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In the 1800’s the Scottish class system looked like this:

  1. Upper class (land-owning, inherited position, title)

  2. Upper Middle Class (family background, inherited wealth)

  3. Middle, Middle class (professional)

  4. Nouveau riche (upwardly mobile)

  5. Lower middle class (white collar workers, secure jobs)

  6. Skilled working class (blue collar, self-employed)

  7. Unskilled/semi-skilled (blue collar, low paid)

  8. Underclass (unemployed, dependent on state pension)

Scottish Middle Class


The Class System

A social pyramid structure with a few at the top and lots of people at the bottom is found in most ancient societies and civilizations. Often influenced by religious belief (as in Egyptian, Mayan and Asian cultures) or dominated by strong leadership and military force. Over time such a system only works if there is opportunity to be upwardly mobile within the pyramid, and where the economic lot of those at the bottom is seen to improve over time.  Otherwise you get class struggles, warfare and populist revolution (as in France, South America, Germany, Middle East).


Historically Scotland had a land-owning Nobility & Upper Class (with complex layers of its own), a broad Middle Class (‘old family’, professional, merchants, newly wealthy, artists and craftsmen) and a broad/deep Working Class.  Which Class someone belonged to became also more a matter of status, education, mannerisms and language, than simply wealth/income.  The evolution in modern UK class society owes everything to the opportunities brought over many years by universal education, government policy and steady economic development.



A key point in the development of a Scottish Middle Class was the creation of Royal Burghs (controlling trade) and Guilds (controlling crafts) in the 1600’s.  This created the role of Burgesses or Freemen, who collectively wielded considerable local political and economic power.  In 1831 only 4,500 men (primarily Burgesses) were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, out of a population of 2.6 million. The rest of the inhabitants in a town were classed as “indwellers” and had no vote and no say in local matters.  The Upper Class (nobility & landowners) had a supervisory role in these developments, but they were much impacted over time by the economic growth of the Middle Class. Their inherited wealth, power & position gave them a protected existence until well into the 20th century.



The 4 ancient seats of church & university in Scotland - Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow - played a key part in the development of a Scottish Middle Class.  Progressively a Middle Class value system was established, nurtured and eventually enshrined through the education system, and where the spoken language and respectability played a key role.  Edinburgh’s Golden Age (European Enlightenment) and the great men at its heart was the pinnacle of achievement of this education system and its middle class values. 


Other contributing factors included:

  • Growth of inter-Burgh (with improved transport) and international trade, bringing new local wealth.

  • Freemasons, where (strangely) the Upper and Middle Classes combined.

  • Growth in the professions, where education or social standing mattered a great deal: medical, military, legal, banking, accounting and engineering.

  • Snobbery, prejudices and hypocrisy of those trying to protect their value system and perceived social status.


The following all had a major impact on the class system in Scotland and helped to develop and re-enforce a strong Working Class culture in Scotland, as can be seen over the last 100 years and in today’s Scotland.

  • Truly awful working conditions (coal mines & factories) that were brought to national attention by Keir Hardy.

  • Trade unions - coal mining, steel, shipbuilding industries 

  • Politics & Socialist majority left-wing Scotland

  • Government run economy & social entitlements, with a non-entrepreneurial culture


Most mobility has been upward, and mostly due to occupational change, growth in the professions, and decline in manual and work.

  • Mobility in Scotland is similar to other societies where agricultural employment has become a marginal sector of the economy (different in France).

  • In Scotland in 2001, nearly two thirds of adults had moved to a different social class to that in which they were brought up. The majority had moved up the social class ladder.

  • In recent years, fewer people have been upwardly mobile and the percentage of people who have remained in the same social class as their parents has grown.  A lower proportion has moved upwards simply because a lower proportion now come from working- class backgrounds. A higher proportion is immobile because they were already well up the class structure as children.

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