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Scotland

View from the top of the Wallace Monument

Following the most recent Ice Age, Britain's climate warmed dramatically, with temperatures reaching their peak about 6000 years ago. Settlement in what is now Scotland became possible. The miraculously preserved village of Skara Brae, and other Neolithic remains making up the Orkney World Heritage Site offer a unique insight into stone age life.

Early Scottish history was then closely related to Ireland. As described in The Invention of Scotland by Hugh Trevor Roper, the first half of the first millennium saw Irish migrants crossing the northern straits to "Pictland", where they set up a colony consisting of three settlements on Islay, Lorn and Kintyre. This area was known as Argyle, which means the "Eastern Irish," and the new Irish kingdom was known as Dalriada. Dalriada lasted for almost 250 years, while an uneasy and at times violent relationship was maintained with the native Picts. But then in 741 the Picts won a decisive battle against the Irish, and by 792 the last man identified by contemporary chronicles as king of Dalriada died. This looked like the end of the Scots, which ironically is a Roman word for Irish people. But then around 800AD a Scot, or part Scot, named Kenneth Mac Alpin declared himself as king of the Picts. It seems that rather than disappearing, the Pictish habit of marrying their daughters to prominent foreigners had in fact assimilated Scots into Pictish culture. It might also be the case that Scots and Picts had decided to join forces to face their common enemy, the Norsemen. At this point Mac Alpin may have made his ruthless attempt at power. He might have reached a temporary alliance with the Norse, and then treacherously killed leading Picts at a drunken banquet held at the Pictish capital of Scone.

 

 

 

Scone, original home of the Stone of Destiny

In later years as Scotland tried to find its own identity in relation to England this early history became a battle ground. Hugh Trevor Roper describes how writers such as Hector Boece and George Buchanan took the history of Dalriada back through time in an attempt to gain historical precedence over the Picts. In the interest of Scottish identity the Picts were written out of the story. There were also attempts to show that Scotland had a forward looking government where kings ruled with the consent of their people. All of this was written after the event, making the actual history of early Scotland a side show. History was a weapon in a struggle with England.

In many ways the story of Britain has in large part been the story of England and Scotland's relationship. This relationship has taken many twists and turns over the centuries, and most historic sites important to Scotland are related to it. Many English kings have attempted to subdue Scotland, most notably perhaps Edward I who in 1296 took the great Scottish symbol of state, the Stone of Destiny to Westminster. Ironically when Scotland did become part of a wider Britain it was not a rampaging English king who was responsible, but instead a rather gentle and thoughtful Scottish king, James Stuart. In 1603 Elizabeth I died childless, and without a direct heir, the English throne was offered to King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England. James wished to heal religious and political divisions, but his attempt to bring England and Scotland together was only partially successful. James faced opposition from troublesome nationalistic elements in both England and Scotland. His proposal to merge the kingdoms and churches, and remove all discrepancies in legislation has never been achieved. Nevertheless both kingdoms now had one sovereign.

This is the time when Scotland and England moved towards something that could be called Britain. James proposed the name Great Britain for his combined kingdom. In 1606 James ordered that all ships of England and Scotland should fly a common flag, a design of which he had recently approved, combining the crosses of St George and St Andrew. But it wasn't until Queen Anne's reign early in the eighteenth century that the next stage in British unity was achieved. For reasons that still remain mysterious Scotland and England, two very different countries, decided to sign the Act of Union, ratified in March 1707. Although no firm reasons for the union are recorded, Scotland probably realised that it would do better economically in association with England, and England realised that an independent Scotland was a security threat. Ever since the two countries have got along in grumpy partnership. The low points in the subsequent England Scotland relationship are often portrayed as episodes in a national struggle, when in fact the real situation was more complicated. When James II was deposed by Parliament in 1688 the deposed Stuart king found much support among the Scots, particularly Highlanders. These "Jacobite" struggles in support of the Stuarts were not national struggles but a series of largely religious rebellions which crossed national boundaries. A large proportion of English armies fighting in Scotland were Lowland Scots. There were even numbers of Highland Scots fighting for the British government. The Clan Munro, Clan Ross, Clan Gunn, and Clan Grant, amongst others, all fought for the government against the Highlanders at Culloden in 1745. Lines of nationalism are never clear. This is as true of Scotland as it is of Britain as a whole.

 

 

 

 

Adam Smith's house in Edinburgh

Not long after Culloden one of Scotland's great figures, Adam Smith started teaching at Edinburgh University. Smith pioneered the study of English Literature, and is sometimes criticised for not supporting Scottish culture. In reality Adam Smith made his great contribution by seeing Scotland, and all other countries as part of a wider world. He believed in independent nations, supporting American independence in 1776, for example. This independence was not so much valuable in itself, but in the way it allowed free trade to replace the monopolies of empires. Adam Smith supported Scottish identity, and other national identities, only so that they could exist peacefully and prosperously, trading with the rest of the world. None of this cut much ice with a sense of nationalism which gained momentum in the nineteenth century. A huge Wallace National Monument was constructed in Stirling. Walter Scott created the idea of clans being identified by apparently ancient tartans. James Macpherson invented a poet called Ossian, "the Gaelic Homer" to give the impression of Scottish cultural roots based in the mists of time. All of these illusions were invented to support a wider illusion of nationalism.

 

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh Castle

Many historical sites of Scotland will focus on past battles and national identity. But as usual, their true history will reveal a lack of firm identities. A Scottish king was the first British king, and if you go to Edinburgh Castle where James was born, you are in a sense going to the place where Britain began. In the end inspite of nationalistic hot air, people will usually do whatever makes economic sense. The most persuasive argument for the signing of the Act of Union in 1707 was an economic one. Most people probably felt they would be economically better off with a unified country. Adam Smith knew that money was the bottom line, and that independence was only really worthwhile if it was profitable. If it made more sense to join with a neighbour to give a bigger and more powerful trading position, then that is what would probably happen. When I visited the Wallace Monument in Stirling I came face to face with an animatronic version of the thirteenth century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, who was reciting the Declaration of Arbroath like a prayer: "For we fight not for glory, nor riches, nor honour, but for freedom which no good man gives up except with his life."

To me there is nothing wrong with glory, honour, or riches. These are perhaps better things than freedom, which means different things to different people. Certainly it is usually economic considerations that dictate the fate of nations, rather than abstract notions like freedom. It has been suggested for example that increasing prosperity in Northern Ireland explains a lessening of nationalist violence there through the 1990s. As Anthony Seldon has written: "...economic changes in the North were transforming the prospects for catholics in Londonderry and even Belfast. Prosperity meant that both were becoming less propitious hotbeds for hard-line terrorists"(John Major P418). There is a very firm correlation between prosperity and social stability. As David Runciman says in his book The Politics of Good Intentions: "No democracy has ever fallen with a per capita income of more that $6000" (See P118 - 2005 figures). Most people are sensible enough to be more interested in free prescriptions than "freedom" . The same issues now apply more widely to the European Union. Hopefully people will do what is most likely to make them prosperous. As Adam Smith knew - in the end prosperity is more important that nationality.

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