As a declaration of interest, author Andrew Liddle is a friend. His new book, Cheers, Mr Churchill!, is a triumph of fact over the ubiquitous myths about Winston Churchill's hatred towards Scotland.
I have repeatedly argued in these pages that Churchill and Scotland are neglected study areas. The International Churchill Society accepted one of my feature pitches on the subject which evolved into a dedicated edition quarterly journal when the volume of connections became apparent.
A subsequent public appeal for information inundated the team with long-forgotten vignettes, nuggets and factoids. Churchill first met the future Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral in 1928: "Elizabeth, aged two… a character. She has an air of authority & reflectiveness astonishing in an infant."
The same man who reputedly despised Scots also commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers as a Lieutenant Colonel. Serving as his adjutant in 1916 was his friend Major Andrew Dewar Gibb MBE QC, then a captain. Mr Dewar Gibb became a founder of the SNP and was its leader from 1936 to 1940.
Historian Gordon Barclay is almost single-handedly fighting the pernicious lie that a blood-soaked Churchill sent tanks and English troops to crush striking workers during the 1919 "Battle of George Square".
There is also the lie that Churchill deliberately sacrificed the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in June 1940, presumably because they happened to be disposable Scots. There's even a fantasy the Prime Minister would have abandoned Scotland to save England had the Nazis invaded that summer.
His wife Clementine was of Scottish ancestry with a family home at Airlie Castle; he sailed the Scottish coast annually with his family on the HMS Enchantress after he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. At one point, Churchill even drove a four-cylinder Napier Landaulette from Balmoral through Scotland to East Lothian.
Gordon Barclay's If Hitler Comes: Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940 (2013), With Winston Churchill at the Front (1916, re-released 2016) by Andrew Dewar Gibb, and Trevor Royle's A Time of Tyrants (2013) are masterpieces of connecting the pieces of Scotland's engagement in two world wars. All dip their toes but never dive into the sea of Churchill-Scotland ties.
A Scottish Life: Sir John Martin, Churchill and Empire (2000) by Michael Jackson is an excellent read about Churchill's private secretary. The Scottish Secretaries by David Torrance (2006) makes Churchill an unavoidable figure in discussing the Scottish politicians he worked with. Beyond my own research into Churchill and Scotland, there is only one other dedicated book, Churchill: A Seat for Life by Tony Patterson (1980), but that is only focussed on Dundee.
Until Liddle's text, there was no single book about Churchill's impact on modern Scotland. You can buy books about his clothes, his eating habits, and even about his pets – but nothing about where he spent some of the most challenging and rewarding years of his personal and professional life.
What Liddle has done is to undo the punchline of Churchill in Scotland. Churchill's legacy is the crooked backbone of contemporary debates about Scottish independence and unionism. To understand Scottish politics today, it is crucial to understand Churchill.
Liddle has the solemn task of making up for 70 years of oversight of a central figure. These innumerable Scottish connections sit below the surface like a rich oil field, ready for drilling.
It is near impossible to disentangle Churchill from events he helped shape. He was Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, he tackled Irish Home Rule, was heckled by the Suffragette movement, and fought in the First World War – all while MP for Dundee.
Liddle is an erudite guide with a conciseness that does not remove focus from the titular subject.
Schrodinger's Churchill is a problem in Scotland. He both exists and does not exist. In 2019 an elected member of the Scottish Parliament tweeted Churchill was a "mass murderer" and "white supremacist".
Because there is no central resource, nonsense has been allowed to grow like an invasive species of weed.
Scotland seems to have commercialised every aspect of its history to garner tourists. Remarkably, there are statues of George Kinloch, Robert Peel, and even William Gladstone in Scotland, but only a half-forgotten miniature of Churchill in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum. His erasure is complete, his memory dismissed as an English colonial imposition on poor wee Scotland.
Liddle's book is not some grand act of alchemy. Churchill said he held special memories of Scotland, and it gave him his wife, his constituency, and his regiment. Liddle's contribution starts to pull these threads into one volume and helps to undo the damage that years of neglect have done to Churchill's reputation in Scotland.
This work is exhaustive but not complete, nor could it be. Liddle and the International Churchill Society have started an entirely new field. The hard part will be ensuring it’s not lost under the usual ugly outcry on social media that detests anything resembling the truth.
It is beyond serendipitous that Churchill was born on 30 November 1874, St Andrew's Day. Before Chartwell, Churchill nearly bought an estate in Scotland. The first of 1,000 biographies about Churchill was written by Alexander MacCallum Scott, his former private secretary, and a Scot.
Liddle's book, published on Thursday, is not a must-read but a necessary one. And yes, the fact Churchill lost his Dundee seat in 2022 to a prohibitionist teetotaller is just one of the many joys to find in this new book.
This article has been updated to remove a line suggesting “Churchill's non-existent instruction to send English troops to quell Scottish protesters in 1919 even made it onto an SQA exam sheet in 2020”. This is not the case, and we are happy to correct this point