West Lothian Council backs Black Bitch pub name fight

West Lothian Council has backed Linlithgow residents’ campaign to retain the name of the historic Black Bitch pub.

The Black Bitch protest in Linlithgow town centre on Saturday. Photo by Angus Laing.
The Black Bitch protest in Linlithgow town centre on Saturday. Photo by Angus Laing.

Suffolk-based pub chain Greene King have branded the name of the 16th century hostelry “racially offensive” and plan to change it to a more politically correct one.

Some suggestions have included the Black Hound but others have included: “The Wearie Drover” – after historic local character Katie Wearie – or simply “The Linlithgow Arms”.

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Daid Tait, the town’s SNP councillor, planned to raise a motion at a meeting of the full council but agreed to join with fellow councillors, Labour’s Tom Conn and the Provost , Conservative Tom Kerr to a composite motion calling on Greene King to “paws” for thought.

Protestors gathered in Linlithgow town centre on Saturday to oppose Greene King's plans to change the name of the Black Bitch pub in the town. Photo by Angus Laing.

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 racist effectively, now makes this a slur on the reputation of these residents.”

The council motion was passed unanimously on Tuesday.

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Greene King 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. It’s important to us that everyone feels welcome in our pubs.”

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

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Protestors' campaign poster.

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

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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.”

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.”

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Councillor Tait said a competing pub chain, Weatherspoons, had changed its 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.”

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He 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 organisation 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 vigour 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, recognise the offence 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.”