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Unionism in the United Kingdom, 1918-1974

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Abstract

This book examines the range and complexity of unionist political identities, ideas and beliefs in the non-English parts of the United Kingdom in the mid-twentieth century. It discusses the careers of eight politicians from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and uncovers the varieties of unionism that held the multi-national UK together. Challenging the idea that Britain was in the process of breaking up, it argues that the Union provided a focus for loyalty in the United Kingdom that contributed to the continuing formation of identities of Britishness.
... Indeed, in various biographical works I have written, I have recognised the importance of sport in the subjects of my biographies: Gwilym Lloyd-George organised MPs at the House of Commons to play cricket, Lady Tweedsmuir, the first woman to serve as a Minister in the Foreign Office, tried to shoot grizzly bears in Canada, and the north Wales trade union leader Huw T. Edwards played golf. 19 So why do I feel aggrieved? It may well be because there is a cultural assumption that all men like sport (and that this is somehow not historical but natural and 4 P. Ward instinctive) and that therefore I am abnormal for not doing so. ...
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This polemical essay explores whether ‘mainstream’ political and social historians need to engage with the history of sport. It recounts the coercive nature of the author's encounters with sports and sports history and suggests that greater integration of the history of sport into histories of Britain relies on a mutual understanding of the imperatives of academic historians, not least in the world of the Research Excellence Framework and the ‘impact’ agenda.
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The Conservatives have usually been Wales’ second political party. Before the 2019 general election, the Party’s best performance was in the Thatcher era. This chapter explores the links between that period and the very recent one. It examines how Thatcher’s Welsh Office was, in some regards, proactive and interventionist in Wales, especially in the way it supported and bolstered the Welsh language. The Party also helped make Wales look and feel more like its own nation state. However, the chapter also covers the way in which the Party undermined a key symbol of Wales—its heavy industry—prompting long-lasting political divisions in the process.
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The chapter examines three ways in which musical comedy was caught between conflicting imperatives and ideologies of Britishness. First, it examines productions including A Country Girl (1902) and The Arcadians (1909), in which late Victorian and Edwardian tensions between urban modernity and the rural mythologies of the English countryside are played out, albeit that modernity—as the condition within which musical comedy operated—is championed. Second, with reference to works such as Florodora (1899) and The Gay Gordons (1907), the ways in which London-centric musical comedy anglicised Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in popular culture is explored. The chapter concludes by considering the recurrent ‘gypsy’ character in musical comedy, which symbolised the implicit contradictions and anxieties for a nation caught between an idealised rural past and the ‘respectable’ constraints of the present.
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Scottish nationalism has long interested political scientists and historians but has often been interpreted narrowly as the desire for full independence from the multi-national United Kingdom. A broader definition, however, reveals what this article calls the 'nationalist unionism' of the Scottish Unionist Party (1912-65), and its surprisingly nuanced view of Scottish national identity as well as Scotland's place in the UK. Drawing on nationalist theory, Smith's 'ethno-symbolism', Billig's 'banal nationalism' and Bulpitt's interpretation of the Conservative Party's 'territorial code' are deployed to analyse this phenomena, supporting the argument that it rested upon myths and symbols from the pre-modern era; pushed what it perceived as 'bad' nationalism (the desire for legislative rather than administrative devolution) to the 'periphery' of Scottish political discourse and, finally, demonstrated the willingness of the unionist 'core' to allow the Scottish Unionist Party to pursue a relatively autonomous strategy for electoral dominance. Furthermore, this article argues that the Scottish Unionist Party presented itself - most ostentatiously between the early 1930s and mid 1950s - as the main 'guardian' of a distinct Scottish national identity, while celebrating and protecting Scotland's semi-autonomous place within the UK.
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This paper considers devolution to Scotland and Wales in the light of current conceptions of the crisis of Britishness. It argues that because rising nationalist demands coincided with wider concerns about Britain’s position in the world it has been assumed that devolution was a reactive response to crisis. Instead, the ability to respond to desires for greater political autonomy in Wales and Scotland was a product of the ability of the mainstream ‘British’ parties, particularly Labour, to accommodate national distinctiveness within their wider programmes.
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Despite the continuing strength of Unionist politics in Scotland, from the inter-war economic crisis onwards, there slowly emerged distinctive understanding of a Scottish industrial economy. Aided by administrative devolution, and from the 1940s by a UK-wide turn towards economic planning, a project aimed at a planned modernisation of Scottish industry gained increasing traction. This article focuses on the activities of the technocratic elements of the Scottish elite, the civil servants and academic economists who played a key role in conceptualising and quantifying the Scottish economy, and making and applying policy to develop the Scottish industrial nation between the 1930s and 1970s.
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Today’s world is dominated by news constantly streaming across the Internet. Newspapers, the source of Everyman’s information for the better part of 300 years, do not carry the same influence they did even 60 years ago. The first intruder was television, supplemented by cable networks in the 1980s. The mid-1990s then brought the Internet, where news stories are just a Google search away, to the masses. In the early- to mid-1950s, however, newspapers remained the ready source of information on world events for the Scottish populace.
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Something curious happened in the United Kingdom in the late twentieth century. The people of what was widely regarded as one of the oldest and most consolidated nation states stopped thinking of themselves as a nation. There is a now a small literary industry on the end of Britain and the crisis of union (Nairn, 2000, 2007; Bryant, 2006; Colley, 2003; McLean and McMillan, 2005; Weight; 2002; Colls, 2002). Opinion polls show remarkable indifference to the prospect of the break-up of the state. Perhaps the strongest indication, however, is to be found in the frantic efforts of the UK elite to reinvent the concept of Britishness. There are multiple dimensions to this, across the territories of the United Kingdom and in relation to immigration, multiculturalism and Europe but this chapter focuses on the Anglo-Scottish Union. I do not enter here into the economic, social and political reasons for the decline of Britishness (covered in Keating, 2009a). My concern rather is with the philosophy and ideology of the union, its death and the failure of efforts to reinvent it.
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Every few years, the question of Scottish independence returns to the political agenda, usually following a rise in the fortunes of the Scottish National Party (SNP). This is not exceptional, since other stateless nations — such as Quebec, Catalonia, or the Basque Country — which have kept their constitutional options open have similar recurrent debates, while experiences in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans have reminded us of the contingency and fragility of states. Yet there are some peculiar features of the Scottish debate, attributable to the specific nature of the United Kingdom, its history and institutions, and the way in which nation is linked to the state. There are three levels of analysis here: of mass opinion, of political elites, and of institutions. These levels are not independent, since elites and masses obviously have mutual influence. Institutions shape attitudes at both mass and elite level, represent compromises among competing visions of the state, and contain their own dynamics, which may be centripetal or centrifugal. The old unionist consensus has been undermined but there is, as of yet, no nationalist consensus to replace it. There are few constitutional, legal, or political obstacles to Scottish independence. A bigger problem is that nationalist and renewed unionist options require a reconstruction of the nation in a wider sense, a task that the political parties have not addressed. Independent or not, Scotland faces many of the same challenges as a small nation adapting to European and global challenges.
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This article explores the different interpretations of England's position within the wider unit of Britain from which all the other entanglements flowed. It then examines the deep well of patriotism that 'England' has engendered since at least the mid-nineteenth century, still firmly within the 'civilizational perspective'. Additionally, the article reports the English shadow that was cast across understandings of Britain in the inter-war period, but also continuing contestation of England itself among popular writers on both the left and the right. Enoch Powell's conception of Englishness in the wake of mass immigration within well-established traditions of English Conservatism, liberalism, and patriotism is addressed. It elaborates the recent charges of shallowness, bigotry, and insularity levelled against the English people as the cracks in their imperialist and British façade have become increasingly apparent. As a result of devolution, there has been a considerable decline among the English of a primary British identity and a corresponding increase in primary English identities.
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Much has been written about the decline of the United Kingdom. This book looks instead at the lengthy survival of the Union, examining the institutions, structures, and individuals that have contributed to its longevity. In order to understand its survival, this book sustains a comparison between the Irish and Scots Unions, their respective origins and subsequent development. It provides a detailed examination of the two interlinked Unionist movements in Scotland and Ireland. This book illuminates not only the history and varied health of the United Kingdom over the past 300 years, but also its present condition and prospects.
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After three hundred years, the Anglo-Scottish Union is in serious difficulty. This is not because of a profound cultural divide between England and Scotland but because recent decades have seen the rebuilding of Scotland as a political community while the ideology and practices of the old unionism have atrophied. Yet while Britishness is in decline, it has not been replaced by a dominant ideology of Scottish independence. Rather Scots are looking to renegotiate union to find a new place in the Isles, in Europe and in the world. There are few legal, constitutional or political obstacles to Scottish independence, but an independent Scotland would need to forge a new social and economic project as a small nation in the global market-place, and there has been little serious thinking about the implications of this. Short of independence, there is a range of constitutional options for renegotiating the Union to allow more Scottish self-government on the lines that public opinion seems to favour. The limits are posed not by constitutional principles but by the unwillingness of English opinion to abandon their unitary conception of the state. The end of the United Kingdom may be provoked, not by Scottish nationalism but by English unionism.
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This review article focuses on the impact of current political debates and developments on key themes in a number of recent publications on Scottish history and politics. These include the nature of the United Kingdom as a state, the changing character of unionism as politics and ideology, the impact of the end of empire on Scottish identity and politics, the significance of the Thatcher governments, and the rise of nationalism. Recent research on Scottish history provides a platform for asking new questions about the nature of territorial politics in the UK and demonstrates how familiar themes can be re-appraised by taking into account the different national communities of the British Isles. It argues that the ‘where’ of phenomena such as the end of empire and Thatcherism are key aspects of their nature and suggests that comparative history is a way of undermining centralist narratives of the history of the British Isles. In so doing, it makes the case for a four-nations approach to that history.
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Edward Heath’s ‘Declaration of Perth’ in May 1968 and the work of the Constitutional Committee that followed it committed the Conservative Party to establish a devolved Scottish Assembly in Edinburgh. This apparent new departure has been characterized in two principal ways. First, as a tactical and opportunistic attempt to play the ‘Scottish card’ in the context of declining electoral fortunes north of the border and the threat posed by the Scottish National Party. Second, as the logical terminus of both a long-standing Conservative engagement with ideas around decentralization and the devolution of power and of a policy of ‘administrative devolution’ in Scotland. This article offers a close analysis of the genesis and reception of the Declaration of Perth with two related aims. First, it provides a more nuanced account of the interaction between ‘short-term’ tactical and ‘long-term’ ideological explanations for Conservative policy on Scotland at this crucial moment. Second, it places the Declaration and its reception within additional contexts ignored in existing accounts. Both a more general cynicism surrounding formal politics and organizational changes and leadership attempts aimed at restoring Conservative fortunes in Scotland help to provide a more convincing explanation for the failure of the Conservative approach to devolution in the late 1960s.
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This article traces the political career of W. E. D. Allen, the Ulster Unionist MP who joined the New Party, between 1929 and 1931. It examines how the policies he endorsed—especially protection—gradually put him at odds with both the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Party hierarchies. It analyses his decision to join the New Party and explains how he attempted to relate this to his continuing commitment to Ulster Unionism. The article argues that even after he joined the New Party, there was a large degree of consistency behind Allen's stance. It further argues that Allen unsettled Unionist politics in Belfast because he presented the same kind of threat as independent Unionists: suggesting that the Ulster Unionist Party was not doing enough to tackle unemployment. It also shows how Allen's arguments raised larger questions about Ulster Unionist–Conservative relations and about the operation of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
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This article examines the complex interactions between British national identity and the territorial identities of Northern Ireland and Scotland. We argue that the current literature on national identities in Britain misunderstands the nature of British identities in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Indeed, much of this literature wrongly defines Unionists in both of these areas. By examining the content of British national identity, a comparison of Scotland and Northern Ireland reveals that Unionism finds political significance through an ideological project committed to the Union. However, we also have to account for the differences in the Unionist ideology of Scotland and Northern Ireland. We argue that the institutional framework in which these identities and ideologies are exercised explains this variation. Overall, we argue that the debate on nationalism in the United Kingdom has not adequately shown how the integrative functions of British national identity can co-exist with the separatist nature of territorial national identity.
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This article reviews the latest research on the making of the Anglo-Scottish parliamentary union of 1707 and unionism in modern Scotland. Stimulated by the tercentenary of the union, but running counter to the popular mood at the time of that anniversary, many of the recent publications exhibit a novel and sympathetic interest in principled support for union. Using Christopher Whatley's The Scots and the union (2006) and Colin Kidd's Union and unionisms (2008) as starting points, the article shows how the new histories differ from earlier work, while also identifying the interdisciplinary roots of the ‘unionist turn’ in Scottish history.
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Welsh identity has often centred on tensions between labour and political/cultural nationalist traditions. Those tensions have influenced writing about the history of modern Wales to the extent where Welsh history might even be thought to be justifying different interpretations of Wales. But both nationalist and labour interpretations of Wales actually overlap and both have played their part in strengthening a sense of Welsh identity. This paper explores these twin themes in the historiography of 20th-century Wales and how they relate to the contexts in which they were produced and read.
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This work offers a unique contribution to gender and Scottish history breaking new ground on several fronts: there is no history of inter-war women in Scotland, very little labour or popular political history and virtually nothing published on women, the home and family. This book is a history of women in the period which integrates class and gender history as well as linking the public and private spheres. Using a gendered approach to history it transforms and shifts our knowledge of the Scottish past, unearthing the previously unexplored role which women played in inter-war socialist politics, the General Strike and popular political protest. It re-evaluates these areas and demonstrates the ways in which gender shaped the experience of class and class struggle. Importantly, the book also explores the links between the public and private spheres and addresses the concept of masculinity as well as femininity and pays particular reference to domestic violence. The strength of the book is the ways in which it illuminates the complex interconnections of culture and economic and social structure. Although the research is based on Scottish evidence, it also uses material to address key debates in gender history and labour history which have wider relevance and will appeal to gender historians, labour historians and social and cultural historians as well as social scientists.
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Although the dominant political ideology in Scotland between 1707 and the present, unionism has suffered serious neglect. One of the most distinguished Scottish historians of our time looks afresh at this central theme in Britain’s history, politics and law, and traces the history of Scottish unionist ideas from the early sixteenth century to the present day. Colin Kidd demonstrates that unionism had impeccably indigenous origins long predating the Union of 1707, and that it emerged in reaction to the English vision of Britain as an empire. Far from being the antithesis of nationalism, modern Scottish unionism has largely occupied a middle ground between the extremes of assimilation to England or separation from it. At a time when the future of the Scottish union is under scrutiny as never before, its history demands Colin Kidd’s lucid and cogent examination, which will doubtless generate major debate, both within Scotland and beyond.
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David Hume's comment that 'this is the historical age and this is the historical nation' would appear to have as much resonance now as it did in the eighteenth century. The impact of devolution in Scotland has made Scottish history seem more relevant to its people. The nation, in keeping with its rediscovery of its political self, has embarked on a process of rediscovering its past. TV series, popular history magazines, serializations in newspapers and an upsurge in student numbers at the universities all testify to the growth of interest. Whereas Scottish history was a fringe subject north of the border 25 years ago and students were advised to stay clear of it and do 'real history' instead, there are now more historians of Scotland in Scottish universities than at any other time. Furthermore, there appears to be a consensus that the quality of Scottish history writing is at its best since the days of the Enlightenment.1 The Scots, it would appear, have recovered their long lost ability to blow their own trumpet.
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THE award of the Booker Prize for 1995 to Pat Barker's Ghost Road did more than pay tribute to the latest powerful novel in the author's ‘Regeneration Cycle’. It also emphasised once again how much the historical and cultural consciousness of twentieth-century Britain is dominated by images of war. With the obvious exception of Northern Ireland, Great Britain has been an unusually peaceful and stable country in a century marked by revolution and upheaval. Yet our national experience has been shaped, almost obsessed, by two world wars in a way true of few, if any, other countries. Memories of 1914 and 1939 tower over us like Lutyens's massive monument at Thiepval. The war leaders, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, are commonly thought of as our two greatest prime ministers in modern times (though another, more recent, prime minister, victorious in the Falklands, still has her champions). Armistice day, Remembrance Sunday and the wearing of poppies retain their potency as all-powerful national symbols of sacrifice. The British Legion remains an influential pressure group. The eightieth anniversary of the battle of the Somme in July 1996 emphasised anew the enduring impact of the tragedies of the first world war. More generally, the fiftieth anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day the previous year were nationwide ceremonies of remembrance for the sacrifices of the second. Almost every episode in current history, especially where Europe is involved, is commonly linked with memories of earlier conflict. Even the 1996 crisis in Anglo-German relations, such as it was, arising from ‘mad cow disease’ evoked comparison with 1939.