In 1791, Robert Burns, poet and national icon, looked back on the 1707 Incorporating Union between England and Scotland and exclaimed that Scotland had been ‘bought and sold for English gold’ by a ‘parcel of rogues’ [1] – namely, the unprincipled Scottish politicians who had placed ready money and personal advancement above their great and ancient kingdom. Like many others since, Burns considered independent Scotland to have been bullied and ‘purchased’ in exchange for a slice of the English economy. This is the case for a historically wronged Scotland.

However, the history written over the centuries since 1707 clearly shows that the issue was not that simple. Whilst some historians, like William Ferguson [2], have continued to buy (ok, pun intended) into this argument, others have produced strong opposing evidence. Christopher Whatley and Derek Patrick, for example, have stressed the links between political principle and political union, and joined others in pointing to England and Scotland’s shared monarchy and shared need for internal and international security.[3] The suggestion of their argument is that at least some seventeenth-century Scots considered themselves part of a wider, British monarchy and state.

In the autumn of 2014 Scotland will once again vote on its future. Unlike 1707, it will be a vote conducted democratically and one in which England – for now at least – has no say. Certainly, the separatist nationalist cause is strong; they have the SNP’s popular backing, King Robert the Bruce and even Sean Connery. Yet today, there is a simultaneous but alternative Scotland to identify with: generations have grown up part of a proudly Scottish, bagpipe-playing and haggis-scoffing culture with Scotland’s own sports teams – and now even own parliament – whilst still identifying with the idea of ‘Britain’; a culturally nationalist but politically unionist Scotland. Those voting in the Scottish referendum should certainly consider it less a pitched battle between England and Scotland and more of a struggle between these two interpretations of the same tartan-clad, internationally treasured historic Scotland – and an entire spectrum of identities, cultures and uncertainties in-between. And identity of course, depends much upon an individual’s sentimentality. Furthermore, in today’s commercialised society most of us are aware that advertisement, namely the buying and selling of ideas, is as much a part of political decisions as it is everything else. Which begs the question, what is Scotland to be bought or sold for this time? Oil? (the black gold of Scottish nationalists as opposed to the English gold of ‘unpatriotic’ unionists) The Euro? The picturesque and tourism-worthy Highland scenes on every other shortbread tin? A patriotically deep-fried mars bar flung in the face of an interfering Westminster? Perhaps we are to be bought and sold for Mel Gibson’s warpaint and ‘Freedom!’ speech in Braveheart – a nineties, Americanised version of a sentimental Scotland? Perhaps, like all successful business transactions, it is best to keep sentimentality out of it.

This piece is not intended to reflect a bias in either direction for Scotland’s future. It is just that the 2014 referendum is too relevant to my historical interests for me to ignore it. My main interest is this: how will this imminent future incarnation of Scotland affect, and interact with, previous interpretations of Scotland’s history? Historian Allan Macinnes has claimed (fairly controversially) that an alternative union was promoted in late seventeenth-century Scotland, a union with the United Provinces of the Netherlands,[4] would this idea be taken more seriously in an independent, Eurocentric Scotland? How would our idea of early modern monarchy look if today’s Queen of Scots – albeit a politically powerless one – was also queen of other independent kingdoms? Indeed, how would our perceptions of England and Scotland’s seventeenth-century dynastic union fare if it were re-invented, especially given that contemporary Scots, English and Irish alike all seem to be in agreement that it didn’t really work?

History dictates that, regardless of outcome, there will always be multiple interpretations of Scotland’s decision, some favourable and some damming. Today, more so than ever, there are two visible versions of Scotland crammed within her borders. Here, the lesson from history is clear: 2014 will not solve the Anglo-Scottish problem.

(C) Laura I. Doak

[1] R. Burns, ‘Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation’, Robert Burns, [http://www.robertburns.org/works/344.shtml] accessed February 14th 2013.
[2] W. Ferguson, ‘The Making of the Treaty of Union of 1707’, Scottish Historical Review (October 1964) p.p. 92, 110. See also, G. Lockhart, Memoirs concerning the Affairs of Scotland from Queen Anne’s accession to the Throne, to the Commencement of the Union (1714).
[3] C. Whatley with. D. Patrick, The Scots and the Union (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007) p. p. xiv, 29; B. Harris, ‘Defending the Revolution, Defeating the Jacobites’, Journal of British Studies (January 2010) p.p. 33, 35.
[4] See A. I. Macinnes, Union and Empire: The Making of the United Kingdom in 1707 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) ‘Chapter Eight: Going Dutch?’ p.p. 201-240.

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