Dress Codes

Governments always forget that in trying to unjustly regulate social interaction and cultural tradition, they sow the seeds of rebellion. By preventing the free association of individuals, they invariably strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity.  Groups with little else to unite them find common cause when external pressure is applied. In banning symbols and icons you invest them with power and purpose.

Some good friends of mine reminded me of this in relation to  the bizarre campaign by state governments to outlaw 1% motorcycle clubs across Australia. While ambitious politicians see an opportunity to divide and conquer public opinion on this issue, it’s my strong belief they will all fail and their careers will falter as a result. We’ve already seen this in South Australia where Premier Mike Rann has gone from the most popular state leader to the most reviled in the space of  five years.

Perhaps Media Mike should have spent less time talking on TV and radio and more time reading some history. Even Wikipedia could have helped Rann to understand how wrong-headed this approach was.

In 1746, King George II gave the nod to a law banning the wearing of Highland dress in Scotland. This had followed the leading role of the Highland clans in the Jacobite uprisings between  1689 and 1746. According to Wikipedia, this Act was one of a series of measures “attempting to bring the warrior clans under government control by crushing Gaelic culture.”  It’s worth reading the original wording to understand how foolish the English were.

“…from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the  Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence,shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years. ” 

That’s right, seven years in the colonies for wearing the kilt!  For heaven’s sake, what were they playing at? As an Australian of Scottish descent, I feel like marching up and down the neighbourhood in our family tartan (though I would add some undergear as it is bitterly cold right now).

Our family came from Normandy in the 11th Century and settled north of Aberdeen on the road to the Highlands. We were awarded some lands in the area and by the 18th Century we had become thoroughly Scottish. Then the English took over Scotland and we were stripped of our lands and spent the next century or two busting sods on other people’s estates, most notably the Duke of Gordon’s sprawling farm at Mosstodloch. When the Jacobite army came into the area our local parish church was a rallying point for supply and shelter for the rebel soldiers.  No doubt we wore our family tartan with pride. Almost everyone did as a sign of solidarity.

The effect of the Dress Act was to turn the kilt and tartan into the national dress of Scotland, not just in the Highlands but across the entire country. The Highland clans who had spent centuries in conflict now had a reason to unite. This silly law lasted until 1782 when it was repealed with the following proclamation (lifted from Wikipedia again, state pollies).

“Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.”

The attempts by  state governments to harass and persecute those who choose to wear the 1% per cent patch are just a modern re-run of the Dress Act. Suddenly a person is judged by what they wear and with whom they associate, not what they do. It’s foolish and doomed to failure just as the Dress Act was. In time to come, anti-association laws will be seen in the same light.

Lo, over yonder hills  is that the sound of the bagpipes I hear or just the thunderous exhaust note of a chopped Harley-Davidson?  That’s the funny thing about pressure. It creates diamonds from lumps of coal.

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2 thoughts on “Dress Codes

  1. Well put Adam, clearly the pollies have got this one wrong, I just wonder how long it will take them to realise the error of their petty grand standing populrist (is that a word?) stance. I sit at the UMCQ and UMCA tables and look around and just smile at the fact that the differences have been able to be put aside for the greater good. The verious ‘outlaw’ clubs as the media like to refer to us as, sitting down able to cordually work things out together.
    We have so much to thank the verious Governments for introducing these abhorent laws for, they have done something we were unable to do on our own, just as the law introduced by King George II united the Highland clans (as your article says) these same style of laws have had the exact same affect here in Australia 270 years on.

  2. Camel, take some credit for the role you and your club have played in the outcome. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to see men of integrity step up and confound the myths and stereotypes. Ok “populist” is the word, but we know exactly what you mean. The message of the UMC movement has gotten through to people, no matter what the language, or how rough and tough looking the speaker has been. Who would have ever thought this would have happened? Well anyone who was listening in history class!!! Good onya.

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