13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2014
This is a truly magnificent work, a comprehensive survey of Scotland’s history since 1700. Thomas Devine is the Personal Senior Research Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh.
He points to the gains, both economic and intellectual, that Scotland made after the Union of 1707, writing of “the material opportunities that were now flowing in great abundance from the political connection which had been forged in 1707.” He notes, “this interest in the material aspects of historical evolution matured to a high level of intellectual distinction in a society which was itself experiencing the beginnings of unprecedented economic and social change from agriculture to industry.”
Between 1760 and 1830, the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation spread across the whole of Britain. But Scotland kept its ancient form of landownership. 1,500 private estates have owned most of Scotland’s land for nine centuries. In 1872-73, just 659 people owned around 80 per cent of Scotland; 118 owned half of it.
Even in the 1970s, a third of all privately owned land was still in estates of 20,000 acres or more. Devine notes, “landownership itself has proved to be remarkably resilient in Scotland and England, compared to other European countries and to Ireland, where large estates have virtually disappeared altogether.”
He remarks, “Despite high taxation of income, there remained considerable tax advantages in owning land, particularly if it was both owned and farmed. This has been further enhanced in some areas by the application of the Common Agricultural Policy within the European Community, with its range of farming subsidies. Ironically, the Scottish landowners in the late twentieth century now benefit more from public financial assistance than their ancestors ever did, even in the days of the Corn Laws. In addition, a free market in land persists in Scotland, although regulation and control have become the norm in virtually all other European countries.”
He cites Jim Callaghan’s famous remark that the SNP motion ending his government was the first instance in history of turkeys voting for an early Christmas: nine out of eleven SNP MPs lost their seats.
But, unfortunately, it wasn’t just the SNP who lost. Their infamous vote ushered Thatcher into power, with disastrous results for us all, not least in Scotland. In Thatcher’s first two years, 1979 to 1981, Scotland lost 11 per cent of its manufacturing output and a fifth of its manufacturing jobs. From 1976 to 1987 it lost 30.8 per cent of its manufacturing output.