Initiatives, impediments and identities: Scottish emigration in the twentieth century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Scotland’s demographic history in the twentieth century continued to be characterised by the long-established wanderlust which in the 1800s had seen the country come to occupy third place in a European league of people-exporting countries, behind only Ireland and Norway. Statistical precision is impossible, because of incomplete and ambiguous data, frequent changes in classification criteria, and the absorption of separate Scottish returns into UK figures, but by the end of the twentieth century two million or so Scots had gone overseas. The Scottish reservoir supplied permanent settlers, temporary sojourners and serial migrants to all corners of the world, not least to the British empire, as the dominance of the United States was challenged negatively by quota legislation and positively by unprecedented government subsidisation of dominion settlement.

The chapter addresses a number of key themes, each of which is approached within a broad chronological framework that explores continuities and changes over the course of the twentieth century. After scrutinising the motives of migrants and sponsors, it reviews the attitudes of donor and host nations, with reference to different constituencies within those nations. Recruitment strategies are analysed, as is the relationship between rhetoric and reality in the experiences of the migrants. Issues relating to the retention or loss of migrant identity are examined, with particular emphasis on the formal and informal mechanisms of associational culture by which Scots constructed ethnic networks and developed multiple or hybrid identities.

Questions to be investigated include the case for or against Scottish exceptionalism in the multi-faceted narrative of migration; the extent to which different constituencies of Scottish migrants were influenced by empire settlement legislation; the impact of two world wars and the intervening world depression on the volume and direction of movement; the significance of technological developments in transport and communication (including radio and television) in shaping attitudes and actions; and the degree to which ethnic networking was a crucial or cosmetic ingredient in successful migration.

Sources deployed in tackling these questions include not only familiar government documents, agents’ reports and newspapers, but also less well-known broadcasting archives, oral testimony and the records of ethnic associations in a range of locations, including the previously unstudied archives of the Caledonian Society of Kenya.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationScotland, Empire and Decolonisation in the Twentieth Century
EditorsBryan Glass, John M MacKenzie
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-0-7190-9617-4, 0719096170
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015

Publication series

NameStudies in Imperialism
PublisherManchester University Press


  • migration
  • Scotland


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