Sustainable Scotland
Sustainable Scotland

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Sustainable Scotland

3.3 Global economy

We tend to think of the global movement of goods and people, and the interdependence of geographically distant places, as a fairly recent phenomenon. It is not. Goods and peoples have moved around the world for hundreds of years. From the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road, which spread across the Asian continent, to the spice routes of the Far East, from the shipping of tea to the transporting of potatoes and tobacco, from the people who followed the retreating ice sheets up into present day Scotland to the Vikings and the Scots coming over from Ireland, the movement of goods and peoples is not new.

One of the things we tend to think about as being characteristic of globalisation is the reach of the global economy, the way that the wider economy can affect and change local economic circumstances. However, the changing global economy has been affecting livelihoods in Scotland for generations (Hunter, 1976). Hunter argues that the collapse of wool and kelp markets after the Napoleonic War (1799–1815) was a direct contribution to the Highland Clearances.

During the Napoleonic War, landowners were keen to retain their tenants and employ them as a willing workforce in what was a buoyant rural war-time economy. After the war, landowners divided crofts into agricultural units that were not quite sufficient to feed a family and pay rent so as to force the crofters to work for them. This was the first wave of clearances. The collapse of the market for goods produced on Highland estates in the face of more competitively priced imports meant that the tenants were now without employment. This led to a second wave of clearances characterised by emigration to the 'New World' and migration to cities in the central belt to seek permanent and or seasonal work.

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