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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVI. Religion and Sectarianism

110. The Scots are a Dying People, 1927

Texte intégral

1This is what George Malcolm Thomson wrote about the Irish Catholic community in 1927.

2George Malcolm Thomson, Caledonia; or the Future of the Scots, London: Kegan Paul, 1927, p. 10-14.

The first fact about the Scot is that he is a man eclipsed. The Scots are a dying people. They are being replaced in their own country by a people alien in race, temperament, and religion, at a speed which is without parallel in history outside the era of the barbarian invasions. Certainly there is nothing in modern times to compare with the ousting of one population by another which has been taking place in Scotland during the last sixty or seventy years and which is going on with undiminished momentum at the present time.

To-day every fifth baby born in Scotland is a little Irish Catholic. In Glasgow in 1924, 28 ½ per cent of the children born saw the world through the windows of an Irish Catholic home. And, most sinister and significant of all, one third of the crimes committed in Scotland are the work of Irishmen.

It is as well to make it plain at once that Catholic and Irish are for all practical purposes interchangeable terms in Scotland. True, there has always been a small native Roman Catholic population in Scotland, centred mainly in Inverness-shire and Dumfriesshire. In Inverness it numbers about one seventh, and in Dumfries about one-twenty-fifth of the total inhabitants of the county, proportions which have remained stationary for centuries. Nor has proselytism had any appreciable part in the revolutionary change in Scotland’s religious complexion. The Kirk has lost its hold over many Scots, but it has not relinquished it to the Church. The Covenant’s deserters have not been Rome’s recruits.

The problem of dividing the responsibility for the continued increase in the Irish population between immigrants from Ireland and the greater fertility of the Irish already settled is a ticklish one. The Roman Catholic priesthood in Scotland has naturally been quick to claim the growth of the Irish community as a victory for the superior domestic virtues of their flocks, and, in especial, their freedom from what a recent Pastoral Letter of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Scotland described as “a grave sin, separating us from the friendship of God, and rendering us liable to eternal punishment”—Birth Control.

It is gravely to be doubted, however, whether there is much to choose between the Irish and the Scottish working classes in this respect. The Scots workman has always taken his marital relations simply and realistically. The creed which still provides much of his moral environment gives him, moreover, copious examples among the Hebrew patriarchs and the Reformers, as persuasive as any precepts of an infallible church. Direct evidence on the question is not lacking. In one populous mining district where comparisons were made, the Scottish birth-rate was in 1922 higher than the Irish. Aberdeen, a purely Scots city, has a slightly higher birth-rate than Dundee, which is one-fifth Irish.

It is impossible to do more than guess at the average annual Irish immigration into Scotland as there are no figures which give the information. This extraordinary absence of data characterizes almost every branch of social and economic enquiry in Scotland, in itself an illuminating comment on the national mentality. That immigration continues, and in large volume, may be inferred from a comparison of the numbers of Irish and Scottish school-children in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrew, Dumbarton, Dundee, and Edinburgh, during the post-war period. Had the two popu1ations remained in the same proportions, the natural change in the numbers at the end of this period as compared with the beginning would have shown a loss of 620 Scots and 335 Irish. The actual results reveal a Scots loss of 6,300 and an Irish gain of 5,540.

The immigration figures are, however, unimportant; the essential facts are that the present Irish Catholic population is about 650,000 out of a total population of 4,880,000, that the Irish have doubled their numbers in the last forty years, and that year after year they add village to village and town to town, creeping steadily East across the central industrial belt, driving the aboriginal population before them, and bringing with them their own habits, customs, faith, and penchant for political intrigue. Where they come the Scots go. The Scottish lion and the Irish bull will not lie down together. Already there are villages that are entirely Irish, and towns that are predominantly Irish; already the Roman Catholic communion is the largest in Glasgow; already revolvers have been drawn and blood has been spilt in the feuds of Orange and Green. Donnybrook is an institution that the Irish take about with them as the Jews did the Ark of the Covenant. And already the general influence of the new population makes itself felt. For example, the staffs of one group of Scottish newspapers have instructions not to publish a word that might give offence to an Irish reader.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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