The Upkilting of Humza


In Culloden month this year, Mike Nevin published an excellent and informed article analysing Evgeny Prigozhin’s future march on Moscow under the title: “Why the Jacobite Rebellion Failed”. What Mr Nevin seemed to me to be saying by Aesopian analogy was that Humza Yousaf does not have the legs for a march as far as Derby, which Bonnie Prince Charlie reached, much less to Kaluga, where Prigozhin’s Wagner group turned around.         

Yet even if he made it, perhaps in a friend’s motorhome, one wonders whether he would have the wit to realise he had reached the point in life where charismatic princes in kilts turn back from assaults on London. But there is much more to the article than that.         

Nevin considers the turning points of the Jacobite Rebellion under seven different headings, each one a modern way of looking at decision-making in psychological terms. Apparently, this necessitates assuming that people are rational, which I doubt for reasons that will be mentioned below. He quotes Nobel Prize winners, which impresses simple people like me who live on seaweed and sturgeon roe in plain Hebridean islands.         

In fact, I was able to understand only two of Nevin’s seven categories of mistake that the rebel Prince made during his British excursion of 1745-46. Since Prigozhin seems to have made comparable mistakes in his rather shorter tour of southern Russia, I thought the issues worth examining.         

The wider context is relevant as the SNP reminds me in some important ways of Prigozhin’s Wagner organisation. By contrast, the Jacobite army, as we know from Murray Pittock’s excellent study, Culloden, was very different. It was a disciplined and cohesive force of principled traitors – nothing at all like Prigozhin’s murderous rabble of criminals and psychopaths. But both Wagner and the SNP suffer from the chaos that inevitably follows single-person leadership and centralist authoritarianism. I don’t know what category of mistake that belongs to.         

I will leave it to others to cover the troll farms, the disappearing cash, the ugly houses where A-list apparatchiki live, the connections with small African countries which once had Presbyterian dictators, and the general feeling of menace which emanates from people who are prepared to use a sledgehammer to smash the skull of anyone who discusses the wrong sort of topic over the family dinner table – whether in Bucha, Donetsk or Uddingston. Instead I will focus on the two aspects of the psychology of decision-making quoted by Nevin which I can understand.         

First, like Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin and Charles Edward Louis John Sylvester Maria Casimir Stuart (hereinafter for brevity “BPCharlie”), Yousaf-supporting voters clearly suffer from what Nevin refers to as Confirmation Bias. People continue to vote for the leader of a Party they once thought would cure their inferiority complex, when plainly it hasn’t – and won’t.         

Secondly, there is Optimism Bias, which explains why Humza Yousaf wore the kilt to watch King Charles III swear his Coronation Oath in May. It will be remembered that young Yousaf did the same at his own oath-taking ceremony in parliament in 2011. Now he seems to think that if he keeps wearing Highland dress, Scotland really will one day fall at his feet, gazing up past his naked knees into the fathomless darkness above.

Since that is a perfect place for a chap to hide his dirty fivers, it would not surprise me if one day the police decide to take him into their mobile tent and upkilt him. What exactly has he got stashed behind that bushy little sporran of his? 

My own theory is that Party political foot-kissers are happy with Yousaf’s kilt since his predecessor, N.F. Murrell, was never photographed in one. Even Prince Charles Philip Arthur George always had the manners to adopt Highland dress when visiting Scotland on ceremonial occasions. But L-driver Murrell never did anything so gracious. She wore tartan face masks (far too small in my view), tartan shoes (too tight and high) and tartan suits (too bourgeois for an “authentic Scot”) – but never the kilt. Why?

Perhaps she was trying to put “clear blue water” between her image and that of her touchy-feely predecessor, Alex Leapy-cuddles. He was rarely too shy to put on the kilt and one’s thoughts and prayers go out to the garments involved.         

Consider, for example, the torture to which he subjected one innocent length of cloth when he appeared on the Tasmina Akhmed-Show on Putin Today, the celebrated Russian propaganda channel. (See left)          

So why has Continuity Humza broken his Vow to the people of Scotland that he would be a “legacy Murrell”? His affectation of the kilt could be seen by hostile critics as “cultural appropriation”, but as a neutral observer who tries to be fair to all sides of every argument which does not involve the Global Green Party, I prefer to think of it simply as a mistake resulting from his ignorance of Scottish history. He probably does not know that the Young Pretender was, like Lord George Murray, his policy lead on fair soldiering, a Unionist to his back teeth. The whole aim of their disastrous enterprise was to take control of the United Kingdom. BPCharlie was not especially interested in Scotland and, unsurprisingly, Scotland was not all that interested in him.         

It is true he acquired a significant following on the road, but the ordinary Highlander in his army was not marching out of loyalty to him, but to the Stuart dynasty. This is the key point that must be made about the whole ’forty-five fiasco’ and the tragedy of forcing fine men into treason.         

BPCharlie was a popular figure in Edinburgh it is true, but that was mainly because he was such a good dancer. People tend to forget that he took the town by storm with his B-P-Cha-Cha-Cha. Give him a pair of Cuban heels and a clean-shaven Spanish lady and he could make a salonful of Holyroodhouse feminines swoon like a herd of elephants that have overdone it on the marula berries.

So, what did the Jacobite army actually think, in constitutional terms? The most authoritative source for the opinions held by the rebel troops has long been John Lorne Campbell’s book, Highland Songs of the Forty-Five. It was published in 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Berlin and the SNP was founded in Glasgow. If you are lucky, you can find the beautifully presented reprint put out by the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society of Edinburgh in 1984, by which time revanchist nationalism was becoming fashionable on the east coast too.         

Campbell says in his Preface that until the full body of material from which his selection was drawn has been edited and annotated, “No historian ignorant of Gaelic will be in a position to criticise dispassionately the motives and beliefs of the Highlanders of that time.” (p. xi) That includes amateur historians Mr Humza Haroon Yousaf, Mrs L-driver Motorhome-Murrell and Gospodin Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin. None of them has the Gaelic. One of them can’t even drive.         

What then are the real “motives and beliefs” which animate retro-Jacobites like Kilty Yousaf? In a long and fascinating Introduction to his book, “Young Inverneil” (as Compton Mackenzie used to refer to John Lorne when they were neighbours at North Bay on Barra) says quite simply: “The predominating sentiments [expressed in the songs] are a passionate attachment to the de jure Royal house, coupled with a bitter hatred for the usurping dynasty.” (p. xxii)         

The Jacobites’ first and last attachment was to the Divine Right of Kings, which is about as far from democracy and the principle of reciprocity as you can get. The spiritual basis of divine right surely destroys the left-brain assumptions behind rational choice theory – Nobel prizes or no Nobel prizes. It also helps us understand why Yousaf “turned back at Derby”, so to speak, by channelling his inner Unionist and going to Westminster Abbey to make due obeisance to “the usurping dynasty”.

Historical Continuity demanded no less. They are all turners. Prigozhin turned back at Kaluga, and Mrs Murrell turned back at Parliament Square when confronted by Lord Reid of Allermuir and a full Bench of judicial bottoms. Not one of the three kept right on to the end of the road, which even Harry Lauder managed to do.         

There is nothing more to be said. Murrell-Yousaf have had their Culloden-Kaluga moment. Now we are in the South Uist cave period, both here and, by analogy, in Belarus. The end for all of them will not be pretty. Prigozhin will vanish into a forest of bears and wolves; Mrs Murrell will disappear up her own ego; and Humza Yousaf will probably be boiled in ghee by Anas Anwar when he becomes gauleiter in Edinburgh. Night will continue to fall on Ardnamurchan.–––One last point remains to be made. I asked in last week’s entry what the Scots word for “guillotine” is. The answer is “maiden”. Thank you to all those who wrote to help me on this point.         

And thank you too to John Lorne Campbell Yr. of Inverneil for pre-answering my question as far as Gaelic is concerned. Song XV in his book, “Another Song to the Prince”, is credited to “Alexander Mac Donald” [sic]. He was first cousin to Flora MacDonald, and a member of the Clanranald gentry. In that capacity he was once the Baillie of Canna. In a sense, that is what John Lorne subsequently became, though his record was not unblemished as, late in life, he gifted the island to the National Trust for Scotland.         

Since most big charities are largely staffed by plundering bureaucrats, it came as no surprise to all, except apparently John Lorne himself, that the NTS wanted to remove his scholarly library from Canna House to Edinburgh. The excuse was “safe keeping”—which doubtless meant permanent seclusion in some spinsterish, empty-sporraned vault where they can reduce openness and transparency to the legal minimum. We have Hugh Cheape of the National Museum of Scotland to thank for using his authority as John Lorne’s literary executor to prevent that act of SNP-like centralising barbarism.         

At any event, the final verse of MacDonald’s song includes the word “Mhoighdean” in the first line. The English translation is:

A footnote to the word “Maiden” says: “A machine for beheading criminals, the guillotine.” Evgeny Viktorovich would have understood – so much less messy than a sledgehammer.

Republished by kind permission of Think Scotland. Hamish Gobson lives on the isle of Great Todday (Todaidh Mór) and features in Hating Tories: How Nicola Sturgeon Got into Government (1970-2007) – A Citizen’s Biography of a Driven Woman in a Drifting Parliament (Ian Mitchell, 2023) – available on and also reviewed here by Tom Gallagher.