Siol nan Gaidheal
A History of Britain
An antidote to unionist misinformation
It proves highly instructive to consider the instances historically in which the concept of "Britain" has been invoked in discerning exactly what that term means. Such discernment is desirable when confronted with the variety of ways in which the term is deployed today to advance programs and agendas inimicable to Scotland's interests. It becomes clear that the assertion that Britain comprises a "nation-state" is merely an English nationalist finesse, and that the U.K. is in essence an English nationalist project.
The English people first encountered the term "Britain" as an ambiguous designation, which could be taken to denote the entire island or in a more restricted sense the ruins of a former Roman province they sought to infiltrate and dominate. This ambiguity has been consistently and ruthlessly exploited by the English through the course of all ensuing history, providing a basis for spurious claims of suzerainty and governing roles in realms outwith the territorial extent of England. Hence one finds Athelstan's claim in the 10th century to be the "King of the English and governor of the surrounding peoples".
The arrival of the Normans in England brought the introduction of new tactics to be employed by the English in their attempts to subdue the Scots; having failed militarily they attempted to dominate the church. Scotland was to be rendered subordinate to the bishop of Durham, who answered to the Archbishop of York, who answered to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who answered to the Pope styling himself as the "primas totius Britannie" - the primate of all Britain. Again that ambiguous term. Between 1100 and 1162 various Popes issued in total 8 demands that the Scottish church submit to the archbishop of York as their metropolitan as a result of English complaints to the papacy. All were strenuously ignored. Then the English attempted to prevent the consecration of Scottish bishops by the Pope, and failed - in 1164 the elect of Glasgow was consecrated despite English opposition and the bishops of Glasgow were named "special sons" ("speciales filios") of the Holy See. The papacy had finally taken the hint, as evidenced by further developments. In 1174 William the Lion, King of Scots, was captured by the English and under duress formally submitted in the Treaty of Falaise, conceding the position of the Scottish church to be subordinate to England. The Pope rejected this treaty at the request of Scottish bishops and declared the Glasgow church to be "our special daughter with no intermediary". The Treaty of Falaise was reversed by the Quitclaim of Canterbury of 1189, but the real culmination of the Scottish church's century long struggle to resist the English came with the papal bull of 1192, Cum Universi, which explicitly and finally stated that the Scottish church had the status conferred upon Glasgow of "special daughter with no intermediary".
One of the most significant events of the year 1296 was the loss of the primary sources for Scots historiography prior to that date. This is perhaps more significant than the defeat at Dunbar and the subsequent humiliation of Balliol at Fortrose; the shape of Anglo-Scottish relations that are preserved in present animosities are perhaps as much the result of Edward III of England's disastrous foreign policies which perpetuated the earlier attempts at imposing English imperium. After Balliol's humiliation that year the rolls that were in effect Scotland's historical record were plundered, loaded onto four ships and sent south. Three of these ships were lost at sea and the contents of the fourth almost entirely lost during the reformation and the fire of London in 1666. This has rendered Scotland the single most problematic nation for mediavel historians. This looting was for Scottish historiography an act of vandalism of a magnitude similar to the burning of the great library of Alexandria. The effect for discerning a history of Britain, which is felt up to and including the present day, is the equivalent of letting the Nazis write the history of the second world war, since primary sources relating to early Scotland are mainly foreign and in particular English. Thus even this year historians have been able to vent their English prejudices in print and broadcast. The failure of the Anglo-Saxon state to absorb Scotland is said to be a "problem". Unsubstantiated speculation about the extent of Northumbrian imperium north of the Forth-Clyde line goes unchallenged not only because of the paucity of written evidence one way or the other but because of the tacit approval of the implicit English prejudice inherent in such remarks. It is 1316 years since the English were routed at Dunnichen. 687 years ago they were routed at Bannockburn. It falls to us once more to remind the English of history without the benefit of the historical record they have destroyed.
The very existence of Scotland has been interpreted by the English as a threat. England has always been a highly centralised state with a powerful central authority necessarily enforcing unity. The existence of Scotland historically encourages centrifugal forces within England. Some of the most brutal acts committed by England have been against her own people in the north of England when they have on more than one occasion sought a separate peace with Scotland. The English state does not tolerate her regions asserting themselves too much, but now that Scotland has its plastic parliament they all want one.
The status of Britain in English eyes found expression in the 12th century in the Galfridian articulation of English constitutional mythology, outlined by SnG in the article "The neo-Galfridian conceit" (it is deemed unecessary to re-iterate in detail the content of that article here). This was an explicit attempt to legitimise English attempts to enforce supremacy over the entire British Isles with reference to a mythological British past. This was the origin of the term "British Empire", which was seen as an extension of English imperium over the whole of the British Isles. The term was used in this sense by Henry VIII of England, by the Lord Protector Somerset as he strove to enforce it by continuing the "rough wooing", and England's maritime Atlantic empire was also legitimised in Galfridian terms. A sense of the term "British Empire" which began to move towards an Anglo-British identity more inclusive of the other component nations of the U.K. was attempted by Scots in the 18th and 19th centuries in response to the anomalous Union they had to contend with, of which more below. This however proved abortive. The English leopard does not change its spots.
So it is seen that the exploitation of the essential ambiguity of the term Britain has provided England with some of the central planks of its constitutional mythology, one that facilitates acquisitiveness and imperial aggression through its emphasis on claims on other realms. This theme of English thought so easily transforms itself into a sense of a global civilising mission and the "white man's burden". The history of the British Empire can then be read in part as the story of the export of these ideas from England as far afield as contemporary technology permitted, ideas formed in embryo over a millennium previously. This can be contrasted with the Scottish Fergusian constitutional mythology which underpinned popular sovereignty and the idea of the monarch as primus inter pares, holding his rank by popular acclaim and having no imperial pretensions, ideas given expression in the ancient coronation ceremony of the King of Scots, in the Declaration of Arbroath in the 14th century and in the writings of George Buchanan in the 17th century, and which have resonated down the centuries to inspire the founding of "Tartan Day" in the U.S.A. Because of its constitutional mythology, its origin myths, its sense of itself, England finds it difficult to encounter other nations other than in the relationship of conquest. It prides itself in a "grown-up" history of evolving institutions of government and yet this can be read as a result of a profound and fundamental insecurity with every other aspect of its existence, primarily its relationship with the very land it inhabits, and this is because it has founded itself on an ambiguous idea of what that land is. This is the origin of the crises of "Englishness" that occasionally find mention on the inside pages of London broadsheets.
The term "Britain" has been subject to arbitrary redefinition in order to advance an English nationalist agenda. The existence of a British state is not disputed, however a spurious equation of state with nation is employed to lend legitimacy to the fictitious notion of a British nation, one dominated by the particulars of English identity. The fallacious argument implicit in the assertion that a British nation exists is that, since modern states formed on the basis of the territorial distribution of pre-existent nations, conversely the existence of a state must be accompanied by a nation whose existence that state grants political expression to. This doctrine that since nations serve as nucleation sites for states, states must necessarily germinate nations has failed in a particularly disastrous way in Africa. The point is that this doctrine is used to achieve a political aim rather than fulfil a nascent potential, and in the case of Britain this aim is the absorption of her neighbours by England. A common shibboleth of those who subscribe to this doctrine is that we live in a world of nation-states, which is to say, the current political and constitutional settlement is final and unalterable since all nations necessarily already have their political expression through statehood. However this statement that we live in a world of nation-states is patently false; of the 132 states in existence as of 1971 it was found that only 12 (9.1%) could be justifiably described as nation-states, 25 (18.9%) contain a single nation comprising more than 90% of its population but also contain a significant minority, another 25 (18.9%) contain a single nation comprising between 75% and 89% of its population, in 31 (23.5%) cases the largest ethnic element comprised between 50% and 74% of the population and in 39 (29.5% - the largest single group) the largest nation constituted less than half the population of the state. When nation and state are used interchangeably as in the case of Britain by unionists it is done as a strategy to deny the aspirations of other nations in the state by the dominant nation, which can only be interpreted as serving an English nationalist agenda.
This device is now widespread. It is implicit in the terms "international community" and "international relations" where the entities involved are states rather than nations. The device is best exemplified in Africa, which is a model of the aftermath of imperialism. Here the deployment of the concept of the nation-state, meaning that the territorial extent of the juridical unit, the state, and the distribution of people identifying themselves as belonging to a specific national group, are co-terminous, is seen to have its most brutal contemporary effects. The division of the continent of Africa into states was conducted on an arbitrary basis by colonial powers. This in itself should not be a problem - unless the state requires itself to be the focus of loyalties reserved by individuals for their nation. The attempts by the "international community" as a cipher for the forces of globalisation, the World Bank and the I.M.F., to impose the state as the focus for loyalties properly reserved for the nation, have resulted in nothing short of a holocaust. Of course this is deemed a price worth paying by the lieutenants of globalisation in order to ensure that people feel no connection to each other than cash administered by a compliant state apparatus.
That English nationalist project, Britain/U.K. is another example. We cannot deny the existence of a British state of course, but this is revealed as an English nationalist project by the attempt to arbitrarily redefine it as a nation, a ploy which is often used worldwide to enforce the hegemony of a majority nation over other nations represented in the same state. Our contention is that not only is the U.K. deployed in this respect (witness a civil service that acts entirely in the English interest), but that it was conceived specifically for this purpose.
The possibility for making this misleading comparison between state and nation arose towards the end of the 17th century. The term nation derives from the latin term relating to birth and was used in the sense of common descent in the middle ages, and so mediavel students would record the area they hailed from as their "nationem" when matriculating. It is in this sense of common descent that Robert the Bruce refers to both Scotland and Ireland as "nostra nationem" - "our nation [singular !]." With the more widespread rise of theories of popular sovereignty throughout Europe towards the end of the 17th century the territorial juridical unit, the state, wherein sovereignty exerts itself, became associated with the people and so the possibility of the nation-state arose. Whereas formerly one might have said "l'etat, c'est le roi" one now said "l'etat, c'est le peuple". It must be noted that the necessity for the hyphenation "nation-state" itself indicates that the two entities are not identical. Unfortunately the period during which this device became possible coincides with Scotland's humiliating acquiescence with the anomalous Union, and so the synthesis of an Anglo-British identity to consolidate the new political entity ensued, to our great shame falling as a task to a disproportionate number of Scots, which process will be the subject of a future article. In order to participate in the commercial life of the British Empire, founded as it was upon the aggrandisement inherent in English constitutional mythology, Scotland's Fergusian egalitarianism had to be eclipsed and discarded and the self-appointed civilising mission of the English to be adopted, a project that Scottish whigs busied themselves with from the early 18th to the mid-19th centuries. The whig historians portrayed the Union of 1707 as the inevitable fulfillment of destiny, rather than as the ignominious sell-out it was; a nation being kicked while it was down, having endured famine, economic ruin as a result of the Darien fiasco, a haemorrhage of population to Europe as mercenaries and itinerant traders and a century of warfare that had resulted in the sort of depopulation as a result of war witnessed in 20th century Europe only by Poland, Russia and Yugoslavia. The Union was a forced error and we busy ourselves now with the rectification of that folly.
A person's identity is more complex and ineffable than a simple designation, a name or number. However, one attribute we all crave to recognise in the identity we wear is authenticity. National identity has outgrown outdated and exclusive notions of simple ethnicity to embrace a sense of belonging to a cultural community which we participate in by our own consent. Part of our sense of the authenticity of our national identity lies in the extent to which our consent has been freely given. When one exchanges money with another one consents to be constrained by the terms of the transaction participated in, and this is portrayed as the only possible connection between two people by the forces of globalisation. However the connection associated with belonging to a nation is entirely opposite to this; people do not invest their loyalties in a nation in the same way they accrue points on a loyalty card scheme. When we say we belong to a nation the cultural community to which we have thus affiliated ourselves is more than a mere mirage, an arbitrary and short-lived contrivance determined by commercial expedient, but one of many expressions of our basic humanity that have stood the test of time, endured the betrayals of those concerned only with short term gain and thus condemned to long term impoverishment. Our nationality is authentic because it is not determined by the narrow materialistic and temporary priorities of anonymous plutocrats who dictate the terms of the transactions by which we are otherwise constrained. It relates us to the land by our respect for and reverence of it rather than by its rape and exploitation. It relates us to ourselves as humans making sense of the world with the benefit of a shared cultural framework rather than as economic atoms to be arbitrarily manipulated according to the whims of remote and antagonistic corporations. It is the essence of self control, rather than the remote control which is globalisation.
And so in contrast to England's self-appointed mission, the mission Scotland finds itself with is to abandon the disguise it has assumed for the duration of that odious anomaly, the Union. The masquerade of empire has ended, there is nothing more to gain, no more remains. All that is left is to become ourselves again.
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