Ladybird David Livingstone Square

Should Dr Livingstone be presumed forgotten?

Hamish Gobson’s diary: the view from across the Uisge

25 May 2023

          IS IT JUST the sea air on Great Todday which deadens sound from far away, or might it be the roar of the Atlantic surf which dominates the ear on the west coast of this island? Either way, I did not hear the sound of celebration floating over from the mainland on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of one of Scotland’s greatest civic heroes, David Livingston. Could it be that no party was thrown, despite the fact that, as every British schoolboy used to know, Livingstone put on a dinner jacket to dine every night, even when alone in the jungle.

          The great explorer from Blantyre died in early May 1873 at Ilala in modern Zambia, though his mortal remains are interred today in Westminster Abbey. Perhaps the bureaucratic Bravehearts who specify the Scottish festive calendar nowadays “do not accept” Westminster Abbey and the heroes interred there? More likely, they are products of Professor Michael Russell’s Curriculum for Excellence and therefore do not know where Africa is, or that it is a one of the world’s seven “continents”.

          I am not going to explain basic geography to incontinent nationalists, most of whom would in any case find it too taxing to read all the way through an article any longer than this one already is. My point in mentioning Livingstone and his sponsors, the London Missionary Society, is to draw attention to the condescending tone in which “Thomas Pakenham” – but for his left-wing snobbery, the 8th Earl of Longford – wrote about the great explorer and anti-slavery activist in the Introduction to his self-righteously North Kensington book, The Scramble for Africa. I make this point because it is relevant to Scottish politics today.

          On the second page, Pakenham unburdened himself of this condescending observation:

          “A new slave trade, organised by Swahili and Arabs in East Africa, was eating out the heart of the continent. Livingstone’s answer was the ‘3 cs’: Commerce, Christianity, and Civilisation, a triple alliance of Mammon, God and social progress. Trade, not the gun, would liberate Africa.”

          Pakenham published that in 1991 when it was fashionable orthodoxy in The Guardian and like publications to criticise British imperialism on the basis that commerce was corrupting to the noble savage in his or her unsullied Eden. The native populations of central Africa should instead have been allowed to sit under baobab trees discussing philosophy, art, constitutional law and progressive social policy in high-minded tones, just as North Kensington used to do, and in conscious imitation of their Irish cousins in the days before 1169 when the hated English arrived on the island of saints and scholars with their brutal ideas of commerce, Catholicism and feudal progress.

          We should, however, be merciful in all our judgements, as the Gospels tell us. Allow me therefore to doubt that Pakenham had surrendered his soul completely to The Guardian. His main point was that the continent was in fact “liberated” by the gun, not trade. This is not the place to go into the fascinating subject of the sudden European craze for annexing parts of “the Dark Continent” in the later nineteenth century, much less the truly disgusting behaviour of the Belgians in the Congo, which kinda started it all, and that of the Germans in South-West Africa, which more or less ended it in Edwardian times. But it is important to point out in the current age of mental tyranny that it really is trade which liberates people from politics, tyrants and “the gun”.

          Of all those who utilise power and violence to achieve their own ends, by far the most dangerous are the ones who impose their pseudo-moral priorities on others. But it is trade, commerce and the law of contract which offer the only sustainable route to peace and prosperity, unlike what the modern Irish call “the physical force tradition”—i.e. direct or indirect violence. Commerce alone promotes contractual equality and the freedom of contract, whatever your station in life. A leading Gospeller once put a divine spin on civic egalitarianism: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

          Haters of contract, God and civilised behaviour include not only the IRA but also those, like Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and half the batty wing of the SNP support base, who believe that people who disagree with them should be deprived of employment, restricted in their contact with human society and, in extreme cases, either jailed or killed. Most members of the Scottish Green Party – Andy Wightman excepted – seem to take this view too, at least when they are able to wrench their minds away from thoughts of sex and cash and ref-er-endums.

          Our current government exhibits many of the symptoms of the moral disease which afflicts Mr Putin. We are only lucky that they lack the rockets and soldiers necessary to satisfy their animalistic lust for dominance and conquest. We know from Mrs Murrell’s tragi-comic career story that almost any aspect of Scottish tradition – whether past (like Livingstone) or present (like commerce) – will be sacrificed without a thought if it might help some predatory political posturer in his, her, its or their personal race to grab the spoils of bureaucratic imperialism.

          Like Pakenham’s colonialists, the Scottish government wants to “eat the heart out of” this country by imposing a form of mental slavery on people who have a long tradition of sitting in the pub, or at their own dining tables, discussing whatever they want to discuss without interference from the NKVD, the Holyrood Missionary Society or Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Kommissars. By comparison with them, Thomas Pakenham’s sniffy condescension seems almost benevolent.

          The man himself lives in part by trade due to the commercialisation of his ancestral home at Tullynally Castle in Co. Westmeath. Moreover, it was purely due to colonialism – the English version of the physical force tradition – that the Pakenham family were able to acquire the property in the seventeenth century. At a personal level, I find it hard to dislike a man who, in old age, publishes a book, as Pakenham did in 2015, called Meetings with Remarkable Trees.

          Can you imagine Humza Yousaf trying to shake hands with a baobab, or slip an election leaflet through its letter-box? I suspect he refers to them in contemptuously impersonal terms as “vertical structure”. Does he not realise that trees are as individual and different as free contracting parties? Doubtless Humza thinks of them, if at all, as inanimate objects, rather than fellow organisms which are perfectly capable of interacting socially with dotty colonial earls from Ascendency Ireland.

          The more I think of it, the more I come round to the view that the noble ex-Earl must really have shed the moral imperialism which inspired him in 1991 to make light of Livingstone’s commitment to equality of contract as the basis for European civilisation. Perhaps the collapse of the Soviet Union at Christmas that year assisted the progress of his enlightenment.

          If so, I am prepared to withdraw any remarks I might have made in the text above which could be read to infer a taint of atavistic Guardianism in Mr Pakenham’s beautifully wooded brain. Are we not Christians after all, with a duty to forgive our enemies (after due repentance)?

          I will go further in humble repentance myself. Westmeath is a lovely county; The Scramble for Africa is an excellent book (marred only by an addiction to facts for facts’ sake); and the Irish castle-owning class is entirely justified in adopting commercialism on a mass scale. It is true that they and their native customers did so only in the 1970s after the hated English took them into the European Economic Community. However, the eight-hundred year delay since Diarmait mac Murchada took the first step by issuing his invitation to Henry II in 1169 is nothing to be ashamed of in a country which believes “a start is a day’s work”.

          How much more interesting it would have been if David Livingstone has chosen to explore Ireland rather than Africa, and to bring commerce, God and civilisation to the barefoot natives in the bogs and burrens beyond the Wicklow hills. At least in that event, the modern Scottish schoolchild might have heard of the places concerned, and our over-paid Murrellists in the administration felt it to their personal advantage to celebrate the life of a man who put on evening dress every night in the jungle, said grace before tasting the crocodile soup and sat up so straight at table that he never touched the back of his tree stump.


Hamish Gobson lives on the Hebridean isle of Great Todday (Todaidh Mór) and features in Nicola Sturgeon: the Years of Ascent (1970-2007) – A Citizen’s Biography of a Driven Woman in a Drifting Parliament (Ian Mitchell, 2022) – available on Amazon and also reviewed here by Tom Gallagher.

Also written by Ian Mitchell is The Justice Factory (second edition): Can the Rule of Law Survive in Twenty-First Century Scotland? which considers the future of liberal democracy, taking Scotland as an example.

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Photo of ‘David Livingstone –A Ladybird adventure from history’


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