Some vaguely thought out notes on Scottish nationalism.

Alan Bradley alanb at
Sat Jan 27 07:12:42 MST 2001

Some of the following notes are no doubt incorrect, are not particularly
related to each other, and do not constitute a connected argument!
Hopefully there is stuff in here which is useful, none the less.

The historical Scottish state, which came to an end with the union of 1707
was primarily based on the Scottish lowlands, with the highlands and
islands as an at best semi-controlled hinterland.  It failed to integrate
Scotland into a coherent nation-state, resulting in its disappearance.

The basis of Jacobite support was Catholic, often Gaelic-speaking groups
from the highlands and islands.  These groups were passionately loathed by
the protestant, English speaking majority of Scots (including most of the
ruling class, and the bourgeoisie).  As noted above, it was the latter
majority of Scots who were the basis of the Scottish state:  the Jacobite
supporters were mostly inhabitants of the semi-controlled fringes.

In the aftermath of the 1745-46 rebellion, a program of systematic legal
persecution was instituted against highlanders, and particularly catholics,
which bore at least a vague resemblance to similar methods used against the

The highlands clearances were about this time too, I think.  *However*, the
exploiters in this process were the Scottish ruling class.

So, highlanders, (and people from the islands), at least, were an oppressed
group up until the early 1800s.  After a certain point, they, the other
Scots, Irish immigrants and so on probably pretty much formed a single
working class, though the degree of actual integration of the Irish, in
particular, is questionable.  As such, in the 20th century, it could
possibly be said that the Scottish working class "benefited" from
Imperialism "just like" the rest of the British working class.  "Benefited"
here means "were raped a little less violently than some others", of

Other classes, especially large landowners and capitalists, seem to have
been pretty well integrated into "Britain".

Ireland and Scotland were very closely connected historically.  While it is
true that many protestant Scots participated in the "English" colonisation
of Ireland, catholic Scots opposed it at various points, while Irish forces
were involved in various conflicts in Scotland.  And of course, the Scots
eagerly meddled in English politics, just as the latter did in Scottish
politics.  (Example:  the Scottish government sent an army to England to
support Parliament in the first English Civil War, but send armies to
support the Royalists in the second and third.)

The present day Scottish Nationalism has sod all to do with the old
Scottish state, and even less to do with the Jacobites.  They may use the
symbols a bit, and at least some nationalists (even left ones) may
vehemently disagree with the previous statement, but it is really a
phenomenon whose roots lie firmly in the 20th century, not the 17th or

Politically, Scottish Unionism (as in, support for the union with England,
not support for trade unions) has its heart in the Tory party.  There *is*
a ruling class in Scotland, but it isn't really distinct from the "British"
ruling class, and rarely wants to be.  (Mmm, well, there's Sean Connery,
and probably a couple of nutcase landowners, but...)  I don't think that
there is much of a distinctly "Scottish" capital in other words.  (See my
disclaimer at the start of these notes.)

The SNP, while mostly to the left of the Labour party (*not* difficult), is
pretty useless.  Really the only nationalist Scots worth worrying about are
the ones who are also socialists.  They, themselves, are (historically!)
part of the British left, which is all over the map, and pretty broken on a
lot of questions.

That said, some of them seem to be getting their heads together.  It's
really this which is the attractive factor, not any particular merit or
otherwise of Scottish nationalism.

In a certain sense, the abstract question of whether or not Scottish
nationalism is a reactionary particularism isn't the main one.  It's
whether or not the actual movement around it is a threat to the British
imperialist state.  I think it is, although its potential is unlikely to be

And I really couldn't care less about the territorial integrity of
imperialist Britain.

Alan Bradley
alanb at

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