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The Origins of Scottish Nationhood

The Origins of Scottish Nationhood

Neil Davidson
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 272
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    The Origins of Scottish Nationhood
    Book Description:

    The traditional view of the Scottish nation holds that it first arose during the Wars of Independence from England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Although Scotland was absorbed into Britain in 1707 with the Treaty of Union, Scottish identity is supposed to have remained alive in the new state through separate institutions of religion (the Church of Scotland), education, and the legal system. Neil Davidson argues otherwise. The Scottish nation did not exist before 1707. The Scottish national consciousness we know today was not preserved by institutions carried over from the pre-Union period, but arose after and as a result of the Union, for only then were the material obstacles to nationhood – most importantly the Highland/Lowland divide – overcome. This Scottish nation was constructed simultaneously with and as part of the British nation, and the eighteenth century Scottish bourgeoisie were at the forefront of constructing both. The majority of Scots entered the Industrial Revolution with a dual national consciousness, but only one nationalism, which was British. The Scottish nationalism which arose in Scotland during the twentieth century is therefore not a revival of a pre-Union nationalism after 300 years, but an entirely new formation. Davidson provides a revisionist history of the origins of Scottish and British national consciousness that sheds light on many of the contemporary debates about nationalism.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-085-5
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. iii-iii)
  3. Preface, Acknowledgements, Dedication (pp. vi-vii)
    Neil Davidson
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-6)

    If it were possible to draw a graph showing the strengthening of Scottish national consciousness over the last 20 years, it could be charted in relation to the Conservative party general election victories of 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992, and would show the curve ascending more steeply with the announcement of each result. The latter two were particularly significant in this respect, for the moment when our imaginary graph would take the sharpest upward swing would be after the 1987 election, when the cycle by which Labour governments replaced Conservative ones in succession appeared to have been permanently broken. In...

  5. 1 What Is National Consciousness? (pp. 7-23)

    The purpose of this chapter is to produce a conceptual framework within which the Scottish experience can be discussed. Where I use the terms ‘nation’, ‘national consciousness’ and ‘nationalism’ in what follows, I am not, however, using concepts to which the Scottish experience isexternal, but concepts into which the Scottish experience has beenincorporated, as subsequent chapters will demonstrate. The reader should bear three points in mind during what follows. First, although the theoretical basis of this chapter is the classical Marxist tradition, that has not prevented my drawing from the literature of ‘nation theory’ where it is compatible...

  6. 2 From National Consciousness to Nation States (pp. 24-46)

    ‘The surest sign that a society has entered into the secure possession of a new concept’, writes Quentin Skinner, ‘is that a new vocabulary will be developed in terms of which the concept can then be publicly articulated and discussed.’ He takes the example of how the term ‘state’ emerged during the Reformation to describe ‘a form of public power separate from both the ruler and the ruled, and constituting a supreme political authority within a certain defined territory’.¹ Yet the state had existed for thousands of years before the concept was required. With ‘nation’ the situation is reversed. The...

  7. 3 Was There a Scottish Nation Before 1707? (pp. 47-74)

    There is an obvious difficulty in situating Scotland within the trajectory of national development outlined in the previous chapter. If national consciousness only became general in Europe and North America in the latter half of the eighteenth century, then either Scotland constitutes an exception to the general rule or the Scottish nation is of rather more recent origin than is generally supposed, only emergingafterScotland ceased to exist as a state in 1707. National consciousness had developed earlier than the eighteenth century in England and (to amuch lesser extent) in the United Netherlands. Even in these cases, however, the...

  8. 4 Highland versus Lowland, Scotland versus England (pp. 75-89)

    The name of Scotland concealed the existence of two regions whose inhabitants had been antagonistic to each other for centuries. With neither region able to agree that the other was Scottish, how liable were they to subsume themselves jointly into a new British national identity? Edward Burt, an English officer serving in the Highlands during the 1720s, reminds us of the degree of separation which still existed between Highland and Lowland nearly 20 years after the Union:

    The Highlands are but little known even to the Inhabitants of the low country of Scotland, for they ever dreaded the Difficulties and...

  9. 5 Scotland After 1707: Oppressed or Oppressor Nation? (pp. 90-111)

    Before turning to the role played by the Empire in the formation of national consciousness in Scotland, I must first consider the role it did not play. There are several variations on the theme that the Scots, far from being willing participants in and beneficiaries of the imperial project, were themselves victims of it. None of these is remotely convincing – indeed, if what they claim were true, the trajectory of Scottish nationalism would be completely different from the one actually written into the historical record – but their inadequacy must be demonstrated rather than asserted. What position then did...

  10. 6 British Imperialism and National Consciousness in Scotland (pp. 112-127)

    The function of the British Empire in the construction of national consciousness is frequently misunderstood, even by those who are aware of its significance. Michael Lynch, for example, writes of ‘the rapturous embrace made by the Scots, not of Britain, but of the British Empire, which opened up in the 1780s and disappeared after 1945.’¹ There are a number of problems with this perspective.

    First (as we saw in Chapter 4), a minority of the Lowland bourgeoisie embraced a British identity even before the Union was an established fact, notably the profoundly ambiguous figure of William Paterson. Thereafter, the Scottish...

  11. 7 Scottish History and Highland Mythology (pp. 128-139)

    The Czech historian Miroslav Hroch once argued that the development of any national movement involves three distinct stages.

    During the initial phase, which I have called Phase A, the energies of the activists were above all devoted to scholarly enquiry into and dissemination of an awareness of the linguistic, cultural, social, and sometimes historical attributes of the non-dominant group – but without, on the whole, pressing specifically national demands to remedy deficits (some did not even believe their group could develop into a nation).

    Even where the process went no further than this, however, certain ‘resources’ were retained which, in...

  12. 8 The Reality of the Highlands: Social Assimilation and the Onslaught on Gaelic Culture (pp. 140-151)

    We have followed the inhabitants of the Highlands in their role as conquerors and settlers of the British Empire, and have seen how both this contemporary role and their past reputation was incorporated into a mythical version of Scottish history. How did the changing pattern of social life in the Highlands itself affect the construction of the dual Scottish-British identity? It perhaps goes without saying that the newfound admiration for Gaelic culture among the ruling class did not extend to recognising the wishes of any actual Gaelic speakers. As Christopher Smout records:

    A group of tenants on Sir John Sinclair’s...

  13. 9 Burns and Scott: Radical and Conservative Nations (pp. 152-164)

    Robert Burns (1759–1796) and Walter Scott (1771–1832) were so different in their class position and political attitudes that fruitful comparisons between their views of nationhood may seem impossible.

    Take their class positions first. Burns was the son of an Aberdeenshire farmer who had migrated to Ayrshire. Unlike many of his peers, his education went beyond that of the parish school since his father, together with some neighbours, paid for a private schoolmaster to educate their children. In addition to his writing, which would not have been lucrative enough to sustain himself or his family, Burns first combined tenant...

  14. 10 Class Consciousness and National Consciousness In the Age of Revolution (pp. 165-199)

    I now turn to the last stage in the formation of dual national consciousness in Scotland, the period ofsocial diffusionamong the majority of the population. By the end of our period that majority consisted, like England, but unlike anywhere else on earth, of wage-labourers, and increasingly of urban, industrial wage-labourers. Was the balance of Scottishness and Britishness in their consciousness the same as for the dominant class, or indeed for the subordinate classes which had come before them in Scottish history? And what was the relationship between this national consciousness and the class consciousness that was to be...

  15. Conclusion (pp. 200-203)

    The basis for Scottish nationhood was laid between 1746 and 1820. Identifiable components pre-existed the former date, but they were no more constitutive of nationhood in themselves than eggs, flour and butter separately constitute a cake: certain processes have to be undergone first. Scottish nationhood, as it endures to this day, involves three sets of relationships, two of which have been attended to at different times in this book.

    The one which has not is the first, the distinction between Scottish nationalconsciousnessand Scottish nationalism, for the simple reason that until the 1920s, and more seriously the 1960s, the...

  16. Afterword (pp. 204-210)

    All nations have myths. Terry Eagleton argues that it is in the nature of myth to remove events from their real historical context and represent them merely as moments in an ‘infinitely repetitive’ pattern which typically takes the form of a narrative.¹ As Cairns Craig writes:

    The fundamental role of narrative in the formation of national identity has come increasingly to be recognised in ‘nation theory’: indeed, it is now often argued that nations are nothing more than narratives and that it is through the narrative arts that national identities are established, maintained and elaborated.²

    It is sometimes said that...

  17. Notes (pp. 211-252)
  18. Index (pp. 253-264)