Ian B on the Bases of Scottish Separatism

We’re Libertarians, and we do a lot of economics, so let’s do some economic thinking.

People tend to look on this current unhappiness that is fuelling division as a matter of ethnicity or nations. We talk of Celts and English; the “Celtic Fringe” and so on. But here’s a more simple definition of what appear to be the “two parties” in the argument: Highlands and Lowlands. Here is a topographic map of Britain-


There is a pretty obvious division between highland areas and the lowland areas, which are in the South East. In general, highlands are less productive than lowlands, and this has been true of Britain for most of history. As far back as Roman times, even though Roman conquest extended far North, most of the towns and production were in the Southern Lowlands. And here’s an interesting thing; when the Roman legions left and Britain’s South East ecnonomically collapsed, it took the rest of the British Roman economy in non-conquered areas with it <i>simultaneously</i>. Even back then, Britain was economically dependent on the South East. It is easy to see why; good agricultural lands, a more benign climate, and excellent, easy transport links across the relatively low, flat landscape, compared to struggling over hills and mountains and across windswept uplands in the Highlands. Highland Britain, whether in England, Wales or Scotland, is at a natural disadvantage economically.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution, that suddenly changed, and for one simple reason. Here is a map of Britain’s coalfields-


“King Coal”- the power source of heavy industry- was located in the central, northern and western highlands. The result was obvious. For once, those areas had the productive advantage. It was cheaper to move finished goods a little further and more awkwardly than to shift millions of tons of raw coal from the North and West to the South. Britain’s political and financial centre remained in London (money is easy to move) but industry located in the upland areas.

With the end of industrial greatness, and the end of the dominance of King Coal as a power source, those highland areas now had no advantage. The economy shifted South again. With the reliance of the new post-industrial economy on State-supported hyperfinance, the situation was enormously exacerbated as a permanent bubble developed in the South East around London. People seeking a fortune go where the money is, as with a Gold Rush. Not just the money miners themselves, but all the support industries they need.

The result is that the old geographically balanced economy, with multiple centres of production and wealth far from London, died. Upland citizens with no need to dig coal, no industry to power with the coal, and thus no other advantages, were left with nothing to do. The only logical conclusion would have been either to think up some new great industries that those areas could dominate (but nobody can) or for many of the residents to move south- but few of them want to do that, and the Southerners anyway prefer to import foreign migrants for various reasons much discussed elsewhere.

It is no wonder therefore that since the 1980s the “north/south divide” has magnified towards open, if verbal, aggression. The old industrial areas blame the Tories who presided over the demise of their industry and find rule by the Tories thus intolerable. They dream that freedom from London will produce an economic revival. Maybe it will. It would probably, though, make more sense to be economically than politically independent, to free themselves from the draining effects of the ever-bubbling Pound Sterling firing out of the money cannons in the City Of London; but that ironically is the one thing that the Scottish Nationalists did not want to do, and neither presumably do the Welsh Nationalists or the disaffected in Northern England.

But King Coal, the source of former regional wealth, is dead. There is no obvious replacement. It is thus unlikely that a resolution of economic disparities and the resulting regional resentments is going to be easy. Libertarian government would, of course, help enormously by pricking the financial bubble in the South East which, as I mentioned earlier, grossly exaggerates the disparity. But that, sadly, is not going to happen any time soon.


  1. A great honour Sean 🙂

    I’ve realised that I was a little unclear with the Roman bit; somehow I left out part of what I intended to say, which was that after the Roman legions departed, it was the South East that was invaded by Germanic barbarians and fell under their hegemony, causing the gross economic collapse. This affected all of Roman Britain, including those Northern and Western areas not conquered by the Germanic Tribes. (Interesting factoid: Wales was the last part of the Roman Empire conquered by German barbarians, in 1277 under Edward I). That is, the collapse wasn’t just because the legions departed, but because the Germanics invaded, and the collapse of the South East took everyone else with it.

    That collapse, by the way, seems to have been absolutely harrowing, with towns abandoned and the remains of the population retreating to, and re-fortifying, Iron Age hill forts that had been long abandoned in the urbanising, relatively peaceful culture of the Roman hegemony, in which people lived safely in undefended towns. Unfortunately there is effectively no documentation of the period, so what specifically happened historically will be forever speculation and guesswork.

      • Unfortunately, what I discovered at Counting Cats is that when I have posting rights, I descend into endless self-criticism of what is sufficiently worthy to post, and end up posting little or nothing, and then I just look like a lazy slacker to my fellow bloggers. I am better at responding to discussions than initiating them, I fear.

        • Then here is a compromise. Answer the e-mail I sent you a few days ago, and register as an author on the Blog. Then carry on posting comments as usual. David and I will then pick out what we consider to be be worth promoting and put it under your name on the Blog.

          How about that? believe me, your present self-effacement is getting on our collective tits.

  2. This is only a small part of the equation. Politics is about sentiment. The Protestant/Catholic divide is strong in Scotland: not so noticeable in Edinburgh but saying the wrong thing in the wrong place about religion can, literally, get you killed in Glasgow. I doubt anyone who lives in the south of England can appreciate the magnitude of this.

    Also it’s an important factor that all the indigenous Scottish people with any get up and go and entrepreneurial spirit got up and left Scotland long ago. The Scots need new immigration badly.

    As for coal, Scotland was active in mining far more than coal. Geologically Scotland is very different from England… it really is a different country right down to the very land underneath peoples’ feet. In any case, the past shape of Scotland’s economy says little or nothing about future prospects, given the shape of the global economic environment.

  3. Interesting but flawed. If land being flatish and good growing were the secret of success where would that leave Switzerland and Norway?. Both of whom seem prosperous enough.

    To me it is a mental thing. Scotland, Wales and Northern England are rotten with socialism. Not just in terms of the scum who lord it–councils and the like–but in terms of the tribal and legacy beliefs (“my Dad voted for Labour” etc) of a large part of the population. Dislike of general injustice and of the Tories (Hell–even Sean openly despises them) is understandable–but adherence to a creed as vile, evil and destructive as socialism is inexplicable by any process I can think of.
    If minds could be freed there is no reason that anywhere cannot thrive–King Coal was a reflection of a time and place only. The only real shortage is brains.

  4. There was no need for heavy industry to die.

    Had industry not been unionised (by the Acts of 1875 and 1906) and then taxed and regulated into the ground (for example the price controls of the “Liberal” government were undermining the private railways even before the First World War).

    Houston (in the United States) is still an industrial city to this day (in spite of all the Federal government sabotage of industry – with taxes and regulations, and wild monetary policy) – and there is no reason why Glasgow had to stop being an industrial city.

    Even coal (coal mines have been closing since the 1960s – yet the media only blame “Thatcher” not, for example, Harold Wilson) could have remained (for centuries) – had it not been for unionisation and then nationalisation.

    Coal is still an important industry in many parts of the world – although villains (such as Mr Obama) are doing their best to bankrupt it so that “electricity rates would, necessarily, sky rocket” (his very words – and in context, yet the recording of his words was ignored by the “mainstream” media) in order to destroy manufacturing industry – as some sort of sacrifice to Gaia.

    It is hard to say what the economic future of Scotland will be – Ian B, is quite correct it is not good for farming.

    Even in the early 19th century those landlords who got rid of small rented farms in favour of sheep found that sheep do not do well in most of Scotland (yes – the “Highland Clearances” were economically useless, the landlords often went bankrupt anyway, as well as cruel). Few aspects of farming do well in Scotland – the growing season is short and the climate (and soil) is poor (compared to Wales and Ireland, as well as England, the soil is mostly poor).

    And it is hard to see pro union (and nasty government) Scotland as a good place for manufacturing industry – once it was (and the Scots were the MOST INVENTIVE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD) but not now (these days a Scot who is interested in making things – leaves Scotland).

    But what of England?

    The United States (I believe) will survive the (inevitable) collapse of the credit-bubble “financial services” industry.

    Places such as New York City will become Hell-on-Earth – but America will (I believe) survive.

    But what of England and London?

    Someone farming in County Antrim (Ulster) or in North Wales may look upon the collapse of London with a quiet mind (although it will still have terrible effects upon them) – but England is mostly dependent on London, and London is dependent upon the Credit Bubble (the Bank of England dependent “financial services industry”).

    The old London of the “Dark Satanic Mills” (oh yes Mr Blake was talking about London NOT the north in that poem) is dead and gone.

    The London my father knew (where people were making things round every corner – in factories that the rich may not have seen, but which were incredibly important) is dead and gone.

    And we are dependent upon London in ways that the United States simply is NOT dependent upon New York.

    The future is going to be grim.

  5. Mr Ecks is correct – Switzerland is a manufacturing country (they are actually more of a manufacturing country than we are now), Bavaria (in Germany) is to.

    There is nothing inevitable about the collapse of manufacturing industry – it did not die a natural death, it was murdered (by a century of union power and government meddling). “Thatcher” may have got the blame, but it was not her who introduced (for example) taxes on investment (“unearned income”) of almost 100% (as Labour did in the 1960s and again in the 1970s) – Mrs T. got the blame for the results of a lack of investment that went back many years (all the lady did was to admit that the House of Cards was a House of Cards, by removing the subsidies that maintained the ILLUSION).

    Mr Pate is also correct.

    I have often heard some of the people of Glasgow (and certain other parts of Scotland) described as “bigoted” and “nasty”.

    And these descriptions come from Ulster Unionists (including ones from quite humble backgrounds).

    It is one thing to kill someone (killing has always been part of the human experience – for example killing someone does not, automatically, mean that one dislikes someone, even the IRA terrorists who tortured Captain N, to death remarked how much they liked and admired the man….) – quite another to show ignorance concerning their theological position. How many Glasgow Rangers fans can explain the reasons they oppose transubstantiation? Or even why they hold that churches should be totally separate to the state? Are they interested in the eucharist at all? And as for the separation of church and state – well the history of the Church of Scotland (and its present character) present a bit of a problem there.

    They may (historically) be the same people and still visit each other (for example Ulster Unionists were active in the “No” campaign). But there are still differences.

    How many people in Glasgow are truly interested in traditional theology? According to their own Ulster cousins, not many.

    For example – the campaign against baby killing should have united Scottish Protestants and Scottish Catholics (as it does in Ulster). Yet it did not seem to – not to any large scale effect.

    The P.C. attitudes of the Scottish government go almost unchallenged. P.C. is growing in Ulster (due to the intense backing from the British government and so on) – but it is certainly not unchallenged.

    Yet neither seemed wildly interested in Scotland.

    When an Ulster Protestant visits (for example) eastern Tennessee he (or she) meets people whose accent is very different – but whose attitudes and principles are much like their own.

    When a Scot from Scotland visits such a place – they are often (although not always) totally alien in their attitudes and principles.

  6. Thanks for the comments. I didn’t write this as an “article” but as a comment that Sean decided to boost to the front page, so it’s not comprehensive. The main thing I was trying to address was that we have all fallen into a trap of addressing the problem in terms of nationalism, or ethnicity, but that the non-English nations are actually (in this view) a proxy for a third variable, which is the old industrial geography of Britain. This has everything to do with Britain’s economic changes since the 1970s, and very little (I believe) to do with William Wallace, the Highland Clearances, Culloden or the Act Of Union. Many Scots Nats were in fact clear enough about this, it was about “the Tories” and that is about the resentments fostered by the end of the industrial economy in the uplands of Britain and shift to a “finance economy” centred on London, which Paul has also addressed in his comment.

    Perhaps one way to look at it is this; as Libertarians we know that it is a fallacy to use aggregate statistics to describe “national” economies. This Keynesian worldview in which there is “aggregate output”, “aggregate GDP”, etc, ignores the real economy which is a matter of the production of goods and services by individuals and companies and knows no borders. We have shifted to an ecnoomy in which “aggregate GDP” is kept up by the financial services system, but which effectively left large numbers of people with nothing economically productive to do. The resentments of people who lost their livelihoods and way of life, who do not have the economic nous to understand how and why and what can solve the problem, and who are regionally concentrated in the “upland” areas, against those who they perceive as having perpetrated this on them, are in the view I presented here the relevant issue, and nationality is acting as a proxy for that.

  7. More or less agreed Ian. The filter used by the uplanders is, however, the poisonous resentment encouraged by socialistopathic boilerplate . Even without socialist crap I can understand and indeed feel resentment towards tricksters who have puffed up soon-to-fail financial services at the expense of real work. My take on that would be get rid of state thieving/meddling and start again not do a pile of leftist whining on the floor and leave it to steam ,stink and be trod in by the unwary.

    PS- I know that financial services can be just as good economically as widget making–but that only applies to financial services pertaining to real money and real economic activity not state organised economic trickery-we give you paper (or electrons) and you give us real goods and services (the petrodollar being a prime example).

Leave a Reply