.

On this point, at least, Mr Small and I agree. Whether the later Clearances in the Highlands and Islands were genocide, ethnic cleansing, or the regrettable and unforeseen consequences of economic progress, real people suffered – and terribly so. It is always wrong to instrumentalise the suffering of others in the service of one’s own political agenda. This is both cruel and selfish.

My purpose in writing of this in the first place was twofold; to raise awareness of the Clearances in Scotland – something few of us learned in school – and, more importantly, to highlight the gross injustice visited upon the men, women, and children who were forcibly expelled from their homes and from Scotland as a result of expedient economic policy and as a consequence of the British establishment in Scotland’s racist ill-opinion of them. Throughout everything I have written on this sad episode in our history the focus has remained firmly on this question of justice, and this is where Mike Small’s article goes entirely awry.

Hoping to confound my appeal to justice he solicited the opinion of “two of Scotland’s most respected historians;” namely Tom Devine, Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh University, and James Hunter, “an award-winning historian” and Director for the UHI Centre for History. Yet these consultations were wholly unnecessary. Who am I to dispute Scottish history with Emeritus Professors Devine and Hunter? In spite of Mike Small’s repeated and obnoxious insistence to the contrary over social media, I have never disputed the evidence of history or the opinions of these two illustrious men.

As Mike Small did not see fit to cite me anywhere in what he wrote, he is certainly not in a position to show me or anyone where I have disputed the events of the past. At best what he has done is to have constructed an unnamed and unquoted strawman, a paper tiger completely of his own making. In the academy, the natural habitat of Professors Devine and Hunter both, we call this dishonesty.

Thus it is regrettable that these esteemed historians have been put in a position in which, without any more context than a simple question, they have opined that my thoughts are at once an “insult to people who have genuinely experienced organised slaughter on a huge scale” – à la James Hunter – and a “ludicrous” and “bizarre assertion” – à la Tom Devine. This is regrettable because both of these men have issued a decision on a subject that is beyond their competence. Neither Devine nor Hunter are qualified – as far as I am aware – to speak on international criminal law and to determine what is justice and injustice in matters of law.

In fact Professor Hunter makes this obvious himself when he equates genocide to “slaughter on a huge scale.” In law that would be mass murder, defined as the “intentional and indiscriminate murder of a large number of people.” Genocide is neither indiscriminate nor is it limited to a given number of victims. Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish law professor who coined the term genocide, was unambiguous when he wrote that “genocide can be carried out through acts against individuals” in his 1946 article, “Genocide,” in the American Scholar journal. Had James Hunter been a law professor he would have known this, but he is not. He is a brilliant historian.

Mike Small’s article goes on in the closing paragraphs to interpret what he thinks is Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, that part of the “Genocide Convention” I cite in my second article, to show “what does not constitute genocide.” The Convention says no such thing. It would appear that Mike Small is no law professor either. What he quotes is legal opinion attached to a fragment of the Convention on the United Nations’ website and not the Convention itself. For the purposes of law only the wording of the Convention and the determination of justices in specific cases matter.

In quoting mere opinion he writes: “Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group. It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, what makes the crime of genocide so unique.” Indeed this is a valid legal opinion, no doubt written by a legal expert in the employ of the United Nations, but – like all opinion – not everyone agrees. Those responsible for the successful application to the International Criminal Court at the Hague concerning the genocide at Srebrenica disagreed. The application and final judgement (26 February 2007) reads:

…the Applicant first points to an alleged policy by the Bosnian Serb forces to encircle civilians of the protected group in villages, towns or entire regions and to subsequently shell those areas and cut off all supplies in order to starve the population. Secondly, the Applicant claims that Bosnian Serb forces attempted to deport and expel the protected group from the areas which those forces occupied. Finally, the Applicant alleges that Bosnian Serb forces attempted to eradicate all traces of the culture of the protected group through the destruction of historical, religious and cultural property.

This is not mere legal opinion from a website following a quick Google search. This is the wording of an International Criminal Court judgment pursuant to the precise terms of Article II of the Genocide Convention. But this is beside the point. At no time did I argue the Clearances were an act of genocide on the grounds of cultural destruction. The case I make – and this too is only opinion – will be published in full in the upcoming issue of iScot Magazine.

It was never my intention for any of this to become a serious issue or a cause for falling out. For what it is worth, I sincerely regret that so many cross words have been spoken over this question in recent days. Yet, having read into the law of genocide and the events of the Clearances – which I do not dispute with Professors Devine and Hunter, I stand by my opinion. Others may see this differently, and of course this is each person’s prerogative. All I have sought to do is to present the law as I read it in plain English and invite open and honest discussion on the subject. I am at least glad that this whole affair has caused many more people to start thinking about these events.

Whoever destroys one life destroys an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved the world entire.
Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 37a


The Butterfly Rebellion
Jason Michael
Ayrshire, Scotland