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By Jason Michael
We were never told the truth about what happened to Scotland. Through a controlled education system we were made to forget that Scotland was effectively taken over by a foreign power through the Act of Union. We have been property ever since.
School history in Scotland when I was growing up was very much like the History Channel before the History Channel existed: Ancient Egypt, the Battle of Bannockburn, and then Nazis, Nazis, and more Nazis. When I came over to Dublin and discovered what Irish kids were learning I was shocked. Teachers were telling their classes that Britain let Irish people starve to death in their hundreds of thousands, forced them to emigrate, banned their religion under penalty of death, put soldiers on the streets to terrorise and murder innocent civilians, and generally behaved like the Nazis I knew so very much about. Why didn’t I know that the British were bad guys?
The answer to that question was obvious. I had gone through a British education system where the British educators instructed us in a jaundiced interpretation of history like the Nazis would have done had they not been checked. It was all true. Britain was exporting corn from Ireland – more than was needed to feed the whole island – during the Great Famine while the London papers were saying that God was punishing the Irish for being Catholic. Much the same was happening to Gaelic Scotland at the same time, but only Irish children were being told about this. Britain was routinely perpetrating civil and human rights violations in Ireland right up until the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but we weren’t being told any of this.
In fact, as far as we were concerned, Scotland had a successful series of wars of independence at the end of the thirteenth century and then nothing else ever happened. Scotland was just… there; doing nothing for the guts of a millennium. Nazis were doing things of interest. Only in passing were we told that Scotland and England became one kingdom, and the moment any questions were asked we were reminded of how bad Hitler was to poor little England. As an adult I have made it my business to find out how it was that Scotland and England – auld enemies – came to be the United Kingdom and, to be honest, it makes for better reading than all that stuff about the German invasion of Poland and the Blitzkrieg. Scotland got played like a fiddle.
From 1603 the kingdoms of Scotland and England shared a Crown. This had nothing to do with political unity and everything to do with the nature of medieval monarchy. England’s Queen Elizabeth, after beheading Mary Queen of Scots, died without a child, and – as Mary was her cousin – the English Crown fell to Mary’s son James. All the while Scotland and England remained two separate states with their own things to be doing and absolutely no interest in a political union. In the decades before 1707 these two kingdoms were openly hostile towards one another; trading in competition and eventually seriously divided over England’s war with France – Scotland’s auld ally.
England came to fear that Scotland would become a backdoor for a French invasion and so began plotting to neutralise Scotland. The big idea that emerged was that of a union with Scotland which would bring Scotland completely under the control of the English parliament, but the problem was that no one in Scotland wanted such a union. In order to bring the unwilling Scots to the table the English state intervened in the financing of Scotland’s colonial project in Panama – the Darien Scheme, and managed to bankrupt Scotland. The Scots came to talk and commissioners were selected from both sides to write up terms for a political arrangement. Queen Anne selected the commissioners and, under the direction of her English advisors, only chose Scots who favoured a union. All of the talks were conducted in secret as Scotland went into open revolt.
When the terms of Union went before the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, a treaty that would end the legal existence of Scotland – but not that of England, those who were to vote were encouraged to vote for the Union with the cancelation of their debts, the promise that they would no longer be liable for future debts, and a few other juicy cash bonuses. In case this didn’t convince them of the case for the Union an English army was positioned on the border and reinforcements were ready to sail from the north of Ireland. It really was an offer that Scotland couldn’t refuse. After the signing of the treaty the English – now British – army was free to move wherever it wished in Scotland to impose the decision Scotland had made.
Now try and think of how long this state of affairs would have lasted for Scotland if these – any of these – details were included in what Scottish children were taught at school? When we look at the Union now we see how unjust it is, but we do that – for the most part – without much awareness of how this is, how it has always been, and the way it was always intended to be. Robbed of our past we are limited in our understanding of how Scotland has become the property of the English state through Union, to be used to the sole benefit of the London government. It is well overdue that we started to take ownership of our past and through that take back ownership of our country.
Scotland and England: a tale of rivalry and unity