Stirring the Shite.

The 300-year anniversary of the Act of Union just the other day has brought with it a paradigm shift in the consciousness of many Britons on both sides of the border. I’ve been keeping my head near it and my eyes closely on the flood of minutia in the Ivory Tower and in the popular media, both of which seem to be fighting it out in their respective theaters with equal abandon. In a way, I’m fortunate to have an outsider’s view, for it gives me a somewhat objective perspective that’s not steeped in nationalism or racism. And also in a way, I have no idea what I’m talking about, because I’m a foreigner. Notwithstanding, what I’m seeing rise to the surface now is the perfect confluence of and ironic conflict between the historical past and modern progressiveness for the future. I love that people are asking questions and turning a critical eye to the status of their nation – a mark of true patriotism – rather than simple blind acceptance. What was good then may not be good any more – or even relevant anymore.


It’s funny that, given my field of study and biased, sympathetic interest in the conservative Jacobite movement of the early-18th century, I’d eschew the typical nationalistic slander that gets lumped in with modern perceptions of that long-dead cause. To the embarrassing, self-proclaimed modern Jacobites, any chance to slag off England and the Union is a good day in the making. Of course, they’ve simply misinterpreted the intrinsic concept of what that movement was, and how it was used so many years ago. They manipulate it even today, like royalist necromancers who speak with flags stuffed in their mouths. And with the media fervor surrounding Blair’s imminent replacement by the Scot Gordie Brown coupled with the bloated, self-aggrandizing Alex Salmond of the SNP rubbing his hands, Igor-like, in the wings of the disaster that is the new Parliament building, suffice it to say that there’s a real dynamism in the remains of the Great British Empire just now.

The real question that should be asked: Is the Union still relevant today, three-hundred years after its inception? This is being queried in some circles, but the rampant blind nationalism (read: elitism, racism) of many are sullying a great opportunity to consider both the historical context of the past benefits of union and its current value to both Scotland and England. Does the last vestige of an empire in ashes still need to remain locked into its precedent? Can Scotland be better alone than it is as an arguable appendix to England? Fear tactics by some MPs would promise that Auld Scotia would crumble economically were it to separate from its host. But who is to say that it wouldn’t? Do the politicians who would be the leaders of a ‘free’ Scotland remember how to rule fairly, justly, like their ‘glorious’ kings before them? There is the little matter of Divine Right, a dangerous paradigm not wholly as old as the Union they wish to see scuppered.

The media claims that a majority of Scots are happy under Union. Labour says that separation is a ‘tired, old-fashioned idea’ while northern nationalists hold to the last that the Union is an atavistic remnant in a new, optimistic era. Are these factoids mutually exclusive? Chris Whatley is an unabashed proponent that Scotland’s position has only improved from being joined to England, and he has recently written that the notion that Scottish politicians in the early-18th century were ‘bought and sold for English gold’ is a damaging myth – that many saw Union as a great opportunity for their country, economically and otherwise. What is certain is that many of the common people outside Scottish burghs had no regard for the issue. For most, getting by was the order of the day, with Union or without.

The one thing of which I’m convinced is that ‘true Scots’ are not just the ones who are backing independence. The culture of much of what makes Scotland special is the blending of its British elements – note the folly of the Edinburgh accent, or lack of one. The ‘northern neighbour’ has flourished beautifully for three centuries under the blanket of empire and has become the jewel in the crown of the entire island, not entirely because of the fatalistic romanticism of a country under the yoke of someone else’s government. Scotland is a constituent – and vital – part of the culture that makes up Britain. Perhaps it’s not Scotland that has suffered for being in the Union, but rather the United Kingdom that has benefitted from the addition of that inimitable northern kingdom. When one takes a look at the cavalcade of ‘stone rogues’ in the New Town – statues of British statesmen, all, carved and erected well after the Union and under the reign of the Hanoverian George, it’s clear that the heart of Midlothian was innervated by these men who are regarded with some measure of suspicion by some who would call themselves patriots. But damn! if Edina and her sisters didn’t do okay. Exceptional universities, an elephantine tourism industry, a booming housing market, respect from stars, statesmen, and the smart set, Scotland is the place, and they’ve said it themselves. And yes, the beer is still good!


Whatever answers we might come up with on this very unique of anniversaries, it’s important to understand and respect the context of the Union both from a historical perspective and also as it relates to the modern political system today. It’s vital to weigh the benefits and detriments of each scenario carefully, either independence or interdependence. This isn’t a time for rash jingoism during what may appear to be a weak link in the political chain. At the same time, it’s never prudent nor progressive to hold on to an antiquated system simply because of its tenure. It’s a good discussion over pints, anyway, and I’ve been enjoying learning about the many faces of what Union means to the modern Brit, English and Scot. So sayeth the Yank. All the best to you, no matter the path.

24 Responses to “Stirring the Shite.”

  1. darkstones Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 2:11 am

    In terms of economic stability, it's always worth remembering that Edinburgh by itself is the 6th biggest financial centre in Europe, Scotland as a whole is the 5th largest. Edinburgh is the base for 2 of the top ten banks in Europe, and three of the top pension companies in the UK.

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 12:57 am

    And Edinburgh also has three of the six largest scaffolding projects that have been up for three years or more. 🙂
    No, really – this is good info, and definitely speaks toward the fearmongering of the politicians. Which, of course, is emanating from both sides of the border.

  3. sleepycinderell Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 2:31 am

    It is a shame that Scotland buggered its finances temporarily with the desire for its own mini empire, giving fuel to the fires to link with England in the first place. Speaking of fuels, reclaiming North Sea resources would/ should make a good bartering position, but I bet that has been legislated against.
    The main future independance I want is from the use of Scotland as a testing ground/ dumping ground due to it being a safe distance from London. Also an end to privatised services. The rest (too early in the morning to start..)follows on from that.
    I am embarrassed by the fact that our Parliament building farce illustrated just how competent our current political abilities are, and I hesitate to recommend a change in legalities before a change in civil service staff.

  4. zotz Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 2:53 am

    It is probably worth remembering that the new Palace of Westminster was just as far over budget, but was also almost fifteen years late. At least we got ours finished on time.
    Anyway, who normally remembers or cares that Westminster was over budget and timetable these days? In time, the problems building Holyrood may look equally insignificant.

  5. sleepycinderell Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 3:19 am

    In time the Palace of Westminster will still be standing, but ours will be needing to be rebuilt..
    It is likely to be true that we find so many new ways to embarrass ourselves financially that the parliament building will seem insignificant next to them.

  6. zotz Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 3:23 am

    ours will be needing to be rebuilt..
    That may or may not be true. At this point, it's just a guess.

  7. sleepycinderell Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 3:31 am

    The structure has an calculable lifetime, due to materials and construction techniques, not that the information is public. Handling it and extending its lifetime appropriately (or not) is the guess.

  8. zotz Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 3:37 am

    Many Georgian buildings had a design life of thirty to forty years – and are still standing quite happily after nearly two centuries. The amount of maintenance increases after a while, but that rarely means that the building has to be abandoned if it's still being useful.

  9. sleepycinderell Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 4:09 am

    Design life is not the same thing as actual structural life, it is often vastly different as you have noticed. My personal objections are to shoddy materials and shoddy workmanship, in any century, especially when hidden, and precedence of other errors doesn't lessen my need to object to it happening again.
    I certainly do want this building to be useful, and for as long as possible. Let's just leave it at that.

  10. warriorsway Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 6:13 am

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's embarrassed by (and for) those twits.

  11. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 12:59 am

    The Jacobites, you mean? Oh, seriously.

  12. anonymouseth Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 8:28 am

    speaking from my own limited experience, i'd say that the scotland/england thing is over-emphasised, and should instead be replaced by a london/not-london divide.
    to pick up on one point, though – i think that if scotland seccedes, there is *the potential* for financial disaster if a particularly idiotic parliament set enough unpopular laws or taxes, and enough people decide that it's more advantageous to live and work in england. the population here is quite small and some industry sectors are under-represented as it is – if enough of 'em close down or move away, stuff could start to snowball. i'm sure it'd sort itself out in a few years, though…

  13. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 1:34 am

    London/not-London paradigm: definitely. As for population endangerment, it's pretty clear by the aggressive and robust initiatives put in place by the Exec that this is a sincere worry point for Scotland. Everyone's attending Scottish unis and then moving away to where the jobs are.
    Not that I'd ever do a thing like that…

  14. sharck Says:
    January 19th, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Am I the only who thinks that the new Scottish Parliament building is quite beautiful?

  15. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Quite possibly, yes.

  16. hannah_henchman Says:
    January 20th, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Pardon my ignorance…
    Is it really still that big of a deal?
    I mean, is this something discussed among a small group of oddballs or is independence seriously considered?
    Other than a..*ahem*…rather contentious history, what's wrong with being part of the UK at this point?
    I just googled the parliament building.
    Not a bad example of the most painful elements of modern architecture vomited onto the landscape.
    …Though it does look a bit like some time of nifty alien cactus.
    Maybe it will grow on people in time.

  17. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 1:46 am

    Re: Pardon my ignorance…
    Is it really still that big of a deal?
    Oh, man.
    C'mon Rache: are you not clicking on those links? Yes, it's seriously considered, and it's seriously possible, for better or worse. And you live in the South, right? How do they *still* feel about being part of the Union? It's the same story, only not quite as old.
    Nifty alien cactus – Ha! That's Dynamic Earth, I think, not the Parliament. Great analogy, though!

  18. hannah_henchman Says:
    January 31st, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Re: Pardon my ignorance…
    Damn it…I hate it when I get behind on comments and only get around to them once the other person has probably completely lost interest in the subject–but feel compelled to post a lengthy response anyway. *L*
    Oh-well, anyway…
    **C'mon Rache: are you not clicking on those links?…
    You know, I did and actually read the content. I even spent a couple of very painfully amused hours on the "modern Jacobite" yahoo group. I got through about four months worth before I had to quit reading. I was starting to feel an intense urge to email the moderator and inform them that I am planning to saddle my first-born with the name Jacobita to protest the abuse of Latin nouns in order to lend credibility to loonies.
    The one link I missed…The BBC news article. Upon reading it, things were much clearer.
    After seeing the caption, "The issue of the Union is to the fore in a Scottish election year." I felt pretty silly for the first question in my comment.
    Though I may be asking for a second serving of my own foot, I have to say that it's still beyond me. The problem, I think, is a lack of experience with nationalism. Though I can logically understand the reasoning (I think) behind it and see important pros and cons, my basic reaction to people seeking independence from a country that is not a military dictatorship is, "Is it really worth the effort?"
    **How do they *still* feel about being part of the Union? It's the same story, only not quite as old.**
    But without yankees, who would we throw Budweiser cans at?
    Actually, I thought of the same comparison but discarded it. Despite the abundance of rebel flags and drunken disputes over the "War for Southern Independence", I don't think the vast majority of us want to be a separate country. The blustering to the contrary is more habitual than anything.
    I think the difference is that our only experience as a nation involved a rather nasty conflict mostly…owning people. Needless to say, the majority of us feel quite a bit embarrassed over that.
    Our identity is fundamentally regional…For all but about 4 years of our history, that's what we've been. Remember, the colonies that would become the US started in the south.
    So basically, it's hard for us to hold a big grudge against a country we've been a part of since before it was a country. We have no national identity to go back to.
    **Ha! That's Dynamic Earth, I think, not the Parliament.**
    *L* No, I had the right one. Look at the wikipedia page again. The giant seed pod (or vulva) skylights… <a href="… />
    …and the spiky windows… <a href="… />
    I actually hadn't seen Dynamic Earth–though the description fits there too.
    Consequently, I've decided–Scotland should not be an independent country. It should be declared an honorary independent planet.

  19. FunkyPlaid Says:
    February 1st, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Re: Pardon my ignorance…
    Hahah – you're a doll! Hell, I'll never lose interest in this subject. You can take as much time as you want to answer…I'm just thankful that you're interested in engaging in continued discourse about the matter. I also love that you spent some time on that joke of a Yahoo! group, and that you got the joke.
    You bring up a valid point about nationalism. Is it worth it? In a country with so much history, so much wounded pride because of that history, so much to prove on account of that pride, and simple racism on both sides of the border, it makes sense that to some, it would be worth it. It's a vindication for hundreds of years of multiple layers of negative relations with their southern neighbors. And yes, some of it justifiably so.
    My point about the South is simply to illustrate that there is deeply ingrained, regional and racial bias that is still very much a part of the popular culture there. Or at least that's what I surmise. You actually live there, and undoubtedly can speak more accurately on it. Whether or not the South still desires secession, surely there's still a marked difference to them between North and South, yes?
    Remember, the colonies that would become the US started in the south.
    I understand and agree with your point, although only five of the original thirteen colonies were Southern.
    Great shots of that most horrible building! You're right – that is most definitely a space vulva. Now it all makes sense.

  20. FunkyPlaid Says:
    February 1st, 2007 at 2:51 am

    Re: Pardon my ignorance…
    I missed the most important part of your post:
    Our identity is fundamentally regional…For all but about 4 years of our history, that's what we've been.
    And the biggest question that's still being asked as it pertains to identity and the Union is: who amongst the Scottish populace consider themselves Britons before Scots? Who amongst them even consider themselves Britons at all? The answer, which is difficult to calculate, speaks a great deal to the struggle at hand.
    As you've pointed out, it's a question of '"Who have they been?'", and "Who are they now?". They *do* have a national identity to go back to. But even much of that is mythologized, and that's where my interest and study comes in.

  21. hannah_henchman Says:
    February 6th, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Re: Pardon… /Damn, this got long-winded Part I
    **I'm just thankful that you're interested in engaging in continued discourse about the matter.**
    You know I can't resist this sort of discussion–whether I know what I'm talking about or not. I just like having a chance to gibber about something with some substance with someone who does know what they're talking about.
    **I understand and agree with your point, although only five of the original thirteen colonies were Southern.**
    Four or five actually, depending on if you count Maryland.
    But the first actual (unsuccessful) English settlement was on Roanoke Island, NC in 1587. The first successful settlement was at Jamestown, VA in 1607, predating the Mayflower by 7 years. That's what I meant about us being here from the get-go.
    *L* We were here first, damn it!
    **You're right – that is most definitely a space vulva.**
    Now you'll never be able to see it as anything else. 😉
    **My point about the South is simply to illustrate that there is deeply ingrained, regional and racial bias…**
    Racial bias–That would be a lengthy explanation indeed to really make sense of it. But yes, the south has an ugly racial history, and not too far in the past either.
    However, in the present, I think the south is a scapegoat for the racism that is fundamentally an American problem. Consider the history of racism in California (From Zoot Suit Riots to LA Riots), the KKK in Ohio, the prevalence of neo-nazi skinheads in Oregon and New Jersey, etc. Thus, we get a little defensive when we're seen as a bunch of cross-burning rednecks.
    Race, as it pertains to this discussion is not a big deal. One thing many people don't seem to grasp is that black people often identify themselves as southerners too, and with good reason. Without the African influence, southern culture could not exist. We'd probably be like any other agricultural region of the US. As it is, our food, music, literature, language, history itself–all owe a debt to Africa as well as Europe.
    Awhile back, I saw a young, rather well-endowed black woman in a gas station who had on a tight camouflage T-shirt. Across said endowments, in bright pink letters, it said, "Southern Belle." That, my friend, is a view of the "New South" most people don't see.
    Regional bias–Oh, yes. We love our little chunk of the country and snarl whenever anyone (besides ourselves, of course) dare to criticise it.
    ** Whether or not the South still desires secession, surely there's still a marked difference to them between North and South, yes?**
    Most certainly. Not knowing if you've ever experienced the south first hand, I don't know if you've seen the drastic change that occurs when you cross the Mason-Dixon. It really is like entering a foreign country.
    And this very difference is really the crux of my point in the whole southern comparison.
    The fact that there IS a definite boundary between north and south, even if it isn't an official national one can't be disputed. The question do you handle that boundary? That seems to be the question Scotland is facing–but some aspects of that question are unique to the UK.
    Here there are so many boundaries and layers of government that the south really IS mostly governed by southerners.
    It seems sensible for Scotland to have, if not outright independence, at least greater control over their own region. In any country with distinct regions, a strong regional government is a necessity in order to address that region's needs. I can see a strong case that Britain is missing that idea, concentrating only on the potentially "disastrous" breakup of the Union rather than looking at possible contemporary causes for the existence of the issue and its validity beyond grudges.

  22. hannah_henchman Says:
    February 6th, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    Re: Pardon… /Damn, this got long-winded Part II
    **You bring up a valid point about nationalism. Is it worth it?….**
    Oh, I can see the validity and a case where maybe Britain should "give back what wasn't theirs to take in the first place." But, seems to me, the UK and the US have something else in common–we're both nations built on invasions and invaders where the two have gotten so mixed up that if you tried to right all of the wrongs in their histories by separating out the conquerors, the population would consist of half a person here and there.
    If Scotland got independence, got their country back, stopped having their rock hauled back and forth to Westminster, could everyone then get on with the business of being cordial neighbors?
    I'm not AGAINST Scottish independence. My primary misgiving is just that people might expect too much to be solved by such a move.
    Ever the pragmatist, I have to ask–Would giving back a national border do anything to make amends for that history? It certainly won't change the past. So the question has to be, what will it do for people in the present?
    **And the biggest question that's still being asked as it pertains to identity and the Union is: who amongst the Scottish populace consider themselves Britons before Scots? … **
    Here again, the southern US comparison is apt. I know quite a few people, myself included, who consider themselves Southern-Americans (what a country of hyphens we are!). I LIVE in the United States but I AM southern.
    As far as the identity question, seems Scotland has to decide whether their cultural identity needs a national one as well.
    **But even much of that is mythologized, and that's where my interest and study comes in.**
    …and that's what I love about your view of history. Debunking myth appeals to my iconoclastic nature.
    I have to say though (my inner literature/folklore geek compels me)–facts are incredibly important in the study of history. But, when you start talking about culture, the stories we choose to tell about ourselves are just as valid and important.
    Haha…Talk about "stirring the shite." Next time I open a comment from you, a pixelated hand will probably smite me. 😉

  23. hermiston Says:
    January 23rd, 2007 at 9:36 am

    *shudders at image of the parliament building*
    I think the matter hasn't arisen so much out of the tercentenary, if anything the anniversary has been played down because it is politically inconvenient. We're questioning the good of the Union because politically England and Scotland don't match and the present system cannot bear those differences. Devolution was a bullet in the foot of union and Labour's hopes for a fourth term. The Tories are quite rightly voicing English concerns that an MP from Scotland is unfit to lead a government that has more powers in England than it does in Scotland. The Scots in turn should not have to stomach a system which caps them. Whichever way we look at it, Union or not, we're facing necessary constitutional upheavals.
    Moreover Labour face two elections, one Scottish and one British, neither of which they are guaranteed to win. A Conservative government at Westminster has never reflected the Scotish votes. If under that circumstance the SNP are in power in Holyrood, the Scots truly could feel that their self-determination would be best served by, at least, a referendum.

  24. FunkyPlaid Says:
    February 1st, 2007 at 3:01 am

    The present system cannot bear those differences.
    A succinct, honest, explicit reasoning that demands a wider berth of suffusion. Constitutional upheavals, ahoy!

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