West Lothian councillors back campaign to halt Black Bitch name change

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Councilors have backed a campaign by locals in Linlithgow to keep the name of the historic Black Bitch pub.

Pub chain Greene King had wanted to change the name of the boozer over concerns that the name was racist.

Protestors had taken to the streets of the town over the proposed change which could see the pub re-named to the ‘Black Hound’ or simply “The Linlithgow Arms”.

SNP, Labor and Conservative councilors came together to raise the motion to tell the Suffolk based pub chain to keep their ‘paws’ off the Black Bitch.

The Black Bitch is a black greyhound that, in folklore, saved her master from starvation. The symbol has formed part of Linlithgow’s Civic insignia for centuries and, according to some, as far back as 1286, a representation of a bitch appeared on Linlithgow’s Coat of Arms.

The composite motion said: “For generations, people who were born within the boundary of the Royal Burgh have been proud to be known as Black Bitches given their association with the town. The original reason given for the name change, that it was effectively racist , now makes this a slur on the reputation of these residents.”

Councilor David Tait told the meeting that Greene King had around 2,500 pubs and had “a reputation for driving a pretty hard line.”

He added that 11,000 signatures had been collected on a petition from the townspeople in the campaign to retain the Black Bitch.

Councillor Tait said: “It was thought at the beginning that this was a joke. But it raised its head again. The sore point is that the black bitch is in fact a black greyhound. It’s been a constant feature in Linlithgow life ever since. The community has rallied round and managed to get a lot of publicity. It would be useful to get the support of the council in asking Greene King to stop and think before pushing this through.”

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He added: “They were warned this could lead to racial unrest which it has. Upsetting all their customers seems an odd thing to do in a commercial sense.”

Councilor Tait said a competing pub chain, Wetherspoons, had changed his mind about changing the name of a pub Wales from the Black Boy after it was persuaded that the name referred to a chimney sweep rather than a racist term.

Fellow councillor Tom Conn said: “Council acknowledges that Greene King has the right to change the name of the Black Bitch. What they do not have is the right to besmirch and defame the heritage and reputation of those residents who live in the town and wider afield.”

I have highlighted Greene King’s own historic links to slavery. The motion stated: “The reason given for the change is because Greene King is apparently an anti-racist organization and changing their pub name demonstrates this commitment. However, this rings hollow when you know that Benjamin Greene (1780 – 1860) was originally a Bury St Edmunds merchant, newspaper owner and brewer (Greene King), but moved to London c. 1837 after local controversy over abolition and who threw himself ‘with enormous vigor into representing the interests of the West Indian slave proprietors at a critical juncture of their affairs’.”

The motion said: “Therefore, even at this late stage, Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to George Magnus, Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Greene King and Mr Nick Mackenzie, Chief Executive Officer Greene King and ask them to paws and reflect on the terms of this motion, recognize the offense they have caused within the community, at home and abroad, and take the appropriate actions as outlined as part of this motion and heal the self-inflicted wounds”

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The motion was passed unanimously.

The campaign has staged vocal protests in the town since the announcement was made and won the support of local MP’s, MSPs and former First Minister Alex Salmond – himself a native of the town.

A Greene King spokesman said before the council met: “We know our announcement hasn’t been welcomed by all, which is why we have said we’re happy to discuss various options for the new name, but we cannot ignore that we spoke to people from a range of backgrounds – and continue to receive correspondence from people – who support the move and find the current name offensive.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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