A recent letter to The Scotsman challenged No voters to give reasons for being in the Union.
It made me think of my visit to The Great Tapestry of Scotland during the referendum.
It celebrates Scotland’s history up to 1999, and, as Alex Salmond’s stirring (some would say Volkisch) speech on Calton Hill in 2013 proclaimed: “It is a story of courage and skill, of learning and achievement of struggle, of progress, of sacrifice and of pride.”
I’ve always thought that he was actually alluding to the period of the Union, and, in terms of numbers of panels, the tapestry supported my view.
Of the 161 panels, 19 cover the period from prehistory to the panel entitled ‘1018 AD, Battle of Carham, The Border Settles in the South’. I’d never heard of it before, but historians say it marks the official “start” of Scotland as a country.
The next 40 panels cover the 700 years to 1707, one panel for every 17.5 years. The remaining 100 mark the 292 Union years, one for every three years.
Some might argue we had just as much history before the Union, it’s just that there isn’t so much documentation or evidence. But anyone tasked with creating a Great Tapestry of ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, or ‘England, 1066-1707’ would have plenty of pharaohs, pyramids, Caesars, Colosseums, Pilgrim Fathers, Drakes, Shakespeares, Newtons and Agincourts to work with.
The Union panels commemorate a time when Scotland produced highly-educated, skilled, honest people with the confidence, drive – and often no other choice – to go out into the world to explore, evangelise, invent, teach, govern, fight, write, farm, entertain, engineer, finance, industrialise and heal.
They made a dominant contribution to all that is Great in Britain and Brave in Scotland, making me proud and defining me as a Scot.
Interestingly, in the 42 years since Panel 149, ‘Resurgence of the SNP, 1974’ only two panels depict positive events – Dolly the sheep and the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Others show two iconic setbacks, the Argentina World Cup disaster – a classic of the ‘Wha’s like us’ attitude, which has been our downfall through the ages – and the miners’ strike, where we got caught in the worst of English crossfires, union pig-headedness and Tory insensitivity.
If the tapestry is anything to go by, Scotland has six times as much great history since the Union than in the previous 700 years of monarchs, clan feuds, invasions, poverty and religious upheaval.
Recently, a panel commemorating Sir Andy Murray was added. I wonder what else would represent the last few years? The Commonwealth Games Tunnock’s Tea Cake? The wind farm atop a mountain range? The Gaelic-emblazoned police car? The Baby Box? It depends on who’s in charge of the needle and thread.
Allan Sutherland lives in Stonehaven. He is an Edinburgh University Business and Economics graduate .