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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XIII. The road to devolution

88. In Defence of the United Kingdom, 1970

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1Esmond Wright (1915-2003) was Professor of Modern History at Glasgow University from 1957 to 1967 and Professor of American History at London University from 1971 to 1983. He was a Conservative MP for Glasgow Pollok from 1967 to 1970. The following text expresses what many anti-nationalists thought in the 1970s: Scotland had been and had to remain a fundamental part of the United Kingdom.

2Esmond Wright, ‘In Defence of the United Kingdom’, p. 103-120 in Neil MacCormick (ed.), The Scottish Debate, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 110-111.

  • 4 Lord North (1732-1792), was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. It was during North (...)

Scotland’s history since 1707 is the story of her contribution towards the history of Great Britain, and it is a proud and remarkably successful one. The U.K. built up the greatest empire the world has ever seen and the mightiest sea-power until the emergence of those super-powers of today, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Two small islands in the northern sea became the greatest trading nation on the face of the earth, the pioneer in the first industrial and agricultural revolution of the modern age, a leading scientific and inventing power, with the finest universities in Europe, and with London as the financial capital of the world—as it still is. This was an empire strong enough and resilient enough to survive Lord North4 and the loss of the American colonies. There is no reason whatever why we should not take pride in this splendid past and no reason why the decline of the Imperial idea and the period of inept and bureaucratic government should mean a loss of nerve. It is fashionable to be cynical about the Union, the Empire, the imagery of the past, and even the Crown itself. Yet Great Britain could still have a splendid future. She is still rich and very productive; still highly skilled, enterprising, and inventive; still in the van of the new industrial revolution, of electronics, computers, petro-chemicals, and all the science-based industries.

Is Scottish Nationalism in fact a side-product of the decline of empire? Do Scots want to desert England now that the possessions have gone? Let them think very carefully before they risk a drastic shrinking of their fields of opportunity. Dead the Imperial idea is, but we still have access to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. Scots would expect this to continue. They still seek fortunes—some of them considerable—in London and the Midlands. Of all the peoples of Britain the Scots have the greatest practical gifts, of shrewdness, thrust, hard work. It would be a pity indeed to confine all this energy within the boundaries of a far northern country with a population of only five millions. Already there are great hopes for the future of the Clyde estuary, with its deep-water advantages and situation, and large-scale British and American investment is planned. If the Clyde project is to be as big as it promises to be, it will mean yet another lease of life for the Clyde, such as it gained in earlier generations from sugar and tobacco, then cotton, then coal, steel and ships. It will, like earlier developments, take all the energy, invention, and initiative of the United Kingdom–and more. Separatism and customs barriers, strident parochialism, high rates and taxes will do nothing to help. It will call for attractive private housing, a friendly welcome, and tax incentives on a very big scale.

The Union is a fact of history and it has brought to both countries a high standard of living. I believe that in Union lies hope for both countries for the future also.


4 Lord North (1732-1792), was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. It was during North’s ministry that the American War of Independence (1775-1783) was fought and the colonies were lost to Britain.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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