I have been reading Maggie Craig’s Bare Arsed Banditti, which is a highly revealling collection of personal stories from the ’45. I recommend it. Together with Fitzroy MacLean’s brilliant life of Charles III, it is now my favourite book on the Jacobites.
One thing which Craig brings out very well, with ample documentary evidence (though I deplore her lack of footnotes) is the extremely strong Scottish nationalist aspect of the rebellion and the strong nationalist sentiments expressed by many of the clan leaders and footsoldiers. This is an element which was not just ignored but deliberately falsified in history as it has been taught for generations – I still recall the scoffing at John Prebble. In fact an independent Scotland was almost certainly the desire of most of the Jacobite army, from the evidence available to us. Craig also demolishes the myth that there were as many Scots on the Hanoverian side as on the Stuart side at Culloden. I had known that was a myth, but just how overwhelmingly the Hanoverian army was English I had not fully taken on board.
The truly great Jacobite general, Lord George Murray, knew he was joining a disastrous enterprise, but felt he had to do it. His touching letter is often quoted:
My life, my fortune, my expectations, the happiness of my wife and children, are all at stake (and the chances are against me), and yet my duty to Scotland in which my Honor is too deeply to withdraw —– this matter of principles outweighs everything.
But historians have routinely overlooked the obvious – his duty was to Scotland, not to Britain. Maggie Craig does not quote this letter in her book, but the nationalist sentiment she records pervaded the army to the very top. It was of course true then as now that the ancestors of the New Labour numpties of Strathclyde gave not a fig for anything but cash, but the rebels were nationalist.
Scotland is not unusual. National independence is something which people have been prepared to give up their lives for around the world, for as long as the concept of a nation has existed (and the Declaration of Arbroath is arguably the first documentary assertion of a modern concept of nationality).
It is infinitely better to resove these matters without violence, but the desire for national freedom still ought to stir the blood. Which is why I am puzzled by Alex Salmond’s tactical decision to make independence as boring as possible, in the hope that nobody will be scared of it. It is of course true that independence should not necessitate physical border controls or economic barriers of any kind; it is quite extraordinary that unionists still talk as if independence would necessitate a return to mercantilism and a new effort to colonise Darien. But Salmond’s independence lite, where Scotland keeps the Queen, the pound, the British army to wage illegal wars, and doesn’t even have a proper diplomatic service, is just a further measure of devolution. Why should anybody work for a change on the grounds that nobody will notice it?
Forget independence lite, gie’s a pint of heavy. A republican Scotland where we can jail our own bankers.
Oh, and before anyone points out I was born in Norfolk, let me point out that Robert the Bruce was almost certainly born in Essex. I see no intellectual dilemma in myself being part English and part Scottish and wishing both to enjoy independent nationhood.