Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 13: The High Road to Independence

Thanks mainly to Scottish and Irish votes, the Liberal leader Gladstone was swept into power later in the year. In 1872, as Prime Minister, he introduced the secret ballot for all parliamentary and municipal elections. Scotland finally achieved equal representation with England in the third Reform Act, passed in 1885, that granted manhood suffrage in town and country alike, based on the distribution of population.

The same year saw the creation of a cabinet post - secretary for Scotland. His ministry became "the Scottish Office," responsible for many departments, including that of education. An act that year also made education compulsory to the age of thirteen, the setting up of school boards in each parish and the admission of all the Presbyterian schools into the national system. As a serious sidelight, in Scotland, as in Wales, such "reforms," while making the general population more literate helped further the decline of the surviving Celtic languages of Welsh and Gaelic. That was of little concern to the Government.

It was up to concerned individuals to keep the ancient traditions alive. An Comunn Gaidhealach was founded in 1891 in an attempt to preserve Gaelic language and literature, art and music. Its activities included an annual Mod, similar to the Welsh Eisteddfod, which encouraged friendly competition in dancing, singing, recitation, and of course, piping. The Mod continues to play an active role in Scottish cultural activities, and like the Irish Feile is attracting more and more visitors from the other Celtic nations.

In the late 1890's, when William Ewart Gladstone (who had married a girl from the Glynne family of Flintshire, North Wales) endorsed the concept of home rule for Ireland, there were many in Scotland who felt betrayed. After all, it was they who deserved home rule because of their loyalty, not the Irish, who were being rewarded for just the opposite. In 1886, the Scottish Home Rule Association was formed to campaign for a Scottish Parliament to be set up in Edinburgh. One of its aims was "to maintain the integrity of the Empire, and secure that the voice of Scotland shall be heard in the Imperial Parliament as fully as at present when discussing Imperial Affairs."

In the House of Commons in 1889, the matter was put to the vote, but only 79 of 279 M.P.'s were in favor (of the Scots M.P.'s, there were l9 for and 22 against). Similar bills received greater support in the Commons but were never acted upon. In fact, the subject of Home Rule for Scotland was brought up 13 times without progressing any further. The outbreak of World War I ended discussion on the matter.

In the meantime, the workers of Scotland were more interested in bettering their conditions than they were in home rule. They had been steadily gaining ground in their reconstituted attempts to form unions. They were encouraged by the first British union to achieve any success in the fight for better working conditions and a decent wage that had been formed in Lancashire in 1869 -- the Amalgamated Association of Miners. Fierce resistance from the mine owners and a failed strike, however, led to the union's dissolution. Other efforts in South Wales had been defeated in 1873 by a united front formed against them by the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owner's Association.

Attempts to form unions persisted. Founded in 1886, with Keir Hardie as its secretary, the Scottish Miner's Federation had over 150,000 members by 1892 and had become a strong force in the direction the labor movement was to take. In 1888, Hardie helped form the Scottish Labour Party aided by R. B. Cunningham Grahame, a wealthy landowner and romantic author. One year later the Miner's Federation of Great Britain was formed at Newport, South Wales to argue for the creation of a Board of Arbitration to replace the sliding scale and to restrict work hours.

In 1893, in response to poor working conditions and the intransigence of the coal owners, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was born. Five years later, the Voice of Labour was begun in South Wales, where Keir Hardie who had become the chairman of the ILP, visited the striking miners. Things began to snowball. In 1900, Hardie won the election for Merthyr, becoming the first socialist to sit in Parliament. The author's grandfather, a die-hard socialist of the old school who had worked as a coal miner, remembered the consternation in the House of Commons when Hardie, showing his solidarity with the workers, took his seat wearing his cloth deerstalker hat in place of the usual shiny "topper."

During the same year, again in South Wales, a decision in favor of the Taff Railway Company against the striking workers, who had formed the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, was instrumental in the formation of a new party in British politics. The unions saw that their rights would only be guaranteed through legislation. Consequently, the Labour Representative Committee (LRC) was founded in London to promote their interests. In 1906, it became known as the Labour Party.

With the outbreak of the World War in 1914, it was time to put aside the major industrial grievances. In the common cause against the enemy, Scots played a full share in the struggle for survival and victory. We can only imagine the results for subsequent British history had the 27 battalions each raised by the great Scottish regiments, the Black Watch, the Cameronians and the Highland Light Infantry, along with the 35 battalions of the Royal Scots combined in a fight for independence. Be as that may, all ranks of Scottish society were imbued with patriotism for Britain as a whole, and in Parliament, even the long-standing and troublesome "Irish Question" was laid aside in the common cause taken up by a coalition government.

Chapter 14: Scotland between Wars