It was of course inevitable that upon starting university I would meet any number of young idealistic and sadly ignorant teenagers. By the latter I don’t mean in the general sense; that is to say the majority of those I study with are as you would expect, better educated and informed than most but the simple truth is that even the best among us at 18 know far less about the world than we think we do. I was no exception and as such it’s unsurprising that much of the typical conversation I am party to these days is reminiscent of those I had six years ago. Anti-religion, anti-scientology (apparently a separate subject), anti-American, anti-racism, anti-rules against sheep shagging. Beyond the clichés none of this particularly offends my sensibilities because as is evident, I still favour and vocalise my support for some of these positions (particularly the latter). It is odd how certain things come together though. One comment brought up against the Colony was the misguided and ‘blinded by love’ patriotism of the Yanks which is something that even in my most ardent rallies against the world’s biggest brand, I’ve admired whole-heartedly. Granted that Americans’ patriotism may be based upon a warped view of the world or the notion that theirs is God’s Country, but the notion of patriotism itself has always been forefront in my idea of romanticism and to my mind no one does it better than my cousins across the pond. For me whether it be misleading movies about Mel Gibson… sorry, William Wallace, Gilbert and Sullivan prancing on about duty, the heroics of Hornblower or Ben Affleck winning the Battle of Britain as the Americans captured the Enigma device, the idea of performing an Act for ones country is without doubt a beautiful idea, if often less appreciable in practice. I stated here years ago that I was tremendously proud to be a Scot yet could find no rational reasoning for it. It still rings true today though given how fond I am of proffering psychological testimony without education on the subject, I’d hazard a guess that patriotism is the most commonly accepted form of basic decency in Humanity with regard to our neighbours. ‘Ask what you can do for your country,’ could be read as, ‘ask what you can do for Joe and Elma down the street, and Farmer Bob in the next town.’ Nationalistic pride is simply an easy way of getting the message across and it works beautifully. I read the results of a study some time ago that showed when asked questions about aid, Scots were no more inclined towards charity than the English. Change the phrasing from, ‘how do you feel about X,’ to, ‘how do you feel about X as a Scot,’ though, and the results changed dramatically.
At University my favourite module for the semester is Constitutional Law within which we’ve read on the make-up of the English* legal system. Documents such as the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights Act 1689 have received understandable attention and with both I’ve known slightly more about the context than my classmates. The Magna Carta in its original form recognised the sovereignty of Scotland though this was later changed by the bastard English king. The Bill of Rights Act 1689 (not as sexy as the American version by far) originally came about due to the English barons’ dissatisfaction with their king’s unilateral rule and before its passing, they supported the Scottish king. Again, this support was withdrawn. Again, bastards.
I bring this up because as coincidence would have it, I’ve just finished watching S02E02 of the BBC’s excellent A History of Scotland series which focused on the Jacobite Rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This is a man I’ve been particularly critical of in recent years, perhaps because he enjoyed a relationship of mutual loathing with the general of his army, Lord George Murray. For any that don’t know, the short version is that Charles Stuart was a Scottish king in exile following his family’s expulsion from the British throne in the seventeenth century. Though backed by the Pope and the French, Charlie was not recognised by the powers in London as sovereign and so when he arrived in Scotland for the first time two decades after his birth, it was as a rebel. The context of the situation boils in the wake of the Union of Scotland and England. Again in short, though the population of Scotland overwhelmingly opposed the idea of unity with the auld enemy, Scottish nobles (yes, bastards) were bribed by the English to lend their support. Following this, the Scottish parliament disbanded and control of the entire island moved down to London where the British parliament ruled without a second thought for the welfare of the Scottish peasants north of the border. Americans will like the idea of starting a war for taxation without representation and so did the Scots. As a result, Charlie was welcomed with open arms as he began his crusade for independence, freedom, liberty and the American Way™.
He quickly slaughtered government forces east of Edinburgh to such an extent that he ordered a halt to the butchery and sent his medics in claiming, ‘they are my father’s subjects.’ Once done with that and having control of Scotland his generals (including Murray) advised him to stop there. Scottish independence was after all, pretty much all that was wanted. Charlie ignored them and marched on deep into England making it as far south as Derby. Indeed the pub where he stopped off is less than fifteen minutes walk away as I type. Again his generals urged him to go no further. The army was exhausted and hungry, and fear of the English forces weighed heavily upon them. Against Charlie’s objections, the army turned back until eventually due to lack of communication and leadership,** they were slaughtered at Culloden in Scotland putting an end to Charlie’s dream of marching on London and the Scots hopes of independence. Charlie legged it to the continent leaving his ‘countrymen’ to their fate.
I watched in sober silence partially because I was already aware that at the time Charlie’s army was in Derby, the English were packing up in London ready to depart and partially because watching a re-enactment of my country’s most famed failed attempt at achieving independence was strangely like watching video of soldiers dying in Afghanistan, however inappropriate such a comparison may sound to some. Had Charlie’s army carried on south, I would likely live in a very different country today. The concept of Great Britain may not even exist. That and the other mentioned facts are common knowledge in Scotland and as a result, Bonnie Prince Charlie is a national hero despite his failings because of what his legend represents. The desire for independence still rings loud throughout the nation. Throughout the Thatcher years of government the impression was that again, Parliament in London cared as much for the welfare of the Scots as they did the Uzbeks. Again, despite overwhelming opposition to the ruling party (Conservatives) throughout Scotland, nothing could be done to change the situation and it is no exaggeration to suggest that Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997 was due in large part to a promise to hold referendums on the subject of devolution. The Scotland Act 1998 allowed for the reformation of the Scottish parliament and the likelihood is that if the Scottish Nationalist Party is voted in north of the border in next year’s general election, devolution will continue to the extent where the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as we recognise it now will cease to exist.
English opponents of such an idea ask what Scotland will do with such independence. The population has never broken five million and is falling due to emigration. The former bulwarks of the economy namely North Sea oil and steelworks are no more, tourism has suffered as a result of the credit crisis and the idea of Scotland functioning as an international power is ludicrous. If you’ll allow me a tangent, I disagree.
The Scottish education system is seen by many (My Dad, I and probably some others as well) as superior to the English. It is my firm belief that upon first coming south I learned next to nothing for a year in school because I had covered it in the previous year up north. Further to that consider this. One of if not the primary expense for western countries such as the US and Britain is national defence. Scotland has no need for a large armed force. It’s on an island and the concept of its neighbours invading is preposterous. So not spending half the nation’s income on aircraft carriers will free up mountains of cash. What to spend it on? Education. Voltaire once said, ‘it is to Scotland we look for our culture,’ and I shouldnae need to remind anyone of the nation’s history of invention. Sadly this is a former glory but if money typically reserved for the military is thrown at the country’s schools and universities and is wisely spent, there’s no reason why in the next few decades the country cannot once again be the home of the world’s inventors, philosophers and artists. Want to solve the energy crisis and save the world? Scottish independence is your answer.
But I digress. Those who point out economic gloom as a reason for sustaining the union are missing the point. The desire for total devolution is not based primarily on monies or a hatred of the English or the want of a king, but on the ideal of self-determination. On nationalism. On patriotism. On brotherhood. Even if Scotland were to become nothing more than the bastard cousin of the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland it would be its own country once more. It would be governed by its own people for its own people and an Act of Union that married the most bitter of enemies, is over three hundred years old and was never wanted in the first place would be consigned to history. When faced with such romanticism, however valid the economics of an opposing argument may be, it is hard to dissuade those involved. As well it should be. Patriotism may have the ability to lead us to horrific acts, but so does love and like love, it can also bring out the most charitable and honourable instincts within us.
* – Scotland has its own legal system for the majority of subjects not related to taxation or national defence. As a result, I won’t be able to practice law in Scotland short of doing another degree. As a side note, Scotland is currently considering legislation that would legalise euthanasia and there’s naff all the English can do about it.
** – That is to say, Charlie being a knob.
This article was originally published in January 2010.