NQ Scottish History

Perspective

The collapse of the Empire after 1945 has not only forced Scotland to undertake a painful transition from an economy based on heavy industry to one reliant on services and electronics, it has also led to a redrawing of the political map as the Unionist vote has evaporated. The Union is now the focus of political debate as national identity has become less British and more pronouncedly Scottish.

But what of those ethnic groups who made the reverse journey? Their experience in Scotland has been little different from that of other immigrants in other countries. Discrimination and hostility gradually gave way after a protracted struggle to assimilation. Apart from the skirmishes between Irish Catholics and native Protestants, the process was accomplished in a relatively peaceful manner. High-level violence played little part in the immigrant experience in Scotland.

People have been Scotland’s greatest export. Why they left, and why they failed to return in any numbers, is a complicated story that does not easily unravel in a simple, one-sided explanation. But they made their mark wherever they settled as farmers, merchants, soldiers, scholars and administrators. The existence of a vibrant Scottish culture in these faraway lands is a testimony to the continuing influence of a dispersion that can be traced as far back as the wanderlust of Scots in medieval times.

The Scots are a restless people keen to better themselves, but also more tolerant than the English in the 19th century in their acceptance of other peoples and their cultures. The egalitarianism of Presbyterianism encouraged Scots missionaries to fight for the rights of native peoples, and for education for women. However, there is now little left of the Empire, apart from some street names, the odd statue, a growing Asian population and the existence of curry houses. The collective memory of the days when the sun never set on the British Empire has faded into oblivion.

  • Photograph of Pakistan Pipe Band in Glasgow

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Bibliography

Glossary of terms

Useful websites

Reading list