NQ Scottish History


It is hard to be certain of the impact the First World War had on Scotland and Scottish identity. It is possible to calculate the military losses and the effect on industry and the economy. However, it is much more difficult to assess the overall impact on Scotland’s people because what people thought differed widely. Two examples can help us appreciate this: commemoration and war literature.

When we think of the various war memorials, there is no greater contrast than the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh and that of the Cameronians in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. The first memorial is dedicated to the sacrifice of those who fought, the second reflects an open pride in the regiment’s fighting record. In literature, we have the war poems and novels of Lewis Grassic Gibbons compared to the novels of John Buchan. Gibbons and others seem to reflect the pity of war, Buchan the pride in Scotland’s role.

Possibly, the difference comes down to timing. During the war people showed amazing resilience, but attitudes changed after the war when the true cost of the military losses became apparent. What’s more, attitudes probably changed further when Scotland’s sacrifice was ‘rewarded’ by economic problems and unemployment.

In the short term, however, there were few outward signs of the war causing a distinctive change in Scotland’s sense of identity. Apart from significant emigration in the 1920s and short-lived political radicalism on Clydeside, most people went home and set about rebuilding their family lives. It would be another generation and another war before Scotland began to rethink her place in the world.