All The King's Men: Redcoats await the onslaught of Bonnie Prince Charlie's clansmen, 1745. The future of Scotland has never been a casual matter for England - just as the future of the Ukraine has never been a casual matter for Russia.
IT’S OVER 300 YEARS since a “parcel of rogues” signed away Scotland’s status as an independent nation. The Act of Union of 1707 created the “united” kingdom of “Great Britain”. Two crowns are one crown too many, said the English, and the Scots were “persuaded” to agree.
According to the distinguished British historian, Simon Schama: “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.”
“[H]ostile merger”? Why were the English so determined to put an end to Scottish independence?
To understand England’s motives we need look no further than the situation currently unfolding in the Crimea and Ukraine. When you share a border with a nation unnervingly sympathetic to powers than wish you no good, “independence” can very quickly become a dirty word.
In 1707 the Catholic monarchy of France was still offering sanctuary to the descendants of James Stuart, the deposed king of England and Scotland. While Scottish independence persisted there was always a risk that England would wake up one morning and find King James VIII of Scotland, backed by French bayonets, camped along its northern border.
England was willing to spend a lot of money to dispel that strategic nightmare.
As Robbie Burns so succinctly put it:
We were bought and sold
For English gold
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation
And, when English gold was no longer enough, England was more than willing to spill Scottish blood. In 1715, and again, most famously, in 1745, when James Stuart’s grandson, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, raised the clans against its German-speaking Hanoverian king, George II, England’s answer was swift and brutal. Scotland had been bought fair and square – and, By God! She was going to stay bought!
It’s highly likely the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, experienced very similar feelings as he watched the government of bought-and-paid-for Viktor Yanukovych cut a disgraceful deal with, and then run from, the far-right nationalist protesters occupying Kiev’s Independence Square. If Ukrainian “independence” meant waking up one morning to find the European Union, backed by NATO bayonets, camped along his southern border, then, from President Putin’s perspective, the word “independence” needed some … redefinition.
The rag-tag regime installed by the Kiev protesters may not like President Putin’s idea of Ukrainian independence, but they can hardly have been surprised by it. Russia was born in the Ukraine. The ancient cities of Novgorod and Kiev providing the economic and administrative hubs around which the Russia state took form. Ukrainian independence – at least in its post-Soviet guise – is an accident of history.
The more thoughtful sort of American (which unfortunately excludes nearly all of its political leaders) understands the essential fragility of Ukrainian “independence” very well. Here’s how the leading US strategic forecasting agency, Stratfor, sums up the situation:
“Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries … And given that, the future of Ukraine is never a casual matter for them.”
"Russia has only two friends in the world - its army and its navy."
Just as the future of Scotland can never be a casual matter for England.
Or the future of the entire Western Hemisphere can ever be a casual matter for the United States.
It was President James Monroe who, in 1823, gave voice to the strategic doctrine that would forever after bear his name. Addressing Europe’s imperial powers on behalf of the American people, Monroe declared:
“[W]e should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
In May 1962, it was the Monroe Doctrine which underpinned the Kennedy Administration’s demand that the Russians remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba. In the 1980s, with much less justification, President Ronald Reagan invoked it against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
The United States friends and allies maintained a respectful silence as it went about securing its “near abroad”. The Russian Federation, by all appearances, has not been so fortunate.
“Russia has only two friends in the world,” said Tsar Alexander III, “its army and its navy.”
If history is any guide – two is all she needs.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 March 2014.