Given the prominent role given by modern Scottish nationalism to the themes and iconography of Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart, it should not be surprising that shoddy history and clumsy myth-making play an important role in the SNP’s project.
A harsh spotlight was cast on this tendency this year when evidence emerged of how the Scottish Government has been skewing the school history curriculum — to the extent of propagating demonstrable falsehoods about the deployment of “English troops” to Glasgow — in order to peddle a narrative of “800 years of English oppression”.
That figure will be immediately familiar to anyone with a passing history of Irish nationalism, and makes the object of the SNP’s agenda very clear: to extricate Scotland from any culpability (as they see it) in the British project and recast it as another Celtic victim of “the English”.
Speaking against the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU in the Commons today, Ian Blackford rooted himself firmly in this ignoble tradition. His efforts to paint Scotland as a thriving European trading nation which was somehow hamstrung by the Union were, to put it kindly, deeply misleading.
Take his claim that Scotland played a “central” part in the Hanseatic League, “a trading alliance that forged connections of commerce from the North Atlantic, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltics” in the 1400s.
Doubtless Scotland was on the Hanse routes. But even a cursory search reveals no evidence for its having been at the heart of the League, whose Encyclopaedia Britannica entry doesn’t mention it once. The Wikipedia page is likewise silent, although another page reveals that Scottish merchants’ involvement in piracy actually led to them being embargoed by the Hanse. Twice. For a total of twenty years.
Blackford’s allegation that the Treaty of Union “ended many of the privileges” enjoyed by Scottish merchants is, if anything, more misleading still. It tries to present the creation of Great Britain as hobbling Scottish trade when it did precisely the opposite.
In fact, Scotland’s political leaders only agreed to the Union because the ruinous failure of the Darien Scheme, their effort to build a separate colonial empire in Central America — in part because the English cut the colonists off from support from their own colonies in the Caribbean. This not only placed them in urgent need of financial assistance, but also drove home that it was vital to Scottish interests to enjoy unfettered access to England’s nascent imperial network.
That Scotland became both an enthusiastic participant in and beneficiary of the British Empire that subsequently emerged is beyond honest dispute.
But then Scots have always been found in the vanguard of British nationhood. It was James VI of Scotland, upon acceding to the English throne as James I (and bringing plenty of Scottish advisers into the heart of the London court) who first tried to forge a united “British polity”. And it was Scottish colonists in Ulster who built the plantation in which a shared, Anglo-Scottish “British” identity first started to emerge and laid the foundations for the subsequent creation of Northern Ireland.
The story of the United Kingdom is a Scottish story — and more often than not, a success story. Hence the SNP’s ceaseless efforts to draw a white-and-blue veil over their nation’s actual past.