Think Winston Churchill hated Scotland? Think again – Alastair Stewart
No other figure is as unfairly maligned in Scotland as Winston Churchill. With some historical irony, his birthday even falls on St Andrew's Day.
Whatever one thinks of Churchill, his Scottish connections are plethoric. The absence of any public monument, information plaques, or a consolidated public history is precisely why his memory is such fertile ground for myth-making.
The idea that Churchill hated Scotland is common and repeated on social media. But there is scant evidence for the claim.
Churchill did not order tanks to quell strikers in the 1919 Battle of George Square. That this fabrication found its way into a history exam last year is a tell-tale sign all is not well in Scottish education. It was later corrected.
The same man who reputedly hated Scots also commanded the 6th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers as a Lieutenant Colonel. Serving as his adjutant in 1916 was Major Andrew Dewar Gibb MBE QC, then a captain. Mr Dewar Gibb became a founder and was leader of the SNP from 1936 to 1940.
In 1924, Dewar Gibb released a book about his time with Churchill in the trenches. He records Churchill as saying the three most important things he received from Scotland: his wife, constituency, and regiment.
Gibb reflected: "He is a man who is apparently always to have enemies. He made none in his old regiment, but left behind him there men who will always be his loyal partisans and admirers, and who are proud of having served in the Great War under the leadership of one who is beyond question a great man.”
Churchill also served with Archibald Sinclair, another Scot, who led the Liberal Party (1935-45). Sinclair served continuously as Churchill's wartime coalition as Secretary of State for Air.
Churchill was not sent packing from Dundee in 1922. Such a hyperbolic image ignores that he was returned five times as a Liberal MP beginning in 1908. Nor was he a carpetbagger from London when it was the Dundee Liberals who invited him as their candidate.
Churchill is accused of abandoning the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in 1940. It has also been suggested Churchill was prepared to sacrifice Scotland to the Nazis to protect the south of England. To predicate either accusation with the suggestion Churchill rabidly hated Scotland is a total contrivance.
But Churchill was among the first senior British politicians to call for Scottish home rule and UK federalism.
As early as 1913, Churchill said he looked forward to “when a federal system will be established in these Islands which will give Wales and Scotland the control within proper limits of their own Welsh and Scottish affairs”.
He acknowledged the democratic mandate of Scots calling for home rule. John MacCormick's Covenant petitioning the UK government for a Scottish Parliament achieved two million signatures by 1949.
As chairman of the Scottish Unionist Members of Parliament (and later Churchill's Secretary of State for Scotland), James Stuart issued a response saying: “If the people of Scotland were ultimately to decide in favour of a Scottish Parliament, no one could not gainsay them.”
Churchill was unequivocal in his support: “This letter expresses my own view, and there is nothing I can add to it.”
It was socialism, not nationalism, which Churchill saw as the gravest threat to Scotland, despite serving successfully in coalition with the Labour party during the war.
By 1950, Churchill warned in an Edinburgh speech that centralised socialism threatened the very being of the Union. He went so far as to suggest the Union itself could disintegrate as a result: “If England became an absolute Socialist state… ruled only by politicians and their officials in the London offices, I personally cannot feel Scotland would be bound to accept such a dispensation.”
There is a sea of material on Churchill's interactions with Scotland. But because Churchill has become an omnipresent spectre – a symbol, half-remembered, inspiring devotion or pure hatred – the truth is lost.
The proliferation of these myths is marked by the absence of a single, centralised resource about Churchill and Scotland. History is being dictated by how many people share the same lies, inventions or distortions on social media.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said of his predecessor: “So much has been written about every aspect of Winston Churchill's life that it is surprising that one important area – his relationship with Scotland – has commanded so little attention.”
The sycophants who try to embellish Churchill's reputation with an almost supernatural quality are just as guilty as those who peddle baseless judgements.
Churchillian bon mots, stories and tall tales are universal. But Churchill did not say: “Of all the small nations of this Earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”
Enquiries such as the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review are in the process of considering the future of statues and monuments linked to slavery and the promotion of imperialism.
Two plaques to Churchill's time in Dundee were erected in 2008 by private donations. There is a stunning portrait by Sir James Guthrie in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and a miniature sculpture in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum.
Churchill lived for 90 years. He said and did questionable things. But there is limitless scope to cherry-pick the things you like and do not like and get no closer to determining the man's character.
The takeaway is to realise tearing down or hiding history solves nothing. What's left is only a conspicuous void, quickly filled by whatever catches the mood at the time.
Churchill's Scottish connections are many and interesting. Look no further than the fact there are photos of Churchill sitting in a Glengarry bonnet, right beside a future founder of the SNP.
The half-remembered memory is a sad abandonment of objective truth on this, St Andrew's Day. And Churchill's birthday.
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