Anti-Corn-Law agitations in Scotland, with particular reference to the Anti-Corn-Law League
Cameron, Kenneth John
The Corn Laws and the movement for their repeal were both indigenous products of Scotland, although even in the eighteenth century, less intrinsically Scottish than the polemics of the debate would suggest. The evolution of aim, attitude, and vehicle of agitation in Scotland, and its contribution to the formation of the later Anti-Corn-Law League has been substantially ignored. The peculiar identification of Manchester with the Corn Law question and with the League largely succeeded the latter's formation, and even then the conception of a "Manchester League" must be qualified. Although leadership was clearly vested nationally in Manchester, regions such as Scotland made substantial contributions to the free trade movement in terms of local leadership, pecuniary donations, and ideas - there was a difference in emphasis between the well-defined aims of the League in Manchester and the more wide-ranging aspirations of the Scots repealers. However, the strength of the League in Scotland has been exaggerated, partly due to a misinterpretation of Scottish support for Whig concepts of "free trade". In particular, its support among agriculturists and the working-classes has been grossly over-estimated. Even among the urban middle-classes, its principal source of strength, substantial pockets of protectionist sympathisers existed, especially in Glasgow. Nevertheless the assumption that the League's campaign was conducted in a distinct political, economic, religious, and social environment in Scotland was correct, and was evidenced by the complexion of the interest groups which it attracted and the polemical debate which reflected separate (if similar) interests and social values, at least to some extent. As a pressure group in parliamentary politics, the League's activities on the Corn Law issue had been anticipated, albeit in milder forms, free traders and protectionists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The schismatic tactics of the radicals, frequently emphasising the corn question, in the 1830 1s constituted recent precedents, emulated by the League. In Scotland, the apathy of the free traders in the field of registration - to some degree attributable to the distinct provisions of the Scots Reform Act of 1832 - gave the League cause for considerable concern. To some extent, this eased the embarrassment of the Whigs, under pressure in Scotland from both sides on the free trade question, Who lost little ground on the issue, principally due to the conservative provisions of the Reform Act, and to the reluctance of the electors to forsake the Whigs and moderate reform for the radicals of the League and the exclusive aim of total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. The free trade movement was a British movement in Scotland, not a Scottish movement in Britain, but the region and locality in which it campaigned determined to some extent its characteristics.