THE SPECULATIVE SOCIETY
|Edinburgh's secret men-only Speculative Society told to let women in after 250 years
This vile mob behind some of the most despicable injustices running throughout Scotland including Dunblane
massacre, the Lockerbie bombing and Shirley McKie fingerprint frame up. Along with thousands of Scottish men stripped bare in
their freemason controlled courts the majority of the secretive Spec club have given themselves monopoly
power over ALL contracts, land, business and property but especially family law when men are weakened to the
point of being homeless, penniless and childless.
FULL ARTICLE HERE
Society given six months by its landlord, Edinburgh University, to admit women
For 250 years women have been forced to ponder what exactly takes place at the secret candlelight meetings held by the Speculative Society.
Now one of the last bastions of male privilege, which operates within Edinburgh University, has been ordered to open its doors to female members – or face eviction.
A debating and literary society, whose members have included Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, the all-male Speculative Society has held its meetings in the grand rooms of the University’s Old College since 1764.
But the mysterious “Spec” has been told to throw its doors open to the wider public and admit female members after the club’s operation was criticised in a review carried out by Professor Mary Bownes, Edinburgh's vice-principal.
Concerns were raised over the club’s relationship with the university – which owns the society’s base – after it emerged it was occupying college premises rent-free.
One of the world’s oldest clubs, the society has been given six months to overhaul its membership rules or face being kicked off the premises.
The Society is one of the last male-only institutions in Scotland, following the September vote by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to admit women, over-turning a 260-year ban.
The Speculative Society’s membership is thought to include leading Scottish lawyers and academics. Operating within three history rooms in the Old College, the club is not officially part of Edinburgh University but has maintained rent-free privileges.
The debating and literary society's members have included Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott The debating and literary society's members have included Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott (Getty Images)
Members say the purpose of the society’s candelight meetings is to advance public speaking and literary composition. Although there is no official “ban” on female members in its rules, no woman has ever been invited to join the “Spec”.
A university spokesman said: “The university is committed to the ethos of equality and diversity on its campus.
“In light of this, Professor Bownes was asked to carry out a review of the historic links between the university and the Speculative Society, which occupies rooms in Old College.
“Her report, which has been agreed by senior management, proposes that the Speculative Society is given six months to show that it is changing to comply with this ethos by admitting female members along with males. The report also recommends that the society agrees to make the historic rooms more accessible to the public.”
Allan Massie, a journalist and honorary member of the society, said it was “about time” the club introduced female members.
Peter de Vink, a Midlothian East councillor and long-time member, said the society must adapt or die. He told Edinburgh Evening News: “If they think in this day and age you can avoid having lady members, they can’t be of this world.
“They are really woefully short of members, and if they brought in female members it would boost the membership.
“The society is 250 years old and it’s going to be destroyed by a handful of people if they’re not careful. As I understand it, it’s only a handful of very outspoken people who are stopping the inevitable.
“It’s a famous, famous society with a long history. It’s got a fantastic membership, and to let that all get smashed is so irresponsible.”
The society’s historic rooms are due to be excluded from a £35m revamp of the Old College.
|SPECULATIVE SOCIETY OPENS UP TO WOMEN
FROM the suffragette movement to girl power, the all-male Speculative Society has seen off more than a century of feminism without so much as a nodding glance of recognition.
Now the world’s oldest debating society has finally succumbed to the inevitable and is to admit women into its secretive candlelit meetings within the ancient cloisters of Edinburgh University.
Only a handful of women have ever been allowed in as guests, and most of them were escorted into the hall during the 18th century. But under increasing public scrutiny because of claims by veteran protester Robbie the Pict that the society discredits the impartiality of the judiciary, it has been forced to rethink the way it presents itself.
Two weeks ago the society once described by Robert Louis Stevenson as the “best thing in Edinburgh”, used its weekly debating meeting to discuss whether women should be admitted to its inner circle. The result, according to Rob Whiteman, the society’s secretary, is that women should now be admitted.
“We have debated the issue of female members, and it will happen in the not too distant future,” he said. “As with all the members, that person will have to be proposed and seconded. I don’t understand why we are so criticised. What about the golf clubs?”
The society was founded in 1764 by a group of Edinburgh luminaries. Its stated aim was “the improvement of literary composition and public speaking”. In its own literature, it describes itself as “a sodality and a brotherhood bound by intangible ties of shared loyalty and common tradition”.
Its members have included Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Today many of Scotland’s most eminent judges — including its most senior, Lord Cullen — are members. It meets twice a week in Edinburgh.
Under the rules of the society, members must be invited to join. For the first three years, “ordinary” members must meet once a week in black tie from October to March to debate topics such as the rationale for poetry.
Those who fail to turn up are fined in pounds, shillings and pence. After three years these members gain extraordinary status and no longer have to attend.
The move to allow women follows increased public pressure on all-male clubs such as Muirfield Golf Club in Edinburgh — whose sexist policy was criticised last year by Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary.
Following claims by Robbie the Pict that its membership may compromise the impartiality of judges, Lord Gill, Scotland’s second-most senior judge, agreed to a special appeal court hearing by three judges who are not members of the alleged brotherhood.
Robbie the Pict claims the society is “quasi-masonic” and that the impartiality of judges decisions in cases such as Lockerbie and the Skye Bridge protesters may have been tainted because so many senior judges are members.
Last year Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, wrote to Colin Boyd, the lord advocate, demanding an investigation into the Speculative Society because of concerns about the impartiality of its members.
The move came after Robbie the Pict revealed that Sir Iain Noble — chairman of the Skye Bridge company when the controversial island link opened in 1995 — and the then transport minister Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, plus 12 of the judges who presided over the appeals were all members of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh.
Although the original founders said the society was established “for the improvement of literary composition and public speaking”, by 1812, there wasn’t a single law lord of the Court of Session who had not been a member.
Present-day membership ranges from the Duke of Edinburgh to the upper echelons of Scotland’s legal, academic and literary fraternity. Lords Cullen, Marnoch, Prosser, Milligan and Coulsfield are all members.
Robert Black, professor of law at Edinburgh University and a member, said: “There is nothing sinister about it. It’s just a debating society. But it is a very old-fashioned society and no women have ever been allowed to become members. However, that is now under discussion. They’ve realised they are going to have to allow women, but there are concerns that they will have to introduce electricity if they do.”
|LIFTING THE LID ON JUDGES SECRET SOCIETY
An unprecedented legal hearing into a secret society which boasts some of Scotland's
top judges among its members opened in Edinburgh yesterday amid claims the judges'
membership breaches human rights law. Lord Gill, Scotland's second most senior
judge, ordered yesterday's appeal court hearing into the Speculative Society
after campaigners raised questions about its influence. It was heard before
three judges who were not members of the "brotherhood".
Robbie the Pict, a veteran campaigner against tolls on the Skye bridge, told the
court of session in Edinburgh that the Speculative Society had an invited and
closed membership. He said judges who were members should not be allowed to
sit on Skye bridge cases because they might be biased, or at least give the
appearance of being biased. The society was founded in 1764 by a group of
Edinburgh luminaries. Its stated aim was "the improvement of literary
composition and public speaking" and, in its own literature, it describes
itself as "a sodality and a brotherhood bound by intangible ties of shared
loyalty and common tradition".
Its members have included Robert Louis Stevenson
and Sir Walter Scott. Today many of Scotland's most eminent judges - including
its most senior, Lord Cullen - are members. It meets twice a week in Edinburgh.
Robert Black, an Edinburgh university law professor and member of the Spec,
described it as a piece of "harmless fun". "It is extraordinary that the hearing
is taking place, but it is probably a good thing," he said. "The Spec is just
a debating society men get involved in for three years in their mid-20s."
The hearing continues.
|BRIDGE CAMPAIGNER QUESTIONS JUDGES MASONIC LINKS
THE administration of justice in Scotland, from the Dunblane inquiry to the Lockerbie
trial, could have been corrupted by a "secret brotherhood" among judges, it was
alleged yesterday. The claim by Robbie the Pict, the Skye Bridge toll protester,
came after he asked three appeal court judges whether they belonged to a masonic
order. Lord Gill, the Lord Justice-Clerk, said he and his colleagues, Lords Kirkwood
and Wheatley, would consider answering his question when they deliver a judgment
on his attack against the Speculative Society, which Robbie describes as
quasi-masonic. The "Spec" was founded in 1764 and is open to former students
of Edinburgh University.
Supporters insist it is "a debating society, no more
and no less", and exerts no influence over members. Robbie, who has legally
changed his name from Brian David Robertson, is fighting a conviction for
refusing to pay the Skye Bridge toll, and objects to judges who are members
of the Speculative Society hearing his appeal. He alleges that influential
figures connected to the building of the bridge also belong to the club.
They include Sir Ian Noble, chairman of the Skye Bridge Company, and Lord
James Douglas-Hamilton, who had been the government minister with responsibility
for the construction and financing of the bridge. The issue at yesterday’s
hearing at the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh was whether membership
of the "Spec" should be a bar to a judge being involved in Robbie’s appeal.
The three judges declared that they were not members, but Robbie wanted to
make sure also that they otherwise "were not obliged by any expectation of
loyalty which has the potential to produce an imbalanced judgment". Robbie
said he had investigated the "Spec" and had learned that several judges were
members. He believed there was evidence pointing to "the wholesale corruption
of the Scottish judicial process". He added: "It is not unreasonable to
suspect that the mere presence of such a secretive society ... does indeed
constitute a potential threat to the impartiality of the judiciary." Robbie said Lord Cullen, who chaired the Dunblane
inquiry, was a member, as were Lords Coulsfield and MacLean, two of the three
judges who heard the Lockerbie trial.
Raymond Doherty, QC, for the Crown, said
the test for deciding whether a judge should be removed from a case was if a
fair-minded and informed observer concluded that bias was a real possibility.
He said: "I would submit that the concerns advanced would be considered by
such an observer to be fanciful rather than reasonable. There is no basis for
drawing any sinister conclusion about the role of the Speculative Society or
its influence on members. "Robbie the Pict clearly holds strongly-felt views
about it, but it is not his stand-point that is decisive. He is not detached
and objective." Lord Gill said the judges wanted time to consider the submissions
of both sides, and they would issue a written judgment later.
|IS AN ELITE SECRET SOCIETY UNDERMINING THE IMPARTIALITY OF SCOTTISH JUSTICE?
The Skye bridge Club
For several years the people of Skye have had the sense that they were being treated unjustly. In 1989, the government decided that the bridge between their island and the mainland would be funded not publicly but privately. The developers would reclaim their costs with a road toll. The toll turned out to be the highest per mile of road in the world. The private consortium invested just £500,000, from which it is due to reap some £88m from the people of Skye.
Many of the islanders refused to pay. They argued that the paperwork legalising the road tolls had never been published. Scotland's foremost legal expert, Professor Robert Black, described the government's demand that the tolls be paid as "fatally flawed".
The fatal flaw, however, did not stop the prosecution of 496 of the islanders. Some of them appealed, but their arguments were dismissed by Scotland's law lords. Many observers, including some very eminent lawyers, criticised the law lords' decisions. Some of the islanders began to question the impartiality of the courts.
Now, research by the tireless campaigner Robbie the Pict, published here for the first time, reveals that many of the key decision-makers, in and out of the courts, belong to a society which keeps its membership secret.
The Speculative Society, which is housed in the University of Edinburgh, appears to have arisen from a masonic guild in the 18th century. Three hundred years ago, the "operative" masons from the building trade began to admit "speculative" members, who were people of high standing from outside the trade.
The Edinburgh Speculative Society later split from the operative masons, to concentrate on cementing the bonds between powerful people. Unlike freemasons, the "knights" of the society, who are all male and all white, do not swear an oath of loyalty to each other.
Their meetings appear to concentrate on dining and debate. The group describes itself as a "sodality", or brotherhood, and its motto urges the "brethren... in unity to dwell". That is about the limit of what non-members can discover. Even the University of Edinburgh, whose principal is an honorary member, claims never to have heard of it.
But the secret membership lists obtained by the Pict show that many of the most powerful people in Scotland have received either "extraordinary privileges" or "honorary privileges" from the society. Among them are the Duke of Edinburgh (membership number 1662), Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former British lord chancellor (no 1676), many of Scotland's leading company directors, several top surgeons, journalists and academics, plenty of sheriffs and QCs and at least 18 Scottish law lords.
The Pict alleges that the law lords' membership of the society throws the impartiality of many of the key Skye bridge cases into serious doubt. Over the past six years, Scottish law lords have presided over 14 hearings involving the bridge protesters. In every case they have ruled against the protesters and in favour of the crown and the toll collectors.
In 12 of these hearings, one or more of the law lords presiding over them and the government officials or company directors whose arguments they have assessed have, the secret lists reveal, been members of the Speculative Society. In Anderson v Hingston 1996, for example, Lords Morison and Weir, who are listed as enjoying the "extraordinary privileges" of the secret brotherhood, sat in judgment on a case concerning the legality of a decision made by the Minister of Transport, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. Lord Douglas-Hamilton is also a member of the society (no 1772).
Appeals by the protesters concerning Lord Douglas-Hamilton's decisions were later examined by Lords Cowie, Coulsfield, Marnoch, MacLean, Johnston, Drummond Young, Nimmo Smith, Cameron of Lochbroom and the lord justice-general Lord Cullen (no 1702), all of whom belong to the Speculative Society. In Robbie the Pict v Miller Civil Engineering and the Secretary of State, 1998, the government was represented by a QC called Duncan Menzies (now Lord Menzies), another knight of the Speculative Society. The case was heard by his fellow knights Lords Cameron and Johnston.
In January this year, Lord Drummond Young prevented an appeal brought by Robbie the Pict against a judgment of Lord Johnston's. In May, Lord MacLean helped to judge Robbie the Pict's petition against a decision made by Lord Cullen. All four law lords are members of the brotherhood. The 496 Skye defendants were all refused legal aid. There may have been good grounds for refusal, but if so these were not explained. Standing counsel to the legal aid board from 1991-98 was Colin McEachran QC, also a member of the society.
The body with overall responsibility for making the Skye bridge project happen was the Scottish Office's development department. One of its senior officials was Niall Campbell, another knight of the society. He went on to run the Scottish Office's justice department. The tolls on the bridge are collected by the Skye Bridge Company. Its chairman was Sir Iain Noble. He too belongs to the society.
Since July 1999, Scottish law has been, in principle, legally compliant with the European convention on human rights. Article six of the convention determines that "everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal". "Independent and impartial" means, in this case, above any reasonable public suspicion of influence or special interest. Robbie the Pict suggests that the law lords' adjudication of cases involving other members of the Speculative Society appears to offend both the letter and the spirit of the law. Interestingly, an essay published in 1968 in the official history of the Speculative Society by Sir Derrick Dunlop (a former president of the society) observes that "we all know... that the judicature is icy in its impartiality, which is one of the chief glories of this country, but perhaps this impartiality would be strained to breaking point where the Speculative is concerned".
Whether this demonstrates partiality or not is impossible to say. Not every judge in the Skye bridge cases is a member of the society. There is no evidence that anyone has exploited his links with other members of the society. But when Lord Hoffman's membership of Amnesty International was revealed, soon after he and his fellow law lords decided that General Augusto Pinochet should be extradited to Spain, the original judgment had to be scrapped and a retrial ordered. Amnesty International had no direct connection with the prosecution. In this case there is a direct connection between the law lords and the people whose decisions they were assessing. Their undeclared membership of the society surely necessitates a retrial of all the cases involving Skye bridge.
But that is not the end of the matter. These law lords have, between them, presided over thousands of other hearings. The Pict's findings raise questions about the entire system of Scottish law, and should also cause those of us living south of the border to take a closer look at our own system. Public confidence in the law requires that the judiciary be above suspicion. This story suggests that we cannot be assured that this is so.
|VICTORY OVER SECRET BROTHERHOOD
Robbie the Pict with his back to the bridge he despises.
MEMBERS of the Speculative Society insist it is merely a debating club for some of Edinburgh’s best brains. Yesterday, one of its fiercest critics won a partial victory in his bid to prove it is actually a "secret brotherhood" of judges.
Robbie the Pict, the Skye Bridge protester, is fighting a conviction for refusing to pay the bridge toll, and has objected to judges who are members of the society hearing an appeal.
He claims influential figures connected to the building of the bridge also belong to the Speculative Society, a club of former Edinburgh University students, founded in 1764 .
Yesterday, it was decided that only judges with no links to the society should rule on the question of whether those with membership must be excluded from the case.
Robbie was delighted by the judgment of the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh. He said: "I am pleased to see that, in the spirit of fairness, the court is prepared to have a proper examination of the significance of a secret society with gender bias."
In 1998, Robbie was convicted at Dingwall Sheriff Court of failing to pay the toll. His contention that the collectors lacked proper authority was rejected by the appeal court, and an attempt to have the court’s decision set aside was later dismissed as incompetent by a bench headed by Lord Cullen, the Lord Justice General.
However, Robbie then learned of the Speculative Society and took the case back to court, submitting that Lord Cullen’s decision ought to be declared null and void.
He said Lord Cullen was a member of the society, as were Sir Ian Noble, the chairman of the Skye Bridge Company, and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, who was the minister with responsibility for the structure.
But the case hit an immediate problem when it was set down to be heard by Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk, and Lords Kirkwood and Osborne. Robbie objected to Lord Osborne, a Speculative Society member who had contributed a chapter in 1968 to a book on the society’s history, being present.
According to Robbie, the society was a closed debating society and "a secret brotherhood bound by intangible ties of shared loyalty and common tradition". He likened the secrecy of the members to that of freemasons and claimed there was "widespread public disquiet" about the influence of the society among judges.
He submitted that, with Lord Osborne’s involvement, there would be an appearance of bias, actual or potential.
The Crown argued that the objection to Lord Osborne was groundless. It described the society as merely an association of graduates of Edinburgh University and disputed the allegation of secrecy and that membership could create any reasonable suspicion of bias.
Lord Gill praised Robbie for presenting his argument "with courtesy and tact".
He said: "Without reaching any conclusion on the factual allegations [made by Robbie], or on the proposition that membership of the society is a ground of disqualification in this case, we conclude that the hearing on this objection should proceed before a bench of judges who are not members."
Lord Osborne was a member, and he had decided to step down. The issue will be considered on a date still to be fixed.
Earlier this year, amid publicity about the Speculative Society, Rob Whiteman, its secretary, said it was "a debating society ... no more, no less".
The Speculative Society was founded for "the improvement of literary composition and public speaking". By 1812, there wasn’t a single law lord of the Court of Session who had not been a member.
Robert Louis Stevenson said the society was the "best thing" about Edinburgh, while Sir Walter Scott was often quoted on his enthusiasm for it. The club meets weekly on Wednesday evenings during winter and limits its membership to 30. The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary member. The evenings include an essay which is then discussed, and a debate and vote after a break for claret and coffee.
Mr Whiteman insisted: "Allegations made regarding the society are as false as they are fantastical. Conspiracy theorists on the trail of a ‘secret society’ will be disappointed. The society takes no interest in public life."
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Scottish Conservative justice and home affairs spokesman, has described it as "nothing but a light-hearted debating society" and said he had not been to a meeting for 25 years.
The society meets in a room at Old College on South Bridge, where the walls are covered with portraits of former members, while the original chandelier still hangs from the ceiling with its traditional 16 candles.
Scotland has long been riddled with secret clubs. But are they a threat to an open society or just a harmless excuse for men to get together and dress up? Vicky Allan investigates
Since then, my perceptions of the Masons have changed, hammered into cynicism by countless conspiracy theories . Mention “secret society” and I am likely to think of dodgy dealings. The Freemasons, in many minds, have become demons, tearing at the fabric of an otherwise open society. Standing in the museum of the Masonic Lodge in Edinburgh, my face pressed against a glass cabinet of Masonic jugs as I investigate the arcane world of Scotland’s secret societies, I’m struck by the same feelings I had looking at that apron. Here is something I can never know, intriguing, but ultimately inaccessible. Investigating secret societies is like pressing up against this cabinet. I can look at the objects inside. I can study their outer shape and form. I can ask people to describe their function. But I can never pick them up, weigh them in my hand, examine their inner workings. I can never join them. Mostly, this is because I am a woman.
There are a lot of glass walls and dead ends. “I suspect that secret societies are probably quite secret,” advises author Alexander McCall Smith, one of my first ports of call; “We’re not a secret society,” says a member of the Speculative Society; “The Masons don’t consider themselves to be a secret society, but a society with secrets,” says one academic.
But the biggest obstacle is my gender. What’s the membership profile of the Masons? “They’re all men,” says the Assistant Grand Secretary. Can I join the Monks of St Giles, a poetry society? “There are no nuns,” I am told. What about the Speculative Society, an Edinburgh debating club known as The Spec? “There are no rules against it – but we have never had a female member.” The Trout Anglers? “We’ve got two women.” The Women’s Institute? “Why not come along and find out for yourself what a friendly bunch we are!”
Scotland has always been a hotbed of societies. In the 18th century it was teeming with dining clubs and societies dedicated to fraternalism (Masonry), conversation (The Easy Club), self-improvement (The Speculative Society) and even obscene hedonism (the infamous Beggar’s Benison).
More recently there was The Seven club, a society of seven bachelors who recruited another bachelor whenever one of them got married; The Corkscrew club, whose members had to always carry a corkscrew (if found without, they would have to buy a bottle of champagne); The Thirteen, a philosophical debating group; The Seven Minutes Past Seven club (which met at 7.07pm); The Puffins, a dining society; and The Keepers Of The Quaich, a group of whisky buffs. And let’s not forget The Kate Kennedy Club, the all-male student society at St Andrews University.
These groups testify to the inexhaustible clubbability of the middle and upper classes. Membership of such organisations is a badge of status. In an era when money is no longer enough to mark out the upper class, it takes club membership to do the trick.
It’s not difficult to understand the allure of exclusivity. To David V Barrett, sociologist and author of Secret Societies, these clubs work on a playground level. “Everyone wants to be a part of something special. Even schoolkids have gangs, passwords, cliques. Then, in adult life, you see people with social advantages, especially in the rising middle classes. You want to be in the clique you suspect has the real power.”
I press my face against the glass of another cabinet, this time a metaphorical one. Inside is The Speculative Society. Is this a clique with real power? The current secretary refers me to a 1960s book, and gives me some historical facts.
Founded in 1764, the society is dedicated to “the improvement of public speaking and literary composition”. Its membership embraces a disproportionate number of lawyers, principally because its rooms happen to be in Edinburgh University’s law school. It is partly for this reason that campaigner Robbie the Pict raised a petition asking for his Skye Bridge Toll trial to be reheard by judges unconnected with The Spec. “It is not unreasonable to suggest that membership of a closed order with unknown preferences is a potential threat to the impartiality of a publicly salaried judge,” he said at the time.
To Robbie, this was a body which “would allow the elite to self- perpetuate at the incidental expense of the non-elite”. General opinion seems to fall in with the assessment by the Scottish Legal Action Group (Scolag) that The Spec’s meetings are “in the main, reactionary gatherings of over-privileged, idiot boy students who enjoy pompous role-playing.”
The observations of one member do little to counter this. “There is more chance of advancing your career by joining Blockbuster Video than by joining the Spec,” he tells me.
In compartment number two is the Royal Company of Archers. It was set up in 1676 as an archery club, “to revive the practice of Archerie in this Kingdom” but since George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 it has undertaken an honorary role as the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland. Made up of aristocratic old buffers, it is the company’s job to turn out whenever Her Majesty arrives. This they do dressed in fancy green suits, equipped with archery bows, Robin Hood-style. Captain David Younger answers the phone and seems surprisingly willing to talk. Though there are still prizes for archery most of the members, it seems, aren’t good shots. “Me?” asks the captain. “No, I don’t shoot.”
“No, you don’t have to be a good archer,” says a member. “A lot of us don’t shoot.” What you do have to be is proposed and seconded and “Scottish through the male line”. Like all things regal, it is unapologetically elitist.
In compartment number three are the Monks of St Giles, a glorified poetry club set up in 1852. The main prerequisite for membership, apart from a Y-chromosome, is “some small talent to compose light verse”.
All of this leads back, inevitably, to the Masons. Norman MacLeod sits in his wood-panelled office, cigarette smoke billowing in the air, and insists I get his name and title right: Norman MTM MacLeod, Assistant Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons. It must be grand to have the word grand in your title. Just like it must be grand to wear one of those masonic “jewels” or sit in a grand old office like this. It’s easy to see why David V Barrett, thinks one of the draws is the “fabulous costumes”.
MacLeod tells me some of the mundane facts behind the so-called secrets – though he won’t show me the handshake. “Why? Because I’ve promised not to … There’s very little indeed in relation to our organisation that’s in any way confidential. The very small element of our traditions that are confidential go back to the Middle Ages where the concept of secret words or handshakes was extant in very many trades or professions. Few people could read and write. And so when somebody was apprenticed as a stonemason, after they’d reached a certain stage of development, as their exam certificate if you like, they were given a word or a handshake as a way of letting somebody else know that they were properly qualified.”
The picture MacLeod paints is one of amiability. He quotes a friend’s wife who says Masonry is just Boy Scouts for grown-ups. So, why no women? “Our tradition has been that lodges are for gentlemen only. I have also always thought there is an entirely proper and fairly deep psychological need for men to associate in the company of their own sex, from time to time.”
Russell Lyon, author of The Quest For The Original Horse Whisperers, a book about pseudo-Masonic group The Society of Horsemen, takes this theory further. He believes many all-male clubs are specifically about exclusion. “I think men like to form clubs and dress up and keep secrets from their womenfolk,” he says. “In the horsemen’s ritual the young men had to be stripped to the waist, and some were actually stripped naked, and it was said that was to make sure that no woman could sneak in and join.”
Membership of almost all fraternal societies has declined in recent times. In a way this is only to be expected. These organisations run counter to the spirit of an era in which the division between male and female space has broken down. Transparency too is battering at the doors of secrecy: Tricia Marwick, deputy convener of the Scottish parliament’s standards committee, has called for membership of the masons to be registered.
Are secret societies always corrupt? For David V Barrett, the question is not so much whether there is corruption in the masons or other societies, but whether there is any more than in the general population. “I don’t think,” he says, “there’s anything corrupt about a yacht club, or golf club, or the masons. But corrupt individuals will use whatever advantages they can .”
My last call is to a golf club, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. “I’ve just moved to Edinburgh and I was wondering if it might be possible to join.”
“Not at the moment. We’ve got a 20-year waiting list.”
“A 20-year waiting list? I’ll be 53.”
“And you have to know a member personally and they propose you.”
“But I can join as a woman?”
“No, it’s a men’s club only. You could try Gullane, I think they take women.”
The cabinet of secrets remains locked. I am still outside looking in, my face pressed against the glass. Do these clubs and societies eat away at the egalitarian fabric of our society? No more than any other network. Abolish all societies and it will still happen: much the same people, coming from their privileged backgrounds, will give the same kinds of jobs to the same kinds of people. Even if they have no name, even if there is no secret society, there are networks and friendships and their tentacles are every bit as grasping as any club. There are some boxes that don’t need glass cases to keep you out.
|THE SCOTTISH JUDICIARY AND SPECULATIVE SOCIETY
On 13 March 2003 the High Court of Justiciary repelled Robbie the Pict's petition to the nobile officium in which he sought to show that any judge who is a member of the Speculative Society is disqualified ipso facto from participating in his case on various matters relating to the Skye Bridge tolls (see below No 209). Robbie had argued that the history of the Society showed that its "origins were linked to masonic or quasi-masonic movements and that today it is elitist, sexist, racist and unionist" [para 14].
Giving the opinion of the court, Lord Justice Clerk Gill said: "On the information before us, we conclude that the Society is neither secret nor sinister and that it simply makes its own refined contribution to the public stock of harmless pleasure. It appears to be careful in its choice of members, but many societies are. Those elected are no doubt happy to be members. Others will be happy not to be. Live and let live is a useful principle in such matters. ... We can see no reason why any reasonable onlooker could suspect that the loyalties and friendships that typify any society of this kind should in this case override the obligations of the judicial oath" [para 26]. Lord Gill also noted that (para 20) "The Society is a society for young men. According to the affidavit, the Society can have no more than 30 ordinary members at any time. Membership is gained by invitation and is subject to voting by secret ballot. The rules provide for a procedure of black-balling. When a member joins, he joins as an ordinary member for a period of three years. There is nothing in the rules to prohibit female membership, but there are no female members and there have never been any" [para 20].
Lord Gill continued to decline to answer Robbie's question: "Have you [the judges in the case] ever taken the oath or entered apprentice at first degree for the purpose of entering into Masonic association, or are you obliged by any expectation of loyalty which has the potential to produce an imbalanced judgment in a tribunal such as this?" His Lordship observed that masonic membership was not per se a ground of judicial disqualification and stated: "We refused to answer the petitioner's question when he put it to us and we refuse to answer it now. The petitioner has failed to show why his question has any bearing on the issues in this case" [para 7].
Finally, a further argument put by Robbie the Pict was dismissed as follows: " The petitioner also submitted that the judicial oath taken by each of us was itself invalid. This submission was based upon article 19 of the Act of Union 1707, as interpreted in the light of the Treaty of Birgham 1290, the Declaration of Dundee 1310, the Declaration of Arbroath 1320, and the Treaty of Edinburgh 1327. The petitioner submitted that the Act of Union was never implemented and that no lawful constitutional union existed between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. His conclusion was that the judicial oath sworn by each of us was an oath only to the Queen of England and Wales and not to the sovereign people of Scotland.  The petitioner gave no notice of this submission. For that reason alone we cannot entertain it. In any event, we could not consider a point of such significance on the exiguous arguments advanced by the petitioner."
PULLED FROM EDINBURGH LAW SCHOOL
|MEMBERSHIP OF SECRET SOCIETY RAISES QUESTIONS OF IMPARTIALITY
Secret Brotherhood members try to retain control over Business a.m. case
Lord's membership in secret society raises questions of impartiality
by OfficialSpin NewsDesk
A Hearing before Lords Gill, Kirkwood and Wheatley yesterday, regarding the so-called "Speculative Society" has drawn the attention of a great many people.
The independence and integrity of the Scottish Court system has become the subject of unprecedented judicial review into this "secret brotherhood" over claims that its existence could mean many of Scotland's judges fail the tests of impartiality demanded by the European Convention on Human Rights.
OfficialSpin has written to both Lords Drummond Young and Marnoch encouraging them to declare their membership and to make the objects, aims, goals or indeed any printed materials relating to this "secret society" public, so that members of the public may be apprised of their activities, and so that others may determine whether or not those activities (reportedly conducted in secret) have any direct influence on its member's decisions.
As of this writing, neither Law Judge has replied to OfficialSpin's enquiries.
Last Thursday—in relation to the long-running "Business a.m. case"—Lord Marnoch indicated that his preference would be to remit the case whilst the Appeal was still pending to Lord Drummond Young for him to express his views on the application of Section 12 and whether that would have made any difference to his 'Judgement'.
Greg Lloyd Smith, a director for Kestrel said: "Since this matter began in May 2002, we have questioned the decisions handed down by Lord Drummond Young. "The recent revelation that he belongs to a secret fraternity, in which Burness Solicitors who act for Bonnier Media Limited are also involved, raises questions of impartiality which must now be investigated."
PULLED FROM OFFICIAL WIRE