Posts tagged ‘Financial Times’

May 11, 2014

It’s Simple, Simon – a rejection of Schama’s vision of a fine mess of a union

The historian Simon Schama is the latest contributor to a series of essays in support of retaining the union published in the Financial Times. It has to be said they vary in quality.

While he describes himself as a British historian others might consider Schama to be an essentially English historian i.e. a historian who interprets the past from his perspective created out of shared relationships and experiences in England. He has never, to my knowledge, lived and worked in Scotland so is unfamiliar with life and culture here. Assumptions are not knowledge. His assumption that the Scots are a northern equivalent of the English leads him to conclude that whatever differences may exist between Scotland and England they are negligible and not sufficient to break up the Great British home.

He was criticised for his BBC series on the History of Britain. I didn’t watch it not least because I don’t find his work innovative or particularly interesting and expected to learn nothing new from it. I did read, however, that despite what I’m sure were his best efforts to be objective, Schama regurgitated the same old same old – Anglo-Saxons and their roles in the creation of England, Alfred the Great, Norman Conquests, Magna Carta and the like without comparable references to developments in Scotland to illustrate how bordering nations developed in different ways. In other words, Schama’s Britishness turned out in the end to be Englishness. How Scotland became the nation it is remains for the majority of ‘British’ historians an area outside their field of competency.


It’s an exaggerated claim that we have a shared history. Our pasts coincided and clashed from time to time but there’s much more to Scotland and England than these incidents usually related from a southern perspective.

Schama may think his approach is all-inclusive but he’s fooling himself if he thinks he is going beyond the Anglo-centric standard interpretation.

He certainly displays no sensitivity to Scotland’s distinctive cultural references, separate system of laws, variant attitudes to monarchy and hierarchies, separate religious groups, distinct languages and dialects instead he is eager to dismiss such differences as inconsequential set against what was shared. Of course what was/is shared is not those aspects of Scotland that are unique to it but what he sees as British, ie Englishness. England ready for war

In pursuit of his argument we are homogeneous  Britishers Schama cites our peoples’ shared involvement in the two world wars. It is all the more unacceptable then to read accounts of those times, and not just by past historians, where British is blithely replaced by English and Britain with England so cancelling out the sacrifices of Scots men and women with the stroke of a pen.

In the spirit of Schama let me provide him with another reference to our shared British state but one he omitted. It was disappointing in 1953 that the monarch decided to be known as Elizabeth II despite there never being an Elizabeth I of Scotland, symptomatic of the Anglo-centrism that covers everything in this parcel of nations and gets regurgitated in a mess of mythology tarted up as historical fact and fed to us by historians and the BBC among others. We in Scotland don’t get our fair share of coverage or of respect as an equal partner. There is no equal partnership. That is part of the myth.

In his FT piece Schama condemns Scots’ re-writing history to glorify Robert the Bruce – creating a heroic figure behind which Yes voters will rally forth in September 18th. If Schama was more familiar with Scotland and Scottish history he would know that we are well aware of conflicting allegiances of the Bruces and others during the period of the Wars of Independence when opportunism and the accumulation of land and establishment of family dynasties took precedence over loyalty to any country or nation-state. It may come as a surprise to Schama that the name of Bruce is far from universally regarded in Scotland – where his drive for self-aggrandisement and vacillating allegiances has placed him far behind the much more revered figure of William Wallace.

Schama summarily dismisses Scottish protests against the bedroom tax and Trident which both in their ways expose something of that gulf between the two countries . At least the SNP government in Scotland is determined to tackle the iniquity of this attack on the poor which doesn’t seem to bother Schama. If the bedroom tax doesn’t impact on Schama then neither does Trident, stored as it is in the very part of the UK most eager to be rid of it.

So as not to complicate his argument Shama fails to explore what sets us apart – religion, language (the subtle differences between Scottish English and his English escapes him), legal systems developed through our differences and which in turn have retained those differences. Instead Schama is determined to keep us all cosying up together. Then he goes and makes a curious reference to the time England was invaded by the Scottish Jacobites.

How could England have been invaded when we were already in a political union as Great Britain? Sloppy thinking Mr Schama. Jacobitism was a movement aimed to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. Schama’s hint at it being a cross-border inter-clan skirmish demonstrate his muddled thinking and confusion over Scotland/England/Britain.

Running down his list of events in British history to demonstrate our togetherness Schama pauses at the Scottish Enlightenment long enough to place it within the wider context of Britain, which is true, but it would have been good to see him show he knew it extended beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow within Scotland too. He doesn’t say, or perhaps know, that the Scottish Enlightenment had more in common with mainland European Enlightenment than the English. He does however claim to know that Adam Smith and David Hume would have voted No. Maybe they would – in the 1740s Scotland was a different place. But so what? So would David Bowie but like him Smith and Hume don’t have a vote.

The ‘splendid mess’ of Schama’s understanding epitomises for some of us why we have lost patience with the British Establishment who superimpose their values, their experiences, their ambitions on us.

Like so many who support the No side Schama wallows in the past – this happened, that happened so nothing should change. A recipe for inertia, stagnation – we have achieved the best there is so shouldn’t strive for better.

Schama makes a nasty little aside comparing Alex Salmond with Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin – describing them as ‘die-stamp patriots’ ‘for whom similarity is identity’ A bit unseemly Mr Schama. Were the men who landed on the Normandy beaches ‘die-stamp patriots’ or Churchill? And isn’t it Schama pushing the line we are all British together? Didn’t patriotism come into the British state drumming up support when it came to going to war against Germany and its allies in 1914 and 1939 – and since? Was that die-stamp patriotism rearing its ugly head? And what was it that drove thousands of Scottish men into joining regiments to fight for the British crown after foreign Scotland invaded England in the Jacobite rising? Might Shama regard that as patriotism towards the British crown/British identity? or might it have been that those men discovered Britain under the union did not provide them with anything better than they had before, did not provide any means of living except the lean existence that came from accepting the king’s shilling and so enforced separation from their families, at the very least? england expects

Schama’s arguments expose his shaky grasp of what comprises Scotland, at ease with immigrants but which he regards as intolerant because it dares to criticise and reject the role of the inferior partner in a lopsided union, impatient with promises to tackle the UK’s concentration of wealth in the southeast of England, confident of applying Scottish solutions to Scottish problems – not as ‘die-hard patriots’ but as active participants in a democracy.


Nov 4, 2013

London Fashion – Highland Rape – style over substance


The late fashion designer Alexander McQueen raised the pulse of the London fashion world with his Highland Rape collection in 1995. Now this all passed me by until looking through this weekend’s Financial Times Style page in its Life and Arts supplement which featured an article on ‘The new tartan army’ with references to the McQueen collection of sixteen years ago.  Accompanying the piece were some pretty pictures of pretty young people dressed to kill in yards and yards of tartan.

The pictures were fine but the text proved a further demonstration of woeful ignorance about Scotland south of the border.

McQueen tartan

According to Vogue at the time, McQueen’s original collection was said to mark the ‘English slaughter of his Scottish ancestors’.  Fair enough that was his point of view and perhaps this is the time to explain that McQueen was London born and bred.

The ‘rape’ alluded to by McQueen was the British government’s brutal containment of the Scottish highlands after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The indiscriminate thuggery and raping meted out to men, women and children for many years after the uprising was as sickening as anything happening to people suffering under brutal regimes around the world today. It is good that McQueen felt that horror from his reading of histories even though the culprits were surely British rather than English.   

As he is dead McQueen cannot be blamed for the jumbled commentary on this latest tartan extravaganza written by Mark C. O’Flaherty in the FT November 2/3 2013.

Sadly reminiscent of the previous weekend’s FT where the words ‘it doesn’t get (much/any) more Scottish than’ – on that occasion it was smoking fish over ‘whiskey’ barrels – and you will all know that it is Irish whiskey that is spelled with an ‘e’ and Scottish without – we are reminded how  marginalised Scotland is and that it is indeed a foreign country of which they know little.

O’Flaherty is awfully confused. In between his references to Chanel and Stella McCartney, Jean Paul Gaultier and Versace readers are told ‘tartan’s roots are firmly planted in violent rebellion’ – that will be aerial roots?

Tartan is an arrangement of coloured threads woven into cloth as squares and stripes and as such has been worn in Scotland for many centuries.  Early tartans would have been more dowdy than today’s bright and garish chemical-induced colours. When only plant dyes were available to highland dyers the effects on thread would have been far more subtle. Nor were there distinct tartans attributed to clans but assorted shades and patterns worn together through necessity and preference.

Quoting ‘a definitive and candid study of his work’ by a fashion historian called Judith Watt, O’Flaherty writes, “Tartan was crafted to give identity to the diaspora of the Scottish clans. Highland Rape was all about the Highland Clearances by the English in 1745. It was a story  about the rape of land and heritage. The tartan that Lee used was a MacDonald tartan, developed from a plaid that had been outlawed and buried by one of his ancestors.”

Where to start with this nonsense.

It is true that tartan was ‘crafted’ during the late 18th century and certainly through the 19th century with the invention of clan tartans, specific to families and the notion certain people were entitled to wear them but I do not think this is what Watt and O’Flaherty are referring to. The suggestion is that tartan provided a collective identity to highlanders ravaged by – well what? We have mention of the Clearances and the ’45 in the same sentence.

It is surely all too easy to confuse the Clearances which can be said to have begun in the later 18th century with the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 especially if you haven’t the faintest idea what you are writing about. The banning of tartan through the Act of Proscription and the earlier Disarming Act, introduced after the first Jacobite revolt, had little to do with the Clearances other than some of the same people were affected, or generations of their families.

The article continues its downward projection. ‘In fact, 1970s punk wasn’t the first time since the Clearances that the confrontational aspects of tartan had been utilised to inject fashion with a certain frisson’ and tells how the French, terrified by a tartan-clad Highland regiment (it has it as singular) at Waterloo – yes the Scots did fight during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars despite what you might read in books – and so took to wearing what we now call tartan themselves.

‘Tartan has nothing to do with rock’n’roll or the violently oppressive English monarchs of the 18th century…’ we are told although in reality the monarchs of the period mentioned were by then British (in a manner of speaking, Hanoverian more precisely, but scarcely English).


The idea that tartan was created to give identity to a people is preposterous. It has been identified with the people of Scotland but that is not the same thing. Those impoverished and terrified people wrapped in plaid who were bribed and/or burned from the lands of their ancestors were not wearing tartan as a symbol of revolt. By the time most of the Clearances were occurring the Proscription Act had fallen into abeyance and the checks of the plaid/tartan had become de rigueur as the uniform of oppression – think of its adoption into Highland regiments and the preposterous strutting of that most un-Scottish/British/German monarch George IV as he entertained Edinburgh with the spectacle of his royal corpulence draped in a kilt over gaudy pink tights.


The British government’s decision to adopt tartan for the uniforms of Highland regiments, where would the British empire have been were it not for the cannon fodder provided by young highlanders?  This cynical act helped create the idea of distinctive tartans associated with specific areas of Scotland and so from the backs or should that be the backsides of Highland troops emerged modern tartans – not in the form of the traditional plaid or trews (easier to ride ponies and worn by chiefs and tacksmen)  but the short kilt which soon took on the very essence of highland accessories. Promoted by Colonel David Stewart, founder of the Celtic Sociery of Edinburgh, vouched for the authenticity of the short kilt, the féileadh-beag , once a hitched up piece of plaid tucked into and secured by a leather belt which had been appearing before the ’45 and with other plaids, however worn, were outlawed and dangerous to wear until approaching the latter quarter of the century.  The same Colonel Stewart endorsed the existence of specific clan tartans  and in an extravaganza of tartanry and flag waving he and Walter Scott created a Scotland as authentic as the White Heather Club.

There followed a scramble for tartan – to clothe well-heeled new-born Highlanders from wherever they came.

Step up the Sobieski brothers. Fly guys claiming Bonnie Prince Charlie as their grandfather, cashing in on the clamour for all things Scottish. Their Vestiarium Scoticum of 1842 alleged to show ancient tartans, genuine from the peat bog and before you could say och I the noo clan tartans were born.


It was bogus but lapped up by Anglicised clan chiefs. Clans had their individual tartans. It was all very lovely and colourful and so so fake. Highland dress in the form of permanently stitched folds was given an ancient pedigree and the Scottish nobility, royalty and pseudo-Scots promoted their fine Highland dress , the more kitsch and showy the better, as if a continuum of olden, golden Scotland when whisky didn’t have an ‘e’ and every loch worth a name had its own monster.

Doubts any might have over the accuracy of this renaissance of tartanry need only enquire as far as the evidence produced (created) by the  Sobieski  brothers. The wily two found especial favour with the Frasers of Lovat and were provided with their own highland hame near Beauly. They were buried, not before time, in St Mary’s churchyard at Eskadale.


Given the confusion which surrounds tartan perhaps we shouldn’t blame the Financial Times and some fashion writers for their silliness and given the pervasive invisibility of Scotland as far as our national press is concerned then it may be we should be grateful when we do get a look-in, however erroneous.  On second thoughts, no it is just not good enough.

May 26, 2012

Scotland a feckless and invisible nation

A recent commentator in the Financial Times, -Merryn Somerset Webb, used Douglas Watt’s The Price of Scotland to provide her with an example of mad-cap economics:

‘It’s a fantastic run-through of the “catastrophic failure” of the Darien scheme – the creation of the Company of Scotland to establish a Central American colony. This failure (a result of horrible financial mismanagement and shockingly bad strategy) and the huge financial losses that came with it, made Darien what Watt calls a “central ingredient” in the eventual marriage of convenience between the two countries. “The Price of Scotland” refers to the huge sum of money transferred from England to Scotland on union, the majority of which went to pay back the losses of the original investors in the Company of Scotland. I suspect we’ll be returning to this one here another day.

Not only is it a good lead-in to everything from joint stock mania to the periodically discovered evils of financial innovation, but there has been a good row going on in Scotland for 300 years about whether it was all the fault of the English or not.’

And it was not the only Scottish financial fiasco she found useful for reflecting on the current situation:

However it was in looking around for more information on this (a quest that ended at Douglas’s door) that I came across a much less well-known Scottish financial debacle – the story of Sir Gregor MacGregor. MacGregor turned up in London in 1821. He announced that he was the Cazique, or chief, of a land in the heart of Central America, a position he had been given in gratitude for his all-round heroism in joining the struggle of the South Americans to free themselves from the Spanish.

FT Sat 19 May 2012

History can be a useful tool to provide us with coping mechanisms to manage tricky circumstances if we recognise similar situations in the past. What we do with such information or indeed how we interpret it is up to us as individuals. Darien became such a cause célèbre that it is an obvious choice for those eager to find a handy model on which to base an argument. Will we ever live down Darien? Another Scottish failure. And so useful as it provides us with material for two hot topics – economic implosion and the Scottish independence referendum.

Darien was a ‘catastrophic failure’. Darien led inextricably to union with England. And there were ‘huge sums of money transferred from England to Scotland on union, the majority of which went to pay back the losses of the original investors in the Company of Scotland.’ All perfectly fine…but, but…to tidy up the story. We need mention of the cash for votes element. I know this was not a piece on Darien as such but to warn of the follies of unbridled greed and over-extension in money-making schemes but it is in the omissions that hangs a tale.

Greedy bankers, dodgy arithmetic – look north to Scotland. And those guys think they can make it alone … conflating Scotland with failure. Talk about preaching to the converted.

Darien stands out as a pathetic attempt by Scotland to follow England down the road of empire building and failing miserably. Watt relates this folly. His work is regarded as a useful interpretation of Darien albeit ploughing a pro-union furrow.

Darien regarded as singularly Scottish but it did set out as a joint Scottish/English venture until pressure from London put paid to that. London had no love for the Scots. The Scots with their traditional links with England’s perpetual enemy France was an irritation and as England’s armies depended so much on Scottish mercenaries to fight its wars with France tensions heightened to the extent that only union would resolve England’s problems. England had also been determined to stamp out Scottish trade. Darien provided it with a further opportunity to damage Scotland’s economy and it was an easy target.

‘…blame was also laid squarely at England’s door. English investment had been withdrawn from the original undertaking as a result of mercantile and political pressure from London’

The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 Tom Devine

In a review of Watt’s book, Neal Ascherson tells us that Scotland was always on a hiding to nothing when it came to rivalry with England but that Darien did not lead directly to the union some six years later but intensified anti-English feeling within Scotland.

That ‘the Union of Crowns was operated exclusively to England’s benefit and had become intolerable for Scotland’

Ascherson – LRB 3 Jan 2008 Vol 30 No1

While Ms Webb is brushing up on her history in search of examples of the impact of financial freefall and subsequent quantitative easing she may give a thought to that other Scottish matter –  independence. It is clear from the FT on 26 May that this issue has not yet reached a point of much interest to its readers which ties in nicely with our history lesson. It is not so much that post-Darien Scotland feels discriminated against by its more powerful neighbour rather it feels invisible to England. And that is a dangerous position for the continuation of the union.

‘hostile crowds rampaged through the streets of Edinburgh, had a great deal to do with Darien but little to do with any sense of national failure.’


I’m not blaming Ms Webb. At least she is trying to get a better understanding of the issues as she puts it, ‘in advance of the independence debate heading up’. As I say she is referring to her circle in Englandshire. Here in Scotland this debate is already red-hot, although somewhat limited in scope.

The cash Webb refers to pouring into Scotland, £3980,000 (£55 million) was England ensuring a ‘yes vote’ for union by stuffing the pockets of disgruntled Darien investors. What is this in Webb’s world – bribery? corruption? And who was behind it? The English state. So what lessons should we be taking from these events? Not quite the pro-union interpretation of English money making good the losses of Scots investors suggesting beneficence on the part of the English state.

It was the payments, the payoffs which led in Webb’s words to ‘ a good row going on in Scotland for 300 years about whether it was the fault of the English or not.’ Clearly such corrupt practises have not troubled the ‘English’ conscience.

What England couldn’t do 500 years earlier through slaughter it succeeded through buying support for union. According to Ascherson around 15per cent of Scotland’s population were bought off in this way, happy to capitulate with the myth that England was helping out Scotland. In other words they put self-interest before the long-term benefit of their country.

How far will pro-unionist be prepared to go today to preserve the union? I am reminded of Westminster Labour government under Blair removing 6000 sq miles of Scottish water and claiming it as England’s in an action clearly arranged to damage a future independent Scotland’s economy. Such actions only increase support for independence within Scotland.

Darien and even Westminster’s theft of Scottish maritime boundaries was all a long time ago. Things change. Actually things don’t change that much. The hostility of ‘the people’ to the sale of their country as the price to be paid so that greedy speculators could have their losses reinstated has survived 300 years. We still have greedy speculators happy to sell off the family silver when their get-rich-quick schemes turn belly up. These free marketeers – but only up to a point Lord Copper – are more than happy to have state handouts whenever the market lets them down. Then they are all happy for state intervention and public cash bail outs.

With hindsight, and isn’t that a grand thing which many a banker and City investor would love to have, Darien wasn’t ever going to succeed. Perhaps Scots with money in their pockets and nowhere to invest it given England’s aggressive domination of Africa and the Indies imagined Central America was sufficiently far away as to succeed. However England’s influence ensured that no other country would trade with or even lend assistance to the Darien adventurers. That was not just protection of trade but the hounding and taming of a nation.

And what of the man behind Darien, the man who was responsible for such a gigantic loss of revenue from Scotland? He was none other than William Paterson who had earlier set up the Bank of England and it was his pal who was perhaps most to blame for the Darien catastrophe.

Nobody, it seems, thought of blaming Paterson. He had led a costly and fruitless ‘road-show’ to raise more capital in the Netherlands and Hamburg, in order to pay for the ships being built on the Continent. The failure was not his fault: Dutch financiers were initially attracted by the company’s duty-free privilege, but the English intervened. An official letter warned the Hamburg Senate that King William would regard any agreements with the Company of Scotland as an ‘affront’. Paterson and his delegation returned almost empty-handed.

Meanwhile, the directors had managed to slow the cash haemorrhage just before the company went broke. The first expedition sailed from the Forth in 1698. The five ships carried nearly 1300 settlers, including Paterson and his wife, and £19,000 worth of equipment and trade goods. (The legend that they took 4000 periwigs to sell to the natives is a slander; Watt has been through the cargo lists and found only 219 wigs.) The Darien colonists took with them a £70,000 debt to the company, which the directors assumed would be repaid by instalments from the colony’s profits. But there were no profits. The only sound investment the company ever made was in Edinburgh property: its own offices eventually fetched a good price.

Darien was a disaster. The local Tule people were friendly; the harbour looked safe; a Fort St Andrew was constructed at New Edinburgh. But insects, climate, flooding, disease and the threat of attack by Spanish troops from Panama were against the Scots. The settlers disembarked in October 1698, and by March 1699, starving and dying of fevers, they were demoralised. In April, England forbade its American and West Indian colonies to supply Darien. In June, the 900 survivors abandoned the place and set off for Jamaica or America. Hundreds more died on these voyages. Paterson, whose wife had died in Darien and who had almost perished himself, made it back to Scotland.


There are lots of stories relating to Darien. Many still taught in our schools are factually wrong. The propaganda has become truth and the truth has been tucked away out of sight.

Daniel MacKay, a colony councillor, wrote that ‘it is one of the fruitfullest spots of ground on the face of the Earth and best situat for trade.’ Captain Drummond, who commanded a ship in the first expedition, announced that the colony had only been abandoned because of the English trade ban: ‘the Climate was undoubtedly as wholesome as any in America.’ Lieutenant Loudon, another survivor, somehow felt able to insist that there were no mosquitoes or vermin at Darien. Paterson wrote a report on his return which blamed the English, the planners who had provisioned the ships, and the malcontents among the settlers, but never Darien itself, prized for ‘healthfullness, fruitfulness, and riches, above all other in the Indies’.


It appears that Paterson was a honey-tongued rogue who made a personal fortune out of Darien, through his share of the Equivalent payment, despite his having had no money invested in the scheme, but by 1714 he was such a good friend of England that they paid him anyway. There’s a nice symmetry to Paterson’s role, in receipt of an enormous handout for an investment he didn’t invest in and a bunch of incompetent bankers gambling with cash which did not belong to them being bailed out by Paterson’s Bank of England. Events are not so different today.

The lessons we can take form this episode may be that you cannot trust Scottish bankers with money. Or you have to scrutinise events a little harder to see what was really happening.

Ascherson makes interesting reference to Watt’s exploration of other Scottish failures, namely colonisation which reinforces the argument that the union became a progressive force for Scotland but as Ascherson argues Scotland operated through a different economic system and criticises Watt for omitting references to Poland in his book. Now as most Scots with any knowledge of Scottish history know Scotland’s greatest export was its people. Eastern Europe attracted them in their thousands. Polish towns commonly had thriving Scottish trading communities. .

It was this ‘Vistula’ pattern, not the grand joint-stock company, that reasserted itself after the Union and thrived within the British Empire and beyond it until the mid-20th century. Especially in Asia and Australia, Scottish capitalism in the Victorian age centred on ‘private partnerships’. These were, typically, small patriarchal outfits recruiting through recommendations by family and friends back in Scotland, lending money adventurously and ploughing profits back into the local economy – all traits visible in the 17th century Baltic settlements. But Darien, like its ‘American’ predecessors, turned its back on all this experience and pretended that Scotland could in a single leap achieve a conquest-based empire in the English, Spanish or Dutch style.


Scotland’s embryonic trade was not hurting England in any real sense. Scotland’s association with France potentially would have and this French connection alarmed and infuriated the British crown so when time came to decide on a successor to the heirless Queen Anne and the Scottish parliament attempted to force the English lift its actions against Scotland’s legitimate trade by threatening to reinstate a monarchy separate from England’s (then looking to Germany and to the House of Hanover) the London establishment decided it was time to absorb Scotland.

‘…the threat of the French war which finally moved Godolphin, Queen Anne’s Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister, and Marlborough, her Captain-General, to opt for the union solution to the Scottish problem. Marlborough was concerned because so many of the crack troops for his armies were recruited from Scotland. Since the need to safeguard English national security was therefore paramount, only an ‘incorporating union’ which would both dissolve the Edinburgh parliament and create a new United Kingdom legislature, was ever acceptable to English negotiators. A federal solution, which might have perpetuated weak government, was never on offer.’

Devine p8

There appears to be huge ignorance in England about Scotland. Scots are commonly seen as sponging off the English taxpayers. When Scots aren’t being ridiculed they’re being overlooked. There is no rational debate about independence at the moment in the UK. There never will be any rational debate before 2014. There will only be claims and counter claims from the two sides. But why, given the hostility there is towards Scotland in England, do so many commentators get hot under the collar about Scotland resuming its independent state?

Join us in a union or else was the choice the Scottish parliament was given then …or else we will continue to do what we did with Darien and with all other attempts at trading abroad. Join us and you can trade freely, profits naturally accruing to the Great Britain treasury. The 1707 union was not born out of concern for Scotland’s welfare but from England’s aggressive policy of colonisation and political necessity. Scotland was quickly and still is the invisible partner in this unequal union.

Yes let us look back to Darien and the events leading to the union to see where we stand today but perhaps the lessons will not be those you assumed were there.

Mar 16, 2012

‘Tartanry & Tyranny’ John Lloyd and the State of the Union

Journalist John Lloyd had an article on Scottish nationalism called Tartanry & Tyranny in the Financial Times’ Life and Arts supplement (11 March 2012).

John Lloyd is not happy. In particular he is not happy about the prospect that Scotland will vote to revert to its independent state with all that means for the UK.

He makes a passing reference to Sir Walter Scott and George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822. Only two years earlier the people of Scotland were fighting for reforms from repressive government in London which used all kinds of underhand tactics to silence the cries of the poor and disenfranchised. The brutal regime which hung and decapitated and transported Scottish workers was not on Lloyd’s list of reading, nor are the events of that year known to many south of the border. This was a difficult time for the British government so soon after the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with Napoleon (at times referred to as England’s war with Napoleon). But all that nastiness was set aside with the promotion of the circus of 1822. Then Colonel David Stewart and Scott leaders of the recently created Royal Celtic Society crafted a very different version of Scotland from militant radicalism of two years earlier. This new Scotland was attired in regimental short kilts presented as the ‘native dress’ of Scotland,  and George IV resplendent in kilt and pink tights in keeping with the aforesaid gentlemen’s theatrical tartan extravaganza nailed the myth of romantic tartan-clad Scotland so popular with new-born Highlanders.

This spectacle and its association with the invention of tartan although more correctly it should be the re-invention of tartan for it existed in subtler forms before they or the Sobieski Stuarts, fly guys that they were, cashed in on the clamour for all things Scottish. The Sobieski’s Vestiarium Scoticum claimed its tartans were ancient. It was all bogus but lapped up by Anglicised Scottish clan chiefs and clan tartans were born. So Highland dress was dished up as authentic and Scottish nobility, royalty and pseudo-Scots promoted Highland dress as a mark of respectability with an allusion of antiquity in place of the Highland plaid today best represented by the Lonach men.

It is arguable if the Scottish independence movement is led by Alex Salmond, as Lloyd would have it. Salmond leads the SNP and is First Minister but for Scotland’s nationalists he is not their leader. The Scottish national movement is greater than the SNP and has been building as a movement before Alex Salmond. Lloyd mentions something of this from his childhood in Scotland, recalling semi-joking references about ‘the English.’

He resents the implication that this assertion of self-determination by Scotland means he and people like him (with English and Scottish parents) will be expected to choose which part of the UK they feel loyalty to when it is Lloyd’s contention that he is happy to be loyal to the UK. So he has taken a unionist position and has made his choice. Why should he feel uncomfortable with that if it is what he believes in? Of course he does not live in Scotland. Perhaps if he did he would not feel as he does. I wondered what he would have thought if he had a French instead of English father. Would his loyalty have come down on the side of Scotland or France during the Six Nations? Does it matter? Perhaps post-independence Lloyd could take up dual nationality

For most Scots there is no such confusion. Nationalist or unionist when it comes to support for Scotland in sport they support Scotland.(Gordon Brown excepted) But Gordon Brown ‘s case is interesting. Here was a man trying to make it in the heart of the UK establishment – England – struggling to be accepted by England and if that meant identifying with England at sport then he would adopt that position. Whether or not it is principled at any level – well I’ll leave that hanging.

Brown like Lloyd went south to work. South is where much of the best paid jobs are concentrated. The south with its hidden subsidies which creates national institutions with all kinds of creative and lucrative careers. The pampered south-east to be more exact from where  Scotland is accused of being too well financed by England. Well Scotland is not interested in ‘handouts’. Scotland is not a child to be provided with pocket money. Scotland has a right to stand on its own feet. But try telling that to Lloyd who joined other Scots migrating south to the lure of work which has done so much harm to Scotland ( and other parts of the UK).

Lloyd reaches back in time for quotes from commentators to back up his position on nationalism. James Bryce had written in The Times in 1887 that ‘An Englishman has but one patriotism, because England and the United Kingdom are to him practically the same thing. A Scotchman has two, but he is sensible of no opposition between them.’

It was errant nonsense then and is errant nonsense now. The conflation of England with the UK and with GB is the result of England’s presumption of its dominance in this union. Confusion over what is English and what is British has been a justified source of resentment for Scots over the past 300 years – those who fought and died for the union  in what are commonly referred to as English wars/battles, who defended and ran the British Empire frequently regarded as the English Empire, the long transition of academics/education systems throughout the UK promoting England’s history as British: English monarchy, radicalism, education, agricultural systems, industrial revolution and unrest, political and social reformers etc etc while all valid but so too are those of Scotland (and Wales and Ireland) and these were/are relegated as too unimportant to mention. A union of unequal parts.

John Lloyd is aghast that no Scot will post independence be free to enjoy (if that is the term) HMS Pinafore from which such fine lyrics as, ‘For he is an Englishman!’ come. I am sure some will still wish to indulge in such entertainment even if the lyrics exemplify the erroneous conflation of English with British in the same way as Dad’s Army theme tune weekly tells us how ‘old England’ is repelling the Nazis. Lyrics written when Scots were largely cowed and astonishingly accepting of having our contribution to the war ignored.

To John Lloyd Scottish nationalism could be summed up in two words – ‘tartanry’ and ‘tyranny’ . He ridicules the notion of England oppressing Scotland. He backs his case with a quote from Eric Linklater’s Magnus Merriman – as if today’s movement for independence is comparable with the 1930s movement. No violence directed at Scotland by England means there is no case for independence according to Linklater and so too for Lloyd it would seem. And then there was/is?  ‘the material advantages of stability’ but there are more ways of being subjugated and the invisibility of Scotland in relation to the UK over decades, indeed three centuries, has been stark. Look at the difference in attitudes/press coverage there has been in recent months since England has awakened to the possibility of Scotland breaking up the UK.; the tartan-clad, haggis throwing peasants in the northern playground have become restless and resentful at being seen as tartan-clad, haggis throwing peasants who tug meekly their collective forelocks in the presence of ignorant, braying, indolent wealthy southerners who strike poses in kilts and tweeds as they indulge in their annual blood thirsty slaughter of our wildlife.

In Scotland we would prefer to have our people stay here and develop a strong economy with well-paid jobs instead of expecting our people to migrate south to the cosseted fiscal hotspot of London.

And no John Lloyd in Scotland’s schools we do not pass over the Industrial Revolution in England. This revolution which involved the brains and brawn of Scots. It is in England where the significance of Scotland is scarcely, if at all taught, hence the idea that the industrial revolution was purely an English phenomenon.

Then we come to Lloyd’s Braveheart moment. The film ‘that depicted William Wallace as a saintly warrior tortured to death by the English.’ Well he was wasn’t he? If not saintly then his torture and death was gruesome and intended to teach the Scots it should lie down in the face of English aggression. It is not unreasonable that a people remember the attack on its liberty. Why is it wrong for Scotland to remember its history without being accused of being maudlin when English history is revered for its battles and heroes?

Braveheart is not a great film but it did strike a chord with Scotland’s people at a time when they were becoming impatient with being relegated to second division status in the union.  It wasn’t hatred of the English that was being voiced in cinemas across the land it was the sound of anger and contempt for the UK establishment run from London for London. Scotland is full of English people living happily side by side Scots and there have been no slayings of any of them by claymore wielding nationalists to my knowledge.

Lloyd’s pompous observation ‘freedom was a British birthright, not just a Scottish one’ is remarkable for its silliness. I expect he was stamping his feet in annoyance as he typed those words.

In his eagerness to wave his Scottish credentials, Lloyd drags up the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment to reinforce his pro-union views but he stops short of returning to the actual forging of the union. The union brought into being against the will of the people. Like so many of us, Lloyd favours the pick n mix approach to evidence dredging.

He provides an example of the arrogant /ignorant/brutal face of Britain/union whereby any assertion of British as English is totally acceptable while a gentle reminder that Britain is made up of Scotland as well as England is considered the outpourings of a fanatical Nat. Quite extraordinary that anyone could accept this discrimination. Instead of the union think of the Soviet Union and how it enforced the use of Russian and the teaching of Russian culture and history in the Baltic states. How different is that to what has happened for three centuries with Scotland in this unequal union?  The blinkers are well and truly fixed to some faces.

A entertaining game is to turn the England/Britain arrangement around  replacing England or Britain with Scotland in the same way as England is so often used to mean Britain and the UK –  Scotland’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, Scot/Irish Agreement, Scottish primrose (why has England claimed the primrose for itself?) Lloyd however is happy to accept Britain as ‘generous extension of English culture’ – yes indeed.

Lloyd is fairly outraged that some Scots complain the union was forced upon this country. Just what does he think happened?  Yes a handful of Scottish nobles were happy to sell off the nation for a pocketful of English gold but that is hardly the same thing as saying ‘we’ (Scots) were complicit in creating the union. The move to form a union came not from Scotland.

Scotland has had so much of its contribution to this union airbrushed from the history books so much so that Lloyd’s wee concerns about Scotland’s renunciation of the state of union sounds very hollow indeed.

This was not a great piece of journalism and contributed nothing new to the debate over independence. In fact the tone was tetchy and resentful but we are used to that from commentators who have moved away and are surprised to see the old country is no longer content to idle away in a 1950s fuzz of grateful servitude to a union which has been weighted to benefit its SE corner.

The world has moved on from the 18thC Enlightenment, from Scott’s invention of the Scottish tradition of the 19thC, from Linklater’s kilted Tory nationalism of the early 20thC. We are where we are. The world is different. Any gains Scotland may have made through the union over the past 300 years are not relevant to the present time. We exist within a global economy. We no longer need to rely on a share of the union economy.

Scotland does not need the union. Scotland can be an independent state contributing to the wealth of Europe and the World.