'Tinker Experiment' campaigners accuse Scottish Government of ignoring them

Campaigners seeking a formal apology over a decades-long social experiment that “decimated” the lives of gypsy travellers have accused Scottish ministers of ignoring them.

It came as the Scottish Government said it is commissioning independent research into the so-called "Tinker Experiment".

The scheme, which ran between the 1940s and 1980s and was supported by successive UK governments and Scottish councils, attempted to strip away the nomadic lifestyle of travellers, providing rudimentary and often cramped huts for people to live in.

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Families were threatened with having their children taken away and put into care if they did not take up the offer.

A family of travellers at their camp near Pitlochry in 1958. Picture: TSPLA family of travellers at their camp near Pitlochry in 1958. Picture: TSPL
A family of travellers at their camp near Pitlochry in 1958. Picture: TSPL

Campaigners have likened the practice to “cultural genocide” and there have been repeated calls for a formal apology.

Shamus McPhee grew up on the Bobbin Mill site in Pitlochry, where he initially lived in a prefabricated World War Two-style Nissen hut with no electricity.

The 51-year-old said the Scottish Government’s actions were “highly unsatisfactory” and the community felt it was being treated with "a bit of contempt".

He said campaigners have had “umpteen communications” with the Government and First Minister's office, accusing them of being “unapproachable” and failing to show “any willingness to come and meet with the victims”.

He added: "We're basically being blanked at every turn."

Mr McPhee said the experiment had "decimated" life chances.

Asked if he felt ignored by the Scottish Government, he said: "Definitely. I think we all feel ignored. It's not a case of we're demanding an apology – we've asked for an apology."

He said it is a "bone of contention" that formal apologies have been offered to other groups who suffered historic injustices – most recently those accused of witchcraft in Scotland between the 16th and 18th centuries – but not gypsy travellers.

Davie Donaldson, a Scottish traveller and campaigner, called for a “full truth and reconciliation commission”.

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He said: “I think it’s crucial the Scottish Government recognises the real impact that the experiments had on not only the victims and the survivors of the Tinker Experiment but on the generation that came afterwards, in the form of cultural trauma.

"I think what is crucial for me is that the Scottish Government not only issue an apology, but they issue a full truth and reconciliation commission, to look at the impacts of cultural trauma cross-generationally on our community and the impacts that the Tinker Experiment is continuing to have on members of the community today.

"I think just issuing an apology without a truth and reconciliation commission is gesture politics, and it’s certainly not something I would like to see.”

He said the Tinker Experiment is a “lived experience for so many in our community today” and this should be recognised.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government will be commissioning independent research into the Tinker Experiment to ensure we are able to fully capture and understand its implications, identify who was involved and affected, and ensure the community has the opportunity to share its story.

"Work is underway to commission this research which includes meeting with relevant organisations and individuals, to aid our understanding of this period.”



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