The Industrial Revolution in Scotland

By Cumbers, Andy | Capital & Class, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The Industrial Revolution in Scotland


Cumbers, Andy, Capital & Class


Christopher Whatley

The Industrial Revolution in Scotland ISBN 0-521-57228-2 (hbk) L19.95

ISBN 0-521-57643-1 (pbk) L6.95

This book aims to provide new students with an introduction to debates surrounding the nature and development of the industrial revolution in Scotland. It represents a review of ongoing debates, rather than a clearly enunciated argument in its own right, and, as such, provides a useful reference point for those interested in the subject. In this sense, the book's purpose seems to be to provide a brief sketch of the subject matter, an embarkation point from which students can set out on more in-depth theoretical investigations and analyses by drawing upon the wealth of empirical material and detailed bibliography contained in the book.

If there is a central theme or argument behind the book, it is the notion that the industrial revolution in Scotland was in some way distinctive and place-specific and cannot be reduced to a subset of the British case. While natural advantagesespecially indigenous coal resources and the locational asset of a narrow concentrated central industrial belt (with access to both Atlantic and North Sea trade)were a boon to economic development, Whately puts forward two socioeconomic arguments in support of his thesis. First, that the pace and scale of change from a traditional rural to a modern industrial and urban society was greater than in the rest of the UK.

Secondly, that Scottish industrialisation had a unique character of its own resulting from the inter-related effect of Scottish enlightenment thinking upon an emerging Calvinist bourgeoisie. With regard to the first point, Whately notes how, before the Act of Union with England (1707), Scotland was: '...still overwhelmingly rural, "a peripheral marginal largely upland country with a mainly pastoral economy"' (p.15) compared to a situation whereby 'arguably by 1851 Scotland was more industrialised than the rest of Britain.

Employment in manufacturing was slightly more significant north of the border than in the British economy as a whole' (pp.35-6). On the second point, the Calvinist streak in Scottish social life is seen as manifesting itself `in ascetic economic action rather than the creative arts' (p.54) whilst enlightenment thinking provided a relatively dynamic entrepreneurial class with relatively fluid boundaries both at the top and the bottom of the social structure.

With regard to the first point, Whately appears to be overstating the case. While the industrialisation process was indeed impressive in its rapidity, was it any more so than that experienced in south Wales or the north east of England, where similar processes were at work? …

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