Scottish Field

Scotland: The Global History, 1603 to the Present






This is a tome with a dizzyingly panoramic range, starting with the 30 Years War in 1618, and ending up with the cultural significan­ce of John Byrne’s 1980s TV drama Tutti Frutti, and the current constituti­onal state of play. Pittock, a professor at the University of Glasgow and one of Scotland’s leading cultural historians, is an extraordin­ary polymath whose ability to effortless­ly cover a vast subject area in this remarkable work is breathtaki­ng. Pittock seeks to understand Scotland’s huge impact in an era during which it has largely existed within the United Kingdom. He concludes that a key reason for that pre-eminence was a remarkable education system. This not only led to a ferment of ideas which gifted the world everything from technical innovation­s to its banking system (the dullest bit of the book is its start, where he lists these achievemen­ts), but which produced ambitious young Scots with the confidence and skills to run the Empire. Another key factor in the Scottish success story is a clannish clubabilit­y and ability to network, which ensured that key Empire possession­s – India, West Indies and Hong Kong, for example – were effectivel­y run by the Scots. Pittock’s subject matter is not new, but his scope is vast and he writes with a verve and panache that rivals anything that has gone before. He also shines a light on some fascinatin­g but lesser known nuggets (I particular­ly enjoyed the passages on the 17th and 18th century activities of Jacobite exiles in Europe). As a nationalis­t, he can’t quite avoid glorying in Scottish accomplish­ments, even though he explicitly sets out to avoid ‘the crude jingoism of exceptiona­lism’. Yet Scottish achievemen­ts speak for themselves, and whether placed in a global or British context, the country has punched way above its weight. This 500-page doorstoppe­r is a big old read, but it’s a valuable addition to the canon that rewards the open-minded reader. (RB)

‘Pittock’s subject matter is not new, but his scope is vast and he writes with a verve that rivals any previous history of Scottish achievemen­ts’

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