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The Scottish Question$

James Mitchell

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199688654

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199688654.001.0001

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(p.287) Bibliographical Essay

(p.287) Bibliographical Essay

Source:
The Scottish Question
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Oxford University Press

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In a bibliographical essay written over thirty years ago, Chris Allen described the study of Scottish politics and society as a bit like the nation’s teeth: most notable for its gaps. That is no longer quite so true. Over the last three decades, there has been a massive growth in the output of historians, political scientists, and sociologists as well as first-hand accounts of events and developments in Scotland. There are now a number of substantial overviews of Scotland since the union or works that focus on particular periods. The most notable change has been in the output of scholars and commentators focused on the twentieth century, especially the most recent period. Many of the issues tackled can be included under the umbrella of the ‘Scottish Question’. Attempting to cover the range of issues over such a period of time has only been possible by building on some of this vast output. This book has also been informed by wider literatures and debates, on the nature of national identity, the relations between nations and states, the public policy literature and wider discussions of state and society. There has been a conscious effort to avoid cramming the pages with references to literature or limiting the readership to a narrow academic audience. However, throughout the text, there are references to particular works that deserve special attention because what has been written was particularly interesting, unusual, or challenging. These have included non-academic as often as academic works. The opening paragraph of the book quotes a journalist, well known in his day though largely forgotten today, commenting on what he feared was the anomaly of a nation without a state. My intention has been to recognize contemporary work and opinions wherever possible and avoid the danger, more prevalent amongst my fellow political scientists than historians, to view the past through the lens of the present.

The work also makes use of primary sources gathered over the last three decades in archives in Scotland and England, interpretations from notes of events, meetings, and interviews attended or conducted by the author over that period of time. The National Archives and National Archives of Scotland remain under-explored as far as the issues and debates covered in this book are concerned. It is hoped that some of the archival nuggets discussed in these pages might stimulate others to go in search of more. This is not nor can it be a comprehensive account, but it aims to inform the debates on the Scottish Question in the knowledge that this Question cannot be answered definitively.

This brief bibliographical essay focuses on books rather than academic articles though articles have been hugely important in informing this work. Suffice to say that the authors cited below have in almost every case contributed to journals in short and lengthy articles that have had an influence on (p.288) this book. The list of journals consulted over many years includes those from a variety of disciplines including economics, history, law, planning, politics, and sociology as well as some multi-disciplinary and many more non-academic works. Journals that have been most important in recent years and easily accessible have included the Scottish Government Yearbooks which became Scottish Affairs and the various Scottish history journals. There is no political science journal devoted to Scottish politics but articles with a Scottish focus have been published in most of the main UK journals and a number of the world’s leading journals. This applies equally to sociology where, again, key articles with a Scottish focus have been published in top mainstream journals. Economics is different as there have been journals with a Scottish focus, though even where ‘Scottish’ appears in the title there is no guarantee that a focus on Scotland will be found in all articles. The most relevant economic works are in journals with an applied focus, Fraser of Allander publications being good examples. There are numerous journals which publish on regional, planning, local government, housing, and educational matters. These include some with a focus on Scotland but mostly the Scottish content finds its way into journals without any particular geographic or, at least, one which has a broader geographic focus.

General Surveys and Works of Synthesis

In recent years, a number of important books have been published that have influenced this study. Tom Devine’s The Scottish Nation (2000) is a compendium of facts, interpretations, and rigorous research. It builds on earlier similar syntheses of Scottish historical analysis including his own path-breaking work on the Highlands and transatlantic trade. Michael Lynch’s Scotland: A New History (1992) and T. C. Smout’s A History of the Scottish People (1969) and A Century of the Scottish People (1986) remain important books that have been seminal works in understanding Scottish history. R. A. Houston and W. W. Knox’s The New Penguin History of Scotland (2001) brings together a good range of scholarship in one volume. It is important, however, not to lose sight of other historical works that are not focused on Scotland. This book has been heavily influenced by the scholarship of historical social scientists who have sought to identify key cleavages in European society and understand the process of state-building and nation-building. The work of Stein Rokkan, Norwegian historian and political scientist, continues to be the main influence on my work, as will be evident in the framework adopted to discuss developments in Scotland, and including S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan’s classic four-fold cleavage structures in their chapter in Party Systems and Voter Alignments, the volume of essays they edited in 1967. Their four-fold classification—the centre–periphery and state–religion cleavages that formed around the time of state formation, and the urban–rural and class cleavages that emerged around (p.289) the Industrial Revolution—is a useful framework for analysing the Scottish Question. In addition, this book has been heavily influenced by Rokkan’s later work, in collaboration with Derek Urwin, on the territorial nature of state formation. At the time of his death in 1979, he had been working on classifying state formation in Europe into four types: unitary, union, mechanical, and organic federations. This resulted in a short historical overview, Economy, Territory, Identity (1983), completed after Rokkan’s death by Derek Urwin, and The Politics of Territorial Identity (1982), an edited volume of essays in which Derek Urwin wrote the essay on the UK. Derek Urwin wrote a short book, The Alchemy of Delayed Nationalism: Politics, Cultural Identity and Economic Expectations in Scotland (1978), which was published by the University of Bergen and has not received the attention it deserved, in this author’s opinion, as one of the finest works to employ the skills of historical social science in its historical breadth and social science rigour, combining an eye for detail without losing sight of the broader themes.

Much of my own work has built on Rokkan’s classification of state formation and applying it to the development of the UK. The orthodox notion of the UK as a unitary state has given way to a new orthodoxy that the UK is a union state. However, with orthodoxy comes intellectual laziness. It is remarkable how few of those—political scientists, historians, and lawyers—who refer to the UK as a union state have really added anything to this idea or have given Rokkan the respect he deserves by seriously and critically engaging with his work. As argued in my Devolution in the UK (2009), it is difficult to apply the term to the UK as a whole, given the variety of unions that make up the UK. On reflection, it is both too glib and too parochial to simply refer to the UK as a union state. The UK is better understood today as a state of unions. Also, each of these unions, including that affecting Scotland, has been dynamic. We need to understand the dynamics of each union. This book is an attempt to build on my earlier work, which in turn owes an enormous debt to a wide range of scholars crossing a range of disciplines, including historians and political scientists but also, crucially, sociologists and economists.

Various works by Christopher Harvie remain fresh and provocative, in the very best sense, and most notable works are Scotland and Nationalism (1st edition 1977 but subsequently updated at irregular intervals including a 4th edition in 2004), No Gods and Precious Few Heroes (3rd edition 1998), and Scotland: A Short History (2002). No Gods was originally one of the New History of Scotland series published by Edinburgh University Press, which included works by Bruce Lenman and Olive and Sydney Checkland. Amongst the most provocative and important works have been a number written by Michael Fry. Michael Fry has relished and thrived intellectually in his status as an outsider amongst professional, i.e. academic, historians. It has had a healthy effect on his willingness and ability to bring fresh insights and sharp, challenging interpretations of the past and present.

(p.290) Twentieth-century Scotland is now far better understood than it was two decades ago thanks to a number of complementary works. Iain Hutchison’s Scottish Politics in the Twentieth Century (2000) is a short but packed book that takes forward the story in his Political History of Scotland, 1832–1924 (1986). Richard Finlay’s Modern Scotland, 1914–2000 (2004) was followed by Ewen Cameron’s Impaled Upon A Thistle: Scotland since 1880 (2010) and Catriona MacDonald’s Whaur Extremes Meet (2009). These works cover similar ground but in different ways, each bringing something fresh and new to our understanding of Scotland’s past and each reflecting the particular expertise and research backgrounds of the author. These historians have set high standards.

The Union

There are many works on the Anglo-Scottish union and the bicentenary of the union in 2007 saw a number of new publications. These range from highly polemical works that use history as covers for conducting a debate on Scotland’s future constitutional status to serious scholarly works. The most recent batch of books on the union include Allan Macinnes’s Union and Empire (2007) which offers a fresh perspective and sets the union within the wider European context and the emergence of the British Empire. Douglas Watt’s The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations (2007) is a fine piece of history that explores the financial consequences of the Darien disaster by an author equally qualified as an historian and expert in finance. Christopher Whatley’s The Scots and the Union (2007) was another scholarly work published to mark the bicentenary of the union. Michael Fry set out to write a celebration of the union but ended up producing a work that led him to support independence with The Union: England, Scotland and the Treaty of Union (2007). There remains much yet to be written on the subject of the union, though there is little that can be written about on what happened over two centuries ago that can shed light on what should happen in the future.

Social History and Politics

Scotland’s social history has been well documented by a range of historians who have interpreted Scotland’s past from a variety of perspectives. The relationships between class and nation—competing, conflictual, and reinforcing—have been explored in W. W. Knox’s Industrial Nation (1999); Keith Aitken’s Bairns o’ Adam (1997) is a history of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Jim Phillips’s The Industrial Politics of Devolution (2008) is an important work that draws out this relationship between the labour and national movements in the 1960s and 1970s in Scotland well. Industrialization cannot be divorced from urbanization and changes in society more generally. There are many studies of urban Scotland including books on the main urban centres. One (p.291) of the most original and stimulating is Robert Crawford’s On Glasgow and Edinburgh (2013). Crawford explores the symbiotic, competitive, and ultimately linked histories of these two cities written by a poet and professor of literature based in St Andrew’s. Rural Scotland, especially the Highlands and Islands, has been well covered. The Highland Clearances remain highly controversial and provoked a classic example of Scottish ‘flyting’ between Tom Devine and Michael Fry. This is a subject that has attracted the attention of historians outside the academy. John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances (1963) is probably the best-known work. Devine’s works include Clanship to Crofters’ War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (1994) and The Great Highland Famine (1988) while Fry’s controversial interpretation, Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History, was published in 2005.

The role of religion in Scottish life is difficult to underestimate but that is exactly what has happened in many histories. Scotland is unusual in the relationship between religion, state, and society, partly due to the role of immigration. Parties of the right across Europe have generally drawn disproportionate support from the Catholic community whereas the Labour Party, and very recently the SNP, has been the main recipient of Catholic votes. The reason is relatively easily explained by understanding this vote as having been an immigrant and minority community vote. Callum Brown has made a major contribution here especially with his Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707 (1997) and subsequent works. This is an area that remains shrouded in sensationalist and unsubtle commentary. Ian Budge and Derek Urwin’s seminal political science book, Scottish Political Behaviour: A Case Study in British Homogeneity (1966) identified the relationship between religion and the vote which has been explored in many subsequent works.

Scotland’s Fascination with Lost Causes and Missing Histories

The late Jim Bulpitt, Thatcherite political scientist, frequently complained that there was more work published on political failures and parties and movements of the left than on the Conservative Party. He would compare the volumes on the Independent Labour Party and Red Clydeside with those on the Primrose League, an organization that supported ‘God, Queen and Country and the Conservative cause’, despite the latter having vastly more members. His key point has been particularly true in Scotland where a vast literature exists on the politics of nationalism, long before the Scottish National Party became the major force in Scottish politics that it became after devolution, and on various left-wing parties and organizations. His observation could equally be made about the relative dearth of serious works on the governance of Scotland until relatively recently. As well as my own Conservatives and the Union (1990), there is David Seawright’s important alternative perspective on the Scottish Tories in An Important Matter of Principle (1999) and more (p.292) recently David Stewart’s The Path to Devolution and Change (2009). David Torrance has offered a helpful revisionist view of the Thatcher years in We in Scotland (2009). David Torrance has also become a successful biographer of establishment figures in Scottish politics. His biography of George Younger, George Younger: A Life Well Lived (2008), demonstrates the importance of empathy, though not necessarily sympathy, with the subject in writing a biography. His less well-known work, Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy (2010) on an early twentieth-century Scottish Tory, credited with inventing the phrase ‘property-owning democracy’, is a fascinating read that brings ideas and personalities from the first half of the twentieth century to life.

There are now fewer works being published on Red Clydeside than in the past. This may reflect exhaustion in a debate that saw historians argue over minute details in what amounted to historical trench warfare. This debate had a lasting legacy in the myth of Radical Scotland, the idea that Scotland was particularly left-wing. This legacy is the subject of scrutiny in this book. The orthodox historical view is that Scotland’s radicalism has at least been exaggerated. It has certainly been very narrowly focused. There appears little radicalism in the male-dominated, illiberal nature of Scottish politics and society. Roger Davidson and Gayle Davis’s The Sexual State: Sexuality and Scottish Governance, 1950–80 (2012) is a brilliant work of social and political history. These authors have trawled the archives and other sources to produce a study that focuses on sexual offences, reproductive issues, sexual health and education, censorship, and pornography over a thirty-year period. What is striking from today’s perspective has been the speed of change in the period after that covered in this book. There have been a number of works on women in Scotland in recent times that highlight the historic under-representation of women in public offices as well as studies of the role of women in Scottish society and economy. Esther Breitenbach and Eleanor Gordon edited two volumes of essays, The World is Ill-Divided (1990) and Out of Bounds (1992). There remains much more to be studied and written about women in Scotland. A number of authors have contributed books, essays, and articles of women in contemporary Scotland over the last two decades including notable contributions by Alice Brown and Fiona Mackay.

Nationalism and National Identity

The national movement and SNP have been well served by historians and political scientists. Amongst the most notable is Welsh and Scottish Nationalism (1954) by Sir Reginald Coupland. Coupland died before he had completed the work, but it remains an important source, offering an unusual interpretation by a prominent historian of the British Empire. H. J. Hanham’s Scottish Nationalism (1969) builds on Coupland and was written in the aftermath of the (p.293) Hamilton by-election but it is marred by having been written hurriedly. Keith Webb’s The Growth of Nationalism in Scotland (1978) is a lively account and more useful than Hanham’s. Much mythology surrounds the national movement and too much has been based on extremely limited engagement with sources. John MacCormick’s Flag in the Wind (1955) is still too often treated as if it were the work of an historian rather than a highly partial account of a player keen to ensure that his version of events becomes accepted.

Richard Finlay’s Independent and Free: Scottish Politics and the Origins of the Scottish National Party, 1928–1945 (1994) brought rigour and forensic analysis to our understanding of the early years of the SNP. Paula Somerville’s Through the Maelstrom (2013) takes that history from 1945 to 1967 with the same meticulous eye for detail and rigorous engagement with archival material. But such serious history still competes with the repetition of myths in some popular, journalistic accounts. Jack Brand’s The National Movement in Scotland (1978) remains the best political science book on Scottish nationalism, drawing on historical sources and solid social science methods, though it was published a quarter of a century ago.

Sociologists have made a huge contribution to our understanding of national identity. Foremost amongst these has been David McCrone whose Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Nation (2001) was originally published with the subtitle, The Sociology of a Stateless Nation (1992). This lucid account is complemented by his study The Sociology of Nationalism (1998). The study of national identity in Scotland has also provided us with a mass of data and analysis but also a lot of rather superficial work. There is a tendency to use national identity as a repository for anything that cannot be explained. Serious scholars such as David McCrone have been careful to situate their research within wider debates, but too many assert the importance of national identity and ‘culture’ almost as givens or even as if culture is an explanatory variable rather than something demanding explanation.

Government and Public Policy

Works on the system of government have been relatively uncommon especially those explaining the operation and interactions of different ‘levels’ of government. Short explanatory texts were commonly published in the past when major new Acts of Parliament were passed including those reforming local administration. Key figures in local government wrote books outlining how the system worked and, in some cases, making the case for reform. Mabel Atkinson’s Local Government in Scotland (1923) is one of the most interesting works. Sir W. E. Whyte was an important author of standard works—including books and published lectures—on the development of Scottish local government, public health, and housing in the early part of the twentieth century. In both cases, they had a keen sense of history and would set contemporary (p.294) developments within a broader historical context. Town planners produced reports at various intervals, including the Clyde Valley Plan referred to in this book, that are important sources. John Percival Day’s Public Administration in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1918) may have focused on the Highlands and Islands but is one of the best accounts of how public administration developed in Scotland to the start of the nineteenth century. C. de B. Murray’s How Scotland is Governed (1938) is a short statement on the system of government on the eve of the Second World War. Works such as A Source Book and History of Administrative Law in Scotland edited by M. R. McLarty and G. Campbell H. Paton (1956) brought together some eminent public servants and others to reflect on past governmental arrangements. This work is legalistic but a solid basis for understanding administrative and governmental arrangements. It is less dry than Sir David Milne’s The Scottish Office (1957), one of the new Whitehall Series, written by Whitehall Permanent Secretaries. A livelier account of the Scottish Office was produced by John Gibson, a retired Scottish Office civil servant, to mark the centenary of the Office’s establishment. Gibson’s The Thistle and the Crown (1985) drew on earlier works including George Pottinger’s The Secretaries of State for Scotland, 1926–76 (1979). Pottinger was another former (but this time disgraced) civil servant. Essays in a book edited by J. N. Wolfe, Government and Nationalism in Scotland (1969) remain useful on a range of government and political developments.

Ian Levitt has written extensively on Scottish government and public policy, drawing heavily on his research in the National Archives of Scotland. My own work has trodden similar archival ground. As well as his study of the poor law, Poverty and Welfare in Scotland, 1890–1948 (1988), and many articles, he has edited two volumes of papers drawn from the archives with commentaries that are useful to anyone seeking to understand the development of the modern state in Scotland. These are Government and Social Conditions in Scotland, 1845–1919 (1988) and The Scottish Office: Depression and Reconstruction, 1919–1959 (1992). My own study, Governing Scotland: The Invention of Administrative Devolution (2003), attempts to explain the origins and early development of the Scottish Office. The reports of two Royal Commissions offered useful information, especially the evidence submitted to them, The Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs (1954) and the Royal Commission on the Constitution (1973). In each case, more valuable information can be obtained in the National Archives of debates within Whitehall and papers prepared for submission and in response to these Commissions.

Political and Social Science and the Scottish Question

There is no distinctly Scottish political science, nor should there be. But Scottish politics has been studied by political scientists as case studies, comparatively or within some broader canvas. The seminal work on Scottish (p.295) politics was James Kellas’s The Scottish Political System (first published in 1973 reaching its 4th edition in 1989). There has since been no work that has offered such a coherent overview of Scottish politics. British general elections have now been covered by Nuffield studies in each election since 1945. Each book has included at least some reference to Scotland and some include a chapter devoted to Scotland. These are invaluable guides and the coverage of the election in Scotland in each tells us much about Scotland’s salience in that election. The scientific study of elections through survey research began in the early 1960s and public opinion surveys of each general election now exist from that time. Budge and Urwin’s aforementioned book on Scottish political behaviour was amongst the first scientific study of Scottish public opinion. This scientific turn in the social sciences coincided with the rise of the SNP and there were many studies, usually small scale and focused, of attitudes and behaviour in Scotland. Interest in Scottish political behaviour has waxed and waned with support for the SNP. A separate Scottish election study was conducted in 1974, following the SNP’s breakthrough, but interest declined after 1979 only to return with a study of the 1992 election. The 1979 referendum resulted in The Referendum Experience, a volume of essays co-edited by J. Bochel, D. Denver, and A. Macartney (1981). William Miller’s The End of British Politics? (1981) seemed an odd title for a book focusing on English and Scottish political behaviour published shortly after the failure of devolution—but it proved prescient. Lynn Bennie, Jack Brand, and I conducted the first Scottish Election Study in over a decade resulting in How Scotland Votes (1997). Colleagues in Edinburgh University subsequently produced a series of works based on survey research that went well beyond election studies including important work on national identity and gender. Alice Brown, David McCrone, and Lindsay Paterson along with other colleagues contributed to an important time series with data that tracked changes in public opinion across a range of social and political, including constitutional, issues. The 1997 referendum was the subject of a research monograph, Scotland Decides: The Devolution Issue and the 1997 Referendum (2000). There have been a series of books and articles studying Scottish political behaviour and public opinion including works based on the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey by a variety of authors including Hugh Bochel, John Curtice, David Denver, Rob Johns, Charles Pattie, Chris Carman, and the aforementioned colleagues in Edinburgh University. There has been no lack of survey data and analysis in recent decades.

The study of public policy and government by political scientists has followed a similar pattern. Interest has again waxed and waned but has been reasonably consistent since devolution. Arthur Midwinter and Michael Keating made major contributions, notably with their The Government of Scotland (1983) and subsequent works especially by Midwinter on local government and on public policy more broadly by Keating. One of the most notable works was Chris Moore and Simon Booth’s Managing Competition (1989). This (p.296) review has focused on more general works though this book has benefited from consulting many specialized works. One highly specialized work that deserves attention is Henrik Halkier’s Institutions, Discourse and Regional Development: The Scottish Development Agency and the Politics of Regional Policy (2006), a hefty theoretically informed tome that tracks the emergence of the idea of a special development agency for Scotland and its evolution from inception through to major reforms.

Devolution since 1999

The literature on devolution has been immense. Devolution remains a relatively recent development and it may be too early to judge its impact or trajectory. The literature on devolution has tended to focus on the extent to which devolution is different and has allowed Scotland to diverge from the rest of the UK whether in voting behaviour, policy-making, or policies pursued. Michael Keating’s The Government of Scotland (2nd edition, 2010) is the best single-volume work on the subject. Journalism remains an important source though devolution has done little for the quality of the Scottish press. But while there may be problems with the press, Scotland still has a number of high quality political journalists who operate against a difficult backdrop of falling circulation and pressure from on high to move downmarket in their reporting. Brian Taylor and Hamish MacDonell have each produced books that offer overviews of the debate drawing on their experience of watching Scottish politics very closely. Detailed monitoring of devolution took place by a team of academics in the early years of devolution. This resulted in quarterly and annual reports that were made available on the webpage of University College London. These provide much data on the early years of devolution.

Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies

Personal accounts, memoirs, autobiography, and biography often bring a subject quite literally to life and there has been a growth in this genre. The instant biographies written by journalists about a subject who is still alive, and worst of all before their retirement, are rarely interesting or offering the kind of insights of value to a serious study. But works based on empathy, placing the subject within the wider social, economic, and political context can offer perspectives otherwise absent in less humanized forms of writings. Memoirs and autobiographies have to be treated with care but nonetheless are useful sources. There has never been a biography of any major Scottish figure that comes close to Robert Caro’s magisterial biographical volumes on Lyndon Johnson, but then there is no biography of any major UK political figure that comes close to it in ambition or in skill in placing its subject in the wider social, economic, and political context. We do have a number of biographies, written (p.297) to grab a headline, that are as quickly forgotten as they were written. Our public figures—and this includes a much wider circle than politicians—should be encouraged to keep diaries, write memoirs, and allow access to well-preserved private papers.

The Independence Referendum

The referendum on independence has been good for business for academics and commentators writing about Scotland. Michael Keating’s The Independence of Scotland (2009) is a balanced and thoughtful book. Gavin McCrone, retired after a career as a civil servant during which he wrote a now famous memorandum discussed in this book on the opportunities afforded to Scotland by North Sea oil in the 1970s, has written Scottish Independence: Weighing Up the Economics (2013), which offers a reasoned and accessible account of one dimension of the debate. A series of essay edited by Gerry Hassan and myself, After Independence (2013), considers a range of opportunities and challenges that independence would bring, written by leading authorities across a wide range of fields. The referendum has stimulated interest in Scotland today and in its past. It is unlikely that this interest will disappear regardless of the result. (p.298)