Business Archives in Scotland Versus Canada

6 04 2011

I thought I would bring your attention to the Business Archives in Scotland blog. It shares news about business archive collections in Scotland, the National Strategy for Business Archives in Scotland and other related items of interest. The public launch of the National Strategy for Business Archives in Scotland, which, in part reflects the agenda of Scotland’s pro-business and separatist SNP government,  took place in January 2011. The Scottish National Party hopes that it can one day make Scotland an independent nation within the EU. The agenda driving this business archives project seems to be the promotion of nationalist pride in Scottish business achievements. The leader of the SNP is Alex Salmond, whose undergraduate degree was in history and economics, I should note.

I’m mentioning this here for several reasons.

First, I think that the relationship of Scottish business with English business has some parallels with the position of Canadian business in post-NAFTA North America, although Canada does still have a separate currency, unlike Scotland, which merely has separate banknotes. The parallels between Canada and Scotland was once pointed  out to me by Duncan Ross of the University of Glasgow’s wonderful Centre for Business History in Scotland.

Centre for Business History in Scotland


Duncan Ross

Second, Scottish firms, Scottish investors (think Dundee) and Scottish immigrant entrepreneurs played an important role in the history of Canadian business, so Canadian historians should probably pay attention this important set of primary sources.

Third, Canada would benefit from having a similar business archives initiative. There was a short-lived attempt to set up a business archives council in Canada in 1968-1973 but it failed for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. I haven’t looked at the records of this organisation, which are kept in LAC in Ottawa, but I suspect that it was influenced by the upsurge of nationalist sentiment in Canada that was caused by the Vietnam War.

Fourth, the phenomenon of the SNP, a pro-business and nationalist party is a very interesting one to Canadians. There certainly are pro-business nationalists in Quebec. The PQ and the BQ have their right-wing members. However, most Quebec separatists tend to be on the left of the political spectrum. In English-speaking Canada, where the major issue is the domination of the economy by the United States and US firms, nationalism has, since the 1960s, been appropriated by the left. (Obviously it was very different in the days of Macdonald, Borden, Bennett, and Diefenbaker when the Conservatives were advocates of economic nationalism).  The Canadian Conservative Party today is relentlessly continentalist rather than nationalist in its orientation, as is the right-wing branch of the centrist Liberal Party.

In Canada, a pro-business person who believes in free enterprise and in engagement in the global economy but who also wants to increase Canada’s political and economic independence from the United States basically has nobody to vote for. Their choice is between the left-wing economic ideas of the NDP and the two major parties, which have implemented policies that amount to 24/7  appeasement of the United States (e.g., sending Canadian troops to die for Uncle Sam in Afghanistan or allowing the US to write Canada’s marijuana laws). Even the NDP is only intermittently nationalist, which isn’t surprising since it is supported by the so-called “international unions” that are, in some cases, headquartered in the United States.

I don’t think that business history or indeed any other branch of history should be designed to promote  a particular political agenda, nationalist, anti-nationalist, or otherwise. However, I can’t help but think that the weakness of business history in Canada is, in some ways,  a reflection of the wider malaise in the political culture and the preciptious decline of Canadian nationalism in recent decades.

Historian Kevin Tennent on the Economics of Scottish Nationhood

3 12 2009

Scotland's Flag

The British business and economic historian Kevin Tennent has published some thoughts about whether an independent Scotland would be a viable economic unit. On Monday, Scotland’s first minister announced that the country would soon be holding a referendum on independence. Monday was, of course, St Andrew’s day, the national day of Scotland– and the day of your humble narrator’s patron saint!

Tennent’s blog post draws on his extensive knowledge of Scottish, British, and global economic history. He begins his analysis with a discussion of the Darien scheme of 1690, the abortive attempt by Scotland to establish a colony in Panama. His blog post also pays attention to more recent developments. Dr Tennent writes:

“The collapse of Iceland’s banking system forced it to seek a £6bn emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund; unfortunately much of this will end up being spent recompensing savers abroad. Had Scotland been independent during the present crisis, then with RBS alone loosing around £24bn in 2008 the country would also have been driven to seek aid from the IMF; the whole of Scotland’s GDP was £86bn in 2006 (although this excludes oil and gas revenue). To cover this loss alone Scotland would have been forced to spend a more than a quarter of its GDP.”

This post should interest Canadians for two reasons. First, there is an obvious parallel between the question of Scottish independence and the separatist movement in Quebec. Would Quebec, which lacks North Sea oil, be a viable state? Second, there is the less obvious but even more important parallels between Scotland’s relationship with England and Canada’s relationship with its wealthy and populous southern neighbour. Most English-speaking Canadians would be in favour of Canada remaining independent of the USA. If they had an opinion on Scottish independence, it would probably be that Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom. Canadians are conservative in the deepest sense of the word and generally prefer to keep things as they are.   But we need to ask ourselves why, if independence is a good thing for Canada, would it be a bad thing for Quebec and Scotland?  What’s good for the goose may also be good for the gander.