The 1832 Scottish Reform Act increased Scotland’s representation from 45 to 53 MPs, who represented 51 constituencies. In the 1832-68 period, 221 different men sat for Scottish constituencies. The number of Scotsmen who sat for English, Irish and Welsh seats is currently unknown, but will be revealed by the end of the 1832-1868 project. These figures highlight the importance of Scotland in the 1832-1868 project. This occasional series of blogs will address some of the issues and challenges involved in researching and writing the Scottish dimension of this project. In particular, this means being sensitive to the significant differences in Scottish political culture, including the electoral system, while integrating these parliamentary biographies and electoral histories into a wider UK picture.
It is fair to say that 19th century Scottish politics has received far less attention from historians than England, Ireland or Wales. Almost 20 years ago, R.J. Morris and Graeme Morton asked ‘Where was 19th century Scotland?’, noting the relative neglect of that period. Given the publication of work since, such a claim could not be made today, but the political history of 19th century Scotland remains murky and under-studied. With the notable exceptions of books by Pentland (2008), Hutchison (1986) and Dyer (1996), and older work on Scottish radicalism and Chartism, historians have shown little interest in the subject. The contrast with the wealth of historical works, traditional and revisionist, on English and Irish political, parliamentary and electoral history in the same period is striking.
It follows that the 1832-1868 project will have a major impact on the historiography of 19th century Scotland. This impact is not limited to political history. In this period Parliament was the centre of national life and was where legislation and policy was discussed and formed on a wide range of religious, imperial, social and economic matters. For example, this period saw the expansion and intensification of state provision in social policy, with the establishment of boards of health, increasing public grants to education, and the modification or creation of poor laws in England, Scotland and Ireland. To give another example, at this time legislation was necessary for building much of the infrastructure such as roads, railways and canals, and urban improvements such as lighting or paving often required local acts. In short, as a searchable digital resource, the project will be of use to those interested in the social, economic and religious history of 19th century Scotland as well.
Returning to politics more specifically, a number of key questions about Scotland in this period remain to be addressed. Pertinent questions include, but are not limited to, the following:
- the role of landowner and employer influence and electoral deference in Scotland
- the formation and re-formation of local and national party identities and organisation
- the development of the Scottish Conservative party
- the role of election rituals in Scottish burghs that had no popular franchise before 1832; how did a popular election culture emerge and what models were copied or adapted?
- relations between different strands of political liberalism and religious denominations
- how Scottish politicians articulated and reconciled local, regional and national interests with party and political ideologies at Westminster
- the language of Scottish politics
- the political life of the small burghs which were heavily over-represented in the post-1832 representative system but have usually been overlooked by historians
- how Scotland was governed and legislated for in a period without a devolved parliament or Scottish office and when the minister responsible for Scottish affairs (the lord advocate) was also a part-time judge
- how far Scottish MPs initiated legislation to cater for Scotland’s distinctive needs (for example, different legal and education systems, different property law and church establishment)
Over the next few months, I will blog about the nature of the Scottish representative system; the role of parties and issues; Scottish MPs at Westminster; and the electoral culture that developed in Scotland after 1832.
M. Dyer, Men of property and intelligence: the Scottish electoral system prior to 1884 (1996)
I.G.C. Hutchison, A political history of Scotland, 1832-1924: parties, elections and issues (1986)
R.J. Morris and G. Morton, ‘Where was nineteenth-century Scotland?’, Scottish Historical Review, 73 (1994), 89-99.
G. Pentland, Radicalism, reform and national identity in Scotland, 1820-1833 (2008)