Monday, December 26, 2011


I generally enjoy reading The Guardian (and, occasionally, The Telegraph)--online, of course--in order to gain a bit of perspective on world events, most of which tend to be ignored or neglected in the parochial journals of self-absorbed America.

Recently, I have become fascinated with the Scottish independence movement--and with the whole concept known in the UK as "devolution."

What a curious and intriguing word!  While strictly speaking it denotes a rather neutral "transfer of power" from a central government to a regional or local authority, it suggests--in its connotative resemblance to "evolution"--a willful regression to something more primitive--a step backward in social or political development.

Backward to pre-1707, when the Acts of Union combined the English parliament and the Scottish parliament into a single body--with authority over both countries, thereafter known as the Kingdom of Great Britain  (later the United Kingdom)--and deliberating in Westminster, where the previously all-English parliament had sat.  Essentially, the Acts "merged" the two parliaments into one.

If my sources are correct, however, this merging of parliaments was often regarded by less-populated Scotland as an unfortunate "submerging" into an overwhelming English nation and culture. Still, the union offered Scotland enormous advantages:  1) an active and disproportionately powerful voice in the direction of an empire that was beginning to exercise world hegemony; 2) an economic union with the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and access to worldwide markets; 3) a guarantee that no hostile (i.e., non-British) invader would disrupt Scottish life and Scottish pursuit of wealth/happiness.

So, despite giving the English some influence over Scottish affairs, the Union also gave the Scots a great deal of  influence over English--and imperial--affairs.  Yes, the world continued to think of the whole island as "England," and yes, that carelessness persists, even today.  Still, it seems to me that, on the whole, Scotland benefited greatly from union with its much more populous neighbor.

What, then, has prompted the cry for "devolution"--for a return to a more primitive, less united, more exclusively Scottish "auld lang syne"?

Well, undoubtedly some of the economic and political realities have changed.  Clearly, Scotland is no longer in any danger of being invaded by France or Germany or Denmark.  Obviously, the Empire has vanished and the markets are now provided by the EU (which Scotland could presumably join as an independent country). Finally, the sheer exaltation of being a Briton in a world ruled by Britannia--the emotional attachment to the "Great" in Britain--is sadly faded, tarnished, disappearing.

Thus, as the advantages of union begin to seem less weighty, Scots have rediscovered the DISadvantages of the English connection.  They've begun to feel "submerged" again--not really oppressed or occupied or discriminated against but, well, well,'s hard to put in words...just "Englishified."  Heck, they even SPEAK a language called English.  Everybody talks about the Queen of England and English tea and There'll Always Be an England and The Bank of England and English muffins and the English parliament and English literature and Lie Back and Think of England.

It's just suffocating, isn't it?  Some people even think that golf was invented in England.  Enough evolution!  Gie us a wee bit o' DEVolution!

And so it came to pass that, in the 1980s and 1990s, certain vocal Scots made such an anti-English fuss--kilts flying and bagpipes skirling--that the Parliament of Westminster (remember, the merged parliament of England AND Scotland), decided to do something really quite extraordinary:  create a SECOND (sort of mini-me) parliament for Scotland--obviously in the hopes that this contrivance would pacify the Return to Caledonia crowd.  But wait, if the REAL parliament of Scotland is still the merged Parliament of Westminster, then what are we to make of this little assembly meeting in Holyrood and grandly proclaiming authority?

Apparently First Minister Alex Salmond and his "government" occupy themselves with legislation regarding fisheries, agriculture, tourism, sports and local chambers of commerce.  Most real powers, however, remain "reserved" to the real Parliament of Westminster.

Since Salmond is not happy about this "shadow" Parliament of Holyrood, he has promised a referendum on complete independence--which, if successful would, apparently, dissolve the "merged" parliament of Westminster and recall its Scottish members to Edinburgh, where the clock would be duly set back to 1707 and the devolved MPs would reassemble as the REAL Parliament of Scotland.

The Guardian reports that Scottish sentiment is currently in favor of complete independence...BUT only (how truly Scottish) if complete independence appears to guarantee improved ECONOMIC well-being.  All that talk about kilts and haggis and cultural domination--well, it was piffle, really.  It appears that what the Scots truly want, and what the Scottish National Party would love to ensure, is exclusive SCOTTISH control over the lucrative North Sea Oil deposits.  Surely black gold wealth would bring back auld lang syne.

So like the American Tea Partiers, the SNP primitivists want to "take their country back" (and, presumably, put it in the bank). No more of this BRITISH foolishness--and especially no more British Petroleum.  Kick the bloody English out and let 'em find their own oil.  SCOTTISH Petroleum, only, please.  And total devolution.  (At least until 2020, when the oil is scheduled to run out...)


  1. Here we go again. You write -

    '...the Acts of Union combined the English parliament and the Scottish parliament into a single body...'

    No they didn't. The Acts of Union, one by the Scottish parliament and one by the English parliament, were the ratifying instruments of the Treaty of Union in 1707.

    By writing '...thereafter known as the Kingdom of Great Britain (later the United Kingdom)...' you reveal a widespread misunderstanding about the exact nature of the United Kingdom. To understand the United Kingdom it is necessary to trace its establishment from its origins in the so-called Union of the Crowns on 25 March 1603. Examination of the Articles of the Treaty of Union in 1707 shows that the Kingdom of Great Britain is referred to a number of times as the 'United Kingdom'.

    You further write -

    '...(at least until 2020, when the oil is scheduled to run out...)'

    Oh really? Recent oil industry estimates state that there is 40 - 50 years supply of oil still to be extracted from below the North Sea.

    You also write -

    '...Clearly, Scotland is no longer in any danger of being invaded by France, Germany or Denmark...'

    It never was. Prior to the Union of 1707 France was an ally of Scotland through the Treaty with France (the Auld Alliance) in 1295.

    I invite you to read the posts on my blog "The 'Sanitization' of Scottish History" at, particularly the post titled "Understanding Scottish Independence".

    Don't believe everything you read about Scottish Independence in the 'Guardian' or the 'Telegraph' (better known in Scotland as the 'Torygraph'). Did you know that the 'Telegraph' publishes a Scottish Edition, the content of which tends to differ from its principal printed edition as well as its online edition - often very substantially on the subject of Scottish Independence.

    What on earth is the phrase 'SNP primitivists' supposed to mean?

    Have a good New Year when it comes.

  2. Michael: I read with interest "Understanding Scottish Independence." I confess that almost all of the(admittedly superficial)information included in MY blog comes from the Guardian and other online sources which may not be particularly reliable. I am an American--a retired teacher (of English, naturally)--and I should have explained up front that I have absolutely no legitimacy as a commentator on Scottish (or UK) politics. Frankly, I didn't expect anyone at all to read my ramblings. And as I re-examined what I wrote, I realized that I had chosen "facts" that matched my pre-existing emotional attachment to the "Great" Britain that I have always so admired. Like most "Anglophiles" (I know no other word), I have always thought of England and Scotland as a unit (and a much more united entity than, say, Massachusetts and South Carolina). Your blog makes it clear that my thinking was perhaps more wishful than accurate. I apologize for my glibness--and for all the talk about oil, which was a cheap jibe. Forgive me, though: I still hope Scotland and England will stick together rather than return to the pre-1707 set-up, with only the crown providing union. From my perspective (subjective, I know) that seems a step backwards--which is all I meant by "primitivism."

  3. UncleKen: This is an UPDATE to that part of my comment concerning the Treaty with France in 1295 from the January/February 2012 edition of the magazine "history SCOTLAND" ( in an extract from the article "The Auld Alliance: 'still in vigour'?" -

    '...French rights in Scotland were dissolved in 1906, but the French government declared that the terms of previous Franco-Scottish treaties remained valid in French law for every Scot alive at the time of the Entente - meaning that a Scotsman born before would possess the full rights and privileges of Franco-Scottish nationality. Following 1560, the Auld Alliance was altered from its traditional form - as a defensive alliance against England - but both Scots and Frenchmen continued to enjoy the reciprocal privileges that the alliance provided.'

  4. Oops, I missed out a specific year from the extract. The phrase affected should read as follows -

    'meaning that a Scotsman born before 1907 would possess the full rights and privileges of Franco-Scottish nationality.'

  5. It just occurred to me that if Mary Stuart and Francis II had produced a male heir, the crowns of Scotland and FRANCE might have been united--fascinating scenario. I gather that the Scots are more pro-EU than the English, right? If so, Scotland as an independent state within the EU sounds a bit like a return to the "Auld Alliance" (albeit somewhat expanded to include even England along with France). I certainly had no idea about that shared nationality stuff...

  6. UncleKen: You write -

    'I gather that the Scots are more pro-EU than the English, right?'

    A simple answer to that question would be YES, but closer examination would show that the issue is not so simple. Ever since 1973, when the UK was taken into the EEC by the then Conservative government, the amount of blatant misinformation and uninformed comment has been phenomenal. The arguments put forward by Eurosceptics have been presented, and accepted by many, as being absolute fact. Turnouts at European elections have been appallingly low. The recent crisis affecting the Euro has exposed the deep gulf that exists between the United Kingdom and other Member States of the European Union. The UK government has managed to isolate the United Kingdom from every other Member State of the EU. Only 17 of the 27 member states which currently comprise the EU participate in the Eurozone and have the Euro as their currency. When the Member States, in the Council of Ministers, voted on the proposal to resolve the crisis affecting the Euro 26 of those Member States voted in favour while the UK was the only Member State to vote against it, sort of saying - "We don't want to be part of this, but if it works we'd be happy to accept any benefits." There is a post on my blog titled "Scotland in Europe".

    With regard to the marriage of Mary Stuart to Francis II of France -

    'The contract stated that the marriage was to be merely a personal union of the crowns, even though the Dauphin was to be styled King of Scotland; the two countries were to remain separate and independent.'

    SOURCE: 'A History of Scotland' by Rosalind Mitchison, p.116, ISBN 0 416 27940 6.

    That has a similarity to the so-called Union of the Crowns in 1603 -

    'on 25 March 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. It was a purely personal union. There were still two kingdoms, each with its own parliament, administration, church and legal system.'

    SOURCE: 'Scotland: The Shaping of a Nation' by Gordon Donaldson, p.46, ISBN 0 7153 6904 0.

    Happy New Year.

  7. I've learned a lot by reading your comments and blogs, Michael. Thank you. Since I am a foreigner, my opinion is of little consequence, of course, and my involvement is purely "sentimental." Still, if Scotland ultimately does decide to alter its current affiliation with England, I think now that I will find the separation easier to accept and appreciate. Happy New Year to you, too.

  8. UncleKen: You might find a post on the blog "Frankly" interesting, it is titled "The 'Dear Leader'" ( I noticed an error in the second paragraph of that post - 1968 should be 1967. Although that is a minor error Winnie Ewing's victory on 2 November 1967 is very memorable for her statement - "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on".