Marking the Bicentenary of the 1820 Rising

Two new historical studies (July 2020)

Two new books are out to mark the 200th anniversary of the Radical Rising in Scotland of 1820 and both are reviewed in the July/August issue of Scottish Left Review (SLR).

They are The Fight for Scottish Democracy: Rebellion and Reform by Murray Armstrong (Pluto Press), and Radical Scotland: Uncovering Scotland’s Radical History from the French revolutionary era to the 1820 Rising by Kenny MacAskill (Biteback).  

Armstrong’s book is described by the publishers as “a brand new history of Scotland’s radical war for democracy in 1820” and is endorsed by a range of scholars and others, including Maxine Peake, who hails it as “intensely dramatic, impeccably detailed and narrated with literary flair”, and Lesley Riddoch, who calls it “an excellent book”.

Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow Andrew Noble commends the book as for its “extremely comprehensive research, revelatory conception and lucid prose” and for the fact that it “may dispel the myth that, compared to eighteenth-century England, Scotland was “inherently averse to radical unrest.”

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Kenny MacAskill’s book, according to reviewer Gordon Leggate in SLR, “shines a light on some of the hidden or not so well known aspects of the time”, highlighting in particular, the Battle of Tranent of 1797, when “dragoons ran amok indiscriminately”, killing 11 people and injuring many more, with the authorities undertaking a cover-up operation that meant no-one was held to account.

“Throughout,” says Gordon Leggate, “MacAskill attempts to get beyond the mythologising surrounding the movements of this era [to] look at the material economic and class roots of the struggles,” explaining “why the radical movement flourished in the highly literate and often religious dissenting weaving communities.”  

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For the SLR reviews visit