Posts tagged ‘Tartanry & Tyranny’

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.