England against Scotland

–That is not a chair! That is St. Edward’s chair! And that's the Stone of Scone!


Film buffs will undoubtedly recall a wrathful George VI, the stammering king, demanding his insolent speech therapist to raise his plebeian body from the throne, which was only intended to accommodate royal backsides. Indeed, under its seat there is the Stone of Scone or the Stone of Destiny, a singular piece of rock which, according to tradition, served Jacob as a pillow and was the seat used for the coronation of Scottish kings since Kenneth MacAlpin founded the kingdom of Scotland in the mid-IX century. Four centuries later, the victorious Edward I took the stone to London, where it has served the identical purpose at the coronations of English monarchs to this day.


It's also certain that film fans will remember Edward I, known as Edward Longshanks, as the villain of Braveheart, the film which made William Wallace famous world-wide. In addition to the aforementioned nickname, that king has passed into history, as recorded by the inscription on his grave, as Malleus Scotorum, the Hammer of Scots, for reasons which need no explanation.


But, despite all English attempts to conquer Scotland, the kingdom founded by Kenneth I would last eight centuries and even survive the fact that in 1603, the head of James VI of Scotland and I of England had the right to wear both crowns. Due to the lack of trust between the London Parliament and its Edinburgh counterpart, which feared to see its land turned into "a conquered and servile province", the kingdom of Scotland still survived another century, until both parliaments agreed in 1706 to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Treaty of Union. As for King James, it suffices to recall that, in his eagerness to eliminate the Gaelic influence from Scotland, he considered the universal establishment of the English language and the abolition of the Scottish to be essential and ordered that the the colonists of the Hebrides were to act "not by agreement" with the local inhabitants, but "by extirpation of thame" through "slauchter, mutilation, fyre-raising, or utheris inconvenieties" if necessary.


1746 saw the crucial battle of Culloden, after which many thousands of peasants from the Highlands were deported, enslaved in the colonies or just butchered. For nearly half a century afterwards there was a ban on the possession of weapons, bagpipes and the traditional dress of the Highlanders, the kilt and tartan, under penalty of imprisonment and exile. Thirty years later, the eminent writer Samuel Johnson offered the opinion that the English had educated the Scots, as they would "in time to all barbarous nations, to the Cherokees and at last to the orang-outangs". Speaking of the result of the policy applied to the conquered people, Johnson said: 


"There was perhaps never any change of national manners so quick, so great, and so general, as that which has operated in the Highlands by the last conquest and the subsequent laws (...) Of what they had before the late conquest of their country, there remain only their language and their poverty. Their language is attacked on every side. Schools are erected, in which English only is taught, and there were lately some who thought it reasonable to refuse them a version of the holy scriptures, that they might have no monument of their mother tongue". 


Johnson called the Scottish Gaelic language "the rude speech of a barbarous people, who had few thoughts to express, and were content, as they conceived grossly, to be grossly understood".


But the most interesting was yet to come, because the long century from Culloden to the 1860s saw the continuous deportation of the Highlanders, which served the dual purpose of destroying Gaelic culture and paving the way for capitalist exploitation substituting sharecroppers for sheep or for deer, partridges and rabbits for the landowner's sport. There were no scruples, people were cast out of their homes and beaten, houses and crops were burned with people given almost no time to abandon them, causing the death of many from hunger and cold. Many hundreds of thousands had to emigrate to North America and Australia with the result that today there are more descendants of Highlanders in those continents than in Scotland itself.


In addition, in 1846, Scotland and Ireland were beset with the potato blight, which caused millions of deaths and emigrations between that year and 1857. The London government decided not to intervene, considering it an opportunity to get rid of inconvenient subjects. The Secretary of the Treasury, Sir Charles Trevelyan, defined the famine as "a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence" and "an effective mechanism for reducing surplus population".


As if that were not enough, in England in those days, there was a commonly-held view that the Anglo-Saxon race was superior to Celtic, which led the aforementioned Trevelyan to write that there needed to be a national effort to "get rid of the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts". Their exodus would allow the settlement of racially superior peoples of Teutonic stock, in particular the Germans, "less foreign to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt".


In short, just like in Catalonia. It is not surprising, given such similar historical trajectories, that catalan separatists enjoy so much looking at themselves in the Scottish mirror. If they could only do it with their eyes open...


El Diario Montañés, 18th september 2014



Artículo original en español