Who and What We Are


There is a story told of King Kristján X of Denmark that has always brought a tear to my eyes. A few years ago I published a short thesis, The Mechanics of Murder, on the 1944 extermination of the Hungarian Jews – the most intensive period of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Day and night I read over witness testimonies and histories from between May and July of that year at the death camp. As you might imagine this research was emotionally and spiritually draining, and – understandably – it led me into one of the darkest periods of depression I have yet experienced. Babies in the arms of their mothers; the young and old together; the weak and the disabled, all stripped of their humanity and robbed of their lives. Some 440,000 human beings in twenty-four days of fathomless evil – all murdered and sent up in smoke.

During one of those nights of reading a friend called on the telephone. He was aware of how difficult this work had become for me. He knew I was ready to give up, and so he shared with me this story of a brave and exceptional man – the King of Denmark. On 9 April 1940 Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe overran this small European nation and occupied it. King Kristján was locked in the palace, yet kept in place by the German occupation to ensure the compliance of the Danish people. As in other countries conquered by the Third Reich the Jewish people were in serious danger.

In late December 1942 the German forces ordered that every Jew in Denmark must wear a yellow Star of David on their outer clothing so that they might be identified by the authorities. This humiliating symbol was designed to isolate and victimise the Jews; people the Danes had long since come to accept as their fellow countrymen and women. On Christmas morning the king stepped out onto the palace balcony, as the monarch does every Christmas, to address the crowds gathered in the square below. He was dressed every bit a king, but for one thing. Sewn onto his cape was a little yellow Star of David. This breathtakingly brave act of solidarity was how Kristján expressed who and what the Danes are. By New Year’s Day it was the fashion in Denmark to wear that Star. It was an action from which the Nazis were never to recover; no Jewish person was ever made to wear it in Denmark.


Being prepared to stand up, even in the most difficult of times, and declare who and what we are – what it means to be Scottish – has the same power to change the world and deliver hope. This is the hallmark of leadership, and I do believe we have relived this moment with Nicola Sturgeon. At a time when Westminster has become the blade of a killing machine in the Middle East, when its ministers are sending out vans telling immigrants to go home, and when the London government is asking for lists of foreign workers and children it is brave – it is righteous – to stand up and say who and what we are.

We are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the thousands who came from Ireland to work in our shipyards and in our factories. We are the 80,000 Polish people, the 8,000 Lithuanians, the 7,000 each of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Latvia – who are among the many from beyond our shores that we are so privileged to have living here amongst us. We are the more than half a million people born in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland who have chosen to live here in Scotland.
– Nicola Sturgeon

The Westminster government that is locking people inside cages unfit for animals at Dover and that routinely describes the most pitiable people as vermin, as swarms, and as a disease told us two years ago that our “nationalism” was dangerous. It was equated with the worst barbarism of the Nazis in their newspapers and by their celebrity mouthpieces. Yet our nationalism – as Nicola makes so clear – is a nationalism of a nation that knows who and what it is. What it is – is wonderful. With leadership like this in our Scotland there will never be soil deep enough for the blood and soil poison of that uglier nationalism of Westminster.


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3 thoughts on “Who and What We Are

  1. Only minds and hearts completely closed could fail to have been moved by this speech. Our FM did us all a great service in demonstrating the heart at the centre of Scotland. The story of the king is not one I’ve heard of before. Such a simple act but taking courage and compassion. Something so sadly lacking in the political field over many years. It’s most welcome to see that it sill exists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Scottishmomus. Yes, this was a speech I have listened to over and over. There is no theatre or drama in it. Just a wee solicitor from Irvine describing Scotland to the world. We were so privileged to be the first to hear it. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be hearing about this in school.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t even thought so far ahead but you’re right. My own children are becoming more immersed in Scotland’s politics and history – listening to everything that’s going on, wanting to discuss it, asking why and seeking change. I want so much for my them to be able to determine their country’s future. We will all remember this pivotal time, the words and actions, the choice. Let it be.

      Liked by 1 person

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