Why Scotland is Politically Different to England

You might think that it was pretty obvious that the people of Scotland are politically different to the people of England but many believe that the working class in each country have the same social and political outlook; that Scottish Nationalism is an invention of the SNP and English Nationalism is an ultra-right-wing philosophy bordering on fascism. However, real Scottish Nationalism is a radical nationalism based on struggle and historical betrayals, and real English nationalism is a chauvinist nationalism which springs from England being the most powerful nation in the world. Historic development defines the cultural, social, political and national identities of any nation.

It’s true that, at one time we were exactly the same type of society, with identical lifestyles and beliefs; when we were all part of tribal society.

And that was 2,000 years ago, but then the Romans came.

Tribal Society

Tribal Society was a warrior society, brutal in its nature out of a necessity to survive.  However, all were fiercely loyal to the tribe, within an atmosphere of communality and harmony. In Scotland (Caledonia as the Romans called it) we called the tribes ‘clans’ which means ‘family’. Female warriors every bit as fierce as their male counterparts, and many women would become tribal leaders; the most famous example being Boudica.

That was wiped away in England when the Romans invaded.  They did introduce many progressive benefits like roads and water systems, science, culture, law and order, education, food and drink – but they also enslaved the whole nation.

The Romans were able to overcome the fierce resistance of the celtic tribes because they had a well-trained, well-disciplined, well-drilled and well-armed professional army.

The tribal leaders, while still technically slaves, were given privileges for ‘managing’ the tribes on behalf of the Romans. These individuals were able to live lavish lifestyles on a par with their masters but tribal warriors were either executed, sent into slavery or forced to join the Roman army.  The rest were just enslaved.

Over the next few hundred years the tribal leaders evolved into ‘the aristocracy’ while the slave society evolved into ‘serfs’ then ‘peasants’ (under feudal society) and then into the classes of capitalist society.

After the Romans left, circa 400AD, the still divided England was invaded by the Vikings who also enslaved the people of the small nations which made up England then.

France the Dominant Nation.

No sooner had King Alfred united the nations and defeated, or bought off, the Vikings when, in 1066, the Normans invaded and, once again the country was conquered. The Normans, however were every bit as brutal as the Romans or the Vikings and France at that time, like the Romans before them, was the richest and most powerful nation in the world. But by 1415 France was divided, with region fighting region in a quest for power.

England Takes Power

England, by way of contrast, was getting stronger and richer and had been at war with France for around a hundred years, finally resolved under Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.  This was no romantic episode but one of bloody murder and slaughter. Henry’s army of 10 thousand, consisted of 8 thousand archers equipped with the long bow, which had a range of 200 yards, with arrows tipped with armour-piercing heads.  The archers could fire 12 arrows per minute and they cut the French cavalry to pieces.

England was now the most powerful nation in the world.

In 1543, under Henry 8th England was drawn into war with Catholic Europe when Henry defied the Pope and made himself the head of the Church of England. Henry would have been in trouble if it hadn’t been for two iron workers who invented a new iron cannon. This was more accurate, had a far better range and did not overheat and explode, giving them a huge advantage over their opponents. Thus another ‘weapon of mass destruction’ preserved England’s dominance.

Later, in 1579, Sir Walter Raleigh used 20 new cannons to capture a Spanish Galleon, which was transporting around 20 tonnes of gold and silver looted from South America and took it back to England. Queen Elizabeth used her share (though it was an act of piracy) to create the Royal Navy; well trained, well drilled, well-disciplined and well-armed. So, England now ruled the waves. (Rule Britannia.)

In 1642 King Charles 1st fell out with the rich merchants, farmers, bankers etc who made up the English Parliament. This led to war which many historians called a ‘civil war’ but it was a war between the old feudal system (the king) and the emerging capitalist system (parliament).  The Roundhead army was made up of peasants who were untrained and unenthusiastic, and they were soundly defeated, much to the disgust of Oliver Cromwell who demanded an improvement: so, the New Model Army was formed. This was the for-runner of the modern British Army; well trained, well drilled, well-disciplined and well-armed.

With nothing to prevent them from plundering the world, either on land or sea, England became the fastest growing economy in the world and, with a professional Army and Navy, they created an Empire.

 Meanwhile in Scotland.

Due to the weather, terrain and ferocious celtic warriors, Scotland could not be conquered by the Romans so it remained a tribal nation. Nevertheless, Scotland and England formed a Union in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns, when James the 6th of Scotland became James the 1st of England through natural heritage. But, instead of imposing a more radical Scottish rule over the Union, James became ‘Anglified’ speaking with a pronounced English accent and making his home in London.

The Scottish Aristocracy was a mixture of Clan Chiefs, land owners, ship owners, bankers etc. They saw England becoming fabulously wealthy and they were green with jealousy.

In 1698 they gambled their own wealth, as well as the wealth of Scotland, in a failed scheme called ‘The Darien Scheme’. Their attempt to get-rich-quick went disastrously wrong and resulted in Scotland being virtually bankrupt.  They went, cap in hand, to their English counterparts, who agreed to bail them out but at a price –

The Act of Union – 1707

The Scottish Parliament was to be abolished and rule would be transferred to Westminster, like a modern takeover which starts out as a merger but always ends with the bigger partner ruling.  The people of Scotland understood what the outcome would be and reacted furiously, with demonstrations and riots in the streets. The mood of the people, as well as the action of our ‘leaders’, was accurately described in the song ‘Parcel o’ Rogues’ by Robert Burns,

“We are bought and sold for English gold, ‘sic a parcel o’ rogues…” etc.

The rebellious mood continued through to the 1715 uprising when The Old Pretender, Charles Stewart, attempted to win his rightful claim to the English crown. However, he failed.

In 1745 his son, Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) made his play for the crown. This also failed when, having fought their way as far as Derby, only a few miles from London, and with the gates of London lying open to them, they turned and marched home again. English spies had convinced the generals that a huge English army had been raised and was heading for them.  This was a ruse, of course but confused, tired, hungry and homesick, the Jacobites headed home.

However, this gave King George the time he needed to raise a real army and resolved to end the Rebellion for good.  They met the Jacobites at Culloden and the slaughter began. Not content with a military victory, he ordered his general, the Duke of Cumberland, nicknamed The Butcher, to pursue the Jacobites and their supporters and ‘bring them to heel’. What followed was the terrorising of the entire Highlands and the Jacobites were imprisoned, tortured, hanged and/or sent into exile.

This was one of the cruellest episodes in Scotland’s violent history, felt throughout Scotland by supporters and critics alike.

The Highland Clearances

The purge of the Jacobites was accompanied by attacks on Scotland’s, cultural identity and our history was buried and a romanticised version espoused by anglophiles like Sir Walter Scott was created.

The period after the rebellion was followed by ‘The Enlightenment’ where a Scotland at peace could indulge in education, culture and science. Universities were built and filled with enthusiastic students and they fashioned some of the finest engineers, artists, writers, scientists and philosophers the world has known.

There were also opportunities for the rich to get richer and Scottish landowners took advantage of a shortage of wool and mutton and flooded the hills with sheep. However, in order to create space for the sheep, they had to clear the people who lived, and made a living, on the land. This act of cruelty, betrayal and greed created poverty from which the Highlands has yet to recover. It was one of the most heinous crimes against the people of Scotland and remains a highly contentious issue to this day. People were ripped from their homes, regardless of their age or infirmity and forced into exile or down to the Central Belt in search of work and shelter.

At the beginning of the 20th Century Scottish Radicalism turned towards socialism as, after the First World War, revolutionary fervour swept the world. Scotland was ready for it and it led to the creation of the Red Clydeside. John McLean, whose parents had been victims of the Highland Clearances, Jimmy Maxton, Davie Kirkwood, Mary Barbour and Willie Gallacher, among others, led the socialist vanguard in Scotland.

McLean in particular, inspired ordinary people by explaining to them how they were triple exploited; first by working for less money than the job was producing, thereby creating profit for the bosses; second by paying part of those meagre wages back, in the form of rent, to the same people who owned the shipyards, factories and pits; third by paying the shop-owners, the same people as before, for essential goods like food, clothes and furniture. So, hard-earned wages of the poor were paid back to the rich.

This revolutionary fervour was not uniform by any means and it also led to the creation of the Labour Party, which turned out to be a diversion for the working class as Keir Hardie decided to concentrate on ‘parliamentary activity’ rather than street activity.  Trades Unions also came into their own over the period, empowering ordinary workers who had never had a say before.

At the same time women felt empowered having been workers in factories etc. while the men were off fighting and dying in the war. They demanded the vote and this led to the Suffragette Movement and eventually won the vote for women.

The English radicals, while temporarily involved in socialist activities, were as heavily influenced by English Nationalism as the Scots were by Scottish Nationalism and they were more comfortable being involved in Parliamentary politics, rather than revolutionary politics, and the Labour Party offered them that.

More recently we witnessed the complete change of world politics with the introduction of what is known as ‘The New Liberal Agenda’. Margaret Thatcher tried to accommodate this move toward world capitalism, by adopting a new economic strategy devised by Prof. Milton Friedman and The Chicago School of Economics. This strategy demanded investment being diverted from manufacturing to the ‘service industries’ i.e. credit, banking, mortgages, insurance etc: the reason being that there was a higher rate of profit from the financial sector than from the manufacturing sector.

This strategy was also adopted by Labour strategists and ‘New Labour’ was born.

The SNP, which was formed in 1934, saw that the Scottish people were becoming disillusioned with the Labour Party and began to promote more radical policies. Up till then they were known as the ‘Tartan Tories’ but New Labour was labelled the ‘New Tories’ now so people moved towards the SNP.

So, the politics of the two nations moved further apart and, while the Labour Party in Scotland kept its head in the sand and their English counterparts tore themselves apart, the SNP moved on and gave us some pretty progressive policies.  They are certainly not a socialist party so they are always going to fall short in representing the poor. However, they are more representative of the wishes of the Scottish people than the Labour Party.

Thus, Scotland is very different to England due to the historical experiences of both countries. Scotland, having existed only 250 years since being a tribal nation, has had a history squeezed like a concertina in time. So, the traditions and stories of rebellion and communality, as well as the defeats and betrayals, are continued through the generations.

England’s history has lasted 2,000 years since tribalism and its progress was slow and conservative and, through particular turns of events, England became the most powerful nation on the planet for hundreds of years. That is bound to influence the attitude of a nation so, because of their history of domination, English Nationalism is a chauvinist form of nationalism.

Jock Penman

Posted in Articles.

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