Scotland’s Battle for History


Scots are faced with the choice of two histories; one a construct of our Britishness that makes us gods of empire and victory, and the other that acknowledges our victimhood and an identity that can rise and overcome the nightmare of history.

Suggesting that England may have behaved towards Scotland as it did towards Ireland and India, for example, throughout its colonial rule has provoked quite a remarkable and visceral reaction. Considering that we are speaking of events long before living memory, the force of the negative response comes as something of a shock. The simple truth that Britain, in the course of its empire building, consistently acted violently and oppressively towards its subject people naturally raises the question: Why would Scotland be treated any better?  Indians in British uniform butchered Indians in India, and Scots in British uniforms butchered Scots in Scotland, but somehow we are to see these two histories as different.


It has become apparent that no amount of evidence is enough, no similarity is acceptable, no definition is correct, and no scholarship is good when it comes to making such a case. Essentially, is would seem, that the revisionist position boils down to the idea that we – unlike the Irish and the Indians – are British, and we were the ones doling out the beatings. It is completely unimaginable to the revisionist that we could be like the Irish or the Indians. This in itself is instructive, it informs us of the power of the imaginative identity of Scottish unionism. Our subjugation was so complete, our image of perfect humanity so distorted, that we have identified ourselves with our masters.

What’s so bad about being like the Irish? Historically we have shared the same or a very similar culture and language, we derive the name of our people from an Irish tribe, and we both found ourselves under the rule of London. The problem that we have – or some of us have – with being like the Irish is that would mean being like “the Irish,” as a “feckless, lazy, and drunken people (Janis, 2015).” Somewhere along the way we drank the Kool-Aid, the dehumanising nationalist propaganda that allowed Britain to shamelessly abuse our cousins. Their “violence” became proof of their ethnic degeneracy rather than their God-given survival instinct. Oh no, we couldn’t be like the Irish. That would be to admit that we were defeated; weak, powerless, conquered, and abused like the Irish.

Our revisionists in their hyper sensitivity to the suggestion that we were just like the Irish, the Indians, the American First Peoples, and countless peoples in Africa betrays the dichotomy with which we are faced in Scotland; we were either the abuser (and that makes us feel good about ourselves) or we were the abused (and that would mean we are less than human). It is not good to be a victim, but it is even less good to be or to have been the victimiser. Our desire for independence is rooted in our awareness of our identity as a distinct identity from that of England, and integral to our better understanding of our identity is a better knowledge of our past. It is precisely this fear of self-discovery that make the unionist a revisionist.


Reference:

Janis, Ely M. A Greater Ireland: The Land League and Transatlantic Nationalism in Gilded Age America. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2015.


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