Linlithgow campaigners fight against renaming of Black Bitch pub

No visitor to Linlithgow can miss the prominent lettering across the gable end of the 17th-century tavern at the top of the high street: Black Bitch.

“There will be people who are offended and they have a right to their opinion,” said Alistair Old. He is leading an energetic campaign to retain the pub’s name after its owner, Greene King, announced last month it would be rebranded as the Black Hound in line with its diversity policy. “But the people of Linlithgow wouldn’t have tolerated it if the name had racist connotations,” Old added.

Local people are by no means oblivious to the force of these words, and most tell of incidents with visitors to the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots where some hasty explanation has been required.

Legend has it that a black female greyhound would swim across Linlithgow loch to bring food to her master, who was sentenced to starve to death on an island. The town and its residents are steeped in the tale, which dates back to the 13th century. Children learn about loyalty at primary school, the faithful dog is on Linlithgow’s coat of arms and those who were born there are proud to use the moniker.

Into this local context comes Greene King, the UK’s biggest pub owner, a company that has publicly apologised for its founder’s links to transatlantic slavery and has already changed the names of two pubs called the Black Boy, as well as another called the Black’s Head. It also runs an award-winning diversity strategy titled Calling Time on Racism.

Greene King insists it made its announcement after a lengthy consultation, including a visit to Linlithgow by its chief executive, Nick Mackenzie. Local residents, who complain that they were not sufficiently canvassed, have reacted furiously, holding a rally outside the pub and collecting nearly 10,000 signatures for a petition. The town’s SNP representatives have pledged their support, and later this week campaigners will meet Greene King in the hope of thrashing out a compromise.

Mackenzie says that since the announcement he has had letters of both criticism and support from residents. “This is something that we feel strongly is the right thing to do," 彼は言った. “We appreciate and respect the importance of Linlithgow’s history, which is why the new name continues to recognise this, but at the same time we cannot just brush aside the fact that we have spoken to people from a range of backgrounds who find it offensive and upsetting to see the name displayed on the pub as it is currently.”

“Those two words mean different things to different people, depending on their experience or background,” said Abel Aboh, the chair of the West Lothian Community Race Forum, one of the groups to which Greene King spoke, “but if you want to run a public space where everyone is welcome then you have to signal that. Words have power.”

He emphasised that he was not a lone critic, 追加: “People say it quietly that it’s high time the name changed. I’m not dismissing history but Linlithgow as a place has evolved.”

But those opposed to the name change are undoubtedly more vocal. Nidhin Chand has lived in Linlithgow for six years. 彼女は言いました: “I thought ‘what?!’ when I first saw the name, but then I heard the story, that it is all about loyalty and bravery. It’s nothing to do with racism.

“If people want to address that they need to tackle real racism, not a female dog.”

While local people emphasise that Linlithgow is a welcoming place, they accept that the town is not immune to racism.

例えば, during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, locals wanting to show support were subjected to online abuse and accused of ignoring Covid rules.

Mukami McCrum, the former chief executive of Central スコットランド Racial Equality Council, who has lived in Linlithgow for over 30 年, believes that the pub row may have – albeit unintended – negative repercussions for some of the residents of Linlithgow.

“Most of the minority ethnic people in the town were not involved in any consultation, or asked, ‘Do you think the name is racist?’ Now visible minorities are getting blamed for a decision that is not ours.”

Her daughter Laura McCrum, who grew up in the town, recalls that she found the pub name “startling” when she first saw it, but when she learned it was a story of loyalty and perseverance “it resonated with me”.

その間, Old says, irrespective of the decision on the name, the row has made some people think more deeply about their town: “As white men we don’t see the racism. I was shocked to hear some of the comments made [to members of Linlithgow’s BAME community]. They are our community and we should be supporting them. We should be ostracising the racists.”