The unfolding of Scottish Identity.
During the nineteenth century, particularly during the Victorian period, Scotland underwent a dramatic, in many ways, a total transformation. From a predominantly rural and agrarian country it evolved into a bustling modern urban and
industrial nation, boasting the proud title of “Workshop of Empire”. From being one of the most feared and detested parts of the kingdom, a constant source of unrest and instability, it took on the mantle of Caledonia, Britannia’s devoted sister, a model of propriety and
bastion of moral virtues. And from the relative obscurity of a parochial environment, Scotland rose to become a pillar of the Empire, her name a trademark of world repute and her voice respected in international affairs. During the Victorian period, it can be said, Scotland
basked in its fifteen minutes of glory on the world stage. It is paradoxical then that as historians and commentators explore this moment of national greatness they should be struck by how much this rise to glory coincides with the disappearance of Scotland’s sense of
national identity. As Scotland re-invented itself in the nineteenth century, it appears she did so to the detriment or the exclusion of much of her own past, or at least by refusing to envisage that any coherent interpretation of her past might usefully impinge on the
ongoing business of the day. The Scottish past, it has been argued, was redundant, irrelevant or, at least, surplus to the needs of the times. Even historical writing shied away from exploring the nation’s own history and, we are told, this “historical failure of nerve”
resulted in the “strange death of Scottish history”, condemning the nation to evolve in a limbo “out of history” In its rise to Victorian greatness Scotland “lost its history and only gained a century”

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Unquestionably the most striking aspect of Scotland’s nineteenth century transformation, and the one which goes deepest to the heart of this paradox, is demographic. Scotland’s population, which is believed to have doubled in size between 1775 and 1841, to stand at some 2. 6
million inhabitants, almost doubled in size again during the following sixty years. To any society such rapid change inevitably poses massive challenges to the continuity of the transmission of national and cultural values and the rallying of social cohesion around them.
In Scotland’s case, however, these challenges were further aggravated by two compounding factors which accentuated a trend, already visible, away from the traditional “Scottish” perspectives of old, towards a new modern “British” approach. In what has been termed a
collective exercise in “self-colonization”, a forward-looking and “progressive” paradigm was mooted and adopted by a nation as its destiny, “... at once manifest, immutable, and in harmony with the sub-state institutions of Scottishness
The first of these factors was that this natural increase in population was achieved against a backdrop of intense and sustained migration from and into the country. Indeed, outward migration was so intense during the whole of the period up till 1914 that, despite the overall
modest numbers involved in comparison with other countries, Scotland, in fact, occupies second place in a European league table of proportion of population involved. Overseas emigration alone is believed to have concerned some 2 million people in total with particularly
high levels being attained during the later years of the century, making Scotland the “emigration capital of Europe”. During the 1904-13 period, total outflow exceeded 600,000 people and was the equivalent of almost 13% of the nation’s inhabitants in 1911. Yet even this does
not encompass the whole picture for there were also substantial movements of population taking place between Scotland and the other parts of the United Kingdom which cannot be easily quantified but were certainly significant. Even if we take into consideration that
a significant proportion of these migrants must have, in fact, returned to Scotland at some point in their lives, nevertheless the social disruption caused by this mass migration had inevitably profound implications for the construction and maintenance of Scottish society and a
Scottish value system, particularly since the vast majority of emigrants were males between the ages of 15 and 25.

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sources to follow
At the same time as this outward migration, the traditional system of transmission of social values, which engenders stability and cohesion, was further disrupted by an equally massive influx of inward migration. Even if, at present, reliable overall figures are unavailable,
Ireland undoubtedly holds a predominant place among the various sources of this immigration. By the 1841 Census for instance, the Irish-born already made up nearly 5% of the Scottish population. Ten years later, after the Famine, this stood at more than 7%, and continued at a
slower pace during the rest of the century. Between 1831 and 1914 more than a third of a million people of Irish origin are believed to have immigrated to Scotland, profoundly reshaping a nation which by 1911 had a total population of barely five million. It is perhaps not
surprising that such a massive and sustained influx of population should generate fears of national disintegration, of “invasion” by an “alien race” but, in fact, if the Irish(one half of my own family) were the most visible and the immigrants public attention most readily
focussed, they were by no means the only ones. There was also a steady influx into Scotland of people born in England and Wales as well as other parts of Europe. The English-born, for instance, made up 1.5% of the Scottish population in 1841, and 3.55 in 1911 and were
particularly attracted to Scotland’s cities. Likewise, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s, a significant influx of immigrants from Europe also became the focus of attention. All in all, by the latter part of the century, even though net loss was always less than natural
increase, emigrants outnumbered immigrants in each decade.
Secondly, even more significantly, internal migration, forced and voluntary, from rural parts of the country to other rural parts and towards the towns and cities constituted a process which ultimately reshaped
the socio-cultural map of the country and seriously, possibly irreparably, undermined the traditional system of transmission of social values from one generation to the next. This uprooting of established society was most dramatic in the north and west of the country
where the old social traditions of the clans were abolished in the name of improvement and economic realism. The “Highland Clearances” as they have been called did much to reshape the country into what we know today, with the wholesale displacement of population and
the uprooting of traditions which went with it. By the beginning of the 1840s whole areas of the north of Scotland were literally transformed.

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The county of Sutherland, for example, was the most severely affected of all areas with 85% of its parishes converted to the new market-based economy. Hence, while the total population of the country doubled in size during the 1831 to 1911 period, the percentage of people
living in the Highlands fell from 17% to a mere 7%. As has been pointed out, over and above the scale of the terrible human tragedy involved, this transformation constituted more than simply an adjustment to modern economic pressures; it marked the disappearance of Scotland’s
traditional way of life. In the name of modernity and progress and with the blessing of Scotland’s own intellectual elite, who portrayed it as the natural supplanting of the “primitive Gael” by the superior “Teutonic lowlander” the historic balance of Scottish society was
destroyed for ever. Whether or not one sees this phenomenon as a prolonged act of ‘ethnic cleansing’, a form of cultural genocide, it resulted indisputably in the destruction of Gaelic society and the replacement of a traditional, collectivist society by a cash economy and
market forces: people and land had become exchangeable commodities.
In the ensuing turmoil rural Scotland gradually declined in favour of a new reality as the Central industrial belt and its great cities were born. This drive south was as spectacular as it was rapid with the
Central Lowlands accounting for almost 50% of the total population by the end of the Victorian period when it had stood at a mere 20% in the early years of the century. Captains of industry in their new role as “City Fathers” had taken the place of the laird at the head of the
social hierarchy. This new urban Scotland developed at breathtaking speed for a country which as a whole was (and remains) so sparsely populated less than 2 inhabitants per acre at the end of the Victorian period. By the end of the century, it was amongst the highest urban
concentrations in Europe with the four cities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen) accounting for a staggering 38% of the population as a whole. By then Scotland had the unusual distinction of boasting not one but two capital cities - Edinburgh the historic, official
capital and Glasgow the industrial one - no mean feat for the stateless nation. Glasgow’s rise to greatness, in particular, was a source of immense pride and irrefutable proof of man’s ability to shape his own destiny, for it had risen from a small fishing village in the
early 18th century to become the “Second city” of the United Kingdom and of the Empire by the end of the nineteenth. With 20% of the total population of Scotland, it outnumbered the aggregate populations of Scotland’s seven next largest settlements.
But undoubtedly it was in the field of shipbuilding that Scottish production forged a reputation all of their own. Here again the combination of pioneering manufacturing techniques and experimentation, a highly skilled workforce and a ready supply of high-quality raw
materials lay at the heart of the legend of Clydeside. By the end of the Victorian period 30% of all naval constructions work was built on the Clyde, which boasted fully 20% of the total shipbuilding workforce for the United Kingdom. By that date Scotland had become, in the
words of one historian, an “industrial nation”.
Victorian Scotland’s “economic miracle”, was, regrettably, as meteoric as it was short lived for it carried in itself the seeds of its own self-destruction. As R. H. Campbell has noted, the spectacular achievements of the
Victorian period were largely a response to a set of peculiarly favourable circumstances and not one which rested on any mythical indigenous Scottish ability, “The Scots were simply fortunate; they never had it so easy again as in the nineteenth century”. Yet as these “golden
days” faded into the distance after 1914, it is curious to see how they became enshrined in a new mythical view of the Scottish genius, as somehow irrefutable proof of Scotland’s unique destiny. In the printed word as on the Internet, hymns to the genius of the Scots are
abundant and display an unbridled arrogance only matched by their detachment from hardheaded reality. A work by James Buchan, for instance, claims to show How Edinburgh Changed the World, while Duncan A. Bruce explores The Mark of the Scots: Their Astonishing Contributions
to History, Science, Democracy, Literature and the Arts and invites the reader to celebrate “the accomplishments of Scots and people of Scottish descent, from Immanuel Kant to Elvis Presley”! Arthur Herman, goes even further and claims to demonstrate to his readers How the
Scots invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It. Arguably however the most popular of these exercises in bagpipe blowing is directed at the “auld enemy”. The old drinking toast,
“Here’s tae us” has over recent years been increasingly recycled as a hymn to Scotland’s greatness. “WHA’SLIKE US?”:

“The average Englishman in the home he calls his castle, slips into his national costume ~ a shabby raincoat ~ patented by chemist Charles Macintosh from
Glasgow, Scotland.
En route to his office he strides along the English lane, surfaced by John Macadam of Ayr, Scotland.
He drives an English car fitted with tyres invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn, Scotland.
At the office he receives the mail bearing adhesive stamps
invented by John Chalmers of Dundee, Scotland.
During the day he uses the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, bom in Edinburgh, Scotland.
At home in the evening his daughter pedals her bicycle invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, Blacksmith of Dumfries, Scotland.
He watches the news on T. V., an invention of John Logie Baird of Helensburgh, Scotland and hears an item about the U. S. Navy, founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland.
He has by now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation he picks up the Bible, only to
find that the first man mentioned in the good book is a Scot ~ King James VI ~ who authorised its translation.
Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots.
He could take to drink but the Scots make the best in the world.
He could take a rifle and
end it all but the breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.
If he escaped death, he could find himself on an operating table injected with penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming of Darvel, Scotland, and given an anaesthetic,
discovered by Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate, Scotland.
Out of the anaesthetic he would find no comfort in learning that he was as safe as the Bank of England, founded by William Paterson of Dumfries, Scotland. Perhaps his only remaining hope would be to get
a transfusion of guid Scottish blood which would entitle him to ask ‘WHA’S LIKE US’”?
But this hymn to the greatness of past achievements contains an important underlying massage which can be easily overlooked: to imply that most English people do not know that these achievements were of Scottish origin in itself would suggest that there was nothing essentially
or markedly Scottish about them in the first place. As the preceding survey clearly indicates, Victorian Scotland rose to greatness not by flaunting its distinctive national characteristics but by rendering them irrelevant or, or better still, by re-inventing them as
integral parts of a “British” value system, by becoming, what Tom Nairn called, “a junior but (as these things go) highly successful partner in the general business enterprise of Anglo-Saxon imperialism”, by cocooning itself in politically harmless romantic legends of past
glories and “kailyard images” that set it “out of history”, images that bore little semblance to reality and no relevance to the problems of the hour. That is why the haunting words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth seem strangely apposite to the situation Scotland found itself
in at the end of the nineteenth century when, to Macduff’s question, “Stands Scotland where it did?”, Ross replies, “Alas, poor country, - almost afraid to know itself!”
And yet, for all these shared experiences the fact remains that Victorian Scotland never became, or even aspired to become, simply an extension of England. Some have suggested that this was its greatest failure. Below the surface, inside the ‘tartan straitjacket’ perhaps,
the Scottish people continued to give meaning, or perhaps more accurately layers of meaning, to the nation’s distinctive traits and to cultivate their own particular sort of patriotism which recreated Scotland as a nation within a nation. By the end of the nineteenth
century, the contours of Britishness north of the border had become more intricate and complex than the black and white English-British amalgam generated in the south. By 1900, Scottish people had created or had been forced to create, multiple axes of self-identification,
Scottish AND British, Scottish OR British. On occasions, being Scottish might overlap with being British as in the celebration of Empire, at others they might appear complementary, yet at other times still they could be antagonistic (no more so than in the development of
Scottish popular sports, the so-called “90 minute patriots” who swell the ranks of the “Tartan Army”). Perhaps, then, the paradox of Victorian Scotland can be said ultimately to swing full circle. But then, should we have expected anything else from a nation which
seems so profoundly obsessed with the cultivation of its own contradictions?


MORRIS R. J. and MORTON Graeme, “Where was Nineteenth Century Scotland?” Scottish Historical Review, 1994, Vol. 73,.
NAIRN Tom, After Britain. New Labour and the Return of Scotland. London,
Granta, 2000, 324 p.

SLAVEN Anthony, The development of the West of Scotland 1750-1960.
SMOUT T. C., A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950.
WATSON Murray, Being English in Scotland. Edinburgh, .
CLYDE Robert, From Rebel to Hero. The Image of the Highlander, 1745-1830.
COLLINS Dr. Kenneth E., Second City Jewry: The Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion, 1790-1919.
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