John Lloyd

The Scottish literary giants who stoked the fires of Anglophobia

Hugh MacDiarmid looked forward to the destruction of London – ‘earth’s greatest stumbling block’

Though Scots are doubtful about secession from the UK, Scots literary figures and intellectuals are likely to be strongly, even aggressively, for it. Conspicuous in this is Anglophobia, which is a default position for many. At an extreme, it amounts to a rejection of the English and Scots unionists which conjures up the rhetoric of racial hatred.

The influence of two large 20th-century figures has soaked into the Scots literary ground. These are the poet and polemicist Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), and the intellectual Tom Nairn (born 1932). They have a close disciple in the figure of the novel-ist James Kelman (born 1946), the only Scots Booker Prize winner in the past half-century.

In an interview a little before his death, MacDiarmid said that when he was in the army medical corps in the first world war, he and the Irish and Welsh recruits ‘didn’t get on with the English at all… and I became more and more anti-English as time went on’. He wasn’t kidding. In 2003, the researcher John Manson found, among MacDiarmid’s papers in the National Library of Scotland, notes and poems (unpublished) written in the first years of the second world war, which included a verse — ‘The leprous swine in London town/ And their Anglo-Scots accomplices/ Are, as they have always been/ Scotland’s only enemies’. In a note, he looked forward to the destruction of London — ‘earth’s greatest stumbling block and rock of offence’.

‘Our target is to meet net zero by 2035.’

He was attracted to Mussolini, and more distantly to Hitler, in the 1930s, and saw democracy as a barrier to ‘the real will that bides its time’ — that is, of an enlightened dictator. He is still held in reverence in much of literary Scotland and his ingrained authoritarianism is rarely questioned — neither is the scorn in which he held Scots, sneering at ‘the moronic quality of most of our people’.

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Written by
John Lloyd
John Lloyd is Contributing Editor to the Financial Times. His latest book is ‘Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot: the Great Mistake of Scottish Independence’.

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