Rewriting history serves the Union ill

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Michael Kelly criticises the naive nationalist view that “a plucky, creative people has been robbed of its full rights by a dominant, indifferent, more powerful neighbour … etc”; then gives a take on history which is just as tendentious (“Alternative history cuts Scotland down to size”, Perspective, 5 September).

It is not true that pre-
Union Scotland habitually “put herself on the wrong side”. Scotland was one of the victors of the Hundred Years War against the attempt of the Anglo-Burgundian axis to dismember France. In the aftermath, while England was torn apart in the Wars of the Roses, there was a late flowering of medieval Catholic scholasticism and the other arts in Scotland.

This ferment of ideas led to the Reformation; which Kelly does not mention, though this is what caused Scotland to switch its alliance from France to England a 150 years before the Union.

Henry VIII’s attempt to force a marriage between his son and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, to which Kelly perversely gives retrospective approval, had recently had just the opposite effect.

During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (sometimes misleadingly called the English Civil War), first Scotland, then England, bucked the European trend towards Catholic or Episcopalian monarchic absolutism.

In the eventual settlement of 1689, it was the Scottish Parliament that declared in statute form that the king had forfeited the crown on account of his absolutism. Westminster had been too timid to do this; but it was the establishment of this precedent requiring limited monarchy that made some kind of negotiated Union a possibility.

Kelly makes a fair point that Scotland was then unwise to attempt the Darien settlement without Spanish acquiescence, or even the support of allies England and the Netherlands; and the “ill years” of famine in the 1690s further weakened what had been a very strong negotiating position.

It is always going to be debated whether the Treaty of Union was, on balance, a good or bad thing at the time. Then was then, and I have not decided what to do with my vote in the forthcoming referendum either, which is a quite different issue. However, Michael Kelly does the case for the Union no favours with an anglo-centric “Whig” take on history, of a kind refuted long ago by David Hume and William Robertson.

David Hamilton

Prince Regent Street

Leith, Edinburgh

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