Friday 20 December 2019

Scotland's Secret Weapon.

Defensive Position: What will be Nicola Sturgeon’s equivalent of Robert the Bruce’s shiltrons when proud King Boris sends his army north against a people determined to “be a nation again”? For this is the twenty-first, not the fourteenth century. Courage and a 12-foot spear might be enough to turn aside an English warhorse, but what does Scotland’s SNP Government have to turn aside an English tank?

I WAS WATCHING Neil Oliver’s “Rise of the Clans” last night on the History Channel. It’s a quirky production. Lots of re-enactments and even more burly Scots hurling themselves at one another, axes and broadswords flashing in the thin Highland sunshine. The directorial decision that I found most interesting, however, was to make Oliver himself a witness to the drama – as if he had just stepped out of a time-machine. This is Scottish history as seen, quite literally, through Oliver’s eyes.

The story begins with Bannockburn, the battle that Scottish football crowds recall whenever they sing “Flower of Scotland” and boast of their forefathers’ success against “Proud Edward’s army” and how King Robert the Bruce and his peasant soldiers “sent him homeward – tae think again”.

As a trained historian, Oliver was at some pains to explain how it was that Bruce’s much smaller force was able to defeat the heavily armoured English knights.

The answer was William “Braveheart” Wallace’s military innovation – the Shiltron. Wallace had equipped his peasant soldiers with 12-foot spears and taught them how to deploy them against English cavalry. Contrary to what you may have seen in Sir Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”, horses are not given to suicidal gestures. Set a barrier of sharp spearpoints in front of them and they will rear-up and shy away.

Even so, not a little courage is required to make the Shiltron formation work. A charging “destrier”, sixteen hands high and galloping ‘full-tilt’ at 30mph, is not something most people – even holding a 12-foot spear – are able to confront without cutting-and-running. But such was the Scots’ faith in “The Bruce”, that on the road to Stirling Castle they stood firm and turned aside the English charge.

But Bruce did more than repeat the tactics of Braveheart, he taught his men how to manoeuvre on the battlefield. The Shiltron, to use the modern military jargon, evolved from being a “static” formation, into a “kinetic” weapon. The Scots ability to manoeuvre en masse destroyed “Proud Edward’s” invasion force. Their retreat blocked by the steep-sided river – the Bannock “burn” – and hemmed-in by the advancing Shiltrons’ bristling spears, the superior numbers of the English army availed them nothing. Bruce’s own Shiltron’s decisive charge put the English to panic-stricken flight. Thousands were either cut down or drowned.

Stirring stuff! But what, I wondered, will be Nicola Sturgeon’s equivalent of Robert the Bruce’s shiltrons when proud King Boris sends his army north against a people determined to “be a nation again”? For this is the twenty-first, not the fourteenth century. Courage and a 12-foot spear might be enough to turn aside an English warhorse, but what does Scotland’s SNP Government have to turn aside an English tank?

Well, Sturgeon and her government have their own, very special, kind of shiltron – millions strong – and with more than enough courage to face down an England ill-disposed to countenance the break-up of the “United” Kingdom. A Scotland which has voted, democratically and peacefully, for its independence has us – the Scottish diaspora. We are her shiltron.

King Boris should understand that there are millions more people of Scottish descent living outside Scotland’s borders, than there are living north of the River Tweed. If he doubts the power of the Celtic diaspora he should, perhaps, have a word or two with Tony Blair.

Without the backing of Bill Clinton, and the millions of Irish-Americans at his back, the Good Friday Agreement would never have held firm. President Trump, similarly, owes too much to the support of those hard-bitten descendants of the Scottish borderers who settled the South and West to stand idly by and let English triumphalism crush the pride of four million defenceless Scots.

Fanciful nonsense? It won’t come to anything remotely resembling the doomsday scenario painted above? I imagine there were many Catalonians who were similarly dismissive of the idea that the Spanish State would violently suppress their independence movement and imprison its leaders. And yet, that is exactly what the Spanish Government did.

Catalonia, moreover, could not point to the arrogant over-ruling of its own people’s clear, democratic, and twice-expressed preference to remain a part of the EU.

Proud Boris should keep England’s army south of the Tweed – lest, from Nova Scotia to Dunedin, the indignant clans of the Scottish diaspora, give him cause “tae think again”.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 December 2019.


Nick J said...

Chris, have you considered that the average Englishman might welcome an independent Scotland? Any research on the Scots economy shows that it is in deficit to the rest of the UK and that the North Sea oil money is drying up. The EU might treat it the same way as Greece. I suspect when the rubber hits the road it will be Scotland that shatters internally as England watches.

David Stone said...

If Britain might again start organising her internal structures as depicted here , perhaps Corbyn watched it too . And reflects the fate of similar social democratic leaders in Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria currently and other South American and Asian socialist oriented governments in the recent past. A quiet retirement and let the idiot voters be persuaded peacefully to their impoverishment might have been a sensible move. He's only got a few years left anyway, might as well spend them on the allotment.

Punch said...

Has Scotland really thought through the idea of independence? What will their currency and banking system be and what mechanism is in place for the new nation once the The Bank of England cuts them loose? Sure, they can keep the royalties for North Sea oil and gas, but a population of 4-5 million will need a solid export economy to thrive, an export economy without English subsidies and favour. Will there be passport checks at the border of the Borders? And do they realise that the R and A could no longer play the Open Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie or Turnberry? As someone whose forebears sailed into Port Chalmers on the Phillip Laing in April of 1848, this member of the diaspora says my distant cousins should think long and hard about the consequences of independence and apron strings tied to Brussels, not London.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

This is just one of the problems that of course wasn't thought through by the brexiteers. What is going to happen to Britain? How are they going to organise things if and when Scotland and Wales leave the United Kingdom?
And if their response is anything like their inability to articulate the actual benefits of brexit, it's going to be yet another cock up. And most of the people who actually inspired the brexit vote know this, because they are very quietly or in some cases not so quietly, organising things so that their families will be able to do business with the EU – getting them German or Irish citizenship, shifting their business headquarters out of the UK and so on. Plus I guarantee they are betting heavily on the British pound falling through the floor. If I didn't have cousins there, I'd be laughing.

Odysseus said...

I try to stay off the scotch at this time of year Chris. Some 60 percent of Scotland's exports go the rest of the UK, about 18 percent to the EU, which would be disastrous for an independent Scotland when the UK achieves Brexit. Sadly Brent crude is no longer the nice little earner it once was; the frackers in the American Midwest put paid to that. Without Westminster's subsidies the Scots would be reduced to boiled oats and rough underwear. Spain would never allow an independent Scotland to be part of the EU, nor would the EU Commission which has been complicit in suppressing the Catalans. Think of all the other European minorities who might want to secede from member States, starting at the gates of Brussels itself. That is not the EU's direction of travel with their "Ever closer Europe" mantra. Sturgeon seized her opportunity to achieve her peak vote by agreeing to the December election before former leader Salmond's trial (why are SNP leaders named after coldwater fish?) in the New Year when so much SNP dirty laundry will be on show. Her administration is nevertheless crumbling with major public discontent around declining public services including education. Boris can easily face down her disingenuous calls for a referendum.

Anonymous said...

Scotland could consider the opportunities as well as the challenges. Plenty of firms in England will relocate to an independent Scotland with EU membership if their businesses are dependent on frictionless trade with the EU. It's much cheaper than relocating to mainland Europe. The revenue from these companies will more than make up for any North Sea gas and oil reductions in revenues.

Geoff Fischer said...

The Irish diaspora by and large gave money and moral support to the Irish struggle for independence from Britain, but the fighting was done by those who stayed home. I would expect the same to happen in the case of the Scots. The diaspora is not a secret weapon to change the course of Scottish history.
But the question we should be addressing is that of independence for Aotearoa. Those who remain focused on the problems and aspirations of other lands to which they have a sentimental or generational attachment are actually in thrall to colonialism. They have not yet come to see themselves as belonging here among us which is a matter of regret.

Tom Hunter said...

I don't want to cut and paste what I already wrote on this issue, but here are my thoughts on Scottish Independence", which I think will now happen - but only over a period of twenty years.

Wayne Mapp said...

Of course Scotland has to actually vote for independence. Quebec when offered the chance, failed to do so twice (1980 and 1995) with the last vote being extremely close. Even with such a close result in 1995 there seems to be no demand for a third vote.

Scotland, as part of the UK, is leaving the EU. That happens in 2020. There will be no referendum in 2020 that will stop that.

So when Scotland has another vote, which I reckon will be sometime after 2025, it will not be an easy choice for the Scots. Oil will have run out. Virtually all Scottish trade is with England. If Scotland votes for independence and then tried to join the EU, then it would be voting for a hard border and the euro. By then I believe it will be obvious that that is a less attractive choice (economically) than staying in the UK.

The Scots may still vote for independence, even if it is obvious they will be poorer, at least initially. But I certainly wouldn't count on it. The next independence referendum will being held in very much less attractive circumstances than in 2014, when there was no expectation that the UK would be leaving the EU.

swordfish said...

'No to Independence' has led in almost every Poll on the issue over the last couple of years.

Latest YouGov (early Dec 2019) has overwhelming majorities of Scots Tories & LibDems opposed, along with a sizeable majority of Labour voters (& remember those 3 Parties collectively took 53% to the SNP's 45% at the UK GE ... even if FPP handed the latter the overwhelming majority of seats), meanwhile over 15% of SNP supporters are either opposed to Independence or unsure.

Even more telling ... Scottish Remainers are pretty evenly split (tilting only slightly toward Yes/Independence) ... whereas Scots Leavers are much more decisively in the NO camp.

Incidentally, it looks like very similar sized minorities from both camps have switched sides since the 2014 Indy Referendum.

Having said that ... all recent Scots Independence Polls were carried out before the 2019 UK General Election ... so you never know, the massive disparity between the political proclivities of English & Scots voters (& the latter being governed at the Meta-level by a Party favoured by the former) might just push enough Caledonii in a decisively anti-Sassenach direction (but wouldn't neccesarily hold my breath on that ... Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye).

sumsuch said...

So you're Scots also, Chris?

I watched Oliver's history of Scotland when he described the poverty of our motherland during the 20th century. Made me cry to think Scotland was as poor as Ireland (?). If the diaspora had known I wondered. Oliver went on to vote UK in the referendum?! Unnerstandable in an individual Scot, but I've avoided him since.

In NZ the Scots had freedom to show their good side -- the fair go. Their/our latter integrity established our uncorrupt state. Wewere too on top with ease to understand corruption.

The abovetreat Scotslike political blocks.

sumsuch said...

I doubt your fanciful conclusion but appreciate your analysis of the Scots's strength in 1314.
And the English went on with their lonbowmen to put it over the French knights. And we Scots went on to put it over the English as mercenaries for the French in the early 1400s, bugger Joan of Arc.

sumsuch said...

If you read J.K. Galbraith about the Scots in America, unlike every other ethnic group from the 1800s we never formed a political group. Being freed from the corporatism of clan Scotland we loved the liberation of individualism. Hume and Smith were ours. Why I'm repelled by the thought of back-scratching and Auzzies, rationally, are not.

I'm happy for the Scots to make up their own mind. Will support them. Catalonia is different. The last 100 years is a very good argument for Scottish independence.

Scouser said...

The large vote for SNP is being interpreted as a vote for an independent Scotland. I'm very unconvinced as I suspect the SNP vote was mainly boosted by the remainers switching to SNP the obvious remainers in Scotland. This mimicked much of the voting elsewhere in the UK as leavers deserted Labour in droves (in addition to Corbyn's unpopularity) As stated earlier in this thread other polls point to Scotland being, in balance, in favour of remaining in the UK.

I'm also not a great fan of repeated referenda until the losers get their irrevocable decision. These should be once in a generation events.