Myths galore in islands whisky tale.

  • Source: The Scotsman
  • Date: 9 November, 2005
  • Author: George Mair

WHISKY Galore author Sir Compton Mackenzie has been accused of painting a false picture of life in the Western Isles to bolster his own reputation as a founder of the SNP. The claim is made in a new publication of the book Scotch on the Rocks, which tells the true story behind Whisky Galore.

Mackenzie's bestseller is based on the real-life story of the wrecking of the SS Politician during the Second World War. The ship, bound for the United States, was carrying 22,000 cases - 240,000 bottles - of duty-free malt whisky, when it foundered off Eriskay in the Western Isles in 1941. Some 5,000 cases of the whisky were "liberated" by the islanders.

In a new introduction to Arthur Swinson's book, his daughter Antonia claims that on the islands, she "encountered strong feelings that Mackenzie's book had done them a disservice". She adds that even 58 years after Whisky Galore was published, islanders still felt cheated by Mackenzie's portrayal of them.

She said: "This unlikely founder of the Scottish National Party - in real life an actor's son from West Hartlepool - had concocted a Gaelic-speaking paradise of canny peasant crofters to bolster his own successful reinvention as a patrician Scot, fixing the Hebrides for all time in a feudal, tourist timewarp." Ms Swinson said that in researching for the book, she found the reality of the event strikingly different to a visitor reared on the novel Whisky Galore, and the 1949 Ealing comedy which followed it.

She said: "The SS Politician was no puffer boat, but a 7,900-ton cargo ship, and a key player in the nation's merchant fleet.

"The channel where it hit the rocks is narrow, the waters shallow enough to have made the ship tower over the islanders' small craft with their swinging Tilly lamps.

"The islanders themselves would have been not the jolly rogues of Brigadoon caricature, but literate, thinking individuals, part of a cohesive community imbued with highly evolved, business-like values of integrity and self-reliance.

"In 1941, despite the shortages, they would also have been economically far better off than many of their rationed countrymen on the mainland, with plentiful supplies of herring, meat and eggs. Major shipwrecks and the resulting stimulus to the local economy were also far from uncommon."

Mackenzie was regarded as one of the most promising writing talents of his generation and went to great lengths to trace the steps of his ancestors back to his spiritual home in the Highlands, and built a house on Barra in the 1930s.

He became a co-founder of the Scottish National Party in 1932, when the National Party of Scotland, of which he was a member, merged with the Scottish Party.

Scotch on the Rocks by Arthur Swinson, featuring a new introduction by Antonia Swinson, is published by Luath Press on 28 November.

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019
Search the Archive ...

Why not spread the word: use your favourite social network!

This website should work fine in all major browsers, but for the fastest experience why not use Google Chrome ...