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The Scottish Clearances - A history of the dispossessed - T.M. DEVINE - Penguin Books 2019

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

This very readable historical account clearly sets out its aim in the title - the book is above all about the evolution of the life of the peoples of Scotland living on the margins of subsistence essentially during the last 3 centuries and their relationship with their lairds the Scottish landowners. The author is clear to refute the idea that the clearances were simply an Anglo-Saxon retribution after the early 18th century Jacobite rebellions - the clearances occurred at different times and ways both in the lowlands, central belt and highlands as Scotland(Gaeldom) evolved out of a clan patriarchal society("tribalism") into a fully capitalist industrialised and agrarian landscape. As the great estates changed hands(from being hereditary to financed businesses) and the clan chiefs who had always protected the dispossessed on his land lost their political power the ever present question was how to deal with the poorest section of the population living of with no margin for error when it came to surviving either social upheavals or natural disasters like famine(the potato famine of 1850's) and of course Scotland's notorious weather.

The authors account is not a political essay - it is a historical account where he combines statistics and as often poetry or songs to convey the notable social tendencies during effectively a 200 year period. There were villains from both sides - the levellers in the lowlands, the spiteful factors, the racist Victorian politicians and then there were the heros - the heroic highlander of the British Empire, the Glaswegian Celtic revivalists and the Victorian political reformers. But always piggy in the middle was the poor dispossessed and the question of who ultimately could and should bear responsibility for their well-being and ultimately their daily survival.

If the clearances were Scotland's loss at home they were certainly the gain of the wider world with the creation of the Scottish diaspora.

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