W W Knox

Industrial Scotland and Patrick Sellar

A lively and ambitious synthesis of political, social and economic events and their corresponding movements and trends, Industrial Nation steers a broad course through the last two centuries of the history of our people. The study begins with the impact of industrialisation and consequent technological change on the growth of working-class organisations in the workplace and in the realm of politics, those movements culminating in the rise and fall of Chartism. Then Knox addresses the decades of the third quarter of the ninenteenth century, in which the radical Chartist agenda went into demise, and a socio-political consensus in both Scottish and British society was created. The rise of the Labour Party to 1914 follows; asking if this was indeed a real challenge to the Liberal hegemony in Scotland in view of changes in the workplace and in trade union organisation. The issues of the period concerned with the evocative debates on Red Clydeside are examined and extended through the inter-war period: how mass unemployment and widespread social dislocation forced fundamental revisions in the ethos and politics of the Scottish Labour movement. In conclusion there is an analysis of the effect of the wide economic and technological change experienced by the occupational and social structure of of Scottish society, especially at what Knox terms ‘the destruction of the skilled, male Protestant culture.’ He asks why this social dislocation did not result in the fundamental restructuring of the political landscape that swept England from the late 1970s. Knox makes no apologies for the convenience of this strictly chronological approach. He stresses the importance of engaging in the process of dialogue rather than maintaining silence over these contentious theoretical and historical issues for want of an alternative methodology.

brownnm05pic1.jpg Subtitled, somewhat tabloidly, ‘Homicide, Eviction and the Price of Progress’, Eric Richards’ Patrick Sellar and the Highland Clearances is the first full biographical study of Patrick Sellar, whose name will be forever synonymous with some of the worst episodes of the Highland Clearances. An Edinburgh lawyer and Moray farmer combining the the principles of the Enlightenment with an overburdening zeal for Improvement, he was appointed factor to the Countess of Sutherland in 1809, with whom he embarked upon a discredited double-act to raise revenues for the vast, embattled estate from the backs of sheep. The methods employed in evicting the indigenous people ended him up in court on charges of culpable homicide – from which he was acquitted – in 1816. While not penning hagiography, Richards’ case for his defence rests on Sellar’s likely conviction that he, however misguided, really believed that he was, in the spirit of the times, doing a ‘good thing’ ultimately of benefit to the Highlander who would be better fed and clothed, educated, housed – and occupied. Indeed, in these respects Sellar’s pronouncements on the condition and attitude of the Gael quoted here are racist and Fascist. They are also often downright ridiculous. Here is a man who condemns the wholesale illicit distilling and smuggling of ardent spirits in the glens, while heartily recommending James Loch, on his tour of Strathnaver in 1822, to equip himself with ‘great worsted stockings four feet long and good usquebae…’ The format of this book is displeasing in that its short chapter headings seem to assume that the reader of such a work is unable to assimilate more than a few pages of paragraphs without key words and give an episodic air to much of the narrative.

Industrial Nation: Work, Culture and Society in Scotland, 1800-Present, W. W. Knox. 368 pp. Pbk. Edinburgh University Press, £16.95, ISBN 0 7486 1085 5. Patrick Sellar and the Highland Clearances, Eric Richards. Polygon, 440 pp. Pbk. £19.00 ISBN 1 902930 13 4.

Copyright Neil Macara Brown 2005.