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Scots wha’ Hae

Gordon Brown. Photo from Wikipedia.

Gordon Brown. Photo from Wikipedia.

Like millions of Canadians, I consider myself a Scot.

Notwithstanding the fact that my maternal grandfather, last name Leigh, came from a distinguished English family – his grandfather was an editor of Punch magazine and has his name carved on the famous table – I tended to go with his wife, my Gram, who was Jane Macdonald (small “d” please) from Cape Breton Island. Her family descended from the Clearances and never lost their Scottishness. Gram spoke Gaelic at an early age and went to her grave still angry at the Campbells for the massacre of the Macdonalds at Glencoe in 1692.

The Mairs come from Banffshire via New Zealand where they had gone in the early 1800s, my branch coming to Vancouver in 1913.

I watched the Scottish referendum with considerable interest. I have visited Scotland often and have spent many an hour tromping over the Western Highlands with a fly rod in hand. I love the country and every part of it. I have visited the Outer and the Inner Hebrides; I have visited Orkney and Shetland; I have wandered the Lowlands and I’ve spent considerable time playing golf at their famous courses.

I am also a bit of a rebel at heart so looked at the “yes” vote with a little bit of sympathy.

I was surprised at that result in this sense – I expected a higher “yes” vote in the outer islands but having thought about it a bit I realized that they probably don’t like government from Edinburgh anymore than they like it from London.

Unquestionably the saviour of the union was the Scot, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He represents in many ways the success of the Scots in England – there must’ve been at least eight Prime Ministers going back to the Earl of Bute. (I know, I should have counted them but wondered where I would slot the likes of Balfour and Gladstone). The Scots fought valiantly in all the wars and populated and ran much of the Empire.

Where did the United Kingdom go wrong?

It didn’t go wrong – England has been wrong from the beginning. It has been wrong because it considers the union of 1707 as a takeover of Scotland rather than the union it was meant to be. Scotland has always been considered the inferior partner if a partner at all.

One only has to look back at the patriotic jargon that comes out of England from time to time. Nelson, at Trafalgar, said “England expects this day” … not “Great Britain expects”; the great popular World War II song was “There’ll Always Be An England” not there’ll always be Britain. To the annoyance of many Scots, the present Queen Elizabeth became Elizabeth II not as she was in Scotland, Elizabeth I. English Prime Ministers constantly use the term England to mean the United Kingdom as if they were synonymous. This has created a considerable resentment north of the border.

Fortunately, for the United Kingdom, hard pragmatism ruled the day rather than plain emotion. Oh, there was lots of the latter – it was just that the canny Scot in a majority overrode their emotions.

I have no doubt that the promises made by Gordon Brown on behalf of all of the political parties had an enormous impact. Even though David Cameron, the prime minister, is of Scots origin, he is a Tory – an endangered and much disliked species in Scotland. Brown is seen by Scottish people as one of them, they understand him, they relate to him, and they respect him.

It is now up to the United Kingdom to deliver. If they do not, the resentment that spawned the referendum will simply rise again and the referendum will happen again, probably with a different outcome. Not unlike Quebec, the fact of separatism lurks pretty close to the surface in the hearts of most Scots. They have told the nation that they will forgo separation if they get a fair deal. It now remains to be seen if that is forthcoming.

Britain is a mere shadow of its former self in so many ways. No longer possessed of an empire and running out of all oil, Britain sustains itself largely on memories past and reputation. It cannot afford to be split into pieces and must now reconstitute itself in such a manner that people all over the islands all consider themselves to be British not “British but…”

This will not be easy. Whether it can do so depends on political parties soon to be bound up in what will no doubt be a bitter election.

In a way it’s a pity that Gordon Brown does not still lead the Labour Party. He got a bad deal when he was prime minister having a poisoned chalice thrown at him by Tony Blair. He is obviously an outstanding man. On the other hand, the fact that he has been able to step back from party politics on this issue may stand him in good stead to be a leader in the healing of the country.

Scots all over the world hope that this can be accomplished.

One Response to “Scots wha’ Hae”

  1. Gavin Bamber says:

    You should watch the pro-Scots historical TV series “Outlander”.

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