Alex Massie

The lies we tell ourselves

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This is a depressing paragraph:

William Wallace was a failure who only won one key battle; Robert the Bruce was a usurper struggling to retain power; Scotland was a willing entrant into the Act of Union. Such claims will infuriate nationalists and unionists alike when the BBC seeks to explode myths in Scottish history in a landmark series.

It is, of course, depressing that such judgments might be considered "controversial". Why they should infuriate anyone remains a mystery given that they are, well, true.

I don't think I need re-iterate my objections to the Braveheart fetish. Suffice it to say that it is all too typical that we should concentrate upon the noble failure (Wallace) rather than the complex - and oft conflicted - victor (Bruce). What one may say for Wallace is that he made Bruce possible. That's no small medal to wear; equally one may recognise Bruce's greatness while acknowledging that the manner in which he came to power was at best messy and, quite possibly, illegitimate.

Similarly, the most depressing - and, for that matter, witless - argument for independence is that it would right some (imagined) historical wrong. The Union was formed - albeit in pressing, difficult times - as a matter of national interest; the argument for its end, or survival, rests on precisely the same consideration of what may be in Scotland's best interests in the future. Sentiment and custom should have a role, but not a veto, in this.

Nonetheless, the most depressing feature of all is that ay of this needs to be pointed out at all. But then history is a messier affair than most people like to imagine.

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.

Topics in this articlePoliticshistoryscotland