Alex Massie

Scots wha hae with Cumberland bled...

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James Fallows' blog is normally a treat. But in the midst of slapping Congress for the supposed foolishness and self-indulgence of the Armenian genocide resolution he writes this (emphasis added):

Why not go all the way? How about a resolution condemning China for the millions who suffered in the Cultural Revolution and the tens of millions starved during the Great Leap Forward – right as we’re seeking China’s help on Burma, North Korea, the environment, etc? I mean, for each Armenian the Ottoman Turks slaughtered, at least ten Chinese citizens perished at the hands of the regime whose successors still rule the country. And the government's official stance of denial is just about as strong. So, why not just tell them they were evil? The timing would be especially nice during China's current Party Congress.

I'm sure we could get a unanimous vote for a resolution condemning North Korea for any of a hundred grievous offenses; that would be a good complement to the recent nuclear deal. Why not one denouncing Russia for the Czarist pogroms, to accompany efforts to reason with/rein in Putin? Maybe another condemning England for its subjugation and slaughter of the Scots, to say nothing of the Irish – while also asking Gordon Brown to stay the course in Iraq? What about Australia for its historic treatment of the Aborigines? Or the current nations of West Africa for their role in the slave trade?

Can I ask, what subjugation? What slaughter? After all, the Wars of Independence ended at Bannockburn nearly 700 years ago. Since then it's hard to see how or when Scotland has been subjugated to England. As for slaughtering, well, Henry VIII's Rough Wooing (and the destruction of the magnificent Border abbeys) was an unpleasant piece of work but it scarcely counts as something comparable to the other examples of ill-treatment Fallowes lists.

The one instance, I suppose, in which Fallowes could be said to be half-right would be the suppression of the Highland clans after the ignominious (but necessary) failure of the '45. It was an ugly, cruel business right enough. But it wasn't something imposed upon Scotland by the English; no, it was a British policy to fortify the internal security of the still-new united kingdom. As such Scots were full and willing partners in the silencing of the glens. The Duke of Cumberland - the Butcher himself - was awarded an honorary degree by Glasgow University in recognition of his efforts at pacifying the Highlands.

How often does it have to be pointed out that more Scots fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden than for him? The '45 was more a conflict between highland and lowland Scotland (and hence, in some respects, between tradition and the emerging idea of modernity) than it was a struggle between Scotland and England (had the English Jacobites not quite sensibly appreciated that the old song had long since ended, the trans-border nature of the enterprise would be better understood today).

Why does this matter? Because if we're to have an honest discussion of the country's future it would be best to understand its past first. One of the odder things one notices when overseas is that when the subject of blaming many of the world's problems upon the legacy of the British Empire the ex-patriot Scot is assured that, naturally, this complaint only applies to the English. It's as though we're given a Get Out of Jail Card despite the fact that, as you know, Scots were enthusiastic empire-builders who played a hugely disproportionate role in turning the world map pink.

To pretend otherwise is delusional. Equally, the case for independence should be made on its merits, advancing the argument that it's in the national interest. It shouldn't be indulged as an act of self-pity or because it rectifies some imagined historical wrong. The myth of a subjugated Scotland is just that. Or, if you prefer to insist that Scots were victims, at least acknowledge that they were victims of other Scots, not the English (who for the most part couldn't care less about much that happened north of the border).

But pretending otherwise feeds and reinforces the unfortunate national predilections for self-pity, a chippy sense of victimhood and an resentful nursing of imaginary grievance*.

*In fairness, it ought to be said that one of the arguments in favour of independence (and one deployed y some nationalists themselves) is that it would put an end to this nonsense, forcing Scotland to, well, grow-up.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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