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The Scottish path to capitalist agriculture1 : from the crisis of feudalism to the origins of agrarian transformation (1688-1746)

Davidson, Neil (2004) The Scottish path to capitalist agriculture1 : from the crisis of feudalism to the origins of agrarian transformation (1688-1746). Journal of Agrarian Change, 4 (3). pp. 227-268. ISSN 1471-0358

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Abstract

This is the first of a series of articles which attempt to remedy the lack of Marxist discussion about one of the most spectacularly successful transitions to capitalist agriculture in the historical record: that of Scotland. At the end of the seventeenth century, Scottish agriculture was remarkable only in one respect: the rural class structure within which it took place corresponded to the classic feudal model more closely than that of any other state west of Poland. The subsistence crisis of the 1690s exposed the productive limits of an agriculture based on feudal social relations, but also severely weakened any possible capitalist alternative. The Treaty of Union with England of 1707 brought the feudal powers of the Scottish lords into the new British state intact, but access to English and imperial markets encouraged a minority of them to experiment with the same forms of agricultural improvement which had produced such increases in landlord income south of the border. Although these attempts were not successful in the short term, they laid the basis for the transformation of Scottish agriculture in the changed circumstances after 1746, which is the subject of a subsequent article.