When Anglophiles proclaim they’re British and Scots, meaning not really proud to be Scots but wish they were English, I get an image of a prawn announcing it’s proud to be a Crustacean and a Prawn. Secretly it wants to be a Lobster. Quite naturally, the Lobster ignores the ingratiating Prawn because, although also a member of the crustacean family, it regards the prawn as an inferior breed of the species.
The marvel is how we Scots reached the position we find ourselves in now, against all odds and generations of propaganda and inculcation, not only managing to revive our nation as a distinct entity different from England in so many ways, but move it to the point where its political independence is just around the corner.
A cornucopia of exotic fruit
We did, once upon a time, think England was the bringer of all fine things. We ached to be Anglo. Scotland should admit and then lay aside quietly, with as little fuss as possible, that momentary loss of mind and dignity, that misguided identification, the century when it tried hard to be more English than the English. It caused us to walk badly, talk in a weird fashion, and think Samuel Johnson was absolutely correct when he said the noblest prospect a Scotchman ever sees is the high road to England.
The English class system sits uneasily on the shoulders of Scots, though some try hard to adopt its petty snobbery and elevated envy by sending their children to a fee paying public school, the Harry Potters of this world.
After our country was bought and sold in 1707, and our kind English cousins increased taxation and banned everything Scottish except neeps and oats – they needed them for their cattle too – smart arses popped up everywhere proclaiming themselves English. One madcap supporter of the Union was William Robertson, an academic – no surprise Sherlock – principal of Edinburgh University, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. What was his assertions?
Like the predictions we get regularly from newspapers envisaging the imminent demise of the SNP, repeated every six months by the same hacks and with the same sonorous pomposity, Robertson stated the Union would eventually make the English and Scots one mighty people. (Note England always comes first when making those proclamations. The speaker unconsciously genuflects to the nation they regard superior.)
Robertson saw Scotland as North England, once a backward place soon to be civilised. That was in 1759. ‘Scotrot’ as I call it began as far back as that. Robertson believed striding around mind and body fixated on London somehow gave you breeding, nobility, and automatic entitlement. Today some think they achieve that state merely by memorising and recounting the latest cricket score.
The march of the Posh Jocks
Reading Sir Walter Scott’s letters, a confirmed unionist, tells us he too was aware of Scotrot and planned to encapsulate the most acceptable parts of our history for his readers in stories of honour and courage wrapped up in tartanalia. England, London in particular, was his biggest market for book sales.
This is the equivalent of refusing to have children who might continue the family lineage while embalming your dead mother to venerate her in a homely shrine. Scott helped create a pseudo Scottishness while genuinely doing his best to pass down the generations the great Highland stories and myths. Had he been a bad novelist he’d never have managed the task.
Make mine a Cockburn, thanks
Then there was Henry Thomas Cockburn of Bonaly, Lord Cockburn, (1779-1854) a man for whom two names wasn’t enough. I like to refer to him as the father of Posh Jocks.
Cockburn is recorded in the league of England’s unquestioning lackeys as Solicitor General and judge, or as we would say, a lawyer with ambition and no commitment to anything but his own advancement. We might know him better as the man who gave his name to the fierce Cockburn Society that is always first to protect Edinburgh’s ancient buildings from predatory architects.
Cockburn realised England had become the world’s most powerful nation, that is, after the Romans, the Assyrians, the Moors, the Egyptians, and so on, and so further back. He believed he was living in the last ‘truly Scottish’ age. (He called it Scotch, as in egg.) He admitted a few stragglers would view merging into Anglophilia with alarm “for others it is seen as the inevitable and very desirable result of completing the Union.” Amen.
Cockburn considered himself an intelligent man. He could hardly miss the extent to which the Scottish aristocracy and the landowners were sending their children to be educated at Eton and Rugby to help raise their chances of securing a privileged life, just as they do to this day by sending them to Fettes College or Gordonstoun School, and later Oxford or Cambridge. Our Westminster parliamentarians could also boast they came from the same class stock. I present Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, late of Fettes College, as a prime example of the imperial Scot who feels all he does is in the name of progress.
I want what they’ve got
Scotland’s oldest universities such as St Andrews soon realised that to prosper they had to emulate England’s top educational institutions and become a quasi-English university. Moreover, if you made your mark you didn’t settle in Scotland, you settled down south, preferably London.
And so Scotrot began at the head and soon worked its way down the body politick until it reached the soul of Scotland. Only our rebellious art colleges survived that cultural imperialism, though all have lately succumbed to creeping British cultural nationalism, Duncan of Jordanstone now part of Dundee University, Edinburgh Art College now part of Edinburgh University, and Glasgow’s School of Art burned to the ground.
Scots Law is better as English Law
Taking their cue from Cockburn, lawyers began to talk of merging Scots Law with English Law, the way to reduce inequality and division they opined. The Glasgow Law Amendment Society – there’s Orwellian Doublespeak for you – felt strongly a lot of Scots Law was no longer applicable to the new age; it ought to be almost indistinguishable from English Law.
What they were talking about was not the Common Law for you and me of those days, but Commercial Law to benefit the merchants and bankers who were doing rather well in the west of Scotland out of England’s burgeoning empire. (I suspect all this Anglo assimilation and loss of rights is beginning to sound horribly familiar to readers.)
Jobs galore – if you left Scotland
Those that had not started their own shipping or tobacco company or spinning cotton in Paisley were soon seeking jobs in the Empire’s outposts. By the time the Victorian era was in full swing living imperialist la vida to the full – if one can contemplate the morbid Queen Victoria ever as a hedonist – Scots were out there as soldiers, ambassadors, doctors, nurses, teachers, in fact, in every sort of administrative post one can think of. Soon we were treating Johnny Foreigner as a lower order and clicking our fingers for a gin and tonic as swiftly as any Etonian Englishman.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or I should say glen, members of the Enlightenment were busy kicking the hell out of what they saw as Scotland’s claim to nationhood and sovereignty. Scotland existed as an ancient kingdom centuries before the Union, but that did not deter the intelligentsia from scorning Scottish history.
As far as they were concerned Scotland was getting dragged out of the Dark Ages of savagery and clan factionalism, lifted out of poverty and feudalism into the brave New World that was one hundred per cent English, the English parliament model the only model a civilised nation could measure itself against if it was to know it had arrived.
This wild notion lingers to this day in the imagination of the British nationalist.
A lesson in somebody else’s history
In double quick time Scots were taught to forget their history and myths for they had ‘no worth’. English constitutional history, English class systems, English values were the order of the day for serious study. The assimilation of Scot to Anglo-British was off and running.
In quick measure we lost accents, dialect words, and Anglicised almost everything. It should not come as a surprise to readers to learn that when the first chairs of history were founded in Scottish universities not a single Scot was appointed to them. They went to scholars from Oxford and from Cambridge.
A nation that suffered every transgression at once
Now, add to all that the profound changes that were happing in Scotland, the Clearances moving thousands of rural inhabitants out of Scotland or to Glasgow as workers to serve in the industrial revolution, the coal mines and the mills, the rapid urbanisation that went along with that unstoppable social tidal wave. It was a painful social upheaval, a permanent scar on Scotland’s psyche, from the Highlands to the Lowlands. What a marvel Scots bounced back in the early 20th century to reclaim their culture.
Walk around our main cities and you will see streets named not after ordinary individuals who toiled and died for England’s power, but names commemorating the British Empire: Queen Street, Hanover Street, George Square, Royal Terrace, Panmure Street, Exchange Square, Jamaica Street, ad nauseam.
It took the bloody genocide of the first Great War to brings Scots to their senses, an awareness that English power was not necessary a good thing, that it was highly destructive, insensitive to national territory and human life. In time unionism once seen as the best of all possible worlds was revised as an ugly, insular ideology presided over by a very middle-class lady who wore wide brimmed hats and was married to a talkative retired naval husband.
It took a hundred years to learn how to extricate ourselves from that suffocating culture.
It has taken a hundred years for the general populace to realise Scotland paid a terrible price in people and its wealth for that empire. Some most certainly benefitted in accrued wealth, but no one can claim Scotland was the better for it. No one.
The Auld Scotia that was an embarrassment survived and was revived, the first tenuous steps to asking our selves ‘what makes Scotland a nation’? The answer is, a collective sentiment and a collective willpower to protect its history and to plan its future. If you believe in it, it will exist.
And here we are experiencing the shock of déjà vu, witnessing England doing all it can to revive a Second Empire.
One can only hope to see the bastard runt put down – humanely of course.