Published: May 10th 2011May 10th 2011
We’ve left England twice now. Wales and now Scotland. Words don’t really do justice to the beauty of both Wales and Scotland. I have already referred to the beauty of Northern Wales and Snowdonia. The drive from Glasgow to Inverness has to be one of the most breathtaking journeys imaginable. Loch Lomond followed by the highlands where peaks rise out of nowhere and streams and lakes appear without warning to be followed by picturesque storybook valleys of green and sheep and cows; and finally Loch Ness, barely a km wide at its widest point and a staggering 760 feet deep at its deepest. This is a wild land. Like Wales it is inhabited by people who have a wild streak. The Loudon Wainwright concert we saw in Glasgow was constantly punctuated by loud deep Scottish brogue voices demanding their favourite Loudon song. Loudon had played here before. He knew what to expect.
Despite the stereotypical Scottish character in Braveheart and Rob Roy and countless other films, there is actually a kind of anarchist streak running through the Scots and Welsh. Maybe it’s the Gaelic heritage. Maybe it’s the countryside and the weather. Maybe it’s the haggis and the black pudding. They are a rough lot. Maybe that’s why the best regiments in the British and Canadian armies are made up of Scots and Welsh. It’s like they’ve never had the dangerous rough edges knocked off them. Unlike Australians whose rough edges tend to be more benign.
Despite state of origin and our references to crow eaters and Mexicans we are a pretty homogenous group. WA tried to secede in 1933. A majority voted to return the state to the crown. The crown declined the offer and said go away and discuss it amongst yourselves. Of course Joh was a Queenslander first. But he was also mad. In the end I suspect that we all see ourselves as Australians first.
Not so for a Welshman or a scot. We visited Culloden today. It’s only 5 miles from Inverness. All of the earlier battles of Braveheart, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce were fought in the lowlands. The fact that the British and Scots were fighting in the heart of the highlands demonstrates how far the British gloved fist had advanced. Culloden was the final battle between Scotland and England. 1500 Scots died in a two minute period. It was the last land battle on British soil and it ended any hope of Scottish independence. The defeat confirmed in blood the Act of Union passed 40 years before. If you need proof that England was a brutal and powerful master who gave no quarter, look no further than Culloden. The defeat was complete and the victory sweeping. For the 24 hours afterwards English soldiers roamed the battle field systematically bayoneting the wounded and dying where they lay. Those that escaped were hunted down and executed when caught and their wives systematically raped. The English reprisals on the population as a whole were swift and brutal. The Scots were not only to be subjugated, their culture was to be destroyed. Tartan and Gaelic were banned, lands were confiscated and nearly half the population migrated overseas over the next 150 years.
The Scots had relied for victory on the shock tactic of the Highland charge. It was the high point in what might be termed the primitive war machine. At Culloden it was defeated by cannon and grapeshot and a thoroughly drilled army adept with the bayonet. It was the old versus the new, the old warfare based on single combat versus the new warfare based on industrial technology and the professional soldier. It was no contest.
The Welsh had been defeated 400 years earlier by Edward 1 (longshanks) played by Patrick McGoohan in Braveheart, NUMBER 6 in The Prisoner (ah the synergies). They too had been subjugated and repressed. But like the Scots they refused to become English.
One of the things you first notice when you enter Wales and Scotland is the double language: English and the local version of Gaelic. Over the past 40 years there has been a resurgence in Welsh culture. The Scots had never waned in their Scotishness. Part of this resurgence in both countries has been as a result of devolution. Both Wales and Scotland now have their own parliaments. Scotland even has its own currency. Devolution was meant to be a sop, a token gesture to local aspirations for self-rule. The electoral system devised by London was supposed to ensure that no party could ever get a majority, thereby ensuring no concerted push for further devolution. WELL, the Scottish national party did the impossible last Thursday and won a majority in their own right. Now they’re talking about a referendum to allow full self-government.
The conservatives are in 2 minds about this: the traditional “British” bulldog element see an independent Scotland as a heresy. The pragmatic element of the party sees it as a possibility to entrench themselves as the party of government forever – because in national elections Scotland is absolute labour heartland.
Devolution must be contagious. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the 6 counties of northern Ireland may unite with their southern brothers and sisters. It will be fascinating to see whether Great Britain, the UNITED Kingdom, devolves over the next 20 years into a rump nation.
So tomorrow it’s on to Edinburgh, home of the comedy festival, the fringe and the tattoo. I’ve already had ma pooridge and ma black pooding. I might have to try some haggis and have myself a wee dram of single malt to celebrate our Scottish sojourn.