Scottish or British? You can’t be both.
(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog, 6 April 2013)
As a strong proponent of an independent Scotland, I continually hear from those who oppose independence that they are “Proud to be Scottish and proud to be British.” I would suggest that this is a nonsense and that those who opt for Scotland remaining within the political union with England are not only not proud to be Scottish, they find the very idea of being Scottish an embarrassment at the least, and they are anti-Scots at the worst.
I knew one such chap once. He continually did Scottish achievements down and poured scorn upon them wherever possible. He did of course make some valid points, such as the fact that Alexander Graham Bell, far from inventing the telephone, is believed to have stolen the idea of Antonio Meucci. He also pointed out that whilst John Logie Baird did indeed invent television, it was Marconi’s electronic television which was adopted as standard. What he failed to point out of course it that Meucci’s patent did not make any mention of a diaphragm, electromagnet, conversion of sound into electrical waves, conversion of electrical waves into sound, or other essential features of an electromagnetic telephone. He further failed to point out that Scot Alan Alexander Campbell Swinton was narrowly beaten by Bell when he installed a primitive form of telephone in his home at 9 Albyn Place, Edinburgh (Swinton was also just pipped at the post by Röntgen as the discoverer of X-rays). As to television, he may have a valid point, but fails to mention that not even Marconi was the inventor of the system we use today. Not being content with stealing radio from Nikola Tesla, Marconi stole the the idea of electronic television from the American Philo Farnsworth, who came up with the idea of broadcasting in lines while ploughing a field on his father’s farm. However, I digress. My former friend was so anti-Scot that he even went to state that Robert Burns never penned one word of poetry which was his own but copied all his work from others, and that as Sir Alexander Fleming made his discovery of penicillin in London, it must therefore be an English discovery. You should now be getting a picture of what sort of person this individual is. Now comes the supreme irony. The same person helped to design and the company he works for here in Scotland built the engines which currently lift the bascules on Tower Bridge, London. So if anyone should be proud of Scottish achievement, it is himself. Yet he will not even recognise his own achievement as being a Scottish one.
My erstwhile friend of course was a supporter of the Labour Party, and this shall come as no surprise to many in the nationalist camp. The so-called Scottish Labour Party are so pro-union that they appear to be scared to appear even remotely Scottish. This malaise within their party has gone on for years. When Labour’s Jack McConnell was First Minister of the devolved Scottish Parliament, as our ambassador to Tartan Day in New York City in 2004, he opted to wear a pinstriped kilt, which was a laughing stock at the time and he has never been able to live down. The supreme irony here being that Jack McConnell refused to wear tartan on “Tartan Day”. And yet, knowing full well he had made a fool of himself, of his post, and of the Scottish Parliament, when the current Scottish National Party First Minister, Alex Salmond attended the premiere of the animated movie Brave dressed in tartan trews, McConnell had the effrontery to comment that the First Minister looked like a “hotel concierge” and that he “appeared to be wearing Donald’s troosers”. Tartan trews are of course traditional Scottish dress, certainly older than the philabeag (small kilt) most people are familiar with and definitely more in keeping with Scotland than Jack McConnell’s “skirt”.
Much has been said of The Gathering 2009. The Gathering was a two day weekend event in Edinburgh in 2009, intended as a meeting of Scots and those of Scots descent from all over the world. It attracted 147,000 people from all over the world, with over 125 Scots clans represented. Saturday 25 July 2009 saw a march of 8000 people from the Palace of Holyroodhouse right up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. This event was watched by a further 20,000 people. Other festivities in Holyrood Park included highland games, live music, traditional Scots foods and crafts stalls. Initially considered an enormous success, The Gathering 2009 however made a loss of £600,000 which the unionists in the Scottish Parliament were quick to jump on, whilst their mouthpiece, the Scottish media condemned the event as a fiasco. The same people of course had been against The Gathering from the start and did not want it to go ahead. Whilst at the time I heard unionist anti-Scots openly deride it as “tartan clad fools”, “a bunch of wannabe Scots” and “hoochter-teuchtar” music. All of these people missed the point however. The people who came to Scotland were anything but “wannabes”; many, including personal friends of mine, are extremely proud of their Scots heritage, including one person who is a clan convenor who helps to organise Scots festivals in Texas (if you want to see how to celebrate Scots heritage, go to the USA). Those who came to Edinburgh in 2009 had a great time and for them The Gathering was an enormous success; a once in a lifetime, not to be missed opportunity. There had been plans for another gathering in 2014 to tie in with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Sadly, due to the financial failure of The 2009 Gathering, these plans have been dropped. If the “proud to be Scottish, proud to be British” crowd count this as a victory, then it is surely a cathartic one. For not only do they deny their own heritage, they openly seek to deny the right of all Scots, both at home and worldwide, the right to celebrate their own cultural ethnicity.
There can be little doubt that politics have played a part in the decision to abandon plans for a 2014 Gathering. With it being in the same year as the Independence Referendum, I suspect that the plans were dropped not only for financial reasons but upon the grounds that it could be perceived as a political move designed to increase the possibility of a yes vote and that the SNP administration in Holyrood have moved to prevent such accusations. Could this also be why there has not been an “SNP” Bannockburn Rally for many years now? This used to be a huge event on the Saturday closest to Midsummer, with a great many people marching through Stirling to the New Park above Bannockburn, from where Bruce launched his attack on Midsummer Day 1314, and where the Bruce Monument stands today. It has over the years dwindled and I cannot even find any mention of any SNP presence at the 2012 rally. During it’s heyday, unionists claimed that the Bannockburn Rally was “anti-English”, a sentiment which was once repeated from within the SNP by Kenny McAskill MSP. Utter nonsense of course. The Bannockburn Rally commemorates the routing not of the English but of a cruel oppressor and it seems to me that Kenny McAskill (whom I’ve never had a lot of time for) has fallen into the unionist trap. If anyone believes that the Bannockburn Rally is racist, then I suggest they go tell the Americans that their 4th July celebrations are “anti-British racism”, or anyone paying their respects on 11th November that they are participating in “anti-German racism”.
And of course, accusations of racism are one of the oldest war cries of the unionist camp, which they base upon their claim that “all nationalism is racism”. Well if that were true, then they too, as British nationalists, must also be racists. More than this however, such a distinction would make George Washington, Eamon de Valera, and Gandhi were all racists. They were not of course but they do all share one thing in common; they freed their respective countries from imperialist and oppressive British rule.
Another factor of the Bannockburn Rally were the accusations that it had been “hijacked” by the SNP. Nothing of the sort and it is disingenuous for the unionists to claim this, for the rally was always open to all comers. At one rally I attended, one woman out shopping fell in with the march on her way home. Indeed those who keep it going to this day are mainly the cultural organisation Siol Nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael). But then, the unionists marginalise Siol Nan Gaidheal by likening the present day left-wing organisation to the original neo-facist group of the same name of the 1970s, and would even liken them to terrorists. This will no doubt be laughable to many who know better, not least the members of Siol Nan Gaidheal, many of whom couldn’t hurt a fly. Bannockburn echoes down the centuries as one of the defining moments which forged Scotland as a nation, and it has always been my contention that anyone who can attend the Bannockburn Rally, regardless of background and political opinion, should attend. Which can only beg the question, why have those who consider themselves “proud to be Scottish, proud to be British” not once ever attended a Bannockburn Rally?
Another cry of the “Scottish and British” crowd is that we fought alongside the English as British to keep these isles (or as many unionists would say, “this island”) free of oppressors. Indeed we did, mainly alongside a great many other nations, including those gathered from the British Empire, and from other parts of Europe, as well as our most important ally in both world wars, the United States of America. Going by the logic that we should all be British because of past victories over oppressors, then surely it could be argued we should all be American? But even then, given the unionist view of Bannockburn, wouldn’t counting ourselves as British because of seeing off oppressors be considered “racist”? Even the suggestion that had Scotland remained independent whether or not we would have taken part in either world war is an unknown quantity. Certainly in the Second World War there were Irish socialists who came to the UK to join up to fight the Nazis on principle. By equal measure, given that Scotland has always had a strong tradition of radical socialism, the chances are we would have been just as much in the thick of it as we were within the context of the union.
Even considering the armed forces does not instill any real pride in me of being “British”. How can it when one looks at it’s history and the culture that has led to? I am fond of saying that Whitehall (where the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) is based)has a “General Wolfe Mentality”. This is a reference to General James Wolfe, the English officer whom before the Battle of Quebec in 1759, rode up to the Scots and told them “We’ll send you in first. If you fall it’s no great loss.” So from that racist incident, there have been countless times when Scots forces have been sent into the thick of the fighting first. Not because of their superior fighting ability, but rather because they are seen by expendable. Whilst I have no wish for any English lad or lass to lose their lives in some insane conflict, I see no pride in Scotland providing cannon fodder for Whitehall’s adventurist, illegal, blood-for-oil wars. And what thanks do they get in the end? After the First World War the government promised “homes fit for heroes” – and never delivered on it (just as no government ever has). Instead they sent the tanks and English forces onto the streets of Glasgow in 1919, whilst the Scottish soldiers, many of whom had fought for King and Country in the First World War, were held under armed guard in Maryhill Barracks.
Many of those who go on about feeling pride in the British Armed forces mention the Scots regiments, all since disbanded or now part of the amalgamated and much reduced Royal Regiment of Scotland. And defence is set to be reduced in Scotland yet further. So much for the union retaining defence jobs and so much for those who have played their part as British and will soon be thrown on the economic scrapheap. Yet the same union has seen Whitehall’s nuclear “deterrent” (which has never deterred anyone) placed in Scottish waters, completely against the wishes of the vast majority of the Scots electorate.
Even in sport we are only British when it suits the London establishment and media. I well recall the case of the skier Alain Baxter. Alain Baxter was never under any illusions about his nationality and in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City he dyed his hair blue and white to form a Scottish Saltire. The British Olympic Association ordered Baxter to wash it out but the dye failed to wash out properly, with the result that when he took Bronze for the Alpine event. A few days after Alain Baxter’s heroic return to his home of Aviemore, the story broke that he had tested positive for a trace element of levomethamphetamine and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned him and ordered him to return his medal. It transpired that the levomethamphetamine came from a nasal inhaler bought in the USA (the UK version does not contain levomethamphetamine) and Baxter appealed. The International Ski Federation accepted Alain Baxter’s appeal but the IOC refused to. After this banned the former “British” skier went to being a “Scottish” skier in the London-based media. A letter to The Scotsman deploring this treatment of both Alain Baxter and the Scots provoked a reaction from unionists, describing the writer as a “racist”, when in fact he had only attacked the media and the establishment and said nothing of the English people.
Even in cultural terms, one cannot be both Scottish and British. When I was at school I was taught “British” history, which was little more than a pseudonym for English history and any Scots history I was taught was mostly post-union. The result was that I left school knowing more about the Wars of the Roses – little more than scrapping between a bunch of Anglo-Norman robber-barons – than I did about the Wars of Independence, and of course I was not alone in that. I went on to teach myself Scots history and it was only then that I realised the enormity of the cultural crime visited upon myself and my peers. It is scandalous that only in recent years that a law has been introduced stating that any school curriculum in Scotland must include comprehensive Scottish history, and that was only possible due to the tireless efforts of the SNP administration in the Scottish Parliament.
Language is another aspect where there is always consternation. I am actually very good at and pride myself on my excellent command of the English language. I think English is a beautiful language and I make no bones about that. Unlike so many however, I do not consider it to be the only language. Time and time again I have heard the unionists, the “proud to be Scottish, proud to be British” crowd speak down and openly attack Gaelic. One of the favourite arguments I hear is that we should not be teaching Gaelic in the south, far less Edinburgh, because of the claim that it was never a lowland language. I would suggest that Gaelic place names such as Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Balerno, Currie and Balnatrodoch (Temple, Midlothian) make a lie of that. One simply cannot be “ethnically pure” about these things as historically things were never so black and white. The village of Gilmerton, to the south of Edinburgh, was first mentioned in the 11th century as “Gillemorestuna” – a name which is a bizarre amalgam of Gaelic, Brythonic and Anglo-Saxon, meaning “homestead of the servant of Mary”. But if you really want to be so pure as to bring area into language, then consider that the vast majority of place names in the lowlands are actually of Brythonic origin, not Anglo-Saxon, then it could be argued that Welsh, not English, should be the native language of the south of Scotland.
Indeed, English as we know it was not standardised until fairly recently in history and owes much to the arrival of firstly the Wycliffe (English) Bible and latterly the works of William Shakespeare in the 16th – 17th century. Before then most of England went by their own regional variations not only in speaking but also in the written word. If one really wants to be a purist therefore, it could be strongly argued that “standard English” is a bastard language, a recent newcomer and should have no place within Scotland at all (this could also be argued for Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and indeed for most of England). Yet the “Scottish and British” crowd would tell you otherwise and some would even like to see Gaelic, as well as the other Celtic languages destroyed completely. Indeed, the very fact I have a beautiful command of the English language and only a smattering of Gaelic, my own language, is completely down to the union with England and the attempts of a London government to destroy it in the mid-18th century. I have actually read and heard unionists openly state that Gaelic should be eradicated completely. It may interest those who believe so to discover that whilst all Gaelic speakers are bilingual, many prefer to speak the Gael within their own communities. I would also ask them to consider that in the old apartheid regime in South Africa, everyone was forced to learn Afrikaans, which was hugely detrimental to native tribal cultures. Those who would enforce English as the only language would be committing exactly the same type of cultural fascism.
Much to the chagrin of the 18th century imperialists, Gaelic of course did not disappear, and much to the annoyance of the present day anti-Gaels, it is not likely to either. More insane still however is the denial of that tongue which surely is my own, and their own, Scots. Also known as Lowland Scots, or “Lallans”, it leaves me incredulous that Scots is not even recognised as a language in its own right but is instead claimed to be a dialect of English, when it is nothing of the sort. Scots and English cannot possibly be the same language for the simple fact that, whilst both share a root in Anglo-Saxon and the Norman conquest of England, the two evolved differently. To explain, the Norman conquest took place in 1066 and thereafter William I, the Conqueror, set about seizing the lands of Saxon earls and gifting them to Norman nobility. This of course led to a lot of displacement and the Saxons in the north of England, mostly Northumbria, fled to the only place they could – into the Kingdom of Alba. Taking the Anglo-Saxon tongue with them, they assimilated into and shared with society. There is a letter in the vaults of the British Museum, written by the Bishop of Dunkeld 1169, in which he bemoans “The kingdom of Alba is becoming known as Scotland.” (it’ll never catch on). This is important as it shows the start not only of the name of Scotland but the birth of the Scots language. That language would go onto have influences from Gaelic, Briton, Norse, Angle and Middle French, which makes it distinct from English, which as I have previously stated, was not standardised until fairly recently in historical terms. Even then, this insistence upon “proper English” is more of a 20th century invention. Scots was never a problem in the 19th century to those dangerous radicals, ermm, the Advocates of Law. This is shown in a document in the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh in which one prosecution counsel calls upon the judge “Come awa’, come awa’ Maister Magistrate. Let us hingit thae twa dammit scoondrels fir the henious crime o’ hamesucking.” (breaking into someone’s house while they are in residence). Yet if you listen to many of the “Scottish and British” crowd, particularly the “ploom in the mou” politicians of today, they will try to tell you that Scots is not a recognised language but merely a dialect of English, which they see as superior. I prefer to think there are no “superior” or “inferior” languages – merely different languages, and in any multi-cultural society, as Scotland is, there is room for all of them.
I therefore argue that there is no possibility of being “Proud to be Scottish and proud to be British.” Any such concept is completely unworkable, for sooner or later, it must come down to a choice between the two. And those who claim to be both have clearly shown, by their own examples, that they do not envisage a Scottish nation within the union. They see us rather as Westminster sees us; not as a nation but as a region of England. And to that end they would happily sacrifice Scotland, to destroy any vestige of their culture, our culture, which would see us become little more than a “Little England” in the north.