James Keir Hardie in New Zealand

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 13.49.04On this day in 1856, James Keir Hardie was born near Holytown, a small town close to Motherwell. He had a most interesting life, and even those with different political views would probably concede that his contributions in making the Labour Party were critical to British political life. What I want to focus on today, however, is how Keir Hardie was a global figure, a figure of much wieder relevance to political movements beyond the British Isles. Let’s look at one specific episode, his 1907-08 visit to New Zealand. This visit was part of a tour that brought him not … Read more

Scottish associational culture in Africa in the early 20th century

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.32.52In Africa, like elsehwere around the globe, Scottish clubs and societies were a common development soon after the first foot fall of Scots on the continent. Contrary to popular assumption, and while there was a strong concentration, such associations were not restricted to southern Africa. By the early twentieth century we find societies in Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo, the latter Society’s activities firmly recognized on St Andrew’s Day in 1902, when it received telegrams from sister societies in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Salisbury, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Umtali, Gwelo, Mafeking, Kroonstad, Simonstown, Queenstown, Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo) and East … Read more

Understanding British migration history – and why it matters more than ever before

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 05.17.45Migrants are coming in swarms, did you know?  They are coming to Britain, as Cameron continued to explain the other week, from ‘across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life’. Outrageous, isn’t it. And, of course, completely unheard of. It’s never happened before. No, not ever in human history. People have always stayed put. … Oh, hang on, wait a moment … Of course I am being sarcastic here. Partly, I think, because sarcasm is about the only response I have left in me for the extremely worrying rhetoric politicians in the UK began using so liberally sometime last year. This … Read more

The Caledonian Society of Bristol

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 14.43.15Bristol’s Caledonian Society was founded in the early nineteenth century ‘for the relief of unfortunate but deserving Scotchmen’, spending much of its time on the provision of aid akin to poor relief for Scots. By December 1822, the association had at least 40 members, a number of Englishmen among them, who were staunch supporters of the Society and its objectives. As the then Caledonian Society president observed, ‘to the English members he felt more than ordinarily indebted, because they had supplied the deficiency of many of our own opulent resident Scotchmen, who had hitherto resisted the call of the wants … Read more

Soldiers of Empire

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 14.28.44As soldiers of the British imperial armies Scots were visible on many African battlegrounds, including in West Africa, Egypt and, most notably, in South Africa. Scottish regiments were conspicuous, earning ‘accolades as empirebuilders’. Or, as Richard Finlay has observed, ‘[u]ndoubtedly, the military contribution of the Scottish regiments was the most important factor in the propagation of a distinctive Scottish input into British imperial activity.’ This input, though relatively small in numerical terms given that the number of Scottish soldiers in the British army was low relative to Scotland’s population, was perceived as enduring and powerful. This was the case too … Read more


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