The Act of Proscription was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, which came into effect in Scotland on August 1, 1746.
It was part of a series of efforts to assimilate the Scottish Highlands, ending their ability to revolt, and the first of the ‘King’s laws’ which sought to crush the Clan system in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Paragraph 16 of the act states. “And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of August, one thousand seven hundred and forty seven, no man or boy, within that part of Great Briton called Scotland, other than shall be employed as officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s forces, shall on any pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no TARTAN, or partly-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats; and if any such person shall presume, after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments or any part of them, every such person so offending, being convicted thereof by the oath of one or more credible witness or witnesses before any court of justiciary, or any one or more justices of the peace for the shire or stewartry, or judge ordinary of the place where such offence shall be committed, shall suffer imprisonment, without bail, during the space of six months, and no longer; and being convicted for a second offence before a court of justiciary or at the circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for a space of seven years.”
Five years before the introduction of the act Walter Scott was born. He would go on to be a great influencer as a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian, and The Bride of Lammermoor.
Shortly after the introduction of the act in 1759 we witnessed the birth of Robert Burns, also known familiarly as Rabbie Burns. He was a Scottish poet and lyricist and known as the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world.
There were many other great influencers at this time which resulted in not only a return of the cultural customs and practices that were outlawed in the Act of Proscription but a new vibrant period where music, literature, language and dress were core to Scottish identity.
One of the individuals responsible for the rebirth of all things Scottish was the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who became the husband of Queen Victoria. In 1852 Albert negotiated the outright purchase of Balmoral Castle in Scotland for £31,500, and immediately embarked on a programme of extension and improvement. Queen Victoria famously wrote about her time in Royal Deeside “my dear paradise in the Highlands”.
The reason I share this story is to show what can happen when an authoritarian ruler uses their might in the attempt to subvert rebellious subjects. When cultural identity is attacked, and aspects of an indigenous culture are banned, so often resistance grows against those in power.
Today VisitScotland estimates tourism worth £12 billion to the Scottish economy and has calculated the value of direct and indirect spending represents close to five per cent of the Scottish economy.
Seems the Act of Proscription backfired spectacularly.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at email@example.com