BY EFFIE DEANS
I used to write something on the anniversary of the independence referendum as a sort of parody of Scott’s “Waverley; or, ‘tis sixty years since”. Indyref; or, ‘tis seven years since. The idea was to compare grieving Jacobites toasting their lost cause and their king oer the water with the Scottish nationalists celebrating the fact that they got 45 (actually 44.7) and their desire to embrace an 18th century rebellion that was about restoring the Stuarts to the throne of the United Kingdom. It merely showed how similar Scots are to other Brits who also celebrate defeats (The Charge of the Light Brigade, Dunkirk etc) more than victories. Losing romantically is what makes us British.
A seventh anniversary has become a tiresome thing however. It is not long enough to signal a change of heart. The point of Scott’s looking back over sixty years was that he could reflect on a Scottish society changed beyond all recognition precisely because of the defeat of the Jacobites. The Scottish Enlightenment brought with it great minds, intellect, reason and prosperity because we had rejected the Stuart’s divine right of kings, feudalism and Catholicism. Culloden ended the one-hundred-year British civil war with it the final triumph of Parliament and the Protestant work ethic. It was this that created modern Britain and with it modern Scotland.
Sixty years later Scott’s readers could look back romantically on “The 45” precisely because they were content that Scotland and England had formed the Kingdom of Great Britain and that this had given them a constitutional monarch rather than absolutism. Scotland had become industrious, thrifty and hardworking. Jacobitism was such a thing of the past that we could celebrate its heroism and glorify its defeat. No one wanted it to come back again.
When the various peoples of Europe discovered their nationalism in 19th century there was no equivalent in Scotland. Scottish heroes like Bruce and Wallace were celebrated because Scottish history was seen as leading step by step towards our having a united monarchy in 1603 and then a single country called Great Britain in 1707. Bruce was no more a symbol of Scottish nationalism or a desire for secession than Clovis the First is today a symbol of Frankish nationalism or the desire for the independence of northern Gaul.
Scottish nationalism was dead issue in Scotland until approximately 2007. There had been some opportunists prior to that who flirted with fascism in the 1930s and selfishness in the 1970s, but they were no threat to the United Kingdom. Scottish voters did not vote on constitutional lines. Most voters deserted the Conservative Party in the 1980s but it was because they disagreed with their policies rather than because they viewed the Tories as English.
The beginning of nationalism came with Labour. The complaint was that it was unfair to have a Conservative Government in Westminster when Scotland voted Labour. Of course, it is no more unfair if a part of Scotland votes Conservative, but gets a Labour Government in Scotland. It wasn’t the SNP that created Scottish nationalism, it was the whole Scottish establishment and media who began to carve up each General Election into how Scotland voted and the Government that Scotland had imposed on it.
No one in the United States thinks this way, nor does France or Germany. But the anti-Tory grievance in Scotland was gradually transformed into the idea that we were not part of a United Kingdom that had to accept the will of the majority, but a country in our own right that should get a parliament that exactly reflects how we voted.
This change of mindset that began in the 1980s and 1990s was completely different from how we viewed ourselves before. No one complained that Scotland didn’t get what it voted for in elections prior to that, because no one particularly investigated. When we voted to stay in the EC in 1975 no one cared that the Western Isles said No.
It is the viewing of yourself as separate that fuels separatism. This wasn’t created by the SNP but rather by those Scots who could not bear the fact that Labour kept losing elections though they won in Scotland (now they win in neither). In any other country in the world if such an attitude were allowed to form in one of its parts, a desire for separatism would follow.
Even today some people who claim to support the UK still insist on viewing everything through the lens of nationalism. They insist on treating Scotland as separate. They think that it is somehow helpful to treat the UK as a loose grouping of four countries rather than a single nation state.
If we continue to view Scotland as separate, then this justifies the Scottish Parliament being able to vote for an independence referendum whenever it wishes. No part of any other nation state in the world has this right. But in Britain we feel we must concede it because of the nationalism Labour created that did not exist when I was a child. It means that the UK is continually threated. We can form AUKUS and defend the Pacific against the Chinese, but we cannot even defend ourselves and one more SNP electoral victory is more of a threat to AUKUS than any number of Chinese missiles. We far more need a pact to defeat the SNP and a defence budget to be spent on it.
I hope that eventually someone writes Indyref: or ‘tis, sixty years since. That person would be looking back on an odd spasm in British history where it briefly looked as if the whole course of turning a Celtic speaking island into an English-speaking country was overturned because some Scots disliked Tories. But we are not going to get there because Scotland runs a deficit and lacks an economic plan for secession. We are not going to get there because the SNP can’t run an ambulance service. We are only going to get there by a change in our mindset.
Sixty years after the Jacobite rebellion no one in Scotland wanted it to be repeated because they could see the benefits of the Scottish Enlightenment, reason and prosperity. Our task is to make the United Kingdom so prosperous, free and efficient that no one too would think to leave. We must think of ourselves as one people and cease thinking that we live in four separate nations. Only in this way will we defeat separatism.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.