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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

If voting could change the system...

There was a knock on my door the other night. When I opened the door I was surprised to find Richard Arkless, SNP candidate for Dumfries and Galloway. If I had more presence of mind I would have invited him in for a chat, but I didn’t. Instead we spent ten minutes rapidly going through the implications of a cohort of SNP MPs arriving at Westminster after 7 May.

What I tried to explain very briefly was that having lived in England for 20 years, my hope is that the SNP MPs will shake up the UK in a constructive way, opening the way for progressive change. This was a difficult point to get across in a short conversation.

Part of the difficulty is that the radical politics and culture of the England I know has always been viewed as a threat by the UK establishment. From the anti-nuclear protest movement of the 1980s to the current anti-fracking movement, England’s ‘culture of resistance’ has been physical suppressed by the UK state and marginalised by the UK the media.

My late wife was a founder member of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp so I was very aware of the role of the mainstream media in manufacturing consent for the status quo. But I was still taken aback by the full spectrum hostility directed against the Yes side during the Scottish independence  referendum  campaign. There was no neutral position, no hint that possibly the UK was an archaic institution in need of major reform. Or rather there wasn’t until couple of late opinion polls suggested that Yes might win when suddenly Scotland was promised major reform of the UK if there was a No vote…

Observing the intensity of opposition to Scottish independence also made me realise  how impossible the position of English radicalism has been. While English radicals have opposed the UK state, their opposition has always been fragmented and has never been able to cohere into an effective alternative. As the Labour party have moved to the right since the 1970s and without a proportional representation voting system,  English radicalism has also had to operate outside of parliamentary politics. The right-wing bias of UK media has further marginalised English radicalism, giving Ukip the oxygen of publicity while denying it to the English Green party.

I joined the Dumfries and Galloway Radical Independence Campaign in  March 2013. My hope then was that a Yes vote in September 2014 would rock the status quo in the  rest of the UK to the benefit of English radicalism. A strong element of RIC’s contribution to the independence debates was the need to break with the UK as a neoliberal state. We also pointed out that by working with the Conservative party in the No campaign, the Labour party in Scotland were nailing their colours to the neoliberal mast. At the local/regional level I worked out that for Yes to win in Dumfries and Galloway, virtually every Labour voter would have to vote Yes. Many did, but not enough. The No vote was 65.6%, one of the highest in Scotland.

Eight months later and the Labour vote is melting away here. Unless a significant number of Labour voters shift to the Tories, Richard Arkless will become our SNP MP, following in the footsteps of George Thompson (1974-1979) and Alasdair Morgan (1997-2001).

Significantly, even if Richard and 40 or more other SNP MPs are elected on 7 May, another independence referendum is not going to happen any time soon. Yet their election is still going to shock the status quo of the UK. Ironically, as an unintended consequences of last year’s  No vote, the  presence of this group of Scottish MPs at Westminster may do more to change the rest of the UK than independence would have done.      


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Austerity no more?

Photograph shows the engineering department of the London Rubber Company, Lydney, Gloucestershire November 1978. I am third from the right in the front row, aged 20. In 1981 as result of the Thatcher governments economic policies, the factory  was closed with the loss of 1000 jobs.

Looking at UK opinion polls showing Labour and Conservative parties neck and neck reminds me of  the two general elections held in 1974. Back then I  was a 15 year old pupil at Kirkcudbright Academy and George Thompson, who was my French teacher, was the SNP candidate for the Galloway constituency. I my lunch hours I helped with the SNP campaign but in the February general election George Thompson only got  9038 votes- not enough to beat the sitting Conservative MP John Brewis who got 13 316. In the second general election, held in October, George Thompson won by a wafer thin majority of 30. Then in 1979, George lost the seat by 2922 votes to Conservative Ian Lang, now Baron Lang of Monkland.

In 1979 I had just moved to London to take up a job working for the London Rubber Company. I had started working  in one of their factories in Gloucestershire in 1977. In 1981 that factory was closed thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. In 1992 the London factory was also closed. By then I had moved on and in 1997 I returned to Scotland. But I sometimes wonder if  things had been different, would I still be living and working in London?

When I started working for London Rubber in 1977, the company was still expanding and growing. By the time I left at the end of 1983 it was contracting. Although I had  ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ plastered all over my schoolbag in 1974, it was not until I read an interview with Denis Healey in May 2013 that I made a connection with what happened to the London Rubber Company in the 1980s. This is what Healey said:

I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism but that was mainly down to Thatcher. We didn’t actually see the rewards from oil in my period in office because we were investing in the infrastructure rather than getting the returns and really, Thatcher wouldn’t have been able to carry out any of her policies without that additional 5 per cent on GDP from oil. Incredible good luck she had from that.

The ‘underplaying’ of the value of the oil followed the suppression of the (in)famous McCrone Report in 1975. Digging a little deeper I found an interview from 1991 with Alan Budd, who had been an advisor to the Thatcher government in the 1980s.

Curtis: For some economists who were involved in this story, there is a further question: were their theories [ about monetarism] used to disguise political policies that would have otherwise been very difficult to implement in Britain?
Budd: The nightmare I sometimes have, about this whole experience, runs as follows. I was involved in making a number of proposals which were partly at least adopted by the government and put in play by the government. Now, my worry is . . . that there may have been people making the actual policy decisions . . . who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation.
    They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment, and raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes — if you like, that what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since. Now again, I would not say I believe that story, but when I really worry about all this, I worry whether that indeed was really what was going on.

More recently, as support for the Labour party in Scotland has plummeted , I have wondered if the Labour party had been bolder back in 1975 and  published rather than suppressed the McCrone Report would it really have led to Scottish independence 40 years ago?

Realistically, it is an impossible question to answer since there are just too many ‘unknown, unknowns’ involved. On the other hand, researching the actual history of the 1974-79 Labour government has been an eye-opener. In particular, I have discovered just how difficult it is for left-radical policies to be put into practice in the UK. This is an important point for any attempt to understand the present (April 2015) situation where the Labour party in Scotland appears to be in meltdown. Is this due to a rise in Scottish nationalism, or is it down to a loss of faith in the Labour party’s left-radical credentials?

In the February 1974 general election the SNP gained 6 Scottish seats. This rose to eleven in the October election. However, nine of these eleven  SNP seats were in rural areas and at the expense of the Conservatives, not Labour. Looking at the results for the Galloway constituency, George Thompson’s win for the SNP in October 1974 seems to have been the result of anti-Conservative tactical voting by Liberal and Labour supporters rather than an increase in SNP support. More worrying for Labour were the 35 Labour held seats where the SNP came second.

At this point I was going to  suggest that the incoming Labour government elected in February 1974 kept quiet about the McCrone Report in case it boosted support for the SNP in the run up to an anticipated second general election. But according to wikipedia : ‘After discussions between St. Andrews House and the Cabinet Office in London, Prof. McCrone passed the report on to the new Labour government on 23 April 1975, along with a covering letter.’

If Labour were not aware of the McCrone Report until after the October election then its importance is  diminished. Unlike 2014 when the independence referendum brought into focus arguments about the economic viability of an independent Scotland, in 1974 when the SNP gained 30% of the vote in October, only 12% of Scots wanted independence. [Tom Devine, ‘The Scottish Nation 1707-2007’, Penguin 2006, p. 576] At general elections from 1979 to 2010, most Scottish voters remained loyal to the Labour party. Labour also managed to keep their vote up in Scottish parliament elections from 1999 to 2007 and only really lost out to the SNP in the 2011 election.

If the 1974-1979 Labour government did ‘downplay’ the value of North Sea oil as Denis Healey claimed in 2013, was that that entirely due to the nationalist threat? An alternative explanation is that the downplaying of oil wealth was also influenced by conflicts within the 1974-79 Labour government over economic policies. These conflicts arose because after Labour lost the 1970 election, a group on the left of the party reflected on the failure of the 1964-1970 Labour government to achieve radical change and came up with a series of proposals which they hoped a future Labour government would deliver on. These were set out in ‘Labour’s Programme 1973’ followed by ‘The Regeneration of British Industry’ which was a White paper published in August 1974.

Included in these radical proposals were the setting up of a National Enterprise Board and a National Oil Corporation. The aim was for the State in alliance with trade unions to take a leading strategic role  in pursuit of socialist economic policies as a way to counter the power of multi-national companies  to shift production across borders and avoid political control. ‘Regional regeneration’ was another aspect of these plans which aimed to ensure a redistribution of power and wealth. [John Medurst ‘That Option No Longer Exists-Britain 1974-76’, Zero books, 2014, pages 32-3].

Unfortunately, the proposals drew on theory developed by the Institute for Workers Control set up in 1968 following the almost revolution in France and the practice of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders 1971-2 occupation. Although they would have only led to the radical reform rather than the  revolutionary supersession  of capitalism, the proposals were too bold for Harold Wilson and other Labour party leaders. They also outraged the Conservative party, the right-wing press and elements of the UK’s ‘secret state’ who believed that the Labour party, from Harold Wilson down, had been infiltrated by communists.

As it turned out, the global economic crisis which followed the 400% rise in the price of oil from $3 dollars/barrel in 1973 to $12/barrel by March 1974 intervened, allowing Labour to water-down the plans.

But at the same time, the rise in the price of oil helped the development of North Sea oil. Extracting oil from under the North Sea was more expensive than extracting oil from under the deserts of the Middle East. So the higher the price of oil, the more valuable the North Sea reserves became. This brings us back to Denis Healey’s claim that  the 1974-79 Labour government underplayed the value of the oil through fear of Scottish nationalism. This may be true, but it is also true that underplaying  the value of North Sea oil would have helped Healey and Wilson in their internal struggle against the radical left of the Labour party.

If the Labour government had talked up the future value of North Sea oil this would have encouraged the radical left to argue that the profits from North Sea oil should be used to help regenerate British industry. On a ‘more jam tomorrow’ basis, it might also have helped the Labour government avoid the conflict with public sector workers ovr wage rises which led to the 1978-79 ‘Winter of Discontent’ which helped Margaret Thatcher win the May 1979 election. If labour could have squeezed a victory in 1979, then they rather than the Conservatives would have had the benefit of the ‘additional 5% on GDP’  Healey mentioned.

From a Scottish perspective, the talking up of the potential of North Sea oil might have seen a stronger Yes vote in the 1979 devolution referendum. However, such an outcome would not necessarily have led to an increase in support for Scottish independence in the 1980s. The majority of Scottish voters remained loyal to the Labour party from 1979 to 2010. Even in the 2014 independence referendum, a significant part of  support for a Yes vote came from Labour supporters who wanted an alternative to neoliberal austerity. And, it would appear, they still do. The hope now is that if Scotland can elect enough SNP MPs  this will pull a potential Labour government to the left, steering  the UK away from the neoliberal path it has followed since 1975.

But as Richard Seymour noted back in 2010, the  programme of the 1974 Labour government

was a utopian programme in the strict sense that no thought had been given to the range of social forces it would be necessary to assemble and mobilise in order that its goals could be achieved, and its accomplishments protected. It was simply assumed that an elected government could bring these changes about, and that once implemented the ruling class would have no alternative but to accept them.  
[ http://www.leninology.co.uk/2010/08/collapse-of-consensus-myth-of-popular.html ]

Over the past 40 years the UK has undergone a radical shift to the right. This means that the prospect of even a minimal attempt to veer left is provoking a perfect storm of apocalyptic headlines. These are similar to the prophecies of plague and pestilence which Scotland was warned would follow independence, but now the volume has been turned up to 11 since it is the rest of the UK which is under threat. Bizarrely,  it would seem that simply by voting SNP, Scots now endanger the future of the UK as a ‘democracy’. In the 1970s, a similar level of apocalyptic frenzy was directed against the 1974-79 Labour government. The one thing missing in comparison to the 1970s is the claim that the SNP has been infiltrated by communists.

Harold Wilson was not and never had been a member of the Communist party and the leadership of the Labour party were opposed to radical-left policies. But in the fevered atmosphere of the time, elements of the right wing fringe of the UK establishment contemplated the need for some form of military coup to restore ‘order’ in case Wilson’s socialist policies led to a general strike/ communist revolution. These plans faded away once Margaret Thatcher replaced Ted Heath as leader of the Conservative party in 1975. The focus then shifted to ensuring Thatcher’s election. The right-wing press played their part in this by relentlessly pursuing a narrative of economic chaos and industrial crisis, of a ‘broken Britain’ which could only be mended by electing Margaret Thatcher as a strong leader.

What did the UK‘s right-wing ‘ruling class’ expect from a Thatcher victory in 1979? The title of a book by Keith Robbins published in 1983 sums it up -‘The Eclipse of a Great Power, Modern Britain 1870-1975’. The hope and expectation was that the UK’s power and prestige would be restored. That somehow a combination of liberals and socialists had allowed Great Britain’s imperial splendour to fade, reducing the UK to second-rate status. While a restoration of the empire was impossible, a restoration of the UK’s economic fortunes seemed achievable- if the power of organised labour as ‘the enemy within’ could be crushed. Along with this nostalgic objective, there was a second more practical and ‘neoliberal’ [not a term used at the time] objective- the ending of restrictions on the UK’s finance sector.

In January 1970, Ted Heath’s Shadow Cabinet met at the Selsdon Park hotel in south London. The outcome of this meeting was set of right-radical free market policies which influenced the Heath government after the Conservatives won the June 1970 election. However these met with strong opposition from trade unions and led to an increase in unemployment to 1 million in January 1972. This forced Heath to make a ‘U turn’ and abandon the Selsdon policies in favour of more Keynesian policies. This was opposed by the Selsdon Group [formed in 1973] of right-wing Tories who later became supporters of Margaret Thatcher. They were determined that the next time a Conservative government was elected there would be no ‘U turn’. Defeating the National Union of Miners, who had humbled the Heath government was another aim.

Without the help of North Sea oil, the first Thatcher government would probably have suffered the same fate as the Heath government, collapsing into economic chaos by 1981. But it didn’t and with the patriotic boost provided by the 1982 Falklands war, Thatcher won the 1983 election. Labour finally got back into power in 1997, but by then the British form of neoliberalism first sketched out at the Selsdon Park hotel in January 1970 had been adopted by Tony Blair’s ‘New’ Labour party. The 1997 general election also saw the SNP gain 6 seats, including Galloway and Upper Nithsdale won by Alasdair Morgan. The same election saw the Conservatives wiped out in Scotland.

Unlike 1974, in 1997 Labour won on a landslide with 418 seats, giving them majority of 179. With 45.6% of the vote in Scotland and 56 MPs, Labour were confident enough of their strength in Scotland to hold a second Scottish devolution referendum which led to the establishment of a devolved Scottish parliament in 1999.

And now? For the Labour party and the UK establishment, all that once seemed so solid is melting into air. Their victory on 18 September last year is turning into ashes. William Blake’s prophetic cry ‘Rejoice, Empire is no more’ will be heard across the land. The partial eclipse of a great power will have become total. In an anti-democratic coup, soon after 7 May a sealed train will carry  a small group of Scottish nationalists to London where they will seize power, holding the Mother of Parliaments to ransom until their
outrageous demands are met. They will then depart, leaving a chaos of Biblical proportions in their wake.

Looking for some kind of more realistic conclusion I am going to re-quote Richard Seymour on the left-radical programme of the Labour government elected in 1974 -

It was a utopian programme in the strict sense that no thought had been given to the range of social forces it would be necessary to assemble and mobilise in order that its goals could be achieved, and its accomplishments protected. It was simply assumed that an elected government could bring these changes about, and that once implemented the ruling class would have no alternative but to accept them.  

If an anti-austerity alliance is to prevail after 7 May,  a UK wide range of social forces will have to be rapidly assembled and mobilised if the goal is to be achieved and its accomplishment protected .

Friday, March 27, 2015

When Darkness Dawns Encyclopaedia of ecstasy Vol 2

‘When Darkness Dawns’ :The Encyclopaedia of Ecstasy Volume Two : November 1983

The last part of Volume Two was written on 11 November 1983,the same day that Operation Able Archer ended. During the ten days of Able Archer 83 the world came as close to nuclear annihilation as it had in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

The front and back cover were created by Paul Forder and the drawing on the last page by Val Drayton. The text was written by Alistair Livingston between 1979 and 1983. It is an extreme piece of writing.

Operation Able Archer 1983- from wikipedia 

Able Archer 83 was a ten-day North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) command post exercise starting on November 2, 1983, that spanned Western Europe, centered on the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Headquarters in Casteau, north of the city of Mons. Able Archer exercises simulated a period of conflict escalation, culminating in a simulated DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack. The exercise also introduced a new, unique format of coded communication, radio silences, and the participation of heads of government.

The realistic nature of the 1983 exercise, coupled with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the anticipated arrival of Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some members of the Soviet Politburo and military to believe that Able Archer 83 was a ruse of war, obscuring preparations for a genuine nuclear first strike. In other words, they were concerned that what was called by those staging it, a training exercise disguised as an attack, was instead an attack disguised as a training exercise. In response, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert.

This is known as the 1983 war scare. The 1983 war scare is considered by many historians to be one of the closest times the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The only incident more severe was the Norwegian rocket incident of 1995. The threat of nuclear war ended with the conclusion of the exercise on November 11

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Encyclopedia of Ecstasy 1 reviewed

One inspiration for EOE 1

Dangerous Visions have just reviewed EOE 1

Full text here

Most of it below...

I’ve hardly encountered a specimen from the postpunk years of the early 1980s that better exemplified how mixed up and stimulating all the categories were getting, than The Encyclopaedia of Ecstasy, Vol. 1, an utterly mind-boggling zine put out by Alistair Livingston in 1983. Livingston had/has associations with the anarchist collective/zine Kill Your Pet Puppy which ran from 1979 to 1984…. he references Crass and Bauhaus and Blood and Roses. While one wouldn’t necessarily expect that a “psychedelic goth punk fanzine,” as Livingston himself termed the project, would contain visions that might have emerged from Arthur Rimbaud‘s absinthe-drenched writings, the fact is that any movement led by Crass and Psychic TV was going to be awfully erudite and aestheticized, fueled by some pretty foreboding concerns over technology and culture. It’s so “political” that it fans out into almost pure (hyperverbal, psychedelic) sensation. In keeping with the absinthe feel, one page is titled “Vivé La Decadence, Paris 1893-London 199?”

The cover, complete with an all-seeing Masonic pyramid, reminds me a great deal ofGustav Klimt, which when you consider that it appears to have been executed purely with blocky magic markers, is awfully impressive. (The Klimt association is far from accidental—page 6 features a Xerox’d shout-out to Klimt’s “Jurisprudenz,” which was later destroyed by the Nazis.) At one juncture Livingston inquires, “why aren’t crass the psychedelic furs?” (Good question!) There are suggestive cut-and-paste headlines such as “whoops there goes another nuclear plant” or “man sees world saved by robots.” At the bottom of page 1 is an exuberant shout-out to the like-minded: “There is more… Like “Kill Your Pet Puppy” (a zine)…. The Anarchy Centres, the Black Sheep Co-op, punk lives (!), the people, the music, the squats, the whole beautiful chaoticness.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

In the sky a lurid glow

The Neilson Mausoleum- Tongland kirkyard

How iron furnaces forged modern Scotland.

Post-referendum, the Labour vote in Scotland appears to be in meltdown. It now seems possible that despite victory for the No campaign last September, the SNP will win enough seats in the May UK general election to create a further constitutional/political crisis/major headache. But will a strong SNP vote mean that most former Labour voters  have become nationalists?  Or will a significant number of SNP voters in May be voting not as ‘nationalists’ but as opponents of neoliberal austerity? That suggestion is a simplification of an older and deeper dimension of Scotland’s politics, one which is tied up with the beginnings of the Labour party in Scotland. This in turn connects to the Scottish experience of industrialisation and ‘old’ rather than neo liberalism.

The following is a beginning. When it got to 3500 words I paused it. Even in this condensed form it will need another 4000 to finish and many more to do justice to the subject.

Hot Blast

In 1994 an attempt was made to blow-up a statue erected in 1834 on Beinn a' Bhragaidh. Attempts to have it more lawfully removed have also been made. An inscription at its base reveals why.

In lasting memorial of-George Granville-Duke of Sutherland Marquess of Stafford KG-An upright and patriotic nobleman-a judicious kind and liberal landlord-who identified the improvement of his vast estates-with the prosperity of all who cultivated them-a public yet unostentatious benefactor-who while he provided useful employment-for the active labourer-opened wide his hand to the distresses-of the widow the sick and the traveller-a mourning and grateful tenantry-uniting with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood-erected this pillar-AD MDCCCXXXIV (1834).

For many people the statue and its inscription  mocks and insults the memory of the thousands of people evicted from the land by the duke of Sutherland and other landowners during the Highland Clearances.

Three hundred miles to the south of Beinn a' Brigade a smaller monument on Barstrobrick hill in Galloway erected in 1888 commemorates an event which changed and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Scots, Irish and other nationalities. Yet this monument to human misery has never attracted any more than passing attention and has never been threatened with demolition or removal. Perhaps if the monument had been built on the same ‘eminence’ as this parish church, it would have attracted more attention and less indifference.

From the steeple of the parish church, which stands on a considerable eminence, the flames of no fewer than fifty blast furnaces may be seen. In the daytime these flames are pale and unimpressive; but when night comes on, they appear to burn more fiercely, and gradually there is developed in the sky a lurid glow similar to that which hangs over a city when a great conflagration is in progress. Dense clouds of smoke roll over it incessantly, and impart to all the buildings a peculiarly dingy aspect. A coat of black dust overlies everything, and in a few hours the visitor finds his complexion considerably deteriorated by the flakes of soot which fill the air, and settle on his face. There is something grand in even a distant view of the furnaces but the effect is much enhanced when they are approached to within a hundred yards or so. The flames then have a positively fascinating effect. No production of the pyrotechnist can match their wild gyrations. Their form is ever changing, and the variety of their movements is endless. Now they shoot far upward, and breaking short off, expire among the smoke; again spreading outward, they curl over the lips of the furnace, and dart through the doorways, as if determined to annihilate the bounds within which they are confined; then they sink low into the crater, and come forth with renewed strength in the shape of great tongues of fire, which sway backward and forward, as if seeking with a fierce eagerness something to devour.

In 1869, when the above was written, the parish church mentioned overlooked the rapidly growing town of Coatbridge in Lanarkshire. This growth began in 1830 when the first blast furnace built  for the Baird family at Gartsherrie  was fired up. The blast furnace was one of the first to use a new technique which was to revolutionise  the Scottish iron industry and make Scotland the workshop of  the world. The new technique involved superheating the air blasted into the furnace. This reduced coal consumption from 8 tons per ton of iron produced to three tons. This made the Scottish pig iron the cheapest in the world. In 1825, Scotland produced only 25 000 tons of pig iron per year. By 1840 this had risen to 240 000 tons, to 564 000 tons by 1848 and over 1 million tons by 1862.

The ‘hot blast’ technique of iron smelting which created this phenomenal growth was discovered by James Neilson, manager of the Glasgow Gas Works in 1828. The monument on Barstobrick hill was erected by his son Walter Neilson in honour of his father’s revolutionary discovery. After making his fortune through his discovery, James Neilson had bought Queenshill estate, including Barstobrick hill, in 1848. Neilson’s choice of Galloway to retire to was influenced by a family tradition that John Neilson of Corsock in Galloway was an ancestor. James Neilson was a strongly religious man and John Neilson was a Covenanter ‘martyr’ -or rebel- who was executed in Edinburgh in December 1666 after being captured following the battle of Rullion Green.

There is a difficult point to make here. When the duke of Sutherland and other Highland landowners began reorganising their estates, were they intentionally setting out to destroy the traditional ways of life of their tenants, or were they trying to improve the lives of their tenants? In Lowland Scotland, it is accepted and understood that the re-organisation of estates by landowners was intended to modernise and improve farming practice, making it more profitable for landowner and tenant. The aim, which was accomplished, was to move from subsistence to surplus, banishing the spectre of ‘dearth’ (famine)  from the land.

The problem in the Highlands was that the its very different physical and human ecology meant that trying to copy a process which had worked in the Lowlands failed, with disastrous consequences. But, given the very limited knowledge of physical and human ecology available at the time, how could  Highland landowners have predicted the destructive consequences of their actions? In the context of the Highland Clearances, such arguments are dismissed as apologetic excuses. But by the same logic, does that mean we must hold James Neilson and the Scottish iron masters who profited from his invention accountable for the appalling human cost of the industrial revolution they created?

Extending this argument and with the benefit of environmental hindsight, would it have been better for Scotland if its coal and ironstone had been left untouched beneath the ground?

Coal had been exploited in Scotland since the middle ages, a move pioneered by the great abbeys who used it to boil sea water in  to make salt. However, even by the beginning of the nineteenth century, most coal was still used domestically and production was based on small, shallow mines. Of the future iron producing areas, the expansion of coal mining in Ayrshire had been limited by the failure of several attemtps to break into the Irish coal trade. Since the mid-seventeenth century, coal mining had been built up in West Cumberland to supply the Irish market and Cumbrian coal retained its dominance of this market through the eighteenth century. While coal from Lanarkshire supplied Glasgow, as late as 1769 coal mining was still not a major industry.

By 1769 work had begun on the Forth and Clyde canal and James Watt had surveyed the route of what was to become the Monklands canal. James Steuart, who owned the 12 000 acre Coltness estate was a former Jacobite who had spent 20 years in exile in Europe. Steuart was interested in political economy and had already published his book ‘Outlines of Political Economy’.  In 1769 Stueart published ‘Considerations on the Interest of the County of Lanarkshire in Scotland’. The main focus of this paper was Steuart’s fear that the Forth and Clyde canal would damage the economy of Lanarkshire by allowing imports of grain from the eastern Lowlands to be sold cheaply in Glasgow. Lower grain prices would have a damaging impact on the process of agricultural improvement in Lanarkshire. Ironically, in 1836 Steuart’s son sold Coltness estate for £80 000, not for its agricultural value, but for the coal and ironstone which lay beneath its fertile fields.

Between 1769 and 1836, Scotland did undergo an industrial revolution. This revolution was based on cotton. By 1835 there were 125 cotton mills in Scotland, but although steam was a mature technology, 44 % of the power used in the mills was still supplied by waterwheels. Likewise although there were steamships and steam locomotives at work in Scotland by 1830, their demand for coal could still be met by traditional coal mining. Population growth and economic growth would have increased demand for coal through the nineteenth century. More modern, deeper mines would have been developed to meet this demand, but without the stimulus of the iron industry, this change would have been more gradual and less traumatic.

The discovery that coke could be used instead of charcoal to smelt iron was first made by Abraham Darby in England in 1709. It took fifty years before the technique was successfully applied in Scotland at the Carron iron works. After 1759 no new iron works were built in Scotland until 1785 when the Clyde iron works was built and over the next forty years only a further eight  were constructed. This contrasts with the situation in South Wales where production of pig iron grew from 12 300 tons in 1788 to 277 643 tons in 1830. This was 41% of total UK production. Scottish pig iron production in 1830 was only 39 000 tons or 5.5% of total UK production.

Why was the South Wales iron industry so much more successful than the Scottish iron industry before 1830? There are two main reasons. Firstly, production costs were lower. The Welsh coal had a carbon content of 80%, twice that of Scottish coal. This meant that the Welsh needed less coal to produce their iron. The Welsh coal and ironstone were close to the surface in the hills and could be mined using horizontal shafts driven into the sides of the Welsh valleys. This reduced the labour costs involved in mining the coal and iron stone, producing another cost saving. Secondly, the Welsh had the advantge of ‘location, location, location’. The iron works were linked to Cardiff and Newport by dense network of eighteenth century canals and waggonways. From Cardiff and Newport the Welsh iron could not only be exported by sea but also sent, via the river Severn and the English canal network, to the already well established metal bashing industries of the West Midlands.

Until 1830, the main disadvantage of the Scottish iron industry was that the low -35% to 40%- carbon content of Scottish coal meant that it took as much as 8 tons of coal to produce one ton of iron. This made Scottish iron more expensive than Welsh iron. Apart from the Carron iron works, which specialised in the production of cannons -the Carronade- the other Scottish iron works were only able to survive because the transport costs of shipping Welsh iron to Scotland offset its cheaper production costs. If progress on deepening the Clyde to Glasgow had been more rapid, or if a rail link to England had been established earlier, the Scottish iron industry might have withered away before Neilson’s hot-blast could revolutionise it.

Neilson had become manager of the Glasgow Gas Company in 1817. In 1824 he was approached by an ironmaster who asked if the techniques used to purify the gas could be used to remove sulphur from the air used in blast furnaces. As Neilson explained in a paper he read to the Glasgow Philosophical Society in 1825,this question had arisen because ironmasters had observed that the iron produced in winter was superior to iron produced in summer. In the absence of  scientific knowledge, some ironmasters believed that there was more sulphur in the air in summer while many others believed that colder air produced finer iron. Neilson argued that the difference was due to the higher oxygen content of cold air. He also noted that warmer air had a higher water content.

This led him to experiment with heating the air to dry it out. His first experiment involved supplying an ordinary blacksmith’s forge with heated air ‘the effect was that fire was rendered  most brilliant, with an intense degree of heat’ while blasts of cold air produced only ordinary brightness and heat. Unfortunately, as Neilson later recounted, there was a ‘strong prejudice’ and a ‘superstitious dread’  amongst furnace managers against meddling with furnaces that were producing good quality iron. However, one of the furnaces at the Clyde iron works was producing poor quality iron so Neilson was allowed to experiment with heating the blast supplied to this furnace. This improved its performance and Neilson was able to use the results of his trials at the Clyde iron works to produce a provisional patent for his invention in 1828 and a full patent in 1829. The first hot-blast furnace using an ‘improved apparatus’ began operations at the Clyde iron works in 1830.

If it had been left to existing ironmasters, their ‘strong prejudice’ against innovation would have led to a slow uptake of Neilson’s hot-blast. The rapid adoption of the new technology was driven by the Bairds of Gartsherrie. The Baird family had been tenant farmers in Lanarkshire for generations. They had profited  rise in food prices during the Napoleonic wars,  but as prices fell after 1815, Alexander Baird took on the lease of a coal mine near the Monklands canal in 1816. Alexander had 8 sons and made William, then aged 20, manager while Alexander junior, aged 16, became the selling agent in Glasgow. In 1825 the brothers took the lease of a pit at Gartsherrie in Old Monklands parish. The problem with supplying coal for the Glasgow market was its seasonal nature with high demand in winter and low demand in summer. The existing coal suppliers also operated a cartel, keeping the price of coal high by restricting production. It seems likely that the Bairds decision in 1828 to build an iron furnace at Gartsherrie was driven by a need to find a use for surplus stocks of coal and the fact that there were extensive reserves of ironstone in the immediate area.

The Bairds first furnace was fired up in 1830 and was a hot-blast furnace. This meant that they were immediately able to produce pig iron more cheaply than their traditionalist competitors. Emboldened by the success of their new venture, by 1843 the Bairds had built 16 blast furnaces at Gartsherrie producing 100 000 tons of pig iron per year making it the largest iron works in the world. As they built more iron furnaces, the Bairds improved the hot-blast systems used and stopped paying royalties to Neilson. This led to a legal dispute which Neilson won in 1843. During the trial, the Bairds revealed that in the ten years between 1833 and 1843 they had made £ 260 000 net profit from hot-blast iron.

The Bairds ability to make huge profits from Neilson’s hot-blast was in part due to the discovery that Lanarkshire’s blackband ironstone (iron ore mixed with coal) and raw splint coal could be used directly in their furnaces. More pig iron could then be produced from less coal and iron ore. But in addition to this cost saving, the Bairds and other ironmasters made sure that the labour costs involved in mining the coal and ironstone were also reduced. This was achieved by what can only be described as a class war directed against their employees.

The problem faced by the ironmasters was that, as Alan Campbell explained in ‘The Lanarkshire Miners’ (Edinburgh, 1979), between 1606 and 1799 Scottish coal miners had been legally bound to their place of employment. While this form of neo-feudal serfdom guaranteed mine-owners a dedicated workforce, it also deterred new entrants to the workforce. The bonded miners believed that their wages were linked to the price of coal, so when coal prices were high so were their wages. This encouraged them to limit the amount of coal they mined so its price remained high. Well into the nineteenth century, the early miners’ trade unions continued trying to keep their wages up by restricting how much coal they mined.

However, although the new hot-blast iron furnaces needed less coal, high coal prices risked losing the resulting cost-advantage. The furnaces also had to be kept going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. The ironmasters needed a constant supply of cheap coal and as more hot-blast furnaces were built, they had to keep increasing the supply of coal and ironstone to the furnaces. To do so, the ironmasters opened their own coal and ironstone mines. At first these mines were close to the iron works but as production increased the ‘industrial frontier’ was pushed further out into the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire countryside.

To accommodate their workforce, the ironmasters built housing for them, as cheaply as possible. To feed their workers, they also opened company stores where the workers had to spend their wages. In theory the Truck Act passed in 1831 made this illegal, but as late as 1871 the House of Commons had to set up an inquiry into its effectiveness after a petition signed by 100 000 miners. In Lanarkshire it was found that there had been no criminal prosecutions under the Truck Act. This, it turned out, was because the ironmasters had effective control over the legal system in Lanarkshire.

Before Coatbridge became a centre for the new iron industry, the parishes of Old and New Monklands had been rural parishes with no need for a police force. By the 1840s this situation had changed but the Commissioners of Supply for Lanarkshire, who were mainly rural landowners, did not want to take on the expense of providing a police force. The Bairds of Gartsherrie and other local ironmasters then had the two parishes plus parts of Shotts and Bothwell made a into a special police district, paying for the new police force through the rates they paid on their extensive properties in the area.

By 1869, although there were 415 Commissioners of Supply owning property with an annual value of £100 in Lanarkshire, the smaller Finance Committee, dominated by the ironmasters and large landowners like the duke of Hamilton who was also a mine owner, controlled the purse strings of the Procurator Fiscal. Before proceeding with a potentially expensive legal case, the Procurator would have to have the approval of the Finance Committee. In 1871, the auditor of the accounts for Lanarkshire’s Committee of Supply said that he would not allow the expenses for a prosecution under the Truck Act because he believed the Commissioners ‘would not sanction it’.

James Baird’s account of a strike at Gartsherrie iron works.

In April 1837 the colliers were receiving five shillings a day, but as trade was looking rather unfavourable, they took it into their heads that they would be able to keep up their wages by working only three days in the week, and they continued to do this for some time. The other coal masters took no steps to resist it ; but we resolved that we would not, if we could help it, have our output limited in this way, and we accordingly gave every man notice to quit in fourteen days.
Thus we were left with eight furnaces, and not a single collier at Gartsherrie. We were not
obliged, however, to draw upon our reserve supplies. We had  now an " open cast " ready for work, and at Gartgill we had about twenty acres of the Pyotshaw coal hanging on the roof of the main coal, and it could be easily brought down. This we found could be accomplished by ordinary labourers, and we were soon able to procure a large output from the open cast and  from the Pyotshaw coal—a good many labourers who had been
working about the pits being now employed at the common coal faces. In the course of three weeks the output had been so much increased that we were able to carry on the whole of the furnaces. So stubborn, however, were the colliers, notwithstanding what they saw we were able to do, that they did not look near us for fifteen weeks.
This strike taught the poor men a lesson which they did not soon forget. It was as determined and prolonged a strike as any we have ever had at Gartsherrie. Many of the wives and children suffered greatly during the fifteen weeks of their foolish idleness. When they returned their condition was sadly changed. The best their furniture was gone. Most of the people who returned were in squalid wretchedness, and some of those who had left us had succumbed to their sufferings, and were in their graves. All the time I remained about Gartsherrie—down to 1851 or 1852—I never again saw the colliers up to the same mark of health and comfort as that in which they were before this strike.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Enyclopaedia of Ecstasy 1983

Monday, February 09, 2015

Did the Scots invent Thatcherism?

Kennedy & McConnell's cotton factory , Manchester 1815

1. Introduction

On 13 May 1988, prime minister Margaret Thatcher addressed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party conference in Perth. In the speech she launched a campaign to ‘strengthen the Union by winning back Scotland for the Conservative and Unionist cause’. Thatcher went on to say:

Mr. President, I'm sometimes told that the Scots don't like Thatcherism. Well, I find that hard to believe—because the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of. It is more than two hundred years since Adam Smith, David Hume, Adam Fergusson and others first set out their ideas of a world in which wealth would be generated and spread ever more widely. They saw that it's not Government which creates wealth—it's people. That People do best when they pursue their own vision. And that a wise Government will harness the efforts of individuals to improve the well-being of the whole community. So they proposed to restrain Government and to liberate men and women. Mr. President, those are the ideals I hold most dear. And they had their origins in the Scottish Enlightenment.

In making this claim it is unlikely that Margaret Thatcher was aware that nine years earlier leading French philosopher Michel Foucault had made a very similar claim. In March and April 1979, Foucault concluded a series of lectures at the College de France on neoliberalism by identifying Adam Smith, David Hume and Adam Ferguson  as the ‘inventors’ of what he called English liberalism. It was on the foundations of this English liberalism , so Foucault argued, that neoliberalism was built.

Since Thatcher did not become prime minister until May 1979, Foucault was unable to connect neoliberalism with Thatcherism. However, it is now widely accepted that Thatcherism was a form of neoliberalism. [For example see David Harvey ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’(Oxford, 2006) pp 56-63]

In which case, since the very different figures of Margaret Thatcher and Michel Foucault both identified the Scots as the ‘inventors’ of neoliberalism making a counter-argument will be difficult. Difficult but, I hope, not impossible. However, in making this counter-argument I will be drawing on some obscure corners of Scottish history. In particular, my starting point will be the Lowland Clearances which preceded the more familiar Highland Clearances.

2. From Local to National History 

During and since the referendum campaign I have noticed many people commenting that they were never taught Scottish history at school. I was fortunate since ‘Changing Life in Scotland 1760 to 1830’ was the topic I had to study for O Grade history at Kirkcudbright Academy in the 1970s. Looking back however, it would have been even more interesting if connections had been made between Scottish and local history during the period covered. It was only after I returned to Galloway after 20 years in England that I began to discover the connections as I read my way through the local history section of Castle Douglas Library.

One of the discoveries I made was that what we had been taught at school to call the Agricultural Revolution is now described as the Lowland Clearances during which a whole class of farm workers- the cottars- disappear from Scottish history. Unlike the dramatic Highland Clearances, the Lowland Clearances were a ‘silent revolution’ which did not lead to rural unrest- apart from in Galloway. Here in 1724, the beginnings of Scotland’s eighteenth century agricultural revolution were met with an armed uprising by cottars and tenant farmers who had been evicted from arable farms to make way for cattle farms. The uprising lasted for several months and was only suppressed after a regiment of dragoons was sent to Galloway.

Inspired by the Galloway Levellers, I began digging deeper into local history. One surprising discovery is that in the 1780s a small group of young men from Galloway became apprentices to a textile machine maker (also from Galloway) who was based near Bolton in Lancashire. In the 1790s four of these young men moved to Manchester where they soon became leading cotton spinners. One of this group was John Kennedy (1769-1855) who promoted the Liverpool-Manchester railway and was a judge at the Rainhill Locomotive Trials in 1829 which were won by George and Robert Stephenson’s with their famous ‘Rocket’.

Kennedy’s business partner was James McConnell who married Margaret Houldsworth. Her brother Thomas owned a rival cotton spinning business and later became an MP for Manchester. Her other brother, Henry moved from Manchester to Glasgow where he set-up Scotland’s first steam powered cotton mill in 1801, using machinery supplied by Kennedy and McConnell. Then in 1836, with financial help from his brother Thomas, Henry Houldsworth bought Coltness estate near Wishaw in Lanarkshire.  Beneath the estate were rich seams of coal and ironstone which provided the raw material for the Coltness iron works which Henry established.

Ten years later, Henry Houldsworth established the Dalmellington iron works in Ayrshire. Part of the finance for this venture was provided by James Murray, Henry’s son-in-law. James’ father was George Murray who with his brother Adam was one of the Galloway-Manchester cotton spinners.

As well as the Galloway-Manchester, cotton-iron connections, I also found a Liverpool   connection. William Ewart senior was a Galloway born merchant in Liverpool where his business partner was John Gladstone from Biggar. William Ewart’s son William became an MP. William Ewart junior was a supporter of the Anti-Corn Law League and a keen advocate of free-trade. William Ewart senior was godfather to John Gladstone’s son  William Ewart Gladstone the famous Victorian prime minister.

To this group can be added another significant player, Galloway born economist John Ramsay McCulloch who was described by Friedrich Engel’s as ‘the English bourgeoisies’ favourite political economist’ in 1844.

However, before discussing the role these Scots played in the creation of ninettenth century ‘English liberalism’ we need to go back to the early eighteenth century and take up the story of the Galloway Levellers again.

In 1723, the year before the Levellers uprising began, the Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture was established in Edinburgh. Its patron was John Dalrymple, second earl of Stair and its secretary was Robert Maxwell of Arkland in Galloway. Amongst the  Society’s members were John Clerk of Penicuik, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie in Galloway and James Steuart of Coltness. Of these, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie was one of the landowners who attempted to negotiate with the Galloway Levellers and John Clerk’s brother was a customs officer in Kirkcudbright at the time and kept his brother Clerk informed of events through a series of weekly letters. The troops sent to quash the Levellers were the earl of Stair’s dragoons. Members of the Society were therefore very aware of the events in Galloway.

Although Galloway was quiet the following year, cities across Scotland were not. An attempt to raise the duty paid on malt, essential for beer making, led to riots. The worst of these took place in Glasgow where  the rioters had control of the city for two weeks in 1725 before General Wade was able to restore order with his troops.

Tucked away in the ‘Select Transactions’ of the Society of Improvers, edited by Robert Maxwell and published in 1747 is ‘An Account of the Society’s Endeavours  to Promote our Manufactures’. The Society began these endeavours in November 1723, focussed on promoting the linen industry in Scotland. Work on this idea continued through 1724 and 1725.  In 1726, a ‘Bill for Encouraging and Promoting Fisheries and other Manufactures and Improvements in that part of Great Britain called Scotland’ was laid before Parliament. The ‘Select Transactions’ includes the complete text of this Bill.

The Bill was supported by prime minister Robert Walpole but opposed by English members of parliament who objected to the costs involved. Walpole replied that it would be cheaper than maintaining 6000 troops in Scotland to maintain order. Walpole’s fear was that so far the Union of 1707 had failed to stimulate the Scottish economy and that this was being exploited by the Jacobites to stir up resentment against the Union. While Glasgow and Dumfries had been hostile to the Jacobites in 1715, if nothing was done to increase employment and prosperity in the Presbyterian west of Scotland, this could change. Indeed, if there had been popular support for the Jacobites in southern Scotland in 1745, the Jacobites might well have succeeded.

Between 1727, when the Board of Trustees for the Improvement of Manufactures and Fisheries was established, until state regulation of the linen industry was abolished in 1823, Scottish production of linen rose from 2.2 million yards in 1728 to 36 million yards in 1822. Although since 1780 the linen industry had been overshadowed by the rapid growth of Scotland’s cotton industry, the Board of Trustees successful improvement of the linen industry laid the foundations for the rise of cotton.

The significance of the establishment of the Board of Trustees is that it operated through the era of the Scottish Enlightenment as a successful example of state intervention in the Scottish economy. When the Board’s origins in the work of the Society of Improvers is taken into account a further significant factor emerges. In 1723 the Union of 1707 had not delivered an economic boost for Scotland. Since key members of the Society like the second earl of Stair and Sir John Clerk were supporters of the Union and opponents of the Jacobites, they were very aware that without some form of state support and intervention in the Scottish economy, the future of the Union was at risk.

Of course the Union might still have survived without state support for the Scottish linen industry in the eighteenth century, but it is interesting that the movement towards Scottish independence was boosted in the late twentieth century by Margaret Thatcher’s antagonism to state intervention and support for key Scottish industries.  

3. The Scottish Enlightenment and the Origins of Liberalism

The Union of 1707 created an anomaly. While the centre of political power moved south to London, only a few Scottish landowners, like the dukes of Buccleuch, were wealthy enough to live in London. However, the remaining landowners were still influential through the Commissioners of Supply (local government) which the Union had not affected. The Church of Scotland retained its autonomy, as did the Scottish universities. Along with the Convention of Royal Burghs and the persistence of the Scottish legal system, the shadowy outlines of a Scottish state endured thus giving members of Scotland’s ruling elite limited but real power within ‘that part of Great Britain called Scotland’.

I believe that it was the uncertainties and ambiguities of their new situation which forced the more intellectual members of the Scottish elite to think more deeply about the nature of society, about the economy and about political power. These philosophical speculations were given an extra edge in the aftermath of the Jacobites final defeat in 1746. As the Jacobites advanced south, there was panic on the streets of London and Scots were portrayed as barefooted barbarians and destroyers of civilisation. It was only after 1746 that the Scottish Enlightenment really took off and the Age of Improvement began.

What occurred was an elite led, top-down attempt to modernise and civilise Scotland and the Scots. Across Lowland Scotland landowners began sweeping away the physical signs of the old Scotland by rationalising the farmed landscape. The Military Map of Scotland made by William Roy in 1755 captures the beginnings of this process. It shows, dotted across the Lowlands, the houses of large landowners surrounded by neat chequerboard patterns of square fields bounded by hedges and dykes. Over the next fifty years, estate by estate, county by county, the square or rectangular fields of improved farms spread out over the landscape. The old fermtouns were swept away and  new stone built steadings replaced them. New villages and towns were built, 86 in Dumfries and Galloway alone. These in turn were linked together by a network of new roads, improving and speeding up communications.

Significantly, this transformation was brought about not by the actions of the British state, but by Scotland’s civil society. However, the actions of the British state did facilitate the process by providing opportunities for Scottish merchants, soldiers and even doctors to make huge fortunes as what was to become the British Empire expanded across the globe. Many of the improving landowners were not members of the traditional landowning elite but had bought their estates with wealth gained overseas. By improving their new estates and, in the process themselves, the newly rich could disguise the origins of wealth gained  through crude and brutal exploitation and become ‘gentlemen’.

Across Dumfries and Galloway and the rural south of Scotland, the late eighteenth century landscape of Enlightened Improvement survives. In central Scotland it is overlaid by a very different landscape, a landscape shaped by the Industrial Revolution. While it has been argued, for example by Joel Mokyr in ‘The Enlightened Economy’ [Yale, 2010] that the Industrial Revolution was a product of the Enlightenment I am not so certain.

Although the first of James Watt’s steam engines began working in 1776, they were used as pumping engines. It was not until the 1790s in Manchester that steam was used to directly power cotton spinning machinery. For Friedrich Engels, writing in 1844, it was this combination of steam plus cotton machinery that began the Industrial Revolution and Engels was the first to use the term in an British context.

Freed from reliance on water power and close to sources of coal, the cotton industry grew rapidly in Manchester. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1830 removed transport problems caused by the slow and expensive canal network, leading to further growth. But then the cotton manufactures encountered another problem. During the Napoleonic Wars, farmers and landowners profited from the high price of wheat. When prices fell in 1815, their dominance in the unreformed House of Commons and in the House of Lords led to the passing of a law to keep corn (wheat) prices high by excluding imported wheat. High corn prices, it was argued, led to high wages which in turn pushed up the production costs of cotton. After several years of struggle, in 1845 the Manchester based Anti-Corn Law League succeeded in getting the 1815 act repealed. From 1845 until 1914, ‘free trade’ became the cornerstone of economic policy in the UK, supported and promoted by the ‘Manchester School’ of  English (British) liberalism.

In the mid-nineteenth century, France Belgium, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Holland, the Hanseatic league, Switzerland, Austria and the German principalities adopted free-trade polices. However, beginning with France in 1875 and soon followed by Germany, enthusiasm for free-trade began to wane and measures to protect domestic industries from ‘unfair’ competition were introduced.  In the USA, the slave-owning, cotton producing states favoured free-trade while the more industrialised northern states were protectionist. The victory of the northern states in 1865 was therefore also a victory for protectionism.

After WW1 there was a period of economic recovery but the Great Depression which followed saw even the UK give up free-trade in favour of a protectionist system of ‘imperial preferences’. Combined with the rise of fascism and communism it seemed that economic liberalism was dead. But, as Foucault argued, the same period saw the birth of what was to become neoliberalism after WW2. The key moment identified by Foucault was a conference held in Paris in August 1938, inspired by the work of Walter Lippman in the USA.

As well as Lippman himself, the meeting was also attended by Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow from Germany and Austrian School theorists  Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Participants from France included Raymond Aron, Robert Marjolin, Louis Rougier, and Jacques Rueff and entrepreneur Ernest Mercier. Hungarian born but UK based  Michael Polanyi was another participant. Participants from France included Raymond Aron, Robert Marjolin, Louis Rougier, and Jacques Rueff. Walter Eucken, the founder of German neoliberalism, called ordoliberalism, was invited to the conference, but was not given permission to leave Germany.

Significantly, based on his experiences as a journalist, Lippmann argued that policy makers could ignore public opinion and even dismiss it. Lippmann believed that public opinion is incoherent, ill-informed and lacks an organised or coherent structure. Effectively, Lippmann was arguing for a tightly controlled and limited form of  democracy. Eucken's contribution was drawn from his writings, where he argued that the state has the task of providing  the political framework for economic freedom, in contrast to Adam Smith's doctrine of 'laissez-faire'. For Eucken, the essence of the market was competition rather than exchange To facilitate market competition, the state should maintain legal and institutional frameworks, including the maintenance of private property, enforcement of private contracts, liability, free entry to markets, and monetary stability. However, the state should not direct or intervene in the economic processes of daily practices, as occurs in a centrally planned economies.

Necessarily, since his lectures were delivered before the elections of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA, what Foucault called neoliberalism is not quite the same as today’s neoliberalism. However, by locating the origins of neoliberalism in the 1930s rather than the 1970s, Foucault’s work challenges the tendency, especially in Scotland, to simplify its complex history by equating neoliberalism with Thatcherism.

4. Scottish Influence on English Liberalism

Finally, from my own research, I have found a Scottish link which connects Adam Smith’s ‘laissez faire’ liberalism with Foucault’s ‘English liberalism’. In his book ‘Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence , 1600-1850’ (Cambridge, 2011), Prasannan Parthasarath highlighted a significant lecture given to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society by John Kennedy in November 1815. Kennedy’s lecture was on ‘The Rise and Progress of the Cotton Industry’ and Parthasarath noted that Kennedy drew on Adam Smith’s work to explain the success of the British cotton industry. This was the first time Smith’s work had been used in this way.

This marked a significant change since in the final quarter of the eighteenth century the cotton manufactures of Lancashire had favoured and benefited from protectionist policies which cushioned them against Indian competition. It was only after improvements pioneered by Kennedy and others increased the quality and lowered the cost of their cotton that Smithian free-trade was adopted by the Manchester cotton barons. One result was that the flow of the cotton trade was reversed.

Textile manufactures in the Indian subcontinent suffered grievously with the rise of Lancashire and the rapid growth in exports of British cotton yarn and cloth. By 1820 the English [British] East India Company had terminated its cloth trade and closed down the network of factories that had been purchasing Indian cloth for nearly two centuries. [Parthasarath 2011, p.153]

In addition to John Kennedy, the work of the Galloway born economist John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1865) provides an important link between the liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment and that of the Victorian era. Described by Engels in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ as the ‘English bourgeoisies’ favourite political economist’, McCulloch edited The Scotsman from 1817 to 1821 before publishing ‘ The Principles of Political Economy’ in 1825. Unable to secure a university position in Scotland, McCulloch moved to London where he became professor of Political Economy at University College in London from 1828 to 1837. In 1838 he was appointed Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, a position he held until his death.

The move to London brought McCulloch into close contact with leading politicians like Robert Peel who was prime minister 1834-5 and 1841-46. Peel became a close friend and McCulloch, despite disagreements over economic policies, also had a ‘cordial’ relationship with William Ewart Gladstone who was a member of Peel’s cabinet and then Chancellor of the Exchequer 1852-5 and again 1859-66. After McCulloch’s death, Gladstone became prime minister four times. Gladstone’s great rival Benjamin Disraeli attended McCulloch’s lectures on political economy in the 1830s.

Although, as Marx pointed out in ‘Theories of Surplus Value’ (1860) McCulloch did not make any major contributions to political economy as theory, through his journalism, lectures, books and influential friendships, McCulloch brought the practice of economic liberalism into the heart of the British state. In addition, through his friendship with leading cotton manufacturer John Kennedy of Galloway and Manchester, McCulloch was able to bring the Scottish Enlightenment version of economic liberalism up-to-date by including the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the British economy.

A final connection is provided by William Ewart (1798-1869). Ewart was the son of the Galloway born Liverpool merchant William Ewart mentioned above and was first a Member of Parliament for Liverpool before becoming M.P. for Dumfries. Ewart was a keen supporter of free-trade and a fierce opponent of the Corn Laws, working closely with Richard Cobden and John Bright of the Anti-Corn Law League.

5. Conclusion

In the Introduction to their book ‘Yes-The Radical Case for Scottish Independence’, James Foley and Pete Ramand noted that the 300th anniversary of the Union of 1707 passed with very little public celebration despite the fact that the Union ‘marked  the beginning of two centuries of global domination’ by the Britain and its empire. Although the immediate results of the Union were slight, its long term consequences shaped world history no less than the French Revolution or the American War of Independence.

While the sun has long since set on the British Empire, a very different legacy of the Union continues to influence and shape the world today. What is now called neoliberalism has become over the past 35 years the dominant economic paradigm or belief-system. However, before advent of Thatcherism in the UK and Reaganomics in the USA, in series of lectures in 1978-79 French philosopher Michel Foucault identified an earlier form of neoliberalism. Foucault’s neoliberalism had its roots in the Great Depression of the 1930s which had created a crisis of confidence in traditional economic liberalism. Faced with the threat from the left and the right of state intervention and control of national economies, the neoliberals’ counter proposal was to deepen and extend liberalism so that the state would become the servant of the economy.

Foucault then showed that the idea that the economy should act as a limit or restraint on state power was already present in what he called ‘English liberalism’, drawing on the work of Adam Ferguson, David Hume and Adam Smith to support this claim. But as I have found, the failure of the Union of 1707 to improve the Scottish economy led to lobbying by the Society of Improvers  for state supported intervention via the Board of Trustees for the Improvement of Manufactures and Fisheries. The Board played an active role in developing the Scottish linen industry from 1727 to 1823.

In England over the same period, the early cotton industry was protected from competition from India by import tariffs. Manchester’s cotton capitalists only adopted the doctrines of free-trade after the process of mechanisation allowed Lancashire cottons to be mass produced at high quality. This had a devastating impact on India’s traditional cotton industry. Beginning with John Kennedy’s 1815 lecture, the history of the English cotton industry was then re-written to fit with Adam Smith’s economic theories.

Once its history had been re-written, the huge success of the Lancashire cotton industry in the later nineteenth century was used to prove the economic superiority of laissez-faire and free-trade policies over state-led economic policies based protectionism and market intervention. This went hand-in-hand with a selective reading of Adam Smith’s work to emphasise his support for the ‘free-market economy’ while the work of former Jacobite James Steuart of Coltness was sidelined. Steuart was a former member of the Society of Improvers. Steuart favoured more interventionist economic policies in his book ‘The Principles of Political Economy’ which was published in 1767, nine years before Smith’s ‘On the Wealth of Nations’.

Margaret Thatcher was an admirer of Adam Smith and told a Conservative party conference in 1988 that it was the Scots who first invented Thatcherism. Thatcher was also a committed Unionist. But as the Society of Improvers recognised in the 1720s, unless the Union could improve the Scottish economy, it would fail. Their response was to actively promote state support and intervention in key Scottish industries. It may prove to be an irony of history that it was Margaret Thatcher’s version of Adam Smith’s liberalism which began the break up of the United Kingdom.

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