Thoughts on a windy moor

cullodenYesterday afternoon I was standing on a windy moor in Scotland and reminding myself that, over 250 years ago, my ancestors, the Prices, had stood directly opposite my husband’s ancestors from Clan Donnachaidh, preparing for what was to become the last full-scale battle in Britain. After one hour of intense fighting, 1250 Jacobites lay dead on the moor alongside 50 Government troops. The field of battle is still honoured as a war grave.

My memories from school history had romanticised Culloden as a confrontation between the Scots – Bonnie Prince Charlie and the brave Highlanders – and the English, or rather, the Germans who had taken over the English throne, all over the succession. In fact, the truth was far more complex, with Scots and English (and Welsh) serving on both sides, and many other political and religious factors at play. An excellent new visitors centre has been built since I last went there, and it traces the many-faceted origins of the ’45 rising through multi-media presentations and re-enactments.

I was deeply affected by the section on the aftermath of Culloden. What followed was brutal suppression and the systematic destruction of Highland culture. Large numbers were murdered or imprisoned and we know that 936 Jacobites were transported and sold into slavery in the Southern States of America and the West Indies. Many others escaped to Canada, to the familiar landscapes of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Gaelic and the wearing of tartan were both outlawed.

The fairly swift progress from defeat, to demonisation and ethnic cleansing in the 18th century, helped to legitimise the Highland Clearances, and the greater diaspora, that followed over the next 100 years.

Just as I find it very difficult to get under the skin of Northern Ireland tribalism, so, as an outsider, I find current Scottish politics somewhat intractable. How much of this history, embedded in the national consciousness, is driving the moves for independence today? Do echoes of the  Jacobite cause still call Scots to metaphorical arms against the English?

How can we as Liberal Democrats acknowledge this challenging heritage whilst backing Better Together? I imagine that people who live in the Highlands today will not be happy with any Government, whether based in Westminster or Holyrood, unless it responds to their unique needs, so getting their infrastructure right may well be the key to a resounding No vote. We are right to focus on the future – one in which the UK nations support each other to our mutual benefit – rather than dwell on a bloody past.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Think you are right to pick up on a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality but there is more than this. Westminster can be perceived as very high handed and impetuous which is toxic in a country with fierce national pride.
    This is how its felt when the message coming from London is basically, you’re doomed without us.

    I think this is latently untrue. No-one should accept Scotland as a triviality or a chore in politics or policymaking. Nor should people used to dealing with elites fail to recognise a country with a uniquely egalitarian culture. The case for the union should have been that Scotland has more of a chance to fulfil its potential as part of the united kingdom, then apart from it. To my mind, this case has not been made by Better Together

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '13 - 10:33am

    How can we as Liberal Democrats acknowledge this challenging heritage whilst backing Better Together?

    By stopping being simplistic, and having decent education in history which explains both sides of the argument in things like this.

    The Jacobites wanted to restore the sort of absolute monarchy that was in place in France at that time, and which led there to the French revolution. This was not an England v. Scotland thing, in fact most Scots were not supporters of the Jacobite cause. Even the Highland clans did not universally support the Jacobites.

    The Germans on the throne were the very opposite of the absolute monarchy in France. In fact the succession of kings who were not bothered about Britain did us a huge favour – they were happy to allow the British to govern themselves through Parliament and this became the foundation of our democracy.

    The Jacobites are romanticised because they lost. The romanticisation started when it became clear there would be no more serious Jacobite attempts to overthrow what became democracy.

    On the Highland Clearances, while they were particularly brutal, they were just the most extreme example of what was happening across Britain at the time. The Enclosure Acts in England similarly saw peasants thrown off the land they used for subsistence, resolving what had been a system of rights and responsibilities for the overlords into one which was just about rights for the overlords. This idea that land ownership is absolute and does not come with any sort of responsibilities persists to this day. This ending of the idea that those who control resources also have responsibility to provide employment and housing to the masses is at the foundation of our economic system today, with companies claiming that the only responsibility they have is to maximise profit for their shareholders, and political ideologues claiming that taxation is evil. The destruction of council housing, and the forcing out of people from their communities which we are seeing right now with what is called the “Bedroom Tax” is the modern equivalent of the Clearances. As it is now, so it was then – those in control pushed it as necessary and unavoidable “modernisation”, claiming it leads to a more efficient and productive society.

  • Robin Bennett 29th May '13 - 10:36am

    Well said sfk. People here donot give Culloden or its aftermath much thought. Even the clearances do not figure much – perhaps because those who were cleared are no longer here. The oversized (100 ft) monument erected in 1837 to the notorious landowner the Duke of Sutherland above Golspie remains standing.

  • I was born and bred in rural East Anglia and was brought up in a village that, in this day and age, would be described as ‘idyllic’ by estate agents. I like this part of the world very much. I was raised as ‘Church of England’ by way of religion, and although I respect that organization (to some extent), I never believed a word of what it (they?) taught me. I have travelled abroad quite a lot; I have no nationalism, and to misquote Henry Ford I, I believe that “all ‘nationalism’ is bunk”. That’s it, end of story. I live where I live through accident of birth, which is a truism for people anywhere on the planet. The people who live in my neighborhood are good citizens, but probably not very different from people all over the world. I have travelled extensively through Scotland – Highland and Lowland – and the people there are, well, just people. I have no opinion one way or the other re. Scottish independence, it is entirely a matter for the Scottish people. I do, however, have a strong view about nationalism in general, and that is that it usually, if not always, causes disharmony and strife. I am truly happy that I have never felt a desire to get emotional over a flag, be it the cross of St George (when is St George’s day? – I truly haven’t a clue without Google), the union flag or any other piece of coloured linen. And that’s how it should be.

  • Malcolm Todd 30th May '13 - 11:39am

    Well said, Daven. Have often tried but never succeeded in putting my view as succinctly as you just have.
    If it matters to anyone to know, I’m Scottish but have lived in England since I was 17; my family is spread over England, Scotland and Germany; and I don’t give a toss who wins the World Cup or what nationality is “claimed” for Andy Murray…

  • Simon McGrath 30th May '13 - 11:43am

    @matthew huntbach – you are of course completely right. Ending the spare room subsidy is exactly like the Clearances.
    I really enjoyed this: “political ideologues claiming that taxation is evil. ” Given that today is Tax Freedom Day” when the average worker stops paying money to the Government and can the rest for themselves those who claim tax is eveil ( who are they by the way? ) are not being very succesful.

  • The inscription is in error. The Jacobites neither fought for Scotland nor claimed to be fighting for Scotland. They were fighting, as Matthew correctly points out, to impose an absolutist monarchy on the whole of the United Kingdom. Jacobites were not necessarily Scottish. Many of them were English. The Highland chiefs launched the rebellion because they wished to resist the efforts of Lowland Scots to impose law and order and taxation on their fiefdoms. The almost exclusively illiterate and desperately impoverished men who took up arms were duped into thinking that the English would hail them as liberators and that they would be given French military support. They couldn’t believe it when the people of Manchester came out of their houses and jeered them, and the English Jacobites declined to rally to their cause.

    The attempt to appropriate the Jacobites and Culloden to the cause of Scottish nationalism is much older than Alec Salmond and the SNP, as the rather weathered looking monument bears witness. Unfortunately, the myth is now being added to, with the recent characterisation of the Highland Clearances as “ethnic cleansing”. Ethnic cleansing, as I understand it, involves the forcible substitution of one ethnic group for another. In the case of the Highland Clearances, Highland Scots were replaced by sheep, and they were evicted by their own landlords, all of whom were native Highland Scots, the grandsons, in many cases, of the chiefs who took up arms against George II. No English people were involved. The Clearances were part of a restructuring of agriculture very similar to the mass eviction of tenants in the English Midlands during the 14th century to make way for sheep and the highly profitable wool trade. Although the landlords carrying out those evictions were mainly French, and the tenants exclusively English, no-one has yet thought to describe the process as “ethnic cleansing”. Or am I missing the latest nationalist myth?

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