The Union was very bad for most Scots long before 2016

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.

3 thoughts on “The Union was very bad for most Scots long before 2016

  1. Also,I am not sure about the narrative of de-industrialisation as being inevitable.
    This was,as usual a political decision,made in England,in order for Thatcher to break the unions.
    Other countries in Europe didn’t find the need to close down their manufacturing capabilities and rely solely on financial services.
    The fact that this political policy had a greater impact on Scotland than England didn’t register in the Tory mindset.
    Scotland never counted in England’s union but it is only now that this is being explicitly enunciated by England’s Tories.
    At least,everyone now agrees that devolution has run it’s course and has to be replaced with something that will satisfy the evolving aspirations of Scots.
    Saying No to allowing that to happen will not do.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The thing about Tom Devine is he’s an old- skool historian, so I’m not sure how critical his historiography is, or how much insight he has of internal colonisation. Colonialism didn’t just happen in the colonies, it shaped the industrialisation and de-industrialisation of Britain, and England’s post-colonial malaise that led to Brexit. For example, the union between Scotland and England, is the root cause of the underdevelopment and partiality of Scots law and legal practice. Which still hasn’t managed to incorporate human rights obligations, as it subourdinates itself to the traditions of English legal culture (see Parliamentary sovereignty), and Westminster’s assumed legal supremacy.

    Introduction: Theories and Practices of Internal


  3. Having read Tom Devines superb recent book
    “The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600-1900”

    one can be absolutely certain that he is well aware of these historical facts, and was indeed making a modern political contrast.

    Buy it. Read it. Pass it on!


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