The post-industrial era should have deliverd substantial improvements for Scotland

When considering the successes of the Union it must be remembered that when the Acts of Union were enacted in 1707 Scotland was probably the poorest nation in Europe. This makes the successes that were achieved by Scotland, and Scots, quite remarkable. However, when these successes are examined in more detail two critical questions emerge. Firstly, who really benefited from the success, and secondly, has this success delivered long term value to the people of Scotland? When the first question is considered it starts to become obvious that in most cases the success that was attained was restricted to elite groups of Scottish society. The “parcel of rogues” who took their money and ran; the Presbyterians who secured their religion; the Tobacco Lords who amassed great fortunes; the literati of the enlightenment; the captains of industry during the industrial revolution; and the financial services “fat-cats” who took their pensions and ran, another parcel of rogues perhaps?

But what about the majority of Scots, what have they gained over the three hundred years of the Union? The successes of the Union did bring recognition, security, employment, and opportunity for many, but despite this the standard of living and general level of wellbeing that has been attained by the majority of the Scottish population has continually been sub-standard. “By the 1840s some of Glasgow’s housing conditions were regarded as among the worst in Europe. Overcrowding and a highly mobile population made the city vulnerable to epidemics. Cholera came in lethal waves. Typhus and typhoid struck with depressing regularity in foul housing "backlands" or in dingy lodging houses. Polluted water supplies, a smog-laden atmosphere and a lack of sunlight were ripe conditions for chronic illnesses as well as epidemics” (Fraser, 2004). These problems were still being tackled one hundred and twenty years later. We need look no further than the rat infested mouldering slums of the Gorbals, many still standing until the early nineteen seventies, for an indication of the slow progress that was made in Scotland to deal with these challenges.

Most of these problems were related to the industrialisation that took place in Scotland from the Industrial Revolution onwards. Industrialisation provided many Scots with much needed work but there was no consideration given, at that time, to the general wellbeing of the population. As Scotland entered into the post-industrial era there should have been a hope, even an expectation, that improvements would be made and that Scots would be able to enjoy the standard of living that was starting to be enjoyed by many other people in the UK and Western Europe. Regrettably, this does not appear to have happened. Over the last fifty years the death of heavy industry has brought about some of the most fundamental changes that have ever affected Scotland. However, during this fifty year period of change there has been a significant lack of UK Government policy, or action, to address the problems that have afflicted Scotland during this transition, and little apparent effort to improve the standard of living experienced by most Scots.