The one that got away
Fascinated by the monumental presence of steam locomotives, it was always a marvel to me that the Flying Scotsman – the world’s most famous locomotive – was not called the Flying Englishman. With the dominant nation in ascendancy it seemed an uncharacteristic blunder. Railway platform staff only ever referred to the train simply as ‘the 10 o’clock’. The public, ever alert to a memorable moniker, nicknamed it, the Flying Scotsman.
The proposal for a through run from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley was the idea of Scotsman Walter Leith, General Passenger Superintendent of the Great Northern Railway. At that time the journey was made by three separate railway companies, ten long hours, long in corridor-less, buffet-less, smoky carriages. He proposed luxury coaches and a dining car. His innovation was erased from the history books, as was an original Art Deco poster advertising “Take me by the Flying Scotsman”. Thereafter posters proclaimed “London-Edinburgh, leaves Kings Cross 10am “.
The engine used for the journey was one of the finest designs of engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, born in Edinburgh. It’s an LNER A1 class locomotive, but on service it was known only by number, 4472, given its name officially in 1924. On London published timetables it was erroneously described as the “10am Special Scotch Express” – a call to boozers north and south, perhaps.
There is a wonderful parable in that service being one of the few things uniting north with south Britain, a bridge created by a Scot and an Englishman born in Scotland.
From train to shame
We read how England tamed the warring clans and civilised Scotland. We were the cultural evil ‘other’. No mention of clan chiefs and their sons and daughters taught in the best European universities, fluent speakers of Latin, French and Italian.
The truth is, Scotland sits too close to one of the world’s most aggressive nations. No wonder the Welsh think it safer to sing in choirs and play host to Dr Who series. Had the English Channel not existed I don’t doubt Brittany would be part of southern England. Mary, Queen of Scots, might never have spoken French or married the Dauphin of France.
Scotland is used to being treated as a second-rate nation by our English cousins. Indeed, if you feel the most successful nation in the world, the greatest ever, almost every other nation has to be second-best by arithmetic. To the weariness of the London parliament ever-rebellious Scotland is given special status, and special treatment. In contradictory unionist fashion Scotland is full of the uppity downtrodden.
As the Sun newspaper so aptly put it when a poll showed a massive surge of popularity for reinstatement of self-governance, “It’s in their very name, The Conservative Party. They’re desperate to maintain the status quo, always wary of those who rock the boat or whose eyes drift above their station. Nothing freaks them out more than a self-educated working man, except for a self-educated working woman.”
English propensity to demean any nation or race they cannot understand or dominate is a dark characteristic admirably illuminated by Etonian George Orwell in his masterly essay, My Country, Right or Wrong. In it he makes a single, brief allusion to Scotland, namely that the nationalist movement of his day claiming a spiritual superiority, (our poetry, music, mystical topography) was just a euphemism for demanding political power.
Orwell was correct to a degree, though he did not deride Scotland’s wish for self-determination restored. However, that one short statement is the one lifted by English nationalists, including J.K. Rowling, to defame Scots, carefully ignoring the rest of the essay deploring English racism and suspicion of intellectuals, especially Jewish ones.
During the independence referendum Scottish unionist and English unionist politicians were fearful of people in Scotland becoming ‘foreigners’, an echo of the debate in 1706. “I do not want my sons to see Scotland as a place of foreigners”, said Ed Miliband, the then leader of the Labour party. “If you do not sign a treaty we will have you foreigners”, said the English Parliament in 1706.
Where did it all begin?
These attitudes go back to the days of ‘merciless bare-arsed savages’, and the unwanted ‘minority’ population of Gaels. As soon as Scotland allies with a nation England abhors we become England’s mortal enemy, annoyingly part of the island they wish to inhabit in full. We saw it during the Great Debate on our independence. Ireland, Norway, Iceland, even Finland got it in the neck as soon as anybody dared suggest they were fine countries we should emulate.
There are countless false written records of Scotland’s savagery and the fiendishness of Scottish clans visited upon the good peoples of peace loving England, a peace addicted nation perpetually at war with other nations. It’s an attitude prevalent particularly when some “racial” element can be invoked, as when UKip economic migrant and former leader Nigel Farage called the European Parliament – and thus all Europeans – corrupt and meddlesome, not bad from a politician renowned for being an opportunist and a liar. Addressing the EU Parliament after England decided to dump it, but Scotland retain its historic links, Farage is on record shouting “Fuck Scotland!”
A land of evils giants
As with most things in mankind’s history religion is at the bottom of intolerance. As far back as the mid-thirteen century the English Church and the propaganda of royal writs enjoyed depicting ‘the mountainous land to the north’ as filled with evil giants. This was echoed in the 20th century in Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, The BFG, in which a mild mannered put upon English giant lives in an impressionistic Scotland of cannibalistic giants. Sometimes stereotyping is unintentional and subliminal.
England’s opinion of Scotland has barely changed in 600 years; we are a barbarous people living in a permanently rain sodden kingdom allied with England’s enemies. Unless, that is, there’s an estate for shooting deer and pheasants. We are “uneducated tenement dwellers”, invariably drunk, work shy welfare junkies.
Scotland’s population had to endure that calumny throughout England’s Hundred Years War with France. Readers will note that in the 21st century half of England appears to want another endless war with Europe.
Medieval English authors seldom visited Scotland but, like internet trolls, called on the opinion of others, or conjecture, to bolster their prejudices. Accounts such as “common knowledge“, influencing the works of Boece’s “Scotorum Historiae“, (Paris 1527) and William Camden’s “Brittania“, published in London (where else?) in 1586, plagiarising and perpetuating negative attitudes.
In the 16th century Scotland was characterised as lawless, a savage place filled with wild-eyed Scots, Highlanders in particular.
Here is a short quotation from Camden’s account promoting an image of the Scottish nation as a wild and cruel people:
They drank the bloud [blood] out of wounds of the slain: they establish themselves, by drinking one anothers bloud [blood] and suppose the great number of slaughters they commit, the more honour they winne [win] and so did the Scythians in old time. To this we adde [add] that these wild Scots, like as the Scythians, had for their principall weapons, bowes and arrows. Camden (1586)
On every rewriting of Camden’s accounts they were modified to compare the Highland Scots to the inhabitants of Ireland, another local nation that has got it in the neck for centuries. Again, I draw readers attention to the barrage of racism thrown at Ireland during the independence debate. God help anybody Irish, Jewish and black. As I write this essay anti-Semitism has broken out in universities, with swastikas daubed on doors and holocaust denial leaflets distributed among students. Free of Europe, English racism feels free of constraint.
And the abuse goes on…
Contemporary allusions to Scots as carrot top redheads, (little different from Arab ragheads) vegetable hating haggis eaters, abuse uttered by puerile stand-up comedians and sanctioned by the BBC, continue the stereotype so often chosen by English to depict “ungenerous Scots living off English taxes”. The mentality of the diehard racist is chronically incapable of distinguishing one “skirt wearer” from another.
An edition of the tired BBC political jokes show Have I Got [Stereotypes] For You, (26 April 2013) repeated since without edit, was condemned by viewers because of its anti-Scottish abuse. Regular panellist Paul Merton suggested Mars bars should become the currency of a post-independence Scotland. Guest host Ray Winstone added, “To be fay-u, the Sco’ ‘ish eekonomay has its strenffs – its chief exports bein’ oyal, whisky, tartan an’ tramps”. These insults are classed as ‘banter’. That banter had no bearing, of course, in the racial murder of English MP Joe Cox. That is shelved as a coincidence.
Readers are referred to Dr Jack Shaheen’s studies of stereotyping in visual media, though much of his research is aimed at American films and television. After winning five Oscars, the movie Braveheart, about the life and death of Sir William Wallace, was condemned by the English press, aided and abetted by ‘shocked’ historians, taken aback that anybody should make a film about a Scottish historical character.
No longer a man protecting the sovereignty of Scotland, or repelling invasion, Wallace was depicted as really a mad, murdering thug. That people get killed in English battles led by their warring heroes is neither here nor there. The Butcher of Cumberland comes to mind.
Sadly, racism and stereotyping has increased in recent years. These are police matters, but Scots are expected to take the abuse on the chin as cut and thrust of political discourse.
A colonised nation
It’s one of the mysteries of Scotland that its separate identity has survived despite over 300 years of attempted assimilation with English mores and values. Anglophiles won’t ever admit Scotland is a colonised nation, culturally, politically, and economically, but there is no other way to describe the grip the British establishment has over Scottish life and political aspirations.
That’s only a bare beginning of the shocking record of the Anglosphere and its settler-colonial version of imperialism, a form of imperialism that leads quite naturally to the “utter extirpation” of the indigenous population, and to what can be categorised as intentional ignorance on the part of beneficiaries of the crimes.
‘Intentional ignorance’ is the reason we should adopt a ruthless attitude when faced by spurious English claims of superiority. Among a minority of Right-wing Scots there remains a residue of animosity toward Gaeldom, best exemplified in the racist whinge, “Why are the Scots wasting English taxes creating road signs in Gaelic?”
Secretaries of state cannae hack it
It was the Secretary of State, the Master of Stair, employee of the English government, who first suggested a clan should be wiped out as a warning to Scotland to heed English power. He happily endorsed the edict of King William III to “extirpate that troublesome sept’, the clan MacDonald for daring to be late swearing an oath to the English Crown. (Secretaries of state ever since have had a damnable job coming to terms with Scottish aspirations over English interests.) William had to pacify the Scots if he was to be free to concentrate on killing Frenchmen. It was a strategic necessity. He would never accept the Scots as equals and his Scottish supporters knew that. The Scots had to be crushed.
Of course, there was, as there always is, a willing Scot to do an Englishman’s dirty work, one who feels that sense of inferiority. The massacre took place during the winter night of February 13th, 1692. As massacres go it was modest in number, around 48 souls, many more sent to the hills to hide, but it stands as a symbol of today’s genocidal impulses.
Stair’s attitude is no different from General Henry Knox, the first secretary of war of the United States, describing “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union [by means] more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru.”
In modern time we read ignorant press articles about the wisdom of Providence that caused the natives of Scotland to disappear like the withered leaves of autumn, even though colonialists had “constantly respected” them. They are referring to the Highland Clearances that drove tens of thousands of Scots to the Americas, Canada, and Australia.
This intentional ignorance regarding inconvenient truths about Scotland continue to this day as English racists, emboldened by dumping Europeans, call for the annulment of Scottish ‘privileges’ and the disillusion of its devolved parliament. Like Native Americans, Scots still need to be civilized by supremacist whites. That over 370,000 English live happily among us is neither here nor there. As one Scot-hater said, “Fuck them!”
The white English supremacist doesn’t differentiate Scot from Pole, or Pole from African. Withdrawal of political decision making is the new genocide. The sad revelation of broken faith, of violated treaties, of appropriated resources, phony Vows, and of inhuman acts bring a flush of shame to the cheeks of those who say they love Great Britain.
As Tories and some blue-blooded socialists keep telling us, the expansion of the peoples of white blood during the British Empire has been of lasting benefit to most of the peoples already dwelling in the lands over which the expansion took place, notably those who had been “extirpated” or reduced to destitution and misery. That’s only a bare beginning of the shocking record of the Anglosphere and its settler-colonial version of imperialism, a form of imperialism that leads quite naturally to the intentional ignorance on the part of beneficiaries of imperial crimes.
But some English are not racist
I can hear the screams of suppressed anger now, winging its way to this website: “Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us, and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry now we are devoid of European interference in our lives.” They do not see the racism.
It was Blair’s government that passed the Bill to reinstate a devolved parliament – very reluctantly. He thinks it was a serious error of judgement: “It only encouraged them to ask for more.” In a self-serving trade Blair stole Scotland’s oil rights. Getting a hobbled Parliament back is hopelessly inadequate compensation.
When it comes to humane politics, to treating their neighbours as they themselves would wish to be treated, the English set themselves terribly low standards, which unfortunately they fail to live up to.