Having had his Twitter account bombarded by abuse from pupils at the fee-paying Strathallan school, the SNP MP Pete Wishart tweeted: “I think we can concede we’re a bit behind with the posh private school constituency”.
The epithets directed at Wishart after he appeared at the school for a Radio Scotland debate should not be condoned. But there was a hint of the pejorative in Wishart’s use of the word “posh” that was also evident in another tweet referring to a head-count of how pupils would vote in the referendum.
“All No supporters, bar three, at Strathallan private school,” tweeted Wishart, who seemed disappointed but unsurprised. Wishart is right in that Scotland’s fee-paying boarding schools are hardly hotbeds of Scottish nationalism. But, contrary to stereotype, some alumni of these institutions have made valuable contributions to the independence movement.
The SNP minister Fergus Ewing was at Loretto. One assumes that Madame Ecosse herself helped pack his red rugger jersey, red blazer and red socks into his trunk. The author John Herdman, whose recent book Another Country, memorably recounted his involvement in the literary nationalism of the MacDiarmid era, was at Merchiston.
A few miles from Strathallan, Glenalmond was the alma mater for the late Andrew Dewar Gibb, an eminent lawyer who was a founding father of the Scottish National Party, having discarded his unionist beliefs in favour of independence. Still a controversial figure today, Gibb’s denunciation of Irish Catholics in the 1930s would be totally taboo in today’s SNP or any other mainstream party.
By modern standards, the author James Robertson (also Old Glenalmond) offers a far more palatable point of reference for independence supporters. His brilliant novel And the Land Lay Still, which charts the rise of post-war Scottish nationalism, is a favourite of Alex Salmond’s.
It is difficult to say to what influence their parents’ choice of expensive education had on their political views. But it is not always helpful to categorise the private school product in terms of politics.
Incidentally, on Christmas Day, 1950, a certain Gavin Vernon was with Ian Hamilton and Alan Stuart in Westminster Abbey. They removed the Stone of Destiny and repatriated it to Scotland. Guess which school Vernon was at? That’s right: Strathallan. Obituaries of Vernon, who died in 2004, described him as “short, strong with a keen liking for beer”.
Perhaps Wishart would care to raise a glass to at least one Strathallian and say “hip, hip…hurrah/slainte mhath” to some of Scotland’s privately-educated independence supporters.