Scotland – Romantic highland sceneries, traditional bagpipe bands and spooky castle ruins on the edge of Loch Ness. Those are the things that come to our mind when thinking of this beautiful country covering the entire north of Great Britain. As Jaskaran and I both spent a semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh, we will try to get closer to the question of Scottish identity aside from its stereotypical (but yet lovely) image by elaborating on their potential political independence and the historic balance between Westminster and Edinburgh.
This article covers the historical background, while a following article will focus on contemporary issues.
Anyone watching Outlander out there? The Scottish TV series around Claire Randall, a British nurse being sent back in time to 1743, deals with the heroic struggles of Highland clans against their English occupiers. Even though the highland culture was widely destroyed in the aftermath of the Clans’ uprising, Scottish identity still differs extensively from their British counterpart. In fact, it would even be an insult to call a proper Scot an Englishman.
Division between England and Scotland dates back to ancient times. Roman emperor Hadrian’s wall already marked the boundary between Roman province Britannia and unconquered Caledonia to the north, roughly outlining today’s Scottish territory. In the Middle Ages, Irish settlers introduced Gaelic language and eventually the first Scottish Kingdom was established in 843, separately from its southern counterpart. In the following centuries, Scottish Kings oftentimes refused English demands for submission resulting in several major Anglo-Scottish wars in that period.
Scotland’s social structure in these times was based on the clan system. Large families gathered around a clan chief, who provided security and jurisdiction. While political elites around the king sought slow reconciliation with England, life in the Highlands was still very traditional and differed significantly from the British lifestyle.
In 1603 James VI, King of Scots inherited the thrones of England and Ireland and moved to London. For the first time in history, England and Scotland were reigned in personal union by one single monarch and in 1707 the Act of the Union finally cemented the United Kingdom as we know it today, under predominant English influence.
Known as the Jacobite uprisings, many Highland Clans opposed the British rule and supported Scottish Stuart kings in attempts to recapture the throne. Outlander covers the last and most prominent of these uprisings, the landing of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Together with thousands of Highland warriors, he marched upon Edinburgh and even invaded England. However, his army then pulled back and was finally beaten at the Battle of Culloden. It took the British troops only about 25min to slaughter the Scots.
In the aftermath of the Jacobite uprising, British troops occupied the Highlands and chased any anti-English opposition. Highlanders were banned from carrying weapons and wearing the traditional Kilts leading to the extinction of almost all Gaelic culture. Economic and social structures of the Highlands were reformed, and many Scots were displaced in the following Highland clearances. What remained was a romantic memory of the last Scottish King and the final introduction of British culture in Scotland. From now on, Scotland was under total British rule until 1999.
Even today, the effects of Scottish history are visible. Culloden remains a dramatic aspect of British history and a painful memory in the hearts of every Scott. While Gaelic culture is celebrating a comeback with the stereotypical kilts and bagpipes, the highlands remain vastly uninhabited as a direct consequence of the clearances. Monuments usually honor Scottish heroes; historical British figures are not as popular. And finally, Scots are usually a bit rougher than Englishmen because of their background as clansmen.
But Scottish desires for independence also shape contemporary politics. While political responsibilities are largely executed by the Scotts themselves since 1999, the relationship to Westminster is marked by continuous disputes and a rejected independency referendum. These implications will further be elaborated in the following article by Jaskaran Singh.
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