To The Ends of the Earth – A Review

To the Ends of the Earth – Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750 to 2010, T.M.Devine (Allen Lane, 2011)

Current discussion of immigration, temporary foreign workers and foreign outsourcing of work is the continuation of a centuries old practice relating to migratory flows of people. For example, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was an example of transporting labour to parts of the world where sugar, cotton and tobacco was grown. The survivors became permanent residents and later citizens in the West Indies and North America. Few returned to Africa.

Migrants from England, Scotland and Ireland went to North America, Australia and New Zealand where there were employment opportunities. Some, especially those from North America, returned home from time to time and became the equivalent of temporary foreign workers. This occurred more frequently when steam replaced sail and a trans-Atlantic voyage shrank from six weeks to one week. Once transoceanic cables were laid, communications also became much faster. Those that settled abroad would send financial remittances to their families at home, similar to the practice today by foreign workers in places like the Middle East, Singapore and North America.
Outsourcing work abroad is a process of taking work to the workers as opposed to bringing labour to the work. Both alternatives are used today and were used in the past. The movement of workers is undertaken either on a temporary or permanent basis. Immigration issues are part of this process.

Tom Devine, Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh – (palaeography is the discipline of deciphering and reading historical manuscripts – I had to look it up) – has written a remarkable book about the migration of Scots to different parts of the world. It provides the reader with a scholarly but highly readable account of why the Scots left their homeland and what attracted them to various parts of the world.

The reasons for leaving after 1750 include a combination of deplorable economic conditions in Scotland, especially the highland clearances which left many without a livelihood to support their families, and later the potato famine which affected parts of Scotland as well as Ireland. In addition, the Scots tended to be well educated and attractive to employers in the British Empire as well as in other parts of the world. A number migrated to Poland and elsewhere in western Europe.

The British Empire, including the thirteen colonies which become part of the USA, was an attractive destination for Scottish migrants. Some went first to Ireland and later to North America, Australia and New Zealand as settlers. Others worked as professionals and colonial administrators in the Indian subcontinent. Some intermarriage took place and the missionary societies were always keen to send married couples abroad in order to discourage the males from the obvious distractions. They were only partly successful, as Somerset Maugham recounts in his novels.

One interesting aspect of Devine’s study, and there are many, is to discover that the Scots treatment of native people was often as brutal as that of the English and Irish. And, as with today, at least in Canada, it is often the recent immigrants who are more hostile to further immigration. The Scots who arrived in North America before the Irish, opposed Irish immigration, especially as Ireland had a larger pool of potential migrants. When later on Germans, Italians and Ukranians began their immigration, the Irish and Scots combined to oppose these newcomers.

Research into international trade and investment, at least by economists, tends to overlook migratory practices, leaving them to sociologists and others. Professor Devine forces us to examine the role of migration in geopolitical issues by providing fascinating examples of how it played out in the past for the Scots both at home and abroad. With a world population of over 7 billion, more people are now on the move and crossing borders both legally and illegally. The result is that borders are less easy to defend and national sovereignty is weakened. Migration issues are on the front burners of governments in Westerm Europe, North America and Asia.


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