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Scotland the Separate

By James Halliday
First published October 1982

Scotland the Separate by James HallidayWithout Scotland’s history there could be no Scottish heritage. Our customs and attitudes, our standards and values, our social patterns, are all determined by the experiences of the generations who lived here; and are, in their precise nature, unique and peculiar to us. Without that history, and without that heritage it would be exceedingly difficult to make a case for Scottish identity and then for Scottish independence. If Scotland had never been, it would be almost impossible to create it, starting now, from scratch. The wrongs which we endure; the indignities and humiliations to which we are exposed, are wrongs and indignities precisely because they are inflicted upon a national community. Because we have a past our grievance has to it an extra dimension. We can look at our plight and ask, "Need these things be?". We can look back to the moments of decision, the turning points in our history, and conclude, with justice, how different things might be. Our past gives us an extra political option and an alternative solution to our problems, which would not be available to us if Scotland had to be created by some act of will here and now. Our former existence gives to our present claims a special justice and an extra urgency.

Joy Hendry has spoken of the essentials of national identity and has spoken well. (Heritage Series No.1 'Literature and Language') To her requirements of descent, location, language and experience there should be added the requirement of will. A nation must want to be one before it can truly and fully be one. My contention is that, to an impressive extent, that will to nationhood provides one of the essential keys to an understanding of our history, and through it, of our present.

Nothing more quickly or profoundly enrages many of the opponents of Scottish nationhood than this essential claim to a unique and distinctive identity; and, in fairness, one can appreciate their problem. Many fundamentals of our heritage are not at all peculiar to us. We share, for instance, with all the peoples of Western Europe (and of the Western Hemisphere) the legacy of ideas and institutions handed down from Greece and Rome. Scotland is part of historic Christendom, and our ethical and cultural patterns are in large measure determined by that fact. In developing our social and legal characteristics we drew upon the experience, common to Western Europe, of feudalism; and our artistic standards and intellectual assumptions are profoundly affected by Western Europe’s Renaissance experience. We share with the English, the Welsh and the Irish a common language.

We have, in short, more in common with the peoples of Western Europe than with the other peoples of the Old World. Given the constitutional and individual experiences of centuries it might even be conceded that we have more in common with the English than we have to differentiate us from them. It does not strengthen the case for Scottish nationhood if, in our resentment against English political domination, we seek to deny shared experiences and influences. It may be emotionally understandable, but it is none the less contrived and perverse to profess to find closest friendships in a cultural family historically remote and alien, be it Ottoman, Byzantine or Slavonic.

But a unique identity does not derive from total peculiarity of each experience. Scotland’s uniqueness arises from the blend and proportions of experience; from the lessons Scots have learned, the problems they have faced, the answers they have devised and the attitudes they have evolved, here, in their own unique location.

And location is all important. The most important determinant in the history of a people is the geography in which that history took place. We have had to live out our national lifespan on an island which we have had to share with another people, many times stronger than ourselves by any test we might care to apply. Our history is therefore reactive—a response to geographical realities, which have condemned us politically to a ceaseless struggle to defer or to prevent total absorption into an English state. The struggle continues, though its conclusion is perilously closer than we might wish to admit. In the eyes of the outside world the absorption has already taken place: and while the present struggle has to be conducted here in Scotland there is much merit in releasing some proportion of our energies to seek to reestablish a Scottish identity in the eyes of foreign beholders. However, just as in the past our politics and diplomacy had to be devised as a response and counter to English plans, so today learning how to deal with English strength has to be our pre-occupation.

There has always been among Scots a division of opinion as to how best to cope with the English presence. One faction has tended to seek survival in defiance, another in co-operation. Co-operation, however, thanks to habitual English insensitivity, was too often indistinguishable from subordination; and the more frequent historical Scottish response was defiance. Throughout the centuries which saw the emergence of the Scottish state, its defence in the Wars of Independence and the penultimate tragedy of the loss of its executive identity in 1603, defiance was rendered feasible by the facts of technology.

Complete and enduring conquest was impossible when communications were wholly inadequate to sustain any such attempt. Roads were non-existent, and the swiftest available transport was a horse. The transmission of an instruction took days, and the dispatch of an armed force to extort obedience took months. Food supplies were dependent upon each year’s harvest, and an enemy army could not sustain itself for any lengthy period in the land of a determined and hostile population. It was these considerations, rather than any conciliatory generosity of spirit, which brought about the recurring withdrawals of English forces which, from time to time, seemed to have Scotland at their mercy. Unable to achieve conquests, England’s rulers had to employ more modest tactics, and settle for more modest objectives. Military expeditions involving partial and temporary occupation or wasting of Scottish territory were repeatedly mounted; while dissension, between Scotland’s rulers and any disaffected group, was continually fomented.

But the day came when the state apparatus, in England as elsewhere, became so sufficiently sophisticated as to have a virtual monopoly of military power, and when the technology of war had advanced so far as to make the battlefield no place for amateurs. Then, at last, the final blow could be struck, and Scotland’s existence as a state could be ended. The military realities of 1707 were decisive in ensuring the enforcement of Union, and neither then nor since has there been the option—available to Wallace, to Bruce, to the Covenanters—of either war or guerilla campaign holding any prospect of eventual success.

The military consequences of England~ s proximity are, however, less important than the psychological consequences. It is all too easy to encourage the assumption that proximity necessarily involves similarity. This assumption has caused Scots to overlook or to minimise the many distinctive aspects of their traditions and culture, which are the outcome of processes entirely different from those which have occurred in England. Our educational inheritance is different; our church affiliations are different; our social structures, whether Highland or Lowland, have points of difference; and the historical experiences, from which these differences derive, were themselves different. As a result our political behaviour developed along different lines and with a very different partisan balance. Nineteenth century Scotland was overwhelmingly Whig and Liberal. Twentieth century Scotland, once the party re-alignments of the 1920’s had been accomplished, settled once again into a profoundly antjconservatjve posture, with the Conservative Party, like the old Tory Party, representing only a small group of easily recognised and easily defined vested, interests.

In England on the other hand, conservatism is the norm even yet. Similarity and the absence of a distinctive Scottish identity are frequently urged by those whose emotions and convictions are particularly engaged in the class war. But Scottish attitudes to class are different. Some two generations earlier than in England, the Scottish working class showed itself aware and assertive, seeking power, holding it and using it. Industrial Scotland had achieved, by 1918, a political sense of purpose which industrial England did not parallel until 1945. Deferential voting does occur in Scotland. but not in the most populous industrialised parts of the country. There is no Scottish political equivalent of England south of the Trent-Severn line. True, the north of England has more in common with Scotland. Its people face many similar discriminatory and damaging actions from the centre; and, as in Scotland, these actions have had their consequences in the evolving of social and cultural patterns. We can sympathise and wish them well, but their condition is hardly for us to solve. They are English, and are stuck with that reality. Above all, they do not have the weapon of historic identity to use as a means of evading the attentions of their exploiters.

The further south the observer allows his eye to stray, the more apparent becomes the fact that there is a difference even within a supposedly homogeneous political movement. One strong element in English socialism is metropolitan—Cockney and Fabian; the socialism of H. 0. Wells and the dreadful Webbs; the socialism of affected knickerbockered dàfties, middle-class defenders of notional working-class interests like Kingsley Martin, Richard Crossman and Lord Stansgate, to name only those who have been unwise enough to draw attention to their thought processes. English socialism has been strongly influenced and led by public schoolboys and/or Oxbridge dilettantes, who have chosen the Left as their team and their hobby; who divide into sides in Etonian discussion groups; and who, twenty or thirty years later, turn up in the same proportions to man parliamentary benches.

The Scottish working class has had less occasion to rely upon parlour pinks and sectarian trendies. In each generation it has shown itself capable of producing its own leaders. Until recently, it has shown a degree of self-confidence which ought to be strengthened by the realisation that, given the social and economic pattern in Scotland, the Scottish wage-earner has a country which he could control, if he willed himself the power.

The reaction of English socialists to Scottish aspirations to independence has been disgraceful. Scratch an English socialist and you find an English patriot. Luminaries of the English Left, distinguished by a commendable concern for the unfree peoples of the globe, lose all traces of such concern when the unfree are in Scotland or Wales. When we reflect upon the honourable record of the English Left in relation to independence movements in other places, we ought to brood, much more deeply than we have done, over the fact that Scottish and Welsh independence have found no champions whatever from the English Left.

It is quite possible to make an honourable and consistent case against support for independence. In the past year or so we heard from Leo Abse a classical statement of the anti-nationalist case based upon old-fashioned socialist principles. Mr. Abse opposes Scottish moves towards self-government because he wishes to end all frontiers en route to the ultimate unity of mankind. This is an honourable enough point of view if one thinks that frontiers are inescapably offensive. Most of his colleagues on the anti-independence Left are less idealistic in their motives however.

Mr. Eric Heffer speaks adequately for them when he asserts that "there is no difference between Scottish and English workers", and that there is no distinction as to problems between Clyde and Tyne—or Tees, or Mersey. This deceptively simple piece of bucolic reasoning is parrotted by Mr. Heffer’s Scottish party colleagues, and is virtually the only intellectual response which they have made to modern Scottish demands. One would think more highly of Mr. Heffer and his arguments if he were to extend his doctrine of obliterated individuality throughout the world; if he were to argue that there is no distinction between English workers and, say, Belgian workers; or if he were to extend his concern to establish the parity of Tyne, Tees and Mersey with the Clyde, to the Ebro and the Tagus, the Danube and the Vistula, the Nile and the Indus, the Niger and the Congo. The real truth is that, for English socialists of Mr. Heffer’s variety, internationalism and the brotherhood of man stop abruptly at Sullom Voe. For such men the Clyde must never flow in a free country lest it should thereby enjoy an advantage of some sort over Tyne, Tees and Mersey. This robust and sturdy patriotism has distinguished the mainstream English Radical throughout the ages. Its psychology is that of the private soldier in an army of occupation, cherishing grievances against his superiors, but sharing their hostility towards defeated aliens.

It can of course be argued that differences can be conceded but can remain purely cultural or traditional, and need imply no political acknowledgement. Such a point of view is quite strongly argued, as we shall see, by politicians confronted by the growth of nationalism in recent years.

It might also be argued with some justice that nationalists are prone to detect Scottish patriotic awareness where none in fact existed. It is certainly true that their understanding, just as is the case with Unionists, is affected by their prejudices. A person may be a nationalist, but he will have other ties and loyalties as well—of locality, of tradition, of social status and religious affiliation. These will dictate to him his historical preferences and mould his assumptions. Then, because he is a nationalist himself, he will attribute nationalist virtue to his favourites—and will be frequently mistaken so to do.

Perhaps the reason for Wallace’s pre-eminence as Scotland’s national hero is that no faction has ever been formed to deny his patriotism. On the other hand, many have their doubts about Bruce. The Golden Age of Alexander III, coming as it did before the Wars of Independence, arouses little controversy—and, indeed, insufficient interest—while the other great epoch in the history of independent Scotland, the reign of James IV, is retrospectively enjoyed and applauded by all.

But opinions were moulded, attitudes adopted, and lines of historical interpretation established, during a period in our history about which we are particularly divided today. When Mary Stuart returned from France in 1561 she arrived in a country deeply troubled by religious tensions, but concerned equally by the extent of French dominance in and over the Scottish state. Her mother, Mary of Guise, had been Regent; key offices of state and key military positions had been in French hands; the French ambassador was a powerful influence in public life and a French garrison was a significant and intimidating presence. Scottish response had been such as to render necessary an "Act against speaking ill of the Queen’s Grace or of Frenchmen". Thus, for a brief and freakish but immensely important moment in history, Scottish national resentment was directed not against its customary English target but against the French. This resentment, inevitably, was extended to the Crown which French power sustained and to the Church which Crown and French alike supported. The Catholic church in Scotland was under criticism for many reasons—doctrinal, economic and personal—but by no means the least of the demerits in the eyes of many contemporaries was its identification with an irritating foreign intrusion.

The consequences of this unusual historical experience have been much misunderstood and distorted from that day to this. If the Scottish Crown and the Scottish Catholic church were inextricably linked to France, then the domestic opponents of that crown or that church would naturally seek what aid and comfort they could from France’s enemies. And France’s enemies—England in particular—would be happy to oblige. Thus there occurred the contacts between the Scottish opposition of the day and Elizabeth of England—contacts which have been habitually cited as proof that Scottish Catholicism, pro-French and anti-English, was invariably patriotic; while Scottish Protestantism, anti-French and in receipt of English backing, was invariably collaborationist. Such an interpretation, however enduring and however widely supported, is superficial and inaccurate. Not only that, but it is unfair to our forebears, Catholic and Protestant alike. Scotland was not the sectarian cauldron of English legend, but, as always, the victim of the strategy and diplomacy of more powerful neighbours. Neither sect was invariably on the side of nationalist righteousness; each was willing to seek support where it might be found, and both were frequently involved in disputes which neither had instigated.

In any case, the events of Mary’s reign had an importance far beyond sectarian dispute or even diplomatic manoeuvring. When Mary found herself under criticism from John Knox she sought to persuade him to play the courtier, and to offer her his comments and advice privately and discreetly; only to draw from him the response that his duty did not require him "to come to every man in particular to show him his offence". As far as Knox was concerned, a queen should be no more immune from public criticism than a dairymaid. When, in due course, he made hostile comment upon her marriage to Darnley, there ensued a highly significant confrontation and dialogue. "What have ye to do with my marriage?" cried the incensed sovereign, "or what are ye within this Commonwealth?" "A subject born within the same, Madam," came the answer. "And albeit I neither be Earl, Lord nor Baron within it, yet has God made me a profitable member within the same."

It is a very great pity that subsequent bigotries conceal from us the true significance of that encounter. It is a distressing comment on the

achievements of education that children of today, prompted by sectarian zeal, can variously describe Mary as "a Fenian" and Knox as an "Orange bastard". Neither charge is true, and both are splendidly anachronistic, but these ignorant vulgarities reveal the extent to which Scots have been blinded to the issues at stake between the two personalities.

On the one hand was the Queen, totally certain of the special dignity and privilege of her position, and on the other, the spokesman for a new egalitarian point of view, which over the generations was to become one of the most obvious characteristics and objectives of Scottish society, where pretensions and claims to special status are normally met with anger and derision.

Let us remember, too, that this confrontation was not a once-for-all event. Mary’s point of view was adhered to by her descendants, who found that they encountered a Knox-like response from many of their subjects. Mary’s son, James VI, made a mystically exalted notion of his own dignity the fundamental principle of his policies. In preserving his dominant status he found, for certain political and legal reasons, that his task was made simpler if he pursued certain policies in regard to Church organisation. His notion of his own eminence demanded that he reduce the Scottish Parliament to near-impotence. This objective he was able to achieve through that Parliament’s committee system, and royal control of that system was achieved by use of Bishops in Parliament. James intellectually favoured Bishops and an episcopal structure in the church, but their main attraction for him was their utility as political instruments. It was power in the state which underlay Mary’s clash with Knox; and power in the state which was the point at issue between the later Stuart kings and their opponents. Religious terminology and personnel might be used, but what may look like religion was in fact politics.

In modern times, as the political power of monarchs has dwindled to little more than formalities, it has been customary to minimise, almost to disregard, the importance to Scotland of the so-called ‘Union of the Crowns’ of 1603. The departure of James VI from Scotland to take up his new and better-paid post as James I of England, had a two-fold significance. It placed in the hands of Scotland’s king, now resident in London, the money, power and influence of his English realm. All these assets could now be used to sustain him as he dictated his policies in England and in Scotland. In Scotland James had inherited the conflict over the status of the Crown in the state, and he had suffered many rebuffs and humiliations from Scots moving in a more egalitarian direction. Issuing his instructions from London, and with English power at his disposal, he might now hope to assert his authority more successfully.

Andrew Melville, in 1598, had followed Knox’s example in seeking to deflate royal self-esteem, and had seized his sovereign by the sleeve, calling him "God’s silly vassal", and telling him that within Christ’s kingdom he, James, was "nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, but a member". Little wonder that James, safely in England, was able to express the view that "Presbytery agreeth as well with monarchy as God and the devil" and was further able, in 1607, to have Andrew Melville clapped in the Tower of London.

But there was another enduring though less remarked consequence to the events of 1603. As Scotland now had an absentee monarch, the politically and socially ambitious elements in Scottish society—the "natural leaders"—followed him to his new headquarters. Courtiers by nature or profession had, after all, to be where the court was. This process, begun in 1603, was advanced and hastened after 1707, when there was a new state to be served; a new paymaster for ambitious nobles, who hastened to prepare and present themselves to render that service. Those who wished to lead an active political life had to find residences in London, temporary ‘townhouses’ to begin with, but gradually the balance changed. The few weeks in London, interrupting a normal residence on the home estate, became instead a matter of taking holidays in Scotland as a break from the political and social round on London. The children of the nobility were educated increasingly in England, from whose schools and universities the English state had drawn its servants, as the British state would now continue to do. By residence, by social contact, by education and by participation in public life, the aristocracy of Scotland became indistinguishable from their English associates; and where the aristocracy led, the gentry contrived to follow.

Thus there emerged the remarkable social phenomenon of Scotland—a traditional leadership which had deserted more or less en masse the people they had led, and the culture which, with them, they had shared. From that day to this the pattern has been constant. The aristocracy, the gentry, and, in due course, the successful plutocracy, became for all practical purposes English. In Scotland those who move socially upward move culturally outward; and national awareness is linked to status rather than to pedigree.

Old habits die hard, and many years were to pass before the Scottish people awoke to the significance of what had happened, and to a realisation that Scottishness was a matter of participation in a society and a sharing of that society’s culture. Through time an increasing awareness of the alien nature of their social betters was borne in upon the Scottish people. Many, of course, continued—many continue—to observe the old deferential relationship towards their increasingly incomprehensible and irrelevant upper class, while others found that group either objectionable or comic. Arguably a majority of Scots came to equate aristocracy with the silly ass, chinless wonder, bool in mooth, huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ stereotype, providing much fun for readers of writers as varied as Compton Mackenzie and John McGrath. The Scottish aristocracy ceased to be an acceptable part of the conscious nation, and Scotland became a nation of commoners—a one-class country so far as rank and title were concerned.

This instinctive emotional "writing-off" of their aristocracy has, however, lulled Scots into a false sense of security. The aristocracy may have lost its Scottish credentials, but it retained great economic and social power and influence. John McGrath’s "silly ass" characters, Lord Crask and Lady Phosphate, delight their audience by behaving throughout most of their act, as that audience expects the gentry to do. But Scots would do well to remember the chilling transformation which comes over them as they sing their last verse.

"But although we think you’re quaint,
Don’t forget to pay your rent;
And if you should want your land,
We’ll cut off your grasping hand!
You had better learn your place,
You’re a low and servile race —
We’ve cleared the straths,
We’ve cleared the paths,
We’ve cleared the bens,
We’ve cleared the glens
And we can do it once again."

The aristocracy may by now be remote and seen as irrelevant, but they are the agents and beneficiaries of the foreign state which they left to serve. Whatever their historic family tree may indicate, they are effectively the growth point or spearhead of the settler society evolving in much of Scotland. They provide a kind of cover which conceals from many Scots the fact that Scotland is governed by external power. That they can still use influence effectively on behalf of that power has been shown by the skill and vigour with which they led their supporters to victory in two referendums in the past decade.

These deeply significant consequences of the "regnal union" were obscured by the residual Scottishness of King James—a kind of one-man Caledonian Society; and even in modern times, there are those who choose to ignore the essentials of the policies which he handed on to his son and grandsons. The Stuarts were not only absentees and absolutists, but Anglicisers as well, and the opposition which they incurred was prompted by all these aspects of their administration, and not by the first two only. As King of England, James’s standard of living had risen considerably and the place of the Crown in the English state was much more to his liking than was the place it had come to be accorded in Scotland. Secured by distance, James set about bringing his northern Kingdom into closer uniformity with his new, and his chosen pattern was English. He was pleased with the success of his efforts, congratulating himself that he could sit in London and govern Scotland with his pen more effectively than his ancestors could do by the sword. Unfortunately the goal he had set himself, of a powerful and supreme monarchy was obtainable in Scotland only by imposing his will in regard to the structure of church government.

The Scottish Parliament was controlled by a key committee—the Committee of the Articles—which determined the order and conduct of all legislative business. Whoever controlled that Committee controlled the Parliament. The Committee was composed of an equal number of representatives—usually eight—from the nobility, from the "barons of the shires" (the lairds) and from the burgesses. But there were also the main royal officials ex officio and eight bishops. Not only that, but the selection process was initiated by the bishops choosing the nobles who were to serve on the Committee, and, together, these magnates selected the representatives of the humbler estates. And, of course, who chose the bishops? Episcopalian bishops, in Scotland as in England, were appointed by the Crown. It was to be anticipated that a king’s appointee would be an obedient king’s man. So king’s nominees chose the nobles to serve on the Articles Committee. It is hardly unfair or cynical to assume that the favoured nobles would in most cases be royal partisans, as would be the shire or burgh representatives. Thus the Committee of the Articles was an agency wholly at the king’s command as, through it, so also was the Parliament. This happy situation depended upon the political participation of the bishops, and would endure as long as the bishops were there. But, take away the bishops, and Committee and Parliament alike would slip from the king’s control. So, King James, his son Charles I and his grandsons, Charles II and James VII, had the soundest of political reasons for insisting on the maintenance of episcopacy in Scotland. Conversely, all those who wished to diminish royal monopoly of political power found themselves inevitably driven to see virtue in the abolition of episcopacy, and the return of the church to a Presbyterian structure. Thus, the great conflict of the 17th century between Crown and Covenant in Scotland ought no longer to be dismissed as a mere clash of religious factions. Those who sought to diminish the authority of an Anglicising monarchy have to be credited with attitudes not only anti-monarchist but nationalist as well.

When the opposition in Scotland precipitated the Civil War which cost Charles I his throne and his life, they met with such initial success that in 1641 they were able to impose a constitutional pattern which represented a move from monarchy to, perhaps oligarchy, and beyond that, a tentative step in the direction of a virtual republic. That tentative step was never forgotten or forgiven by the restored monarch of 1660 or his supporters, and for the rest of the century the battle lines were clearly drawn, monarchy and episcopacy on the one hand and the Presbyterian faction on the other.

For a good number of years now it has been common for writers to defend the vigorous royal repression of the Presbyterian opposition and in particular the "Killing Times" of the 1670’s and 1680’s, on the grounds that the victims were executed not for their religion, or their desire to worship according to their convictions, but for political disloyalty and incipient or actual rebellion. And, of course, these writers are wholly correct in their diagnosis of the offence. The Covenanters of 1678-79, and the Cameronians of the 1680’s were waging war—open in 1679, guerrilla in the 1680’s—upon the monarchy and upon the state. It was for this type of offence that they were falling before firing parties and perishing on the Grassmarket’s gallows. They were shot and hanged, not because of how they worshipped, but because they had disowned the Crown and its agents and had openly committed themselves to war upon them. Far from destroying their political credit, does this not in fact enhance it?

The struggle by the monarchy to impose its concept of the ideal state upon its subjects persisted all through the 1600’s, and was finally defeated both in England and in Scotland with the ejection of the last "rightful" king (James VII and II) in 1688-89, and the imposition of parliamentary constraints upon his successor, King William, whose title rested upon the will of the Parliaments of both nations. The experience in Scotland of the preceding half century gave a particular slant to the deliberations in the Parliament in Edinburgh which devised the new arrangements. It was a matter of quite frequent comment that many members in that Parliament, who had suffered persecution and exile, had concluded that one king was likely to be as bad as another, and that no king was therefore acceptable until his powers had been curtailed to such an extent as to render his subjects safe from any recurrence of repression. There was strong sentiment in favour of a republic, and politicians, who were struggling to ensure that King William retained as many as possible of the powers and privileges of King James, wrote despairingly of public and parliamentary temper that "God help us; 1641 is come again". Not that a republic would have been permitted. Royalist Scots would obviously resist such a development. Moderate opinion tended to the view that evil lay in the personality of recent monarchs rather than in the nature of monarchy itself. Practical politicians knew that England, having produced a limited monarchy as its answer to the constitutional crisis, would not peacefully permit the adoption in Scotland of a wholly different solution. None the less, the thought was there; and the Scots majority worked successfully against strong and prolonged resistance from the new king’s supporters, to produce a monarchy with its powers greatly curbed and as like a republic as could possibly be achieved.

In curbing the power of the Crown, most particularly by securing the abolition of the Committee of the Articles, the successful party greatly enhanced the opportunities for freedom of judgment and action on the part of the Scottish Parliament, and in so doing opened the way to the devising of policies which in due course clashed with those of England. In those circumstances the Scottish Parliament became too dangerous to England’s interests to be allowed to continue, and the Union of 1707 was England’s method of removing an irritating and inconvenient nuisance.

So the issues of the 17th century—power in the state and the status of monarchy—began with the challenge to Mary; continued in the armed resistance to Charles I in the 1640’s and to Charles II and James VII in the next generation; reached apparent settlement in 1690, but culminated in the subjection of Scotland not to an absolutist and Anglicising monarchy but to an oligarchic English Parliament.

There was resistance of course; the quasi-Republican resistance of men like Andrew Fletcher on the one hand and the resistance of the supporters of the overthrown ancient monarchy on the other. But always there was the observance of the tradition, as old as the postmediaeval nation itself, that Scottish resistance to England was never total, but always conditional. When Balliol played the patriot Bruce collaborated—and vice versa. Always there were Scots who would go along with English supremacy if the consequences were to their sectional advantage. Much noisy nationalist posturing in the post-Union years came from the very people and interests who had most strongly supported the Anglicising Stuart Kings, but who now played the Scottish patriot because their man no longer sat on the English throne.

As Scotland’s "natural leaders" moved up, Out and away they left a gap, whose filling, generation by generation, is one of the remarkable features of post-Union Scottish society. The Unions of 1603 and 1707 had between them stripped Scotland of her executive and of her legislature, but certain institutions remained. The law of Scotland was permitted to survive and the Presbyterian system of church government was guaranteed. Indeed, these two concessions had ensued acceptance of the rest of the Union bargain by two very powerful vested interests which, in the absence of such concessions, would probably have thrown their considerable influence against Union. In addition, the Scottish educational provision survived, there being no national English system to which it could have been subordinated. In short, Scottish institutions were not exterminated—a mistake on the part of England’s rulers which would not be repeated today—and those which survived became the slumbering seeds of a Scottish identity, even though the political entity, "Scotland", had been obliterated.

These surviving institutions also provided the means whereby a new leadership could be produced. The existence of Scots Law meant that some expertise in public affairs continued to be fostered. The educational provision ensured a wider-than-average incidence of literacy in the population at large, which was thus able to respond to the printed word. As for the church, its tradition and structure, in theory at least, were egalitarian, encouraging Scots to participate in debates and opinion-forming procedures.

In the immediate aftermath of the Union Scotland cut a sorry figure politically. Her nobility had gone nest-feathering. Her gentry—lairds and merchant burgesses—distinguished themselves for a century and more by the consistent venality with which they served the government of the day regardless of its policies and personalities. Scottish M.P. ‘s, organised by the Argyll interest, provided Sir Robert Walpole with the most consistent and reliable of his supporters until the 1740’s, and the Dundas machine performed the same service for George III and Lord North in later years. Though Edinburgh enjoyed an Indian summer of intellectual and cultural glory, the glory was non-political and cosmopolitan.

Who then, after the Union, first took up Scotland’s cause in thought, in word, and in print? Our January evenings would be much enlivened if more of us were aware of the true historical and cultural significance of Robert Burns. Burns had inherited lyrical guidance from such as Ramsay and Fergusson, as he himself was always first to mention, but from 1707 until he began his writing, no one had effectively revived Scottish self-awareness. If Scots law, church and schools had been destroyed the survival of a conscious, self-aware Scottish people would have been, in the long run, improbable. But, if Burns had never lived we’d all have been British today, our historic distinctiveness having gone the way of Northumbrian, Mercian or West Saxon culture, merged irrevocably with a wider Englishness. Those who might reject such an estimate of Burns’s significance might well reflect on the contrasting contribution of Scotland’s other literary giant, Walter Scott. Scott, steeped in Scottish lore and tradition, none the less saw Scotland as something past—an antiquity whose memory was to be preserved and honoured to be sure, and of which Scots should be aware, but something which had now been overtaken by events.

Many have noted, usually with appropriate regret, that Burns did not leave behind a school of worthy literary successors. Writers who wrote in his style were a pretty inferior lot, and in a literary sense Burns’s ultimate heirs were the kailyarders of later years. His real spirit was bequeathed not to poets, but to a generation of politically conscious Scottish working men, drawing inspiration from the content of his writings—his support for democracy in America and in France, and his unswerving insistence on the dignity of man—rather than from the artistic skills with which he was able to present his opinions.

We must not diminish these men, brought up on Burns and the Bible, or the organisations which they created, by seeming to imagine that each new outburst of political activity in Scotland was merely another protest against the Union, or just another attempt to return to a long-gone status quo. On the contrary, each group or organisation acted in full relevance to the realities of its own time, creating and recreating in each generation the meaning of "Scotland". Independent Scotland existed prior to an industrial society, prior to urban development, prior to an effective system of communications and prior to democracy itself. In deciding how to use their history, and what guidance can be drawn from it, Scots today must allow for what has actually happened. It is true, for instance, that the Scottish Parliament was "adjourned" in 1707, but to seem to commit ourselves to the "recall" of that Parliament is to solicit and deserve ridicule. The events of the centuries since the Union are now themselves part of our heritage and contributory to the organic growth of today’s nation.

We are familiar enough, no doubt, with Burns’s patriotic sentiments expressed in so many of his best-known works, but these straightforward expressions of his opinions, judged on their own, might leave us with the feeling that Burns, like Scott, accepted Scotland’s political identity as something now in the past. The really significant fact is that, when we turn to poems not obviously "Scottish"—poems like the "Ode on General Washington’s Birthday" or "The Tree of Liberty"—we find Burns asserting a Scottish identity and a Scottish political stance, which he saw as contemporary and alive. He makes the point that though support for liberty may have perished in England, it need not have done so in Scotland. In his opinion, clearly, there was still a specifically Scottish attitude to current affairs which Scots might be expected to assert.

The events to which such poems refer—the American and French Revolutions—were to dictate the political agenda for more than a century. The spirit of these revolutions inspired the struggle for liberty of men and nations, principles which in parts of the world came to be accepted as fundamental to state policy, and which in most parts of the world have become accepted, at least in rhetoric. But in addition, these revolutions involved the liberation of talents. No one, because of humble origins or status should be excluded from public life or public service. Such an idea fitted well with the historic tradition and attitude long established in Scotland. It squared with the "lad o’ pairts" tradition in education, and with the yearning after equality of status implicit in many a political and religious controversy from the 16th century onwards. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—the three-fold objective of the French Revolution—met with much support in Scotland.

Such support was not peculiar to Scotland, but organisations like "The Friends of the People" had a rather different character in Scotland than had similarly named organisations in England. In England, the "Friends" tended to be well-intentioned and sympathetic nobles and gentry, whose friendship had in it an element of condescension and patronage. In Scotland such groups were more genuinely "of the people" in their membership. Reform had, for some years before European popular revolution occurred, commanded support in Scotland, where many attempts had been made to secure more representative government in shires and burghs. Thus, when Scottish reformers assembled in their Edinburgh Convention in 1792, there were present representatives from active reform societies of a wide geographical distribution. The very word "societies" had echoes of Covenanting times, and men like Thomas Muir were in the main stream of an old tradition. Muir brought himself to the attention of the authorities by his political work among Scottish craftsmen and artisans. It is no accident that his message was received with particular interest and sympathy by men who were educated to full literacy, who had some characteristics of the self-employed, and who could to some extent, determine their own working hours. Smiths and tailors, weavers and cobblers, were famous for several generations for the interest which they took in radical politics—and round the forge, the last and the loom many an impromptu political discussion group grew up. The working men of Scotland were, by the mid 1800’s, unusually politically aware and active. The pattern of organisation revealed in the early 1790’s was repeated in the structure of the United Scotsmen almost a decade later. Reform-seeking branches and cells were uncovered by the authorities as they sought evidence of treasonous conspiracies, following the trial of Thomas Muir with the trials of Palmer and George Mealmaker in Dundee. Mealmaker had a branch organisation extending throughout Angus and Fife and beyond, and its members were "wrights", "weavers", "shoemakers", in most recorded instances. Mealmaker, himself a weaver, was highly regarded by colleagues more formally educated, for the excellence and effectiveness of his political writings.

Throughout the years of the French Wars, and in spite of the chauvinistic British loyalism which these wars aroused; in spite also of imprisonment and transportation, a reform tradition was maintained among working people which was never lost. The Bonnymuir Rising—the "Radical War" of 1820—cost the elderly Strathaven weaver, James Wilson, his life—and Wilson’s association with reform had been continuous since the days of the Friends of the People and the United Scotsmen. The events of 1820, and the activities on behalf of the People’s Charter in the subsequent thirty years, were the manifestation by each generation of its commitment to the cause of political liberty for all men. Each generation showed its awareness of its debt to its predecessors. When Chartist branches were being formed in the 1830’s they frequently took the name of some past reform martyr. There were "clubs" or branches bearing Thomas Muir’s name; others to honour the names of John Baird and Andrew Hardie, executed, like Wilson, in 1820. And, most misunderstood of all, perhaps, by later generations, there were clubs which proudly bore the name of Robert Burns.

The apparent failure of Chartism as a movement offering a direct political challenge to established political practice led Scots to seek improved conditions by other means. Friendly Societies, offering benefits and protection to members in need had existed for some considerable time, and had managed to avoid political persecution by confining their activities to the promotion of mutual welfare. But as the 19th century wore on, the old craft industries were overshadowed by new factory-based industries; and the Friendly Society method of offering some material protection to workers was increasingly seen to be inadequate. Some occupational groups formed associations having a wider notion of ‘welfare’ than the old Friendly Societies, concerned not just with the alleviation of distress but with wages and working conditions also.

Some experience of united action had been gained through events like the weavers’ strike of 1812 and the widespread strike of 1820; and workers’ self-awareness had been encouraged by David Dale and Robert Owen in the New Lanark Mills. Gradually different trades began to organise themselves in "societies", "associations" and "unions". An "Association for the Protection of Labour" was formed in 1831—the "General Union of Glasgow" as it was frequently styled; and individual unions of cotton spinners, turners, carpenters, masons, bakers, colliers and many others, came into being. In 1837 there was formed the United Trades Association. These bodies earned the comment, made about one of them, that they were "entirely composed of working men, many of whom would have done honour to the highest rank in society". About them it might be said, as it was said of Chartism, that they displayed "distinctive characteristics, derived from national peculiarities and traditions, which link (them) with the Covenanters and the Political Martyrs, of the Revolutionary period".

Another "characteristic" prominent in this new upsurge of activity was pamphleteering. Journals like "Trades Advocate", "Tradesman", "Herald to the Trades" appeared; and soon more "political" titles joined them—"The Liberator", "The True Scotsman", "Scottish Patriot" among others.

In addition to these societies, organised by and for the working people themselves, politics in the parliamentary sense developed a very specifically Scottish character by the turn of the century. As the rules became more nearly democratic, following upon the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884, political power in Scotland passed firmly into the hands of the Liberal Party. Conservative allegiance in Scotland was confined to a few clearly recognisable economic groups—landowners, brewers and distillers, and a proportion at least of Edinburgh lawyers. Even within the Church of Scotland, the more vigorous breakaway Free Church was identified with Liberal attitude—social concern in the cities (including temperance, hence Tory brewers!) and antagonism to landlordism in the Highlands. By 1900, the Scottish parliamentary representation was overwhelmingly Liberal, with moderate Conservative revivals occurring only in freakish elections such as followed the breakaway of Liberal Unionists on the issue of Irish Home Rule, or the jingoistic election fought in the hectic atmosphere of the Boer War. Scottish politics, in short, were on a quite different pattern to that which prevailed in England.

Apart from the balance between the two major parties, another uniquely Scottish development was the formation of the Scottish Labour Party in 1886; the election of ‘crofter’ M.P.’s in Highland constituencies, and, in 1892 the establishment, in Scotland initially, of the Independent Labour Party—the I.L.P., which throughout its existence, never lost in Scotland the respect which its high principles and integrity earned.

These various bodies were from an early stage committed to Home Rule for Scotland. Such a commitment was not, in the circumstances of the time, a mere emotional exercise. Though Scots had not managed to make Home Rule a burning issue, the whole concept of recognition of national distinctiveness within the British state had been spectacularly advanced by the successes of nationalist politics in Ireland, and by the commitment of the Liberal Party to Irish Home Rule. Though for all kinds of historical reasons the issue was infinitely more urgent in Irish minds than Scottish, the principle was transferable. There is little wonder therefore, that by 1914 the Liberals were pledged to the implementation of "Home Rule all Round"—for Scotland as well as for Ireland. In their pledge they were supported by the early Labour movements, by a variety of nationalist groups and associations, and by an active and prolific array of journals. There seemed every prospect that a widely supported policy would be implemented in the reasonably near future, by a government whose leaders had genuinely come to accept the justice and merits of the Home Rule principle. But there were forces at work in the opposite direction.

Political response to 19th century social and economic change had involved a massive extension of the influence of the state. Whereas prior to the early 1800’s governments were expected to concern themselves with diplomacy, defence and the maintenance of internal peace, industrialisation had introduced a new range of problems and demands. A miserable and harshly employed people came to see in the state a possible protector against the irresponsible exactions and cruelties of employers. The extension of the vote, slow, gradual and reluctant as it was, none the less opened the way for participation by wage-earners in political decision-making. To endear themselves to these new voters, politicians had to offer comment and promise action upon the material urgencies of poverty, slum-dwelling and hunger. In turn, the poor, the weak and the hungry gave their support to politicians who professed sympathy; and their eyes were thus drawn to the political centre of things—London, to which all pleas had to go and from which all rulings had to come.

This enhanced importance of the state was parallelled by the increasing tendency for the private economy to be directed from London offices. Both processes were accelerated by the rapid Improvements in communications, whether travel by rail and road, or the transmission of messages and instructions by telegraph, telephone and, ultimately, radio.

The self-esteem of capital cities is a common phenomenon, and the self-esteem of London Town and its citizens is centuries-old. London exhibits a metropolitan parochialism, ignorant of, contemptuous of, and indifferent to, life and aspirations in the so-called "provinces". Cheek by jowl with administrative and economic power centres, and, to a great extent, parasitic upon them, there developed a "national" press, distributing metropolitan opinions and discussing metropolitan preoccupations, fostering throughout England and Scotland, the notion that whatever happened in London was the norm, and that all viewpoints which did not originate in the capital were somehow quaint, trivial and deviant. As the present century proceeded this process was given further strength by new developments of modern times, especially the extension of broadcasting and advertising. The effect of all these developments, and, frequently, the intention, was to minimise the distinctive and unique features of "the provinces", and the mental centralising of all people governed from London went on apace.

To pretend that Scotland was not deeply affected by all these influences is to deceive ourselves. The upper classes were long gone into Englishness. The business community now found all sorts of reasons for closer identification with England; while at long last the Scottish worker was becoming conditioned into rejecting, or at least playing down, the distinctiveness of his own community. One further boost towards an increasingly "British" outlook was given by the Great War. The peace settlements of 1919 saw the principle of self-determination reach the highest peak of acceptance since French revolutionary armies had first carried the principle into the hearts of the great empires of Europe. Yet, ironically, at the very moment of its apparent vindication the principle was on the verge of being discarded or perverted. The face of German nationalism, fresh with liberal innocence and romance in 1848, had become disfigured in the eyes of beholders by the monocles and duelling scars of Prussian officers. The nationalism of the subject peoples of central Europe, now politically liberated, was forgotten in the more immediate appreciation of the evil which national arrogance of rival powers had brought upon humanity. From all the most sensitive elements in society the plea now was, above all, for peace evermore, and an end to the acknowledgment of national distinctions. A generation of writers and thinkers, in their horror over what had happened, concluded that national awareness was inevitably linked to hatred and violence, and should therefore be minimised and denied as far as possible. Nationalism was seen as morally acceptable, as a guide to policies and objectives, only in the newly-born states, and among the defeated. Among the victorious allies, though politicians cheered and swaggered, the thoughtful preached pacifism and the abandonment of national consciousness. Less thoughtful people, for less noble reasons, found grounds for consigning Scotland to the past. The United Kingdom had come through a dreadful experience; Scotland had shared with England a great and profound trauma, and the "British" aspect of Scottish identity was emphasised and accepted as never before.

Not, of course, that this happened overnight. One effect of the British centuries in Scotland, was the gradual focussing of Scots’ attention upon British opportunities and interests, and, in particular, upon the British Empire. Once again the upper classes were first to display such a tendency. More active in politics and in public life, they were earlier enthused by the activities opened to them in the years of the Par Britannica and the worldwide strategic dominance of the Royal Navy. Working people remained, rather longer, domestic in their orientation, but in time they too found some prospect of reward in participation in British national enterprises. The Empire was not just for Viceroys and Indian Civil Servants; it did offer opportunities, economic and professional, for Scots whose prospects at home were more modest.

Not that, for most of them, the rewards were very great. For most, their participation in Britain’s "wider world" was as emigrants, voluntary or otherwise, or as mercenaries in the service of the Imperial Crown. There is nothing remarkable in this. Every empire has found a place in its armies for native auxiliaries, and for a warrior caste recruited from conquered provinces. Rome had her Gauls and Syrians; the Ottoman Sultans had their Janissaries and their Mamelukes; the Austrian Hapsburgs had their Magyar cavalry, and the Russian Tsars their Cossacks. Why then marvel at the loyal service offered to the British Crown by Sikhs and Gurkhas—and Scots?

When riots disturbed the peace of 18th century London it was the Royal Scots who briskly restored order and made themselves detested in the city. From Fort Duquesne to Balaklava to Tel-el-Kebir the service went on, and Scotland’s traditions came increasingly to be seen as essentially martial. English encouragement and congratulations inspired Scots, of this tradition, to ever more determined displays of military prowess and excellence.

This tradition, which easily prompts Scots as well as outsiders to equate Scottishness with regimental trappings, might be said to have its emotional roots in the writings of Walter Scott whose interpretation of his people’s past has enjoyed wider influence than any other. This is the tradition which sustains the idea that there is no need for a Scottish Parliament so long as we have country dancing and Highland games; which encourages us to surrender all interest in a political past and all hopes for a political future, to concentrate instead upon cultural gymnastics. Supporters of this tradition are frequently steeped in Scottish folk-lore, fiercely defending aspects of Scottish culture which are safely antique; and in their "noisy inactivity", will insist on that strictly non-political stance which is the essence of Unionism. The Unionist objective has to be to ignore, or deny, or, at least, minimise, any assertion of contemporary Scottish distinctiveness; and to direct Scottish aspirations into placid and pointless channels. The message of the Unionist is that the past is all we have and all we are to be allowed to have.

Once again John McGrath’s silly-ass characters reveal the aspects of Scottishness which appeal to them...

"... the skirling of the pibroch
as it echoes o’er the wee loch
We love the games
Their funny names
The sporran’s swing
The Highland fling
We are more Scottish than the Scotch.
The Camera-ha
The Slainte Vah..."

Hamish Henderson has reminded us that there is a darker side to this chapter of Scotland’s story, and that our service to the Union has cost us more than we realise. Envisaging a Scottish future, he comments upon the Scottish past, remarking

"Broken families in lands we’ve harried
will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair".

We should be more aware of such curses, and reflect more upon how it came about that Scots were ever called upon to harry anyone.

So, as we reach the present day we have to face the fact that one part of Scotland’s heritage is Unionism, stronger by 1920, perhaps, than ever before. It remains to consider what nationalist response has been made.

Nationalist ground has not always been well-chosen, either militarily or politically. Resistance to the centralising of decision-making in England for instance, has very largely been characterised by nationalist propaganda onslaughts upon centralisation rather than upon its English location. This I believe to be a profound blunder. For one thing such an attack does not engage the emotions of the voters, being too impersonal and abstract by half. Also, criticism of centralisation as such, on grounds of inefficiency, bureaucracy and the like, can just as easily be made by any sort of politician. Nationalists would do well, whenever possible, to concentrate their energies in promoting principles and arguments which are peculiarly and uniquely theirs. A further blunder is to attack centralisation for all the wrong reasons. An attempt to fight centralism by extolling the virtues of parochialism, provincialism or regionalism leads to a kailyard of politics as well as of culture. It would imply an acceptance of parity with English regionalism—a readiness to settle for regional status if guaranteed occasional favours and sustained courtesy. True, that would be an improvement upon present practices, but a nationalist ought to reject totally the proposition that so long as government is good government it need not be self-government.

Regional or local self-government is not an un-mixed blessing in any case. Under such an arrangement local corruptions and bigotries can become as oppressive to free minds as can dictation from outsiders; and there is always the risk of giving cultural vigilantes the power to rule obscurantist communities. The real nationalist stance has to be based upon the nation as the unit whose best interests are to be sought. The real nationalist case, therefore, has to be that present centralised power is exerted on behalf of the wrong state; that it is not the location of power that matters but the fact that that power is exercised on behalf of interests which are alien. A government in Leicester is no better than a government in London if it continues to serve the same interests and respond to the same electoral processes.

The sustained nationalist attack on "London government" has been too often based upon mere irritations with administrative shortcomings; and any campaign built upon some notion of substituting a system of communes for a dismantled state is to respond to the promptings of sociology rather than politics. It is certainly not an inevitable or specially relevant component of nationalist thinking. The nationalist objective has to be to give to an evident, manifest national community the dignity which can only come from having a state within which that community takes its own decisions, makes its own policies and arranges it own priorities. To a nationalist, "decentralising the British state" ought merely to be a more soothing way of saying that we mean to leave it.

As it happened, the first fight-back against acceptance of a British Unionist future for Scotland came not in the political arena but in the minds of writers who saw virtue in recognition of Scottish identity. In the early 1920’s a new generation of writers began to emerge from the kailyard—that "degenerate Thrums" as it has been called—and, in particular. C. M. Grieve proclaimed his determination that he would subject important worldwide themes to serious examination through Scottish eyes. This three-fold commitment began indeed a Scottish Renaissance.

This "Renaissance" has seen two generations of writers of great talent, of great intelligence and vision, dealing with themes of profound importance. They have enabled Scots to enjoy reflected glory as fellow-nationals of writers whose reputation is international, and, who have revealed a distinctively Scottish viewpoint on a wide range of political and philosophical issues. It is this quality which has given Scotland once again an identity among nations, and this success has placed all Scots under an obligation to these gifted people. The most important and crucial success in the assertion of national identity is to secure recognition of that identity by other nations. Self-government without the power to conduct our own diplomacy is flawed, inadequate and incomplete. It ought to be a matter of great satisfaction to us all that our literary revival has been characterised by a return to the old pre-Union tradition of international awareness and participation.

"Whatever Scotland is to me", wrote MacDiarmid, Be it aye part o’ a' men see
o’ earth and o’ Eternity".

And, in a splendid and crucial warning against parochialism, he reminds his readers,

"He canna Scotland see wha yet
Canna see the infinite
And Scotland in true scale to it".

Political nationalism has been fortunate to have such reminders to serve as a guide to actions and attitudes, and it has, on the whole, and in its better moments, well and nobly followed the advice. Increasingly Scots of nationalist outlook have sought to re-enter the international community directly, and to end the Unionist tradition of filtering all access to the outside world through English agencies and institutions. Oliver Brown’s paper "Scots Socialist" used to carry at its mast-head the statements

"We are not British—We are Scots.
We are Europeans.
We are citizens of the World".

A similar outlook prompted Winnie Ewing’s campaign use of the slogan,

"Stop the world—we want to get on".

And the world since 1945 has been, in many respects, a more relevant and a more welcoming place for nationalists. The emergence into freedom of nations released by war from empire throughout Asia and Africa, and the participation in the United Nations by such independent peoples, has presented Scots with a challenge to do likewise. Some nationalists at least, have always had the doctrinal conviction that they should identify with those peoples similarly denied political identity—subject peoples and emergent peoples of the present world. The success of others has encouraged Scots to grow up. In former years when English speakers referred to England’s Empire, England’s flag, England’s allies, England’s monarch and princes, the typical Scottish response was to utter shrill protests that Scots were partners, and that these various adornments were "ours too". The Scots for long enough have tried to teach the English to be British. Increasingly now they have abandoned the forlorn attempt, and are, on the contrary, prepared to acknowledge that British is English. In 1953 the proclamation of "Elizabeth II" produced a raging controversy among Scots who saw themselves as excluded partners in monarchy. In 1978 the rejoicings attendant upon the royal Silver Jubilee were spectacularly confined to England, and were received by the overwhelming mass of Scottish people in a frenzy of indifference. Those who speak of "the next Queen of England" may be more accurate than they realise.

In other words, as we reach the present day, Scots are more aware than they have been for almost two hundred years, of the unique and distinctive character of Scotland. And this has been achieved without reliance upon the agency which all other nations have used to bring about, and to foster national self-awareness—the educational system of the country. The disciplines or fields of study which most lend themselves to the appreciation of the national culture, are history and literature. In Scotland children have habitually been rendered indifferent to, or unaware of, these expressions of national character. The status of history as a subject in schools, is lower in Scotland than anywhere else in the democratic world. Partly no doubt, this is because history can be neither eaten nor sold; and Scottish parental ambitions have usually taken a very material and practical form. Inevitably in a society which does not take its own decisions, the highest level to which its talented children can aspire is managerial, and in Scotland education is seen first and foremost as a pre-requisite to getting a good job. Good jobs come, it is believed, to those who acquire skills and qualifications of a practical nature; people who do not rule themselves cannot afford to encourage their children to pursue abstract or speculative studies.

So, any study of Scottish history is usually undertaken by children in their early years, when it can be, and is, presented as a bland pageant, safely past and now irrelevant, or as a gory spectacular, memory of which intensifies our shame and inferiority. Our history is presented as something from which we have been delivered. It is interesting to notice other peoples also have had a similar experience. In colonial Africa and Asia; in the non-Russian republics of the U.S.S.R.; in Brittany, in the Basque country, in black America—in all those places and communities the history of the people has been suppressed or distorted, and in its place there has been intruded the history of the dominant or colonial power. The Irish have a song which sums it all up.

"When we were savage, fierce and wild,
She came as a mother to her child;
Gently raised us from the slime,
kept our hands from hellish crime
And sent us to heaven in her own good time ...

May peace and plenty be her share
Who kept our homes from want and care,
Oh! 'God bless England' is our prayer ..."

The attack on our history is threefold. First comes the treatment of the subject in a dismissive and patronising fashion. Next comes plain, blunt neglect. Finally, and most deadly, is the substitution of someone else’s history, presented as if it were our own. There is a perfectly good case to be made for some study in Scotland of English history, just as there is for the study of French or German or Russian or American history. No one would argue, however, that Scots should confuse any of these histories with their own. No more should they be conditioned into accepting English history as their own.

Yet generations of Scottish children—and teachers! —have been deceived into thinking that King Alfred founded their navy; that Magna Carta guaranteed their liberties; that Spain’s Armada threatened their shores and that they have had two Queens called Elizabeth. The ‘Observer’ newspaper has twice run historical series rendered laughable to thinking Scots, by the hopeless muddle of ‘we’, ‘you’ and ‘they’. Books are published with titles like "Victorian England" and some Scots are sufficiently alert and perceptive to feel some sense of resentment; but a much more dangerous and wholly unjustified title like "Tudor Britain" passes unremarked. The English have some little problems of their own with historical logic and accuracy, titles like "Roman England" revealing their total incapacity to envisage a stage from which they are absent. "Roman England"! Now, there is a truly mythical beast.

It is easy to make nationalist protests about historical inaccuracies and anachronisms seem very petty; and Scottish unionists of Left and Right stand ever ready to equate "Scottish" with "parochial", and to call upon us to seek national amnesia and cease to be "prisoners of our history". But we are all inescapably prisoners of our history. History is something which actually happened.

"The moving finger writes, and having writ
Moves on; nor all thy Piety and Wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash Out a word of it."

There was a call recently from well-meaning souls, that Irish sectarian factions should confer and devise "an Irish history upon which all can agree". The implied plea for falsification in the interests of harmony is unnatural, impossible and preposterous. There is similarly, some notion that, because a study of Scottish history involves an awareness of past hostilities, it should therefore be avoided or suppressed, as one might seek to avoid giving offence to a guest.

So here, on the very edge of the Great Wheel of MacDiarmid’s vision, is "wee Scotland, squatting like a flea"; battered, threatened, politically obliterated; her struggle to preserve an identity denigrated in the hearing of her children, and shrilly condemned by thousands of those upon whose aid she ought to have been able to rely. Despair, surrender and oblivion are always just round the next corner. In her paper which launched this series, Joy Hendry quoted some lines from Brendan Behan, rejoicing in

"The sea, Oh the sea, a ghradh gheal mo chroidhe.
Oh long may you roll between England and me."

She ended the quotation there. Let us now reflect on the conclusion.

"God help the poor Scotsmen—they’ll never be free 
But we’re entirely surrounded by Water."

So we come back at the last to that great determinant of history which is geography. We have no defending sea. We have no moat. We have a land frontier, along which, as Oliver Brown remarked long ago, "Scotland needed the Alps and God gave her the Cheviots." Across that frontier we have a neighbour, distinguished in history by the ruthless exercise of power, and capable of bringing to bear against us a vast apparatus of education, information, publicity, propaganda and treachery to confuse our thinking and destroy our will.

But we have a miraculously surviving national consciousness, which makes feasible the preservation of our aspirations; and we have the capacity, proven in many generations, to create a leadership from within the community of Scotland. It is these qualities which entitle us to cling to the hope that we in our generation will yet succeed in handing on to the Scotland of our sons the unique inheritance which was the Scotland of our fathers.



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