Page last updated at 23:28 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 00:28 UK

Different age, same controversies

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Farming in Scotland was facing challenges in 1929 as it is today

Concerns about depopulation and arguments about electricity lines and railway services.

Hard-pressed farmers seeking government support, the Bank of England cutting bank rates and a chancellor calling for the need for thrift.

This could be the present day, but were issues affecting Scotland in the autumn and winter of 1929.

A trawl through back copies of a Highland newspaper throws up some striking similarities between then and now.

An advert on the front page of the Inverness Courier on 22 October trumpets Mr Henry Bayton and his famous Shakespearean company's performance of A Comedy of Errors in Inverness's New Theatre Royal.

Two days later, it was far from a laughing matter.

In America it was Black Thursday and the start of the Wall Street Crash.

In October, Scotland's unemployment was running at 11.4% and England's at 9.2%
A Morris Oxford saloon on sale at an Inverness car dealership cost 285
The majority of United Free Church of Scotland members amalgamated with the Church of Scotland

For the Highlands, in tourism terms, 1929 had been a great year the Courier reported in the same edition running the theatre advert.

The newspaper described the season as the "most successful the Highlands has ever experienced".

Its leader piece went on to detail the region's stunning, unspoilt landscape and how it was an asset.

But the piece also carried a warning of the "great agitation" in the Lake District - another area renowned for its natural beauty - about progress in the erection of overhead electricity lines.

Fast forward 79 years and plans to erect "mega pylons" to carry electricity from Beauly in the Highlands to Denny in central Scotland has been the subject of a public enquiry.

Opponents warn that the pylons will ruin the scenery and have called for the cables to be buried underground.

Automatic railway

Renewable power was also at the forefront of people's minds in 1929 as much as it is today.

The Grampian Electricity Supply Bill was drawn up to pave the way for major use of hydro-electric power.

A scheme harnessing the waters of Loch Affric, Loch Mullardoch and Loch Monar near Inverness was proposed.

Among the suggestions to tackle the problem of fish affected by the project was to carry them over the Kilmorack Falls, near Beauly, "by means of lifts and an automatic railway".

The bill was rejected by a select committee of the House of Lords because Inverness would receive no benefit and Loch Affric would be spoilt.

There were also accusations of the Highlands having to pay more for the electricity generated in the area than the Lowlands.

Earlier this year, First Minister Alex Salmond attacked proposed National Grid transmission charges for being higher for Scottish power plants than those in England and making it highly expensive for renewable projects on the islands to connect to the grid.

Electricity pylons
Overhead cables are an issue today and back in 1929

Hydro power remains as relevant now as it was in 1929 as the massive Glendoe scheme near Fort Augustus is due to come online next year.

Depopulation of the Highlands and Islands was another problem in 1929.

Caithness Liberal MP Sir Archibald Sinclair asked the secretary of state for Scotland for a decision on any policy to halt outward migration.

Today, the exodus of young people from the region is being investigated by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Coincidently, Sir Archibald's grandson John Thurso is the MP for Caithness.

But the parallels do not stop there.

In 1929, concerns were expressed to the secretary of state about the future of the Muir of Ord to Fortrose railway line.

Last week, a Caithness councillor voiced worries that, unlike south of Perth, the north did not have a limited train service running during a strike by signal workers.

David Flear said if it was deemed the far north line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso could manage without trains for a couple of days a decision could be made to close the line completely.

Rationed calls

Meanwhile, crofters on Harris, the Uists and Barra appealed for government support after bad weather devastated crops, fodder and the price for cattle dropped from 9 to 2.

In the past few weeks, NFU Scotland has called for assistance in halting a decline in sheep farming.

As in recent days, the Bank of England in 1929 cut bank rates by half a percent.

In the wake of the Wall Street Crash, the Inverness Courier reported the UK Chancellor Philip Snowden "repeatedly extolling" the need for thrift and for people to save money.

Seventy-nine years ago, there were, as today, frantic scenes in British and American stock exchanges.

The Courier told of the telephone line between London and New York being the busiest in the world.

Authorities rationed the 3-a-minute calls and one stock exchange operator was said to have run up a 300 bill in telephone orders as he bought and sold shares.


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