Scotland's English Clan: Murray Watson Looks at the Historical Roots of a Phenomenon Few Commentators Have Noted: The Sizeable English Presence in Scotland

By Watson, Murray | History Today, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Scotland's English Clan: Murray Watson Looks at the Historical Roots of a Phenomenon Few Commentators Have Noted: The Sizeable English Presence in Scotland


Watson, Murray, History Today


THE ENGLISH-BASED MEDIA routinely complain about the influence of a Parliamentary Scotia Nostra. The Labour Party has been dominated by Blair and Brown for more than a decade. The Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, is a Glaswegian. The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was born in Inverness. Tory leader Michael Howard--who is from Wales--has argued that there's no justice in letting the Scots rule England. This kind of attack is not a recent phenomenon. Disraeli, in one of his spells in opposition, complained, 'the Whigs are only maintained in power by the votes of the Scotch members.' But viewed from north of the Border, attacks on the Tartan Mafia frequently raise quizzical eyebrows.

Yet the media, both in England and in Scotland, have largely ignored the fact that around one in nine Members of the Scottish Parliament was born in England. English-born MSPs have seamlessly integrated into the political landscape in Edinburgh. They may even become more Scottish than the Scots. Nick Johnston, a Yorkshireman from Filey who was an MSP in the first Scottish Parliament, patently resents the attitude of some of his fellow Tories from south of the Border. Recalling a visit by a group of English Tory MPs, he said: 'Their attitude to me, as an Englishman who has lived in Scotland for a number of years, was frankly patronising, almost colonial. We are still an outpost of the Empire that needs to be controlled, and we get far too much money.'

Just as the media tend to overlook the presence of English-born MSPs, Scottish historians, many of them English-born, have until recently ignored English migration north of the Border. English immigrants have been settling in Scotland for over 1,000 years, ever since Constantine of Cornwall ventured north to become Abbot of Govan in 585. In 1681 Sir James Stanfield from London established the first framework knitting manufactory in Haddington, importing artisans from Yorkshire and the West of England. The onset of industrialization saw a northward movement of workers, capital and knowhow. By 1841 there were 39,000 English people living and working in Scotland. The English influx was felt to be so significant that the introduction to the 1861 Census referred to 'this numerous class of aliens', and the numbers of English people continued to increase every decade except for the 1920s. Ironically, this was the decade when the English came to form Scotland's largest migrant group, overtaking the Irish. After 1945 the numbers of people migrating North rose by 84 per cent, to over 408,000 in 2001. This represents around one in twelve of the population. In parts of Scotland the proportion of English to natives ranged from one in four to sometimes out-numbering them.

Why did they come? And what impact did they have on Scottish society, culture and politics? Why are they invisible to historical scrutiny?

Historians traditionally explain migration in terms of push and pull. For instance, the second wave of Irish migrants were pushed by famine and pulled by the demand for labour in the west of Scotland. Similarly, Jews from Lithuania and East Europe migrated to parts of Scotland to escape persecution. The first migrants were usually men on their own. After they had settled, they sent home for a bride, or for their wives and families, and were followed by others from the same village or locality, setting up a process of 'chain migration'. These conditions did not apply to the English in Scotland, especially in recent times. There was no persecution and, if anything, economic conditions were more conducive to staying put. In any event push-and-pull analysis is too simplistic to explain why so many English have come to Scotland.

In Victorian times economic factors seem to have played some part. East Midlands hosiery workers transferred their skills to the knitwear town of Hawick in the Borders, and English dockers and shipbuilders drifted to work in Govan on the Clyde. …

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