At the end of his introduction to Resist, reform or re-run: Scotland and independence referendums in the long and short term, Professor Ciaran Martin’s much trumpeted presentation on the constitutional issues related to the referendum, Professor Tom Devine says:
If you consider almost all of the three-hundred plus years of the Anglo-Scottish Union, what we have been seeing since 2016 and in particular since Brexit and subsequent developments is a real, major rupture in the way how things used to be done in order to manage a stable, successful and indeed friendly association between England and Scotland.
Throughout, Devine makes much of the respect which was shown to Scotland, from the beginning, by England’s elites. I found it a very interesting but strangely ‘rosy’ account which, of course, he wanted to juxtapose with the last few years of Borisian contempt.
I felt uncomfortable with it.
In 1707 the population of Scotland, around 1 million, was less than one fifth of that of England, 5.5 million. Today at 5.4 million, it is less than one tenth of England’s 56 million.
Why has Scotland’s population grown at around only half the rate of England’s?
Scotland lost between 10% and 50% of its population every decade in the 1800s. Between 20 and 25 million US citizens, alone, are thought to be of Scottish descent.
While I’m sure many and complex reasons will be offered, one thing is clear, it means that the Union was less good for Scotland’s population than it was for England’s. The relative impoverishment and worse health outcomes of, in particular, Scotland’s working-classes, even to this day, demonstrates that the experience was less rosy than Devine paints it.