In 1914 they began leaving the slums, taking the King’s shilling, to escape the dirt and the disease, to send some worthless pennies home to feed the wives and children they had left behind in buildings swarming with humanity and rotting with piss, shit, and vomit. You may think I’m being crass, but if we could revisit those dwellings, these rude words would be the least of our worries. The government that sent them to war had caged them like animals in these hell holes to work and to die for the good of the empire and the ruling class.
Britain didn’t cause the blight. That was the work of an airborne pathogen that worked its way across northern Europe, Britain, and Ireland from 1844 to 1845. The failure of the potato crop was not Britain’s doing, but the Famine was. Since 1801, with the Act of Union of Britain and Ireland, the British government in London had systematically reduced the economy of Ireland and destroyed its native industries in order to reduce competition. Union with England makes countries poorer because union with England has always been to England’s benefit.
The truth of the Second World War is that Britain was defeated. It was comprehensively defeated on the beaches of Dunkirk. On 15 May 1940 – at the very beginning of the British-German war – Germany’s Army Group A crossed through the Ardennes with 45,000 mobile armoured units, flanked the French and British forces, leaving them encircled and trapped north-east of Calais. On 27 May, under a horrifying Blitzkrieg assault from the air, Britain abandoned its allies to their fate as a mere 198,229 British soldiers fled thanks only to the miracle that was Operation Dynamo.
How could these stories not leave the listener affected? At every stop on our way around the tunnels and underground platforms Paul informed us not only of the stories of the places and the events, but of the people – the ordinary working people of Glasgow, the ordinary working people of the Highlands who came, cleared from their homes, to work in the city, and the ordinary people of Scotland and elsewhere who passed through the station.
This is the temple before the altar of which another Rebel could intone: “I say to my people’s masters: Beware! Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people who shall take what ye would not give.” And this is, at least in part, the meaning of Wolfe Tone’s grave; that its incompleteness is the promise of completion, that this is not over – that Ireland’s enemy should take heed. Something “is coming.” This grave in Bodenstown is not pretty. Its symbolism and meaning are dark – nightmarishly dark, but they are necessary.
We are not permitted the language of genocide – legally and technically precise as it is – because it makes certain people uncomfortable. That’s the seat of all the anger and vitriol right there: That Britain did this to Gaelic Scotland is discomforting, it tears from Britishness the fraudulence of benign and beneficial patronage and lays bare its naked and vicious and murderous ethno-nationalist imperialism. One simply cannot have the comfort of being “British and Scottish” and accept as historical fact that Britain did this and still does this.
Right now we are witnessing the very same with a cap being put on the number of children in a family in receipt of tax credits who can receive Child Benefit. Even with more than 90 per cent of Scotland’s MPs rejecting the Bill, the will of England was imposed on Scotland.
An independent Scotland with Elizabeth Queen of Scots as its head of state sounds positively repulsive. For many of us Yes is as much about rejecting London rule as it is about rejecting the monarchy.