Sunday, September 14, 2014

Scotland's Independence--A Response to George Will

I sent my friend Seamus the George Will article below. He is a brother Marine and combat vet of Vietnam, who loves Scotland and Ireland, is a piper, into Celtic music and far more knowledgeable on Scottish and Irish history than I am. He wrote a long response, below with great history lessons on Scotland I thought was worth sharing. ~Bob

Scotland’s epic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. By George Will
Excerpt: Tucking into a dish of Scottish haggis is not a task for the fainthearted. There are various haggis recipes, but basically it is sheep’s pluck — the heart, lungs and liver — cooked together, then mixed with suet and oatmeal and boiled in a sheep’s stomach, then served, sometimes drenched with Scotch. People who pour whisky on oatmeal are not shrinking violets. Remember this on Thursday when Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom. There are economic reasons for and (mostly) against Scotland disassociating from the queen’s realm. This issue, however, touches chords of memory more interesting than money.

Hi Bob.

Though I suspect Mr. Will (not a writer I often agree with) may be somewhat sympathetic, and seems to be trying to be fairly objective (unlike his usual essays), he, like most Americans and even many Britons is obviously completely unaware of a great many facets of Scottish history and their national character. I suspect that Mr. Will (as usual) started out with a conclusion he wanted to make, but didn't bother doing the home-work, research, or other tasks necessary to make a valid argument.

For example, he starts out with the common "Scotch and haggis" gambit in an attempt to delineate Scotland, which is, and always has been, a nation which is composed of far more and greater qualities and traits than a few traditional folk-menu items. (This is rather akin to the equally egregious "tartan, kilt and bagpipes" approach to defining Scotland.)

Mr. Will then goes on to quote Mr. Reynolds and state that Scotland is "an ethnic nation" which he defines as “a community of shared descent, rooted in language, ethnicity, and culture.”  In fact, Scotland is made of many ethnic, linguistic, and cultural strands woven in over the centuries, and has a complex cultural and linguistic history. 

In the 9th century, Scotland had almost half a dozen different overlapping cultures speaking as many different languages, such as Cumbric Brythonic in the South-West, Pictish in the North-East, Irish (Gaelic) in the Hebrides and West coast, later followed by Vikings in Orkney and Shetland, and in the Hebrides and West Highlands, who blended with the Gaels and older inhabitants, some of whose language became incorporated in what was becoming Scots Gaelic, and of course the Angles in the South-East, especially from the time of Malcolm "Cean-mor" and his successors, speaking the dialect of English which would eventually become the language that has been called "the guid Scots tongue" (aka "Doric," "Broad Scots" or increasingly in recent years, "Lallans").

And let's not forget the Normans introduced by David I and his Normanophile successors, or the Flemish introduced into Scotland, first by David I and later migrations, including that authorized by James VI prior to his becoming King of England.

There have of course been many others in more modern times, but this historic over-view shows how wrong Mr. Will is about the Scots and their supposedly homogeneous origins. While most of these cultures have assimilated (as they did elsewhere, including in the US), their marks were left on the language and culture. 

Likewise, the Highland and Lowland cultures have historically differed greatly from one another, leading to many a war and feud. So much for "ethnic unity."

As to Wallace, far from becoming an icon only in the late 19th century, as Mr. Will and / or Mr. Reynolds imply, Sir William Wallace (like his contemporary, King Robert the Bruce) has been an iconic figure in Scotland since his campaigns in 1297-98, followed by his brutal and horrendous judicial murder by Edward I on the 23rd of August, 1305.

Wallace is referred to by Scottish poets and historians from John Barbour (c.1320 – 13 March 1395) in his work "The Brus" and Abbot Walter Bower (ca. 1385 – 24 December 1449), and especially by the great Scottish "makar" Blind Harry (c. 1440 – 1492), whose "The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace"  (aka "The Wallace") set forth most of what we now know about Wallace.

These histories, stories and references continue on all the way up through Burns (himself a "cult figure" almost from his death in the early 19th century), who certainly knew (and indeed used some of) Blind Harry's lines in his own famous nationalist paean to Bruce and Wallace, "Scots Wha' Ha'e" and on to Walter Scott and his successors. Therefore, 550 years of history refutes Mr. Will's contention that Wallace became a "cult figure" only in the late 19th century.

As to the "continued vitality of their national sentiments testifies to the ability of differences to resist homogenization by the commercial and cultural forces of modernity" -- that is ludicrous. While they have indeed resisted "homogenization" to some respect, the Scots for all intents and purposes invented the modern world -- as Arthur Herman has pointed out in his book on that topic. (Mind you, Herman has a number of deficiencies too, but he is essentially right in that it was the Scots who quite  literally invented the modern world -- not only with their technological inventions and improvements, but with their philosophical and political contributions as well. 

Examine the Founders and Framers of the American Republic and what do you find?  Scots and Scotch-Irish, who are invariably the driving forces behind the Revolution.

In Pennsylvania, Virginia, and most of the Carolinas, support for the revolution was "practically unanimous." Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, with its large Scotch-Irish population, was to make the first declaration for independence from Britain in the Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775. 

The Scotch-Irish "Overmountain Men" of Virginia and North Carolina formed a militia which won the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, resulting in the British abandonment of the southern campaign, which some historians believe marked "the turning point of the American Revolution."

A British major general testified to the House of Commons that "half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland" and one Hessian officer during the Revolution said, "Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian rebellion."

Alexander Hamilton was the son of a Scottish laird, and a great many other Revolutionaries had Scots or Scotch-Irish antecedents, such as the  Reverend Dr. John Witherspoon, a native Scot who became a patriot, signer of the Declaration, and first Moderator of the US Presbyterian Church, as well as a principal educator of Madison and others who became Revolutionaries (who, despite his own activity, thought that ministers and religion should have no active part in government.)

Their philosophies and beliefs (many of which were molded by Enlightenment and Age of Reason philosophers) had a huge effect on the course of events that led to the American Revolution, and all the subsequent events that sprang from it.

One third of our Presidents have been of Scots or Scotch-Irish heritage either directly or indirectly.  The more obvious ones are those recognizable by their names, such as; Jackson, Polk, Buchanan,  Andrew Johnson, Grant, Arthur, Cleveland, Benjamin and William Henry Harrison, and McKinley, while Theodore Roosevelt's mother had Ulster Scots ancestors who emigrated from County Antrim.  Woodrow Wilson was of Ulster-Scots descent on both sides of the family, and Truman, Clinton, and Obama also have Scots-Irish lineage, while LBJ and Nixon were both descended from Border families. ( George MacDonald Fraser once waggishly  remarked about a picture of LBJ, Nixon and Billy Graham standing together that it would not take much imagination to see them scowling grimly out from under the "steel bonnets"  of their rapacious Borderer ancestors. I had to agree. )

And of course, many other notable Americans including; Neil Armstrong and James Irwin, John C. Calhoun, Kit Carson, Davy Crockett, Jefferson Davis, John Dunlap (Revolutionary politician) Admiral David Farragut, Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Gamble (Union general), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Ulysses Simpson Grant, Sam Houston Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson, Naval Aviator and Senator John McCain,  George B. McClellan, John P. McCown (Confederate general), Benjamin McCulloch (Confederate general), George S. Patton, VP Adlai Stevenson I, Gov. (IL) Adlai Stevenson II, Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, J.E.B. Stuart, Charles Thomson (Revolutionary politician), and James H. Webb (Marine,  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Secretary of the Navy, and U.S. Senator).

The Scots and Scotch-Irish have made innumerable contributions to science, philosophy, literature, education, medicine, commerce, and politics that have formed the modern Western world.

John Knox and the Church of Scotland broke the strangling power of first the Catholic, and later the Anglican Church, while the Scottish Enlightenment helped to inspire both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution. Thousands of Scottish and Scotch-Irish soldiers and immigrants helped conquer and settled the American and Canadian frontiers, and later, Australia, New Zealand, and the growing British Empire.

Inventors like James Watt, philosophers like Adam Smith, financiers and industrialists like Mellon and Carnegie, writers including Burns, Scott, Stevenson, Doyle, and Barrie, and hundreds of other Scots have shaped our modern world. 

Thomas Newcomen's bicycle, the macadamisation (not to be confused with tarmac or tarmacadam) of roads, based on the work of Telford and McAdam, Europe's first passenger steamboat, Fairbairn's tubular steel and iron ship's hulls,  the telephone of  Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird's invention of television, Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, and the discoveries of electro-magnetics, radar, and insulin and many other technologies, techniques, and instruments. 

Richard Feynman once said, "the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics"

As Victorian historian John Anthony Froude wrote, “No people so few in number have scored so deep a mark in the world’s history as the Scots have done.”  (Though I'd be inclined to add the Irish.)

Our contemporary technology, capitalism, and democracy was largely shaped or influenced by the Scots and Scotch-Irish. The names I've included are only the tip of the Scots and Scotch-Irish iceberg. (If you want a MUCH bigger and more complete listing, see: )

So I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with Mr. Will. Scotland is a LOT more than a little back-water of haggis, whiskey, and Celtic Twilight, unable to function w/o its "parent" state, England. If anything, I'd say the shoe is on the other foot, and it is England who will become the net loser.

That said, and as much as I've wanted to see an independent Scotland (and N. Ireland joining the Republic), the tendency toward Balkanization of countries and peoples in many parts of the world is worrisome, as it seems a step backward from what eventually needs to happen -- i.e., an effective world governing body, with a charter based on our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Without such a body, there is little doubt humanity will soon extinguish itself, either through war or other means.

OTOH, attempts at world organizations have so far proven ineffective or even disastrous. (e.g., the UN has done little better than the League of Nations, and the EU has serious problems.)   

Oh well!  Not a lot to be done either way, I fear. 

Anyway, tnx. for the link, and hope you are continuing to improve!



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