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Demography, democracy, and destiny - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
Demography, democracy, and destiny

[Why the Scottish Enlightenment failed in Scotland.]

I am writing this twelve hours prior to the expected declaration of the results of the Scottish Referendum. I have imposed political purdah on myself for this time, even to the extent of replying to comments on posts which were put up prior to polling day. What I am meditating here is principle: general considerations not specific to this vote.

I don’t of course know how the Referendum is to go. I have my suspicions and my hopes, but no knowledge. What I should like us to consider here is the long-standing question which has been raised in a more acute form in the past months: Why is it that, of all the more or less Anglosphere nations, the one which has least profited by and taken to heart the advantages of the Scottish Enlightenment, is Scotland?

I have repeatedly noted in my prior remarks on the proposed secession of Scotland that Scotland is, not the least populated, but the least populous of the four home nations. Its population density, according to the ONS, is eight-and-sixty souls to the square kilometre, just a touch over that of the next least populous home nation, Northern Ireland.

What this means on the ground is this. Scotland is home to extraordinarily vast estates, scattered crofts, comparatively few villages (by the standard of the other home nations, even Wales, even Norn), and a few cities and burghs which are compound of stark poverty, considerable riches, and less of a middle class than one should expect to find. Its politics: gerrymandering, tribalism, low-information voters, a secularised sectarianism, pervasive statism: reflect this, just as its politics in, say, 1886, with its entrenched Liberalism in the cities (Mr Gladstone after all was in that year Member for Midlothian, as Winston, in his Liberal incarnation, was to be from 1908 – 1922 Member for Dundee) and the entrenched Unionism, often Conservative, of its rural electors and its grandees, reflected its then demographics.

In fact, it is not too much to say that similar patterns in Wales and the North of England are associated with similar politics. The Lockean ideal is largely one of the Home Counties and the South of England, and of East Anglia and the Midlands to some extent. It begins to break down Westwards of the River Wylye, for the settlement patterns, agricultural arrangements, and landholding patterns of the West Country are rather different; it breaks down wholly North of the Rivers Trent and Mersey, and West of the River Wye if not indeed the River Severn. Scotland, certainly – with the farmer of the Mains of Balquhatsit being at a distance from his neighbours and the crofter of Glen Dour farther yet from his; with its linear or dispersed settlements in place of nucleated villages, the manse surrounded by a few cottages in Kirk o’ Gloum in place of the English parish with church and manor – is not a place of yeoman farmers and local squires, and the laird is no squire at all. England had its Enclosures; but it had nothing like the Clearances.

Kames and Monboddo, Smith, Robertson, and Millar, anticipated, as a prerequisite to political freedom, new economic freedoms: free men, free minds, and free markets: which should be signalled and measured by the growth of merkat touns and seaports; and they considered politics to rely upon the polis; civil society, civility, and indeed civilisation to rely upon the civitas; and democracy to rely upon a demos that was not the dregs of Romulus. For a time, they got it, and not in Scotland only: both inwith the Empire, whence the Scots minds they enlightened travelled and which these administered and built, and outwith it, as in Mr Jefferson’s America, which was much more the Rev’d Mr Witherspoon’s and the emigrant advocate Millar’s America than it was Jefferson’s. McCosh and Rush took to America, and found there fertile soil for the planting of, the Common Sense Realism of Ferguson, Dugald Stewart, and Reid. For a good part of the Nineteenth Century, there was a convergence of demotic political evolution between rural Scotland and the American frontier in the Wilderness, where every small hamlet had its debating society and the arrival of the mails and the newspapers caused all the folk to gather and read and hear read and debate what was in them.

Then these diverged. Partly it was owing to migration patterns. America has from the first been founded on a set of ideals, not blood or soil, and has recruited to itself in each generation those willing to dare and to migrate so as to share those ideals; and in so doing, has left many of the lands whence its immigrants have come, inhabited only by those too comfortably tied-in to the existing order to desire change and those too spiritless to do off their chains and strike out for a newer and freer world. The Scots had another path open to their bold spirits: the Empire did not so much paint the map red as it painted it – Canada and Australia, India and Africa – tartan. And too many clever Scots went rather to London than to Edinburgh or Glasgow, let alone Aberdeen or Dundee.

Fatally, the Act of Union preserved to Scotland its civil law traditions in place of the Common Law of England and Wales. America, as a Common Law jurisdiction (my American business partner, learned in the law, reminds me that one must always exclude Louisiana with its Code Napoleon from this statement), went England and Wales one better: for there, from independence onward, there was no Crown from which land was held, and fee simple title was as near to allodial as damn it. (The situation is very similar to that of udal title in Shetland and Orkney.)

It is only in the past decade that Scots law as to real and heritable property has been modernised, and feudal tenure abolished.

By that time, of course, the pattern was set. Even in England and Wales, tenure of land was too long burdened with outmoded concepts (it may be true that these have made it likelier in England and Wales than in America that there are preserved greenfield sites and common amenities, but it is equally true that public rather than private ownership in a free property market actually benefits the public less – owing to the ‘problem of the commons’ – than does the American approach); in Scotland, the result has been a society exceptionally fragile to economic shocks and dislocations, bereft of an independent smallholding class of any numbers or a market-oriented middle class, too often propertyless, and either scattered about the countryside and diluted as to their votes in any gerrymandered authority, or crammed into decaying cities given over to poverty and a culture of dependency. Of those who might have made a difference, they died at the Somme or Alamein, or gave over local duty to go to Westminster, or left for the other home nations, or departed for Perth, or Houston, or Elgin, or Aberdeen: that is, for Perth, Western Australia, or Perth, Ontario; Houston, Texas; Elgin, Illinois – or Nova Scotia; and Aberdeen in Washington or Maryland or South Dakota or South Africa or Saskatchewan.

The ugly things we have seen in the late campaign, particularly from the forces of secession, and the tragedy of Scottish politics for a good century now, are directly traceable to the social and demographic state of Scotland which has rendered it, for all its population, unpopulous, bereft of any middling shock-absorber between the urban proletariat, the payroll vote, and the scattered crofters and farmers and fishers: a land in which, owing to the settlement pattern which has emerged through a succession of accidents and misfortunes, cities and merkat burghs do not perform their functions of abrading tribalism, integrating groups, civilising manners, and broadening horizons, and in which at the same time there is not sufficient of a small-‘c’ conservative countryside interest to act as a brake upon the political irruptions of imperfectly socialised and bitterly impoverished urban tribalists.

One can but hope that the Common Sense Realism of the Scottish Enlightenment shall break through even this parlous history today and preserve Scotland from the disasters which shall attend disunion on the present plan – or lack of plan. Whether it does or no, however, I think we can see what drove the situation, and Scotland as a whole, to the precipice, and what must be amended and corrected if the values of the Enlightenment are finally to succeed in the land which birthed them. I don’t quite call for Forty Acres and a Cow, but something must be done, and without the intervention of the overweening, rent-seeking state and its dirty little Labour and SNP statists.

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Comments
steepholm From: steepholm Date: September 18th, 2014 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
the social and demographic state of Scotland which has rendered it, for all its population, unpopulous, bereft of any middling shock-absorber between the urban proletariat, the payroll vote, and the scattered crofters and farmers and fishers: a land in which, owing to the settlement pattern which has emerged through a succession of accidents and misfortunes, cities and merkat burghs do not perform their functions of abrading tribalism, integrating groups, civilising manners, and broadening horizons, and in which at the same time there is not sufficient of a small-‘c’ conservative countryside interest to act as a brake upon the political irruptions of imperfectly socialised and bitterly impoverished urban tribalists.

As you know, our political views are very much opposed (except when they're not), but thank you for this penetrating essay, of which I found the passage above the most illuminating.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 18th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

It's very kind of you to say so.

I am as aye greatly obliged.
17catherines From: 17catherines Date: September 19th, 2014 05:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Commenting solely to say how interesting I find this analysis - my knowledge of Scottish history stops just after the Jacobite Rebellions, and this sort of social history (if that is the right word) is totally unknown to me.
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