Category Archives: Scotland

Relocated and reduced; ‘the German Ocean’

I’m of an age to have seen the German Ocean on (none-too-out-of-date) maps:

So, when did that bit of water get renamed?

I’m not disparaging ‘North Sea’ as a name. After all, it was that way inclined in Middle and even Early English:

Ys on Bretonelande sum fenn unmætre mycelnysse, þæt onginneð fram Grante ea..and hit mid menigfealdan bignyssum widgille and lang þeneð wunað [perh. read þurhwunað] on norðsæ.

The German Ocean was the more usual term from the Middle Ages:

Beyonde Scotlande, in the Germane Oceane [L. in Oceano Germanico]: are the Ilandes called Orchades, wherof the biggest is called Pomonia.

There is the clue: it was ‘the German Ocean’ as a translation from classical Latin, mare Germānicum, though that was an ambiguous term which seemed equally to include the Baltic. And Claudius Ptolemy’s second-century A.D. Hellenistic Greek has Γερμανικὸς Ὠκεανός. Ptolemy wasn’t fully rendered from Greek to Latin until 1525, but here from the British Library is ‘Oceanus Germanicus’ around 1480:

I’m making the assumption that ‘German Ocean’ died the death some time before George V Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became George V Windsor. ‘Political correctness’ is no recent invention.

Then, this morning, I hit on this headline:

To my mind, that raises a further marine delineation: where does ‘the North Sea’/’the German Ocean’ become ‘the Norwegian Sea’? Trying wikipedia, I get this:

Which is further confusion, with a German source identifying der Nordsee, and the red line showing the Norwegian Sea. A good Shetlander would inform us of the betrothal of Margaret of Denmark to James III Stewart of Scotland.

That was as messy a bit of dynastic business as one might wish. Scotland was seriously in arrears of the rents due for the northern islands. In 1460 a hectic spate of negotiations were necessary. A settlement was mooted, which would involve the marriage of Prince James of Scotland to pre-pubescent Margaret, daughter of Christian I of Denmark. Then the negotiations foundered, and were not revived until 1468. By then the settlement involved abolishing the “Norway annual’ payments, of any arrears, and a dowry of 60,000 Rhenish florins for (by now) 12-year-old Margaret. Christian didn’t have more than a couple of thousand florins in loose cash, so the Shetlands were pawned to Scotland in lieu of the rest.

When oil and gas started to come out of the seas (however named) around Shetland, the Norwegians cheekily offered to cash out the pawn money.

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The legend of Black Tam

Tam Dalyell, who died this week, was a kind of Mizen Head: one of those parliamentary markers to navigate by. Which is also to say — stay clear of. He was, for most of his more-than-four-decades in the Commons, individualistic, almost unclubbable, the cat who walks alone.

1962 and All That

Anyone who had the pleasure of that baritone timbre would be wafted back to the Learig Bar, Bo’ness, preferably in the days before the 1962 West Lothian by-election.

Everyone in sight knew that “Black Tam” would take it easily. His worthy Scot Nat opponent — then and for the next six contests — was Billy Wolfe. 1962, though, was the first Scot Nat showing in such parts. Wolfe was the more “lefty” of the two. Since the Communist candidate was Gordon McLennan, then of the mind-set we would later recognise as “unreconstructed tankie”, that might make Wolfe the “vote-as-left as-you-can-get” ticket. Alas! That was also a time when the Scot Nats could be dismissed as “tartan Tories”: 1962 and Wolfe were the moment that changed.

Both men were — in their different ways — noble figures.

They were a crucial decade apart in years.

William Wolfe had a background as an owner and manager in heavy metal-bashing industry. Wolfe had had “a good war”.

Tam was Old Etonian, Cambridge University, would inherit his mother’s family baronetcy, and become Sir Thomas of the Binns. Tam had learned as a squaddie in National Service to relate to the lower orders.

After an evening of canvassing the plebs, all and sundry would gravitate to the Learig Bar. Lesser, lower beings and bag-carriers hugged their pints of heavy and looked on.

If you hunt hard enough, long enough, you may yet find a tattered original of The Rebels’ ceilidh song book, published by the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society.

Therein (provided it’s a first edition) you will find The Ballad of the Learig Bar, with the chorus:

Billy Woolf will win, will win,
Billy Woolf will win.

He didn’t. But it was a great effort all round.

Ireland intrudes

I found myself on, trying to answer:

Could never understand [Dalyell’s] desire for Ireland to get its freedom but not Scotland.

Apart from the dubious assumption that an interest in the Troubles of Northern Ireland amounts to a desire for Ireland to get its freedom, I tried to say Dalyell’s motivation, above all, was his opposition to colonialism. That’s what radicalised him, at the time of Suez. It was one of the few postures he maintained consistently. Hence — no doubt — being sucked into the “Troops Out Movement”.

The West Lothian Question: still “tricky”

I’m of the view Dalyell was quite sincere about his “nationalism”.

He set out his objections to the Scotland Bill quite clearly, and — as the preface to the Herald Scotland obituary notes:

Tam Dalyell … was … the first to pose the still-tricky West Lothian Question about Scottish representation at Westminster.

The “West Lothian Question” was not Dalyell’s. His own term was “the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem”. It was, however, the term Enoch Powell applied to Dalyell’s reasoned point:

… the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem is not a minor hitch to be overcome by rearranging the seating in the devolutionary coach. On the contrary, the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem pinpoints a basic design fault in the steering of the devolutionary coach which will cause it to crash into the side of the road before it has gone a hundred miles.

For how long will English constituencies and English hon. Members tolerate 123 not just 71 Scots, 36 Welsh and a number of Ulstermen but at least 119 hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Ireland? Such a situation cannot conceivably endure for long.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East [Gordon Wilson] said that members of his party would not vote on English matters, but that does not face up to the problem of the need for a Government to be sustained. The real problem is that of having a subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.

Out of that comes four thoughts:

  • Had Dalyell the acid wit, quick mind and oratory of Powell, he could have been far more dangerous.
  • Dalyell was complicit in squirrelling into the 1977 Act the 40% clause, which self-detonated and destroyed that limited devolution. It consequentially brought down the Callaghan government in 1979.
  • When devolution did come, Dalyell answered his own “problem” by never voting on exclusively-English matters. To that extent, he was as good a Scottish “nationalist” as any other.
  • Let’s not quickly pass over the Enoch Powell connection. In 1977 how the UUP had given succour to the Tory opposition in 1964-66 was still a thorny matter. Powell (by 1977 the MP for South Down) joyfully exploited that, rubbing Unionist grit in the wounds all the way back to the 1920s.

Where the “West Lothian Question” still festers is the so-called “Sewel convention” (for a full explication see the Peatworrier passim[/I]), which was thought to define the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It was thought the 2016 Scotland Act enshrined these conventions into UK law.

As a concomitant of the Supreme Court judgment of 24th January 2017, those certainties are now much more clouded. In particular there’s paragraph 148 of the judgment, suggesting Westminster — by accident or malign design — has been weaselling:

…the UK Parliament is not seeking to convert the Sewel Convention into a rule which can be interpreted, let alone enforced, by the courts; rather, it is recognising the convention for what it is, namely a political convention, and is effectively declaring that it is a permanent feature of the relevant devolution settlement. That follows from the nature of the content, and is acknowledged by the words (“it is recognised” and “will not normally”), of the relevant subsection. We would have expected UK Parliament to have used other words if it were seeking to convert a convention into a legal rule justiciable by the courts.

Any distant rumble is “Black Tam” having a posthumous chuckle.

Above all, Dalyell (“the only member to own white peacocks”) was supremely individualist and not-to-be-confined by any passing group-loyalty. He was impossible to corral in any political grouping. He was apparently incapable of anything like “humour”. Yet he did his research: when he spoke, he knew his stuff. He gave a hard time to each and every minister dished up for his tormenting: Thatcher in particular.

Belgrano: hunting for truths.

He was against the whole Falklands adventure. He detailed that in his Falklands Polemic for the London Review of Books.

From that developed his ceaseless hounding of Margaret Thatcher, over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano. Dalyell’s dogged persistence was itself the stuff of legend. In retrospect, it seems partly a piece of self-justification. It was, however, much needed: particularly so when he was able to show that the thirty hours while HMS Conqueror trailed the Belgrano proved — rather than the vessel being some naval threat — the delay was political, over Peruvian attempts to cobble peace proposals.

The main event

Then we might usefully read Dalyell’s own “last word”: The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After.

There Dalyell argues what Scotland needs is not “self-government” so much as “good government”, and primarily ” good local government”. There’s a lot of point-scoring in it: Dalyell offers a cogent argument why Labour failed. He is caustic in his treatment of Donald Dewar — the spiralling costs of the new Scottish Parliament building — and Dewar’s denials — being one main grievance. Dalyell won, Dewar nil.

Now both Billy Wolfe and Black Tam are gone. Both were imperfect. We shall not see their likes again.

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

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Filed under Herald Scotland, History, Labour Party, Law, leftist politics., London Review of Books, nationalism, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP


I made a special trip (all the way round the corner, after a long, liquid lunch at the Eagle and Child) to York’s Waterstones.

I was looking for a copy of Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet, which I first read as a pre-teen in a Dent’s Classics edition. On second thoughts, it could have been a Black’s edition. Or, upon third thoughts, any other publisher pushing stuff out in the same format: hard-back, near pulp paper, colourful wrapper and five or six colour illustrations (just made to be razored out, framed and hung on pub walls): with Woolworths charging at most a whole two bob-a-nob. I’d bet those did more for juvenile literacy (they did for mine) than any government initiative.

Today Amazon will do you a copy, as I now discover, through a Kindle app, and all for free!  Somehow, though, it isn’t as emotionally satisfying as having, seeing and reaching for a hard copy on the shelf.

What Scott did in Redgauntlet was to stretch his usual historical fiction into what we might today call “alternative” or “speculative history”. It hypothesises a third Jacobite Rising in the mid 1760s. As many commentators have pointed out, a central character, Alan Fairford, seems very autobiographical.

My interest in Redgauntlet, apart from its inherent literary merit,  is twofold:

  • this is the anniversary of Culloden, in 1746, which ended any chance of a Jacobite restoration;
  • to evaluate the various stories around what “Charles Stuart did next” (one of which was to be touted for the monarchy of the revolting American colonies).

One particular aspect of the latter depends from William King’s Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Times (the .pdf reproduction of that is very corrupt), which was also a Scott source for the Redgaunlet romance. King, in his own way, is as gossipy and delightful as Aubrey or Evelyn, but nowhere as well known. What King relates is that Charles Stuart, in disguise, returned to London in September 1750:

follower_of_allan_ramsay_portrait_of_anne_drelincourt_lady_primrose_ha_d5714565hSeptember 1750, I received a note from my Lady [Anne] Primrose [as right], who desired to see me immediately. As soon as I waited upon her, she led me into her dressing-room and presented me to ______. If I was surprised to find him there, I was still more astonished when he acquainted me with the motives which had induced him to hazard a journey to England at this juncture. The impatience of his friends who were in exile had formed a scheme which was impracticable, but although it had been as feasible as they had represented it to him, yet no preparation had been made, nor was anything ready to carry it into execution. He was soon convinced that he had been deceived, and therefore, after a stay in London of five days only, he returned to the place whence he came.

A page or so later we have a footnote:

He came one evening to my lodgings and drank tea with me: my servant, after he was gone, said to me “that he thought my visitor very like Prince Charles.” “Why,” said I, “have you ever seen Prince Charles?” “No.sir,” replied the fellow, “but this gentleman, whoever he may be, exactly resembles the busts which are sold in Red-lion-street, and are said to be the busts of Prince Charles.” The truth is these busts were more taken in plaster of Paris from his face.

The history behind that becomes clearer from the DNB:

In 1750 Charles got together thousands of weapons at Anvers in preparation for an English rising, and obtained from James a renewal of his regency. Letters with fake dates were sent to Elisabeth Ferrand which, if intercepted, would mislead espionage. On 2 September he left Luneville, proceeding via Antwerp and Ghent to Ostend, whence he sailed in disguise with John Holker on the 13th, landing in Dover and arriving in London three days later. Charles went to Lady Primrose’s house in Essex Street off the Strand, and subsequently held a meeting with fifty leading English Jacobites, including the duke of Beaufort, Lord Westmorland, and William King in a house in Pall Mall. They were discouraging. After touring London with a view to a coup, Charles attempted to promote his flagging cause by being received into the Church of England, probably at a service at which the nonjuring bishop Robert Gordon officiated. After a further meeting with King—at which his ‘servant remarked on the extreme likeness between the visitor and the busts of the “Young Pretender” on sale in Red Lion Street’ (McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart, 399)—Charles left London on 22 September, sailing from Dover the next day.

About the most remarkable thing there — apart from the Hanoverian informers being ignorant of the Pretender’s presence —  is that busts of the Young Pretender were on sale, and  on public display, in London. And in Essex Street we still find this memorial:


Anyone in doubt just how hare-brained the Jacobites were at this stage should refer to the Elibank Plot.


Filed under fiction, Literature, London, Scotland

Conundrum of the day.

This was all kicked off by Steve Baker accusing Europe Minister, David Lidlington (who always strikes me as a bit herbivorous):

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): This in-at-all-costs deal looks and smells funny. It might be superficially shiny on the outside, but poke it and it is soft in the middle. Will my right hon. Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?

Mr Lidington: No, and I rather suspect that, whatever kind of statement or response to a question that I or any of my colleagues delivered from the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend was polishing that particular question many days ago.

Baker must have refined his cloacal knowledge in the RAF training scheme, in Lehman Brothers, or in the St Cross College for unattached mature students. One suspects, though, the expression was sweated to fly as close to Erskine May as possible.

Yet, “poo” is just so naff.

So I approved Paul Waugh, this morning:

Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ — the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ — isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.

Waugh managed to pack “manure to be lobbed” and “the poo won’t stick” into proximity.

Where I differ is I’m not convinced “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter” is “the original line”. It certainly appears here:

I reckon the conceit goes far further back, in the Glaswegian expression “a polished jobbie”.

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200Look what just happened there!

This opinionated Mac predictive-spellcheck “corrected” to bobbie.

Which is instructive, in a way, because I was reckoning to find “polished jobbie” (did it again! and again!) in the works of Christopher Brookmyre. I thought I remembered it from the first chapter of his Quite Ugly One Morning, which I rate as one of the best, and funniest openers in any ‘teccie.

Wrong, Malcolm!

boiling_frog_UK_hb_200You’ll find it in Boiling a Frog (at least three times, including):

there was only so much that news management could achieve, and brainwashing wasn’t part of it. People had to be receptive to a certain point of view in the first place: otherwise you weren’t so much spinning as polishing a jobbie.

Your memory misled you from the back end of Chapter 1 of Quite Ugly One Morning.

Inspector McGregor has arrived at the puke-skating scene of the crime:

There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn’t be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
Too late.
‘Heh, there’s a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,’ announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn’t complain about policing the Huns’ next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
‘Jesus, it’s some size of loaf right enough,’ remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
‘Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,’ she said acidly.
‘I suppose we’ll need a sample,’ Callaghan observed. ‘There’s a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.’
‘Maybe we should send Skinner there then,’ muttered Dalziel. ‘See what they can tell from him.’
‘I heard that.’
‘Naw, seriously,’ Callaghan went on. ‘They could even tell you what he had to eat.’
‘We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,’ Skinner observed.
‘But we don’t know which one’s sick this is,’ Callaghan retorted.
‘We don’t know which one’s keech it is either.’
‘Well I’d hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.’
‘That’s enough,’ said McGregor, holding a hand up. ‘We will need to get it examined. And the sick.’
‘Bags not breaking this one to forensics,’ said Dalziel.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else’s day ruined as well.
‘Forensics can lift the sample then,’ said Callaghan.
‘No, no,’ said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. ‘I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,’ he barked, turning round. ‘This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.’

To conclude:

Frans Boas is the source for the (arguable) belief that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. From my (excessive?) study of modern Scottish fiction, I begin to feel Glaswegians can manage similar  for “taking a dump”.

Mr Steve Baker needs to up his game.


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Filed under Christopher Brookmyre, Conservative family values, Detective fiction, EU referendum, politics, Quotations, reading, Scotland, Tories.

Class-y MPs (and MSPs?)

This was prompted (once again) by James Kelly’s scotgoespop blog.

He argues, and — coming from such a factional source — understandably: it’s important to have an overall SNP majority, and not just a pro-independence majority.

Except I remembered, and have managed to dig out, a piece by John McDermott for the Financial Times: What are the new SNP candidates like?

In “The British General Election of 2010”, edited by Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley, the academic Byron Criddle analysed the primary occupations of MPs before they entered parliament. Mr Criddle estimated that a quarter of MPs from the three biggest parties worked in “business”, a field including finance workers, company executives and management consultants. Viewed this way, about one-quarter of the SNP cohort has a business background, a higher share than the 2010 Liberal Democrat (19 per cent) and Labour MPs (8 per cent), but a smaller fraction than for the Conservatives (41 per cent).

Those SNP candidates are now, of course, all but two of Scotland’s entire Westminster cohort.

When “anonymous” (there are several of them) comments Scottish independence is all about socialism, I can only respond: would that it were so.

The SNP describes itself as a “left of centre, social democratic and progressive party”. I cannot see “socialist” or “socialism” featuring as a #SNP self-description. Alex Salmond’s “social democratic” credentials were honed in the Scottish Office’s Ag&Fish section, and then a long stint at RBS. Nicola Sturgeon’s brief brush (all of about four years) with time as a trainee and then as a solicitor seems to be a mere bread-butterer while she prepared for a career of professional politics.

There were many things not-quite-proper about Scottish Labour (and things still to be corrected), but it did mean that many of its elected representatives came from “working-class” backgrounds, and had experience of grime and grease under the finger-nails.

My theses here:

  • It’s A-OK for the SNP to brag that “46 per cent [of the 2016 Holyrood nominees] are female”. That doesn’t necessarily suggest a balanced slate.
  • The 2015 SNP MPs elected to Westminster clearly lacked proper “due diligence” in selection. Two already have gang aglay. A third experienced a near-miss. A couple more have had close squeaks. Despite a rigorous insistence on zipped mouths, too many dodgy utterances still escape.
  • Scotland may not be quite the “one-party state” some critics claim, but the SNP is far too uniform a tendency to be healthy.

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Filed under blogging, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, SNP, social class

Further matter arising: 1320 — 1776

No, I hadn’t forgotten (see previous). Small crises (stinky drain, untidy kitchen, laundry, etc) delaying not-s0-great thoughts. And we’ll come to him (below) in due course.

David_Hume (by Alan Ramsay)

It’s another ScotNat fantasy, maintained in a weekend tweet from  (after his Trump-for-Prez declaration, he has subsequently shown his Dover street-cred on “immigration”). Allegedly, as they say, in the best circles, and this Mr Lawrie maintains, the American Declaration of Independence was inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath.

Of the two Declarations, we’ve all heard of the former, but the latter is a bit less well-known. In fact, like Magna Carta before it was re-discovered and re-invented by Sir Edward Coke (and which I considered a while back), the Declaration has had a Lazarus-like resuscitation. Since William Wallace was executed in 1305,  scriptwriter Randall Wallace couldn’t quite stick words from the Declaration into Mel Gibson’s mouth. He just went as close as he could.

Compare and contrast Braveheart with the key bit of the Declaration, now an incantation among Scot Nats of my acquaintance.

… quamdiu Centum ex nobis viui remanserint, nuncquam Anglorum dominio aliquatenus volumus subiugari. Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.

Sorry! That gets gussied up and dumbed down as:

… as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

So, who is making this ringing pledge?

The pen was possibly in the hand of Abbot Bernard of Kilwinning, Chancellor of Scotland, though more convincingly the drafting was by Alexander de Kininmund (a more seasoned church diplomat, with experience of the papal court).

The primary context was not “independence”, but clouds of excommunication, hanging over Robert Brus for killing of John Comyn on holy ground. Brus was rounding up all the support he could muster (this was his third appeal). I doubt if the hard-headed feudal nobility of lowland Scotland expected any miraculous help from Avignon, but papal endorsement does little harm (Cf: Stadtholder Willem at the Boyne).

The Pope addressed by the Arbroath Declaration was Jacques Duèze, John XXII, second of the Avignon popes, a creature of Philip V of France, provoker (in large part) of the  Guelph and Ghibelline civil wars, an efficient administrator who filled those Avignon cellars with specie.

Then we come to the signatories of this document:

Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry Sinclair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders …

Spot there a peasant, a serf,  of the whole community of the realm of Scotland, in whose name these grandees felt free to speak. Note, too, the Anglo-Norman names, and the titles imported by Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim (David I) to shore up his feudal imposition. And all in the name of “freedom”?

The American connection?


As far as I can see, this comes from Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi (at the third attempt), reading into the Senate record his motion for U.S. Senate Resolution 155 to inaugurate “National Tartan Day”:

Whereas April 6 has a special significance for all Americans, and especially those Americans of Scottish descent, because the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed on April 6, 1320 and the American Declaration of Independence was modelled on that inspirational document…

This historic event therefore goes all the way back to … 1998.

It is fair enough to make a link from the foundation of the American nation-state to Scots. It goes slightly awry when the Resolution propounds:

almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent … Governors of nine of the original thirteen States were of Scottish ancestry

That would be less impressive were we deduct the “Scotch-Irish”, whose connection is more with Ulster.

A better connection

Set aside the Declaration of Arbroath.

Scottish influence on the 1776 Declaration was more recent, more immediate, more philosophical, more potent.

It was the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular of the titan that was David Hume.

Read, mark and inwardly digest The Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth (1752).

It’s all there.

And it’s a far prouder claim that any nonsense dredged from the early fourteenth-century.

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Filed under History, Scotland, SNP, United States, US politics

Matters arising

After those two post I recon we still need to muse on:

  • the uncomfortable historic link between Fascism and Scottish Nationalism;
  • that thing about the Declaration of Arbroath.

51x4fwYd8KL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_For the former, Gavin Bowd (as right) has done the business.

That was then …

Scotland was no less caught in the rising fascist tide than anywhere else. South of the Border, Mosley had his Blackshirts, and the support of the owner of the Daily Mail. In Ireland, O’Duffy (sacked as police commissioner by de Valera) was a long-term admirer of Mussolini and set about moulding the Army Comrades Association (i.e. Free Staters) into his National Guard (better known as the Blueshirts).

Mosley had his small coterie in Scotland: 3,000 mustered at Dumfries Drill Hall for a BUF rally in April 1934. another rally, later in the same year, at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall ended in a major punch-up. One reason why Mosley failed to get traction was because any natural support, among the Orangemen, rejected the admiration of Mussolini and his papal links.

Far more dangerous was Alexander Ratcliffe’s Scottish Protestant League in Glasgow and John Cormack’s Protestant Action in Edinburgh. Protestant Action gained 24% of the vote in local elections in 1935, rising to 32% the following year. Cormack had his “Kaledonian Klan” (geddit?) street-fighting in the Irish-Catholic slums.

Added to which, there was the seduction of the intellectuals. “Hugh MacDiarmid” and or his alter-ego, Christopher Murray Grieve, had signed up for a “Scottish fascism” in the 1920s, and hardly resiled from that stance. In 1940 we find him writing to Sorley Maclean asserting Nazism was a lesser enemy than the French and British bourgeoisie. Once upon a distant time, I had a passing interest in MacDiarmid’s verse, and I still have as a legacy Alan Bold’s anthology: in it I won’t find this, from June 1940:

Now when London is threatened
With destruction from the air
I realise, horror atrophying me,
That I hardly care.

John Manson includes that as a “rediscovered” poem. One can see why it remained unpublished for another 60+ years.

MacDiarmid was in good company: Douglas Young (who would be leader of the SNP in the later War years) writes in 1939:

If Hitler could neatly remove our imperial breeks somehow and thus dissipate the mirage of imperial partnership with England he would do a great service to Scottish Nationalism.

Fascist-symps were numerous in the cream of Scottish society (“the rich and the thick”, or at least the effete). Patrick Boyle, Earl of Glasgow, had organised the British Fascisti, buggered off to France when his debts became pressing, and returned to help finance Mosley and the Anglo-German Fellowship. Jocelyn Hay, Earl of Errol (later shot in the Kenyan “Happy Valley” debacle) was another BUP stalwart, to the extent of flaunting a swastika. Montagu Douglas Scott, Duke of Buccleuch was an appeaser, consorting with von Ribbentrop in London, and so pro-German George VI “resigned” him as Lord Steward. When Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in 1941, it was to meet with  Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton, another Ribbentrop associate, a visitor to the Berlin Olympics where he met Hitler. Nor should we glide over Archibald Ramsay, MP for Peebles, rabid anti-semite, pillar of the Right Club, and the only MP interned during the War.

Several lesser lights glimmered in Nazi circles: a coiffeuse from Dundee ran a letter-box for spies, and spent the War years in prison. Derrick Grant, who had offered his services to the Reich earlier, arranged his German “holiday” to coincide with the outbreak of War, and was recruited to be Radio Caledonia. At the top of this midden was Norman Baillie-Stewart, Anglo-Irish with no direct Scottish connection, but cashiered out of the Seaforth Highlanders when he was found guilty of spying for the Nazis. going on to be the “Sinister Sam” of “Germany Calling”, and later “The Man in the Tower”.

Other names in the frame

It would be wrong to draw a direct line from the Nationalists of the 1930s to the SNP of today.

So let’s not over-egg Arthur Donaldson‘s pudding. Donaldson was drummed out of the SNP in 1940, and ran his own Nazi-infiltrated United Scotland. His other achievement was the Nationalist Mutual Aid Society, to spirit don’t-wannabes into the Highlands and avoid National Service. He was arrested in 1941 and briefly detained until the Nationalists reclaimed their own, made him into a campaign. He prided himself as the Scottish Quisling (but Archibald Ramsay claimed he was first choice). Donaldson was leader of the SNP from 1960 to 1969.

Another briefly-detained was anti-conscription Ronald MacDonald Douglas, who betook himself to Ireland for the duration. Douglas is more significant as the link between Rosheen Napier, a major SNP financier, and the literary circle around MacDiarmid. The salacious can speculate on the ménage à trois of Douglas, Napier, and Marjorie Brock: the former two met when Douglas, keeping out of circulation in Dublin, already shacked up with Brock, fell in with the ex-convent girlie. Douglas was the epicentre of the 1320 Club (that number is explained later) which dedicated itself to the armed struggle, “total independence from England through violent means if necessary”. Whether Douglas was a fantasist or not, he muttered about importing arms from Switzerland and claimed to have met Hess.

… and this is now

This is the easy bit.

It is wrong to draw a direct line from the pre-War to here, though the right-wing of the SNP, still carrying a yen for the principles of the Scottish Party of 1932-4, is a latent force. There’s a prospect for the future, once the “social democratic” tendency of Salmond and Sturgeon loses its gloss.

The Daily Mail, or — to be more precise — Dominic Lawson went ape over a bit of casual vandalism:

The Scottish Nasty Party and how its growing intimidation and intolerance of dissent reeks of fascism

The windows of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party offices in Aberdeen have been spray-painted with the word ‘scum’ and the unmistakable sign of the swastika.

The front door has been similarly defaced with a giant letter Q, for Quisling: that is, traitor. Labour Party offices half a mile away were also daubed with similar abuse.

A local Conservative councillor, Ross Thomson, described this as ‘the ugly face of nationalism’. This showed restraint on his part. 

In his place, I might have pointed out that the political party that actually used the swastika as its emblem was the Nazi party: short for National Socialist.

That induced predictable rushes-of-blood-to-the-keyboard on Facebook.

The takes-the-cake, though, came from Damian Thompson in the Telegraph:

Alex Salmond, the SNP and ‘fascist Scotland’

If Scotland votes for independence, will its government confiscate the estates of English landowners? The SNP is talking about a tenants’ “right to buy” – three such innocuous little words! – even if the landowners don’t want to sell. As my colleague Charles Moore pointed out in The Spectator, “one great independence leader who played this issue politically was Robert Mugabe”.

Cue shrieks from cybernats, the digital wing of the SNP, masters of coordinated outrage. They always go bananas if anyone compares Alex Salmond to a dictator. Which happens a lot these days. There’s an authoritarian streak in the Scottish government that is making people nervous.

Alex Massie shot that little lot down in flames (actually aiming at Simon Winder in Standpoint):

Independence is not ipso facto an absurdity. It may be a cause sparked by emotion and identity but it is one also built on reason. This is an argument between competing but equally legitimate patriotisms in which neither side has a monopoly on either truth or virtue but in which each base their arguments, for the most part, on a sincere and peaceful different calculation of the national interest. As these things go, this one is going pretty well.

Finally, I would only observe that this hysterical – in every sense of the term – broadside against the enemy within plus the suggestion Britain has been betrayed by a decadent and feeble elite at Westminster is so infused with ressentiment that it comes closer to being authentically fascist – at least in worldview – than anything [Winder] has found in the Scotland he so feverishly imagines exists but which bears precious little relation to the Scotland most of us actually inhabit.

Enough, already.

And I still need to get from Arbroath in 1320 to Independence Hall in 1776. Leave that till tomorrow.

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