BY EFFIE DEANS
There is a view I like on the west coast of Scotland which takes in the islands of Raasay and Rona, behind them Skye with its Cuillins and in the far distance the Outer Hebrides. It is perhaps the best view in Europe if you can find an evening in June with the sun about to set and fine weather.
Scotland is the prettiest place in Europe, but our beauty is flawed. It is flawed by weather, but with patience you will find sunshine, moderate warmth and calm winds. But our beauty is flawed in a more fundamental way by three things that are interrelated. There are three hatreds in Scotland like Macbeth’s three witches.
- The worst hatred is sectarian.
- The second worst is hatred of England.
- The third worst is the most recent. It is hatred of Britain.
We are fortunate at least that sectarianism is geographically limited in Scotland. We must be grateful that it rarely amounts to more than the singing of unpleasant songs, insults and some relatively small-scale violence. But it is deeply shameful that large numbers of Scots hate each other because of religion and ancestry. It is awful that they judge each other based on their names and the schools they went to. It is vile that they blame each other for what happened in another country at another time and that the bitterness of these past conflicts is kept guarded, protected and preserved as if it were something holy.
The history of Great Britain involves a great deal of conflict between Scotland and England. But it was all a very long time ago. If memory serves, the last conflict ended in 1551. The Jacobite Rebellion of course was not a conflict between England and Scotland, it was a conflict about who would rule Great Britain. There were Scottish and English Jacobites, just as there were Scottish and English Hanoverians. Scottish Red Coats fought everywhere including at Culloden.
These same Scottish regiments have achieved greatness with their English comrades. Instead of fighting each other, together we have helped save Europe from being dominated by Napoleon, the Kaiser, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is a far better record than the one we had when our island was divided and ruled by absolute monarchs.
The most perverse thing is that some people in Scotland still refer to our neighbours and friends as “The Auld Enemy”. Germans have a better relationship with Poles than far too many Scots have with English people. Most Europeans have moved on and forgotten the battles that were fought in the past century at places like Tannenberg and Lemberg that cannot today even be found on maps. But we still remember 1314 like Serbs obsessing over the Field of Blackbirds (1389) forever demanding to refight it so they can get back Kosovo. How do you say “O’er land that is lost now” in Serbian? Where else in Europe is there an anthem based on events in the Middle Ages?
We ignore centuries of peace and cooperation in order to resent something that happened when there were lords and serfs and feudalism and no freedom whatsoever.
Without sectarianism and without hostility to England there would be no Scottish nationalism. It is something that we learn from the cradle, from our friends and from the sports that we watch. “Everyone hates the English Rugby team”. It’s in our jokes and our assumptions. I remember a little English boy when we were both about five. We all made it absolutely clear that there was one preeminent characteristic in the world “being Scottish” and he didn’t have it. We make it so that our nearest neighbour didn’t ever quite feel at home here. We left him isolated and alone. Forgive us Father for we knew not what we did.
Those sectarians who think the problems of Ireland can be solved by unification and that the key task for anyone descended from Irish people is to take revenge on the Brits for any and all past wrongs, delight in the chance that Scottish independence would give them to stick it to the Brits in two ways. It would both break up Britain and make it more likely that what was left couldn’t hold on to Northern Ireland. Scottish independence might succeed where bombing failed. No wonder the Dáil Éireann cheered on Nicola Sturgeon like Palestinians cheering on 9/11.
This modern hatred of Britain is almost completely new in Scotland. It didn’t exist from 1745 to 1945. As a child I never once came across a Scot who was hostile to Britain as opposed to England. I never met anyone who went on about the British Empire or called our flag a “Butcher’s Apron”. I never met anyone who thought that Scotland was a colony or that we were in some way occupied. We learned these things from o’er the water and from a land that was full of Troubles. Some of us would like to import them.
Modern Scottish nationalism was able for the first time to combine sectarian hatred of the Brits with Scottish hatred of the English. Two ancient grievances and the recruitment of the green half of Glasgow gave rocket fuel to the independence movement. It could take revenge for past wrongs both here and in Ireland. It could unite Ireland by partitioning Britain.
Scottish nationalism is founded on a grievance. There was some ancient wrong done to us when we ceased fighting with the English and united with them instead. All would have been well if only we had just kept on refighting Bannockburn, Flodden and Pinkie Cleuch.
We blame “Westminster” for everything and never take responsibility for the fact that the SNP controls nearly all the areas that affect our daily lives like health and education. They are never blamed because that would mean blaming ourselves. But Westminster is just a group of MPs that we also vote for. So, unless we are blaming our own Scottish MPs, we must be blaming English, Welsh and Northern Irish ones. We must be blaming the Brits, the greatest number of whom are English.
This won’t do.
It is time for those Scots who love Britain to sharply distinguish ourselves from those who don’t. We must recognise that the foundation of Scottish nationalism is hatred of the English. We must do the opposite.
My friend Tom Gallagher had an idea. I think it’s a great idea. I hope you agree. There should be an “English Appreciation Society of Scotland”. Our members would be saying to the four hundred thousand English people living in Scotland that we are glad that you are here. We would be saying to our fellow countrymen in England that we not only want you to visit us as often as possible, but we would be delighted if you chose to live here. We would hold the opposite view to the “Anyone but England” crowd, because we would recognise that this is hurtful, not funny, and helps the SNP. We would recognise that the 800,000 Scots living in England get next to no abuse from their neighbours and that it shames Scotland that we don’t always treat English people in the same friendly way. We would aim to get every Pro UK Scot to express his or her appreciation for England, because we desperately need English support to defeat Scottish nationalism. We cannot fight alone. We need you, just as we needed you at Alma, Amiens and Alamein.
We need to do two things to make Scotland not only the most beautiful place in Europe but also the most pleasant place to live. We need to dig out the roots of sectarianism and hostility to England and sow the soil with salt so that these weeds can never grow back.
We need to make it absolutely clear that both these ancient hatreds have no place in Scotland. If we could only get rid of hatred of the English, we would automatically get rid of hatred of the Brits, because they are one and the same hatred.
An English Appreciation Society led by a famous non-political figure would revitalise Scotland and allow us to move on from the hatreds of the past and perhaps heal the divisions of the present. These wounds from the Middle Ages have been left to fester for far too long.
With friendship and appreciation of our nearest neighbour we would also move on from any desire for separation. After all divorce is founded on dislike and hatred rather than friendship and love.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.