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HISTORY OF SCOTLAND
 
 


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Clearances: 18th - 19th century

In rational 18th-century Britain there is much interest in improved farming (a pioneer is the famous Coke of Norfolk, who introduces new methods of stock breeding and agriculture on his estate at Holkham). In parts of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, the most profitable improvement is the introduction of new and larger breeds of sheep such as the Blackface and the Cheviot.

To provide pasture for these valuable animals, lairds on many estates move tenants off their traditional common lands and relocate them elsewhere on poorer holdings - often near the coast, where the main livelihood is kelping (the laborious collection of kelp, or seaweed, for burning and sale as a chemical).
 









The distress of the displaced crofters is greatly increased during the 1840s by the potato famine, resulting in increased emigration to Canada, the USA and Australia. The hardship of the 1840s brings the plight of the crofters to the attention of the national press. The clearances become, as they have remained ever since, a subject of passionate controversy in which both sides can cite often untypical examples to support their case.

Advocates of the lairds point to estates where the removal of the tenants to new occupations is an attempt to improve their standard of living in a failing economy. And it is true that many of the emigrants' passages across the ocean are paid for by their landlords.
 







Equally, humanitarians can identify cases where evictions are carried out for motives of greed and with harsh brutality (the most frequently quoted example of a heartless agent is Patrick Sellar, on the estates of Elizabeth Countess of Sutherland).

The surviving evidence is complex and often apparently contradictory, but certain clear facts emerge. The prosperity of the Highland estates, and with it the well-being of the crofters, rises and declines not so much from the actions of individual landlords as from the effects of the wider Scottish and British economies.
 







Yet it is also true that landlords during the period are increasingly out of touch with their tenants. The old bonds of the clan are weakened when the chieftain becomes, in the 18th-century manner, a British gentleman - and they are broken when Highland estates are sold, as they often now are, to Lowlanders or even to the English.

Underlying the problem is the fact that the clansmen, descending from a tradition of mutual obligations based on kinship and influenced by feudalism, enjoy very few legal rights in a modern sense. This is revealed in evidence given to the Napier Commission (the Royal Commission on the Crofters and Cottars of Scotland), which is set up in 1883 after the resentment of crofters in Skye flares into the so-called Battle of the Braes.
 







Lord Napier and his colleagues tour the Highlands in 1883-4 to hear the local grievances. Their report is the most authoritative account of injustices committed in the Highlands during the previous three or four generations.

The resulting legislation (the Crofters' Holdings Act of 1886) redresses the balance in the crofters' favour - by providing for fair rents to be fixed by tribunal, security of tenure and compensation for any improvements made to a croft. Criticized at first for not making provision for the poor who lack even a croft to support them, the act has since been described as the 'Magna Carta of Gaeldom'. The hint of Gaelic reflects another important theme of the period - that of Language and nationalism.
 






Romantic Scotland: 1763-1856

During the period covered by the clearances, the image of Scotland undergoes a remarkable transformation. Again the centre of attention is the Highlands.

In 1773 Samuel Johnson is a somewhat reluctant tourist to the Hebrides. Ten years earlier he has expressed a very blunt opinion of the Highland landscape. On 6 July 1763, in the Mitre Tavern in London, a Scottish clergyman is so unwise as to praise in Dr Johnson's presence the noble scenery of his native land. He receives the withering rejoinder that 'the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England'.
 









During the next few decades this perception changes dramatically. In the early 19th century it is the high road to Scotland which is crammed with the carriages of tourists, eager to experience the thrill of wild Scottish scenery. Scotland becomes a significant theme in the developing Romantic movement. And the change is almost entirely down to one man - Sir Walter Scott.

In 1810 Scott publishes The Lady of the Lake, a stirring historical poem of love and adventure. Loch Katrine, in a rugged gorge of the Trossachs, is the home of the heroine, Ellen Douglas. The beatiful Ellen's Isle commemorates her, nestling in the loch against a background of high hills.
 







The poem is an immediate success. A new hotel is built to accomodate the rush of tourists, who wander through the landscape with their copies of the book, finding the exact spots in which to declaim the relevant passages. The Highlands acquire an aura for tourists which they have never lost. When Thomas Cook offers the first cheap organized tours of the railway era, in the 1840s, Scotland is a popular early destination.

Meanwhile Scott has also been contributing to the cause in other ways. At Abbotsford, between 1812 and 1824, he transforms a cottage into what he calls a 'conundrum castle' - a baronial mansion, combining details from many Scottish historical sources and soon to be on the tourists' itinerary.
 







Scott surpasses himself in the cause of romantic Scotland when he organizes the festivities, in 1822, for the first visit of a British monarch to Edinburgh since the union of 1707. A year after his coronation in Westminster, George IV travels to the north of his realm. The ageing reprobate appears in the role of a Scottish chieftain, wearing Tartan (banned until quite recently) and thus launching the 19th-century craze for Highland dress.

The nation's love affair with romantic Scotland reaches its climax in 1856, when Victoria and Albert complete their own Scottish fairy-tale castle at Balmoral. When the queen visits Loch Katrine, she too carries with her The Lady of the Lake.
 






The industrial revolution: 19th century

From the 17th century there has been a developing coal industry in a belt of land across the centre of Scotland, stretching southwest from the Firth of Forth. By 1700 the many small coalfields in this region have a combined output of about 400,000 tons a year. A century later this has increased to some 2 million tons. During the 19th century output continues to grow, reaching a peak of more than 40 million tons in the early 20th century.

During the same period Scotland develops a thriving iron industry. In 1830 the region has twenty-seven furnaces producing about 5% of Britain's output of pig iron. By 1860 there are 133 furnaces accounting for as much as 25% of national production.
 









Part of the reason for this rapid increase is a Scottish invention of 1828, J.B. Neilson's hot-blast furnace. This dramatically reduces the amount of coal required to smelt iron. With this technology, and an abundant supply of local coal, Scotland is well equipped to supply what becomes its major industrial activity - shipbuilding on the Clyde.

The Clyde takes pride of place in the history of the steamship. The world's first practical steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas, is built in a Clyde shipyard and makes her maiden voyage in 1802. She has a wooden hull, and for several decades this remains the pattern; between 1812 and 1820 as many as forty-two wooden steamships are launched on the Clyde.
 







Neilson's breakthrough in iron technology in 1828 is well timed to benefit the Clyde in the next stage of shipbuilding. The world's first iron steamship, the Aaron Manby, is launched in this same decade (on the Thames in 1822) and the Clyde shipyards soon take advantage of this new development. The first iron shipyard in Scotland begins work at the mouth of the river Kelvin in 1834.

In 1839 a Glasgow marine-engineer, Robert Napier, establishes the city's important and lasting link with the Cunard company. His first contract is only to supply the steam engines for Cunard's transatlantic packet ships, but in 1841 he opens an iron shipyard at Govan. He is soon building iron ships both for Cunard and the rival P&O line.
 







On this foundation, established in the mid-19th century by Napier and others, Clydeside establishes a leading position among the world's shipbuilders. A central feature is the continuing link with Cunard.

All five of Cunard's greatest liners of the 20th century are built on the Clyde - the sister ships Mauretania and Lusitania (launched in 1906, as the first liners in the world driven by steam turbines) and the three Queens (Queen Mary 1934, Queen Elizabeth 1938, QE2 1967). The Queens, and the royal yacht Britannia as well, are all built at the greatest of the Clydeside enterprises, the John Brown shipyards.
 







Like heavy industry elsewhere in Britain, Scottish shipbuilding and mining suffer a disastrous decline in the second half of the 20th century. At the same period Scotland acquires a new resource in the North Sea oilfields, bringing welcome (even if only temporary) prosperity to regions from Aberdeen up to the vast terminal built at Sullom Voe in the Shetlands.

Varying aspects of these developments - ranging from the distress of unemployment in the industrial areas to a sense of unease that Scotland's oil wealth goes largely to the national exchequer in Westminster - contribute to a radical strand which is already well-established in the Scottish political tradition.
 






Radical Scotland: 19th - 20th century

The shipyards and the coal mines of Scotland, and the hard conditions in both, form the political character of Scotland's first great radical leader. James Keir Hardie spends his early childhood in the house of his stepfather, a joiner who finds occasional employment in the Clydeside yards. At the age of seven Hardie starts work as an errand boy in a shipping company. Three years later his step-father goes to sea. The ten-year-old finds employment in the mining industry. He dislikes what he sees.

In his teens Hardie goes to evening classes. In his early twenties he begins writing for the radical press and organizing his fellow miners to campaign for better working conditions.
 









By 1880, when he is twenty-four, Hardie is sufficiently well known as an activist to be blacklisted by the Lanarkshire mine owners. He moves to the neighbouring county of Ayr, becoming secretary of a miners' organization and founding in 1887 a monthly paper, The Miner. It deals with political issues beyond the immediate concerns of the coal fields and it gradually extends its readership to England.

In 1888 there is a by-election for the Mid-Lanark seat. Hardie stands as an independent Labour candidate. His low tally (a mere 617 votes) persuades him that a wider organization is a prerequisite of success. He is instrumental in the founding of the Scottish Labour party later in the same year.
 







Hardie's fame is now spreading. In 1892 he is invited to stand as an independent Labour candidate for the London constituency of West Ham (South). He wins the seat, becoming the first Labour member of the house of commons.

In the following year the Independent Labour Party is formed, with Hardie as chairman. This evolves by 1906 into the Labour Party. Meanwhile The Miner has been succeeded by Labour Leader, a weekly paper through which Hardie's influence spreads through Britain. Thus, over two decades, Scotland's trades union movement merges into the mainstream of British left-wing politics. Hardie himself, the odd man out in the house of commons in his cloth cap and tweeds, becomes known as 'the member for the unemployed'.
 







Within Scotland the radical tradition is strongly maintained, to such a point that the shipyard region becomes known during World War I as Red Clydeside. This reflects the influence of the Clyde Workers Committee, active from 1915 and deriving strength from two sources - union militancy (made easier by the sudden wartime need for ships and munitions) and pacifism.

The chairman of the committee, William Gallacher, later becomes a Communist MP for West Fife (from 1935 to 1950), but he is an exception. Scottish radicalism is firmly tied to the Labour party - to such an extent that the 1997 election returns fifty-six Labour M.P.s for Scotland and not a single Conservative.
 






Scottish nationalism: from1886

The Labour Party, albeit with its roots firmly in Scotland, is essentially a British party. As such its interests are opposed to another radical strain in Scottish politics, that of Scottish nationalism.

There is much theoretical discussion of independence for Scotland from as early as 1886, when Gladstone brings to parliament the first of his Home Rule bills for Ireland. On the argument that the same dispensation should apply to Scotland, the Scottish Home Rule Association is founded in that year. But the lack of progess on Home Rule for Ireland means that it never gets up much head of steam. The effective campaign for an independent Scotland begins only in 1932 with the merging of two groups to form the Scottish National Party (or SNP).
 









The SNP wins its first seat in parliament in 1945 but there is not much progress until the late 1960s, when nationalist returns at the polls first begin to make Westminster take notice. The surprise victory of Winifred Ewing in a by-election at Hamilton in 1967 is something of a turning point. Local election successes follow in 1968, persuading the prime minister, Harold Wilson, to set up a Royal Commission to look into the constitutional aspects of devolution.

The Commission, reporting in 1973, recommends Scottish and Welsh assemblies with devolved powers within the United Kingdom. The issue becomes of increased urgency when the SNP wins eleven seats at Westminster in October 1974, with more than 30% of the Scottish vote.
 






Devolution in Scotland and Wales: 1978-1999

After much debate a Scotland Act and a Wales Act are passed in 1978, arranging for a referendum in each region. The acts state that regional assemblies will be established if two conditions are met: a simple majority in favour, but also a minimum turnout of 40% of the electorate.

The referenda are held in March 1979. In Scotland there is a small majority in favour, but only 32% of the electorate vote. In Wales there is a large majority (4:1) against the proposed assembly. Later in 1979 a Conservative government wins a general election, beginning a spell in power which lasts for eighteen years. Conservative policy is anti-devolution (though as a gesture the Stone of Scone is returned to Scotland in 1996). So the issue hangs fire - until 1997.
 









'Decentralization of power to Scotland and Wales' is in the party manifesto with which Labour wins an overwhelming victory in the general election of 1997. The pledge is quickly delivered. Within weeks of the election a bill is passed, arranging for referenda to be held. The Scots are to be asked two questions: Do they want a Scottish parliament? Do they want it to have tax-raising powers? The Welsh are only to vote on a single issue, whether they want a Welsh assemby with devolved powers which do not include tax raising.

In a 60.4% turnout the Scots vote 74.3% for a parliament and 63.5% for tax-raising powers. In a 50.3% turnout the Welsh vote by a tiny majority (0.6%) in favour of an assembly.
 







Elections for both assemblies are held in May 1999, on a system of proportional representation. About two thirds of the candidates are returned on a first-past-the-post basis, with the other third added from party lists to achieve the required balance.

In both regions Labour wins the greatest number of seats, while falling short of an absolute majority in either. The second largest vote is in each case for nationalism, with the SNP winning 35 seats in Scotland and Plaid Cymru 17 seats in Wales. The Conservatives come third in both regions, and the Liberal Democrats fourth. But the Liberal Democrats, the most natural allies for Labour, have enough seats to provide a coalition majority in both Scotland and Wales.
 







It takes Donald Dewar, the Labour leader in Scotland, a few days to persuade the Liberal Democrats to join his administration. The sticking point is the 1000 tuition fee for university students, introduced by the Labour government in Westminster and strongly opposed in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. A compromise is reached, and two cabinet places are allocated to the Liberal Democrats. Their 16 seats, combined with the 56 for Labour, give a comfortable majority in the 128-seat assembly. Thus the Scottish parliament resumes business in Edinburgh (though with powers limited to internal affairs) after an interval of 292 years. The assembly is formally opened by the Queen on 1 July 1999.

In a tragic development for the new institution, Donald Dewar dies suddenly within little more than a year (in October 2000). He is succeeded as first minister by Henry McLeish, who resigns in November 2001, and then by Jack McConnell.
 






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