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19 September 2014
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20th Century Scotland - An Introduction (II)

Bad Reputations
Glasgow SlumsUnemployment, sub-standard housing and poor levels of health had a dramatic effect on the national character of Scotland. Glasgow took the brunt of the depression in the 1930s and acquired many negative stereotypes which it is still trying desperately to lose as it maps out its future for the 21st century. During the inter-war years Glasgow was the corpse of an industrial city, devoid of the spirit of industry, with slums and razor gangs becoming the enduring images of the age. These images were perpetuated in the novel No Mean City and countless other literary imitations over the years which focused on Glasgow's 'hard man' character. It was a mentality which became entrenched over the years, but which reflected the economic and social problems which Glasgow was experiencing for much of the century.

Religious sectarianism was rife throughout Scotland for much of the century, but was again concentrated in Glasgow. Although the country had been predominantly Protestant since the Reformation, an influx of Irish immigrants, drawn to the industry on Clydeside throughout the 19th and early 20th century, had established a large Catholic community. Irish immigration actually had slowed considerably during the Depression compared to earlier decades, however, huge levels of unemployment and fierce competition in the labour market inflamed an already volatile situation. Unemployed, skilled labourers from the Protestant community complained bitterly about Irish immigrants taking 'their jobs' and this brought ruthless discrimination in the labour market, with Orange and Masonic Lodges often influencing the allocation of jobs within Clydeside Industry in favour of Protestant workers. The Church of Scotland and other Protestant institutions positively encouraged this anti-Catholic feeling at the time, and sectarianism was entrenched in many of Scotland's most basic institutions. Children generally went to either Catholic or Protestant schools, they lived in different streets and areas of the city, and the rivalry was played out on the football field between Rangers in the west of the city and Celtic in the east. In the early 1930s the Scottish Protestant League became a strong political force in Glasgow, especially amongst the skilled working classes in Govanhill, Kinning park and other areas in the West of Glasgow. It did seem for a while that these organisations could command a lot of political support, which undoubtedly worried both Labour and the Tories, however, these groups were, in general, considered to be extremist by the mainstream press and the middle classes, and had no real political future. Sectarianism remains a problem in 21st century Scotland, although the problem has diminished with each new generation as the economic and social circumstances which created such a situation becomes less relevant.


Tom JohnstonWith the advent of the Second World War, Scotland's economy again reverted to its traditional base in heavy industry
to meet the demand for munitions and naval vessels- much in the same way as it had done during the previous war. Yet again, a lack of economic diversification was inflicted on the Scottish workforce, which they would pay dearly for when the post-war boom had levelled out and Clydeside's competition in Germany and Japan had recovered. This was a time when state intervention in Scottish society became a necessity in many people's eyes in order to halt the impending economic crisis. This form of left wing politics was made popular during the war by perhaps the most famous Secretary of State for Scotland of the whole century, Tom Johnston. Wartime was well suited to Johnston's interventionist policies and gave him the wide-ranging powers which he required to carry them out. A former Red Clydesider himself, Johnston knew that it was impossible to return to the bad old days of the depression on Clydeside, especially after the scale of the sacrifice which was required from people to win such a war. It was, for him, the duty of the government to intervene and alleviate problems such as poverty, poor housing and unemployment. His ideas were aptly demonstrated when he implemented a prototype NHS on Clydeside during the World War II. But it was when Labour swept to power after the war, winning an incredible 37 seats in Scotland alone, that the political trend was set which would change the face of Scotland over the next 50 years.

Child allowances, state retirement pensions and unemployment benefit shortly followed Labour‘s victory, with the crowning achievement in the form of the NHS coming in 1948. These state benefits and schemes were vital to the survival of Scotland at the time and they plotted a new course for the economy, which was closely mirrored in the industrial north of England, in which the country became increasingly dependent on state intervention to prop up its struggling industrial sector. This process was intensified by the spate of post-war nationalisation projects- coal in 1947, the railways and electricity in 1948, with iron and steel in 1949.

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