Caledonian diversity

T M Devine and Angela McCarthy, editors, New Scots: Scotland’s immigrant communities since 1945, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2018, pp. xiii and 273.

Setting the scene for this multi-layered and empirically well-informed consideration of ‘new Scots’, the editors highlight a major difference in the post-war demographic experience of Scotland and England. T M Devine and Angela McCarthy note that the picture in Scotland ‘between 1950 and the 1980s remained one of large-scale emigration rather than immigration. During those decades, England experienced particularly high levels of net inward movement, especially after the 1948 Nationality Act, which enabled the settlement of migrants from the British colonies and former colonies in the Commonwealth. North of the border the opposite was the case, with on average almost 6 per cent of the population leaving Scotland in each decade over that period, a level of haemorrhage unmatched in any other part of the mainland UK’.

Further changes mean that issues of diversity and race relations have become important over the recent decades: ‘from the late 1990s … migration to Scotland by non-UK ethnicities [was] transformed both in scale and diversity of country of origin. The English movement was not only maintained but developed further, while Poland and other countries in eastern Europe began to contribute more migrants than ever before … Between 2001 and 2011, the non-UK element effectively doubled, from 191,571 to 369,997. This meant that the foreign-born component of the country’s total population increased from 3.8 per cent in 2001 to 7 per cent in 2011’.

In this context, this accessible collection of pieces from Edinburgh University Press deserves to be read by all concerned with the changing make-up of Scottish society, from Holyrood to local councils and voluntary organisations.

The book has chapters covering those sometimes called ‘invisible migrants’ – English people in Scotland; Jewish life in Scotland since the Second World War; the experience of Pakistani and Indian immigrants; the social mobility of Chinese families; ‘tales of settling in Scotland’ from African migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and a look at voting evidence from the 2014 independence referendum to consider how the experience of migration affected political participation and constitutional preferences.

Concluding his chapter on English people in modern Scotland, Devine’s judgement is that they ‘do not feel the need to see themselves like some ethnicities do as an “immigrant community” or “strangers in a strange land”. They have little need to construct defensive solidarity against real or imagined external threats in their new homeland, despite some predictable frissons and occasional tensions derived from the long and complex set of relationships between the two nations’.

In his contribution, Stefano Bonino judges that ‘the prejudice and discrimination that Pakistanis and Indians have faced have not prevented them from integrating into Scottish society in a relatively successful manner’, though ‘the process of cultural adaptation in Scotland is yet to be fully completed’. Such statements betray the fact that some contributors to this book are stronger when organising ‘factual’ evidence than they are in discussing and critiquing the very categories which are given to us in order to understand social trends, official policy and government practice. Terms are sometimes used in ‘essentialist’ ways, suggesting that ‘Pakistanis’ are like this, or that ‘Poles’ are like that – and the desirability of ‘cultural adaptation’ is simply assumed as an obvious policy goal, without consideration of who is to adapt to whom, or to whose culture, or of the many other tricky issues that this goal generates.

Teresa Piacentini, however, is one contributor amongst those who do unpack and sift processes of identity formation, in her case looking at the experience of African asylum seekers, migrants and refugees. Piacentini shows how her subjects combined aspects of their former lifestyle with determined approaches to make a new life in Scotland, including through networking and participation in voluntary associations and community organisations.


Review published January 2019