In 1960, John Highet surveyed the religious demographics of the nation in one of Scotland’s earliest full-length works of sociology. Highet was a devout member of the Church of Scotland and was effectively their ‘in house’ sociologist. Yet his statistics revealed that even in the immediate aftermath of a large-scale religious revival, the number of Scots who were affiliated with churches was surprisingly low at around 66% of the adult population. Highet was keen to mitigate this perhaps embarrassing statistic, recruiting into the number of the absent 34% an unknowable number of ‘four door Christians’ – those whose only attendance at church might be when they were delivered for baptism in a pram, were driven in a taxi for their wedding and finally, arrived in a hearse for their funeral. He further asserted – without recourse to evidence – that in any theological dispute most Scots would be ‘found on the side of the angels.’
In pre-war days, cinema was a popular Scottish pastime. Admission charges were very low, making it a relatively affordable leisure option. It was especially popular with the working classes and with youths, demonstrated by a 1937 survey that found 36% of West Lothian children attended the cinema at least once a week. During the war, cinema continued as one of Scotland’s most popular forms of entertainment. In response to a 1943 questionnaire on cinema habits, Scottish respondents mentioned the pleasure of being able to lose oneself in a film featuring a favourite actor, going to the cinema ‘for a good laugh’, and using film as a way of avoiding ‘the usual fit of depression of a Saturday afternoon’.
The ‘Who Owned Scotland’ conference was hosted by the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland in June 2021. It presented an exciting opportunity to discuss the past, present and future of Scottish land ownership. The panels covered an impressive range of topics and periods to address the layered and complex relationships between land, resources and people, and the event was particularly strong in linking historical topics to themes as varied as social justice, heritage and literature. Who had access to land? Who did not? Working on the emergence of production-driven attitudes to landscape in the eighteenth-century Scottish Highlands, the conference resonated with my own research and led me to reflect on what ‘ownership’ means then and now.