Scotland's English Clan
Murray Watson looks at the historical roots of a phenomenon few commentators have noted: the sizeable English presence in Scotland.
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. Throughout Scotland, Scots migrants returning home from England brought with them English-born wives and families, but the English population was proportionately largest in the Scottish Borders.
Historians of twentieth-century migration have the benefit of more complete sources. I have been able to interview a large sample of English people living all over Scotland, as part of an oral history project. The results revealed a complex set of motives, including moving for work, marrying a Scot, for higher education, to escape a personal crisis, for improved quality of life or job prospects, and, finally, for retirement. Most people came as individuals or as part of a nuclear family. There is some evidence to suggest that there was an element of English chain migration in the nineteenth century, but in more recent times motivation was multi-faceted.
New migrants tend to settle and find work in their own communities and ghettoes. This was the case with the Lithuanians settling in Lanarkshire, the East European Jews mainly in the Gorbals, the Irish in the Western Central Belt and Dundee and the first Indians in the Dundas and Roslin Street areas of Glasgow. The English, though, settled all over Scotland amongst Scottish neighbours. They faced the choice of remaining isolated or integrating into their new environment, with their neighbours, local community groups, and at work or school. Nearly all the people I interviewed adopted personal assimilation strategies. On the whole, after initial difficulties with accent and dialect, most English migrants successfully integrated into their local communities.
This process of acculturation and assimilation changes over time and in different situations. Some interviewees saw it as a form of engagement with a new country, while for others it was just fitting into a new community, regardless of its national location. They undertook immersion into the receiving society, absorbing, or understanding, its culture and history in terms of habits, roles, attitudes, sentiments, values and knowledge. It was here that most English migrants experienced culture shock. At first there was limited appreciation that Scotland was a different country, with a different legal system, different money, different cuts of meat at the butchers (to some, still having butchers in the high street was a pleasant surprise). Above all, the newcomers encountered a distinct sense of Scottishness and national identity. The act of coming to Scotland made many migrants think about what it meant to be English for the first time.
For Scots, unlike the English, national identity has been front-of-mind for a long time. Many English migrants reconciled and ultimately reconstructed their own sense of identity through their discovery of Scottish history, notably the history of Scotland lying within the shadow of a significant other, her more powerful neighbour to the south, with – as one put it – ‘resentment built up from years of living at the wrong end of the pineapple’.
The oral history testimonies are littered with examples of how history, in terms of the past shaping the present, influenced the migratory experience. A quarter of them felt that Margaret Thatcher did not understand Scotland and treated their new country of residence unfairly. This was a view shared by contributors of all political persuasions. One, who claimed to come from truest blue Sussex, even changed her allegiance to the Scottish National Party. Thatcher was perceived as being antipathetic to the values inherent in Scotland’s sense of civic society – these English migrants felt that Scotland was not so ‘cut and thrust’ as England, less of a ‘them and us society’. Many contributors talked about Scotland’s sense of community and neighbourliness and how they preferred this to life in England.
This relates to the application of Linda Colley’s concept of ‘other’, where identity is conditional and relational, defined by social and territorial boundaries. We define who we are by reference to what we are not, as with the Canadians and the Americans, the Catalans and the Spanish – and the Scots and the English. This is a plausible theoretical explanation for the maintenance of Scottish national identity, but a significant proportion of the contributors began to reconstruct their own identity by using England and things English as the ‘other’. This is atypical of migrant groups, who characteristically hang on to their ethnic and national origins.
English migrants have permeated every nook and cranny of Scottish society from the debating chamber at Holyrood through the heights of industry to the modern equivalent of the broo (unemployment bureau). According to the popular media image, the Highlands and Islands are filled to overflowing with elderly middle-class settlers who have sold up in the Home Counties and moved north in search of ‘the good life’, putting house prices out of the reach of locals and taking Scots’ jobs.
This is another of Scotland’s historical myths. In the nineteenth century the mass of English incomers were skilled and unskilled artisans like woollen framework knitters or riveters. There were also significant numbers of English people employed in service; as late as 1961 some 2,000 English people were still employed in Scotland as private domestic servants. In the twentieth century the social structure of English migrants tended to mirror that of the Scots, though marginally more English people were employed in the service professions. The vast majority of English people lived in the urban Central Belt, and were younger than the population as a whole. The majority like living in Scotland and don’t want to go back. Often all that distinguishes them from their neighbours is their accent. However, at least two English-born MSPs have discernible Scots accents while a greater number of Scots-born MPs with English constituencies (and Scots-born MSPs) have English ones. More is to be learned by listening to what they say than how they say it. When Nick Johnston fumed about his fellow English Tories, he was openly announcing that he was seeing the world through Scottish eyes.
Murray Watson is an Honorary Research Fellow in the History Department at the University of Dundee and author of Being English in Scotland (Edinburgh University Press, 2003).
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