School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Political histories of modern Scotland

Political historians can do more to clarify our understanding of the current Scottish independence debate, argued Professor Ewen A Cameron, Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography, in his inaugural lecture: "The Political Histories of Modern Scotland".

Speaking to a packed audience, at a talk which is now available on YouTube, Professor Cameron said:

“The Referendum is a key moment in Scottish history, sparking speculation and argument in equal measure.

“Scottish political historians have sought to blur the polarities of the debate by use of phrases like ‘unionist nationalism’.”

Nationalist and unionist

What is needed, he suggested, is a more complete picture of Scottish political history in the 20th century, including the place of nationalist and unionist traditions:

“If notions such as Scottish independence or Scottish autonomy can be detected in Scotland’s experience of the Union, independence if it occurs may not see the end of the Union in every aspect. Cannier advocates of independence such as the First Minister have an innate understanding of this point”.

From Victorian Liberalism to the ‘matriarch of devolution’

In a wide-ranging, scholarly and engaging talk, which referenced the imperial and global context, Professor Cameron described the transition from the political culture of small-town Scotland in the Victorian and Edwardian period - when liberalism dominated Scottish politics, press and the Presbyterian churches - through to the impact of Margaret Thatcher.

History of journalism

Much more can be learned to inform the present referendum debate, Cameron argued, if political historians engage with the neglected evidence and language used in the popular media of the mid-late 20th century.

Professor Cameron is the author of several books including 'Impaled Upon the Thistle: Scotland since 1880' (Edinburgh University Press, 2010).