Scots Self-Hating Myths 109


This is Lord George Murray, painted in 1745. He is wearing a kilt.


This is the piper of Clan Grant in 1714. He is too.

Tartan type designs go back thousands of years among Celtic tribes, becoming more complex over time as technique developed. The kilt evolved from the belted plaid. Kilting – the sewing in of the pleats rather than gathering them under the belt – was an obvious convenience for people who could afford a separate blanket and apparel. Lord George’s 1745 costume is certainly kilted. The appearance of the small kilt – cutting off the piece over the back and shoulders – came in from about 1700.

Yet generations of Scots had it drummed into them that the kilt is not real at all, it is an entirely phoney Victorian invention dreamed up by the Prince Regent and Walter Scott. This denial of their own culture comes out viscerally, as in the reaction to the uniforms for the Commonwealth Games. Take Kevin McKenna in the Guardian:

“The modern kilt is a fey and ridiculous representation of the robust Highland dress in which the Jacobites went into battle against the Hanoverians”.

That is simply not true. Here is a light article on the kilt I wrote for the Independent a few years ago. If you look at the comments underneath, people simply spluttered and asserted the same denigrations they had been told. Scottish culture never existed. Bagpipes and kilts were Victorian inventions for shortbread packets.

Does it matter? Well, yes. It matters because it is a small part of a long term mis-education of a people about their own history and culture. It is of a piece with the absolutely untrue, but widely held belief, that there were more Scots on the English than Scottish side at Culloden (the real ratio was over 4 Jacobite Scots to every Hanoverian Scot in the battle), that the Jacobites were Catholic (less than 25%), that Charles Edward Stuart believed in the Divine Right of Kings (he explicitly did not). Most pernicious of all has been the airbrushing from history of the avowed aim of Scottish independence of the large majority of both the leaders and followers of the 45, including Lord George Murray.

I do not want you to misunderstand me. I have no yen for the Stewarts – my concern is how to get rid of the monarchy. But the generations of denigration of Scotland’s history, its reshaping to suit a Unionist agenda where the backwards and benighted Scots were brought in to the political and economic glories of the Union and British Empire, underlies so many of the attitudes to Scottish Independence today. Every culture has a right to reference its roots and history without ridicule – and the denial of the authenticity of genuine popular cultural heritage is a particularly pernicious form of ridicule, especially when it is built on lies drummed home in schoolrooms over centuries.

109 thoughts on “Scots Self-Hating Myths

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  • MJ

    “But a bonfire of the accordions would be good”

    Not bad for accompanying saccharine lyrics but terrible for marching. A friend of mine plays the accordion on a semi-professional basis. He keeps doing his back in because of the instrument’s weight and awkward playing position. I imagine pipers don’t have this problem. Once you cut away all the limbs and plumage there’s not a lot left.

  • Ba'al Zevul (With Gaza)

    A friend of mine plays the accordion on a semi-professional basis. He keeps doing his back in because of the instrument’s weight and awkward playing position.

    Sometimes justice is seen to be done. His cure is in his own hands.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Still just cherry-picking about the past, and decent men.

    Certainly Geoffrey Howe was a better man than Mellor at the FCO, and he survived until he allowed Captain Simon Hayward to write his self surviving memoir, Under Fire:Mu Own Story. while in a Swedish prison.

    When Thatcher learned about his failure in stopping its appearance – and Howe had not been in the loop about covert operations – he was summarily fired, and Younger, the Scottish SoD, resigned in protest,

    This was the beginning of the end of the ‘Iron Lady’ as Younger would have nothing more to do with her being Conservative Party leader. and Howe drove the nails into her political coffin when the time came.

    Still nothing about 18th century Scots like William Robertson making Britain an imperial power, and politicians like John Stuart, Lord Bute, putting it on a bipartisan basis.

  • DoNNyDarKo

    Loved your article in the Independent.I started reciting it out loud with an Ivor Cutler voice,(remember Life in a Scotch Sitting Room ?) and it really is entertaining as well as educational.Even when you’re deadly serious, humour is always just under the surface.
    You should maybe think of doing something similar on stage at Doune the Rabbit Hole and add stand up comic to your CV.

  • fred

    “This is a difficult concept for you, but photos hadn’t been invented, and ordinary people couldn’t afford portrait painters. That is why the portraits of kilts are of posh people – not because only they wore them.”

    But they are not evidence that the modern kilt is traditional Scottish folk dress and I don’t believe it ever was. A Georgian invention not a Victorian invention, so what.

    I don’t believe anybody but a few stuck up snobs ever wore the short kilt before it’s adoption by the Highland Regiments.

  • J. R. Tomlin

    It is fascinating that in this article about reclaiming Scotland’s heritage there are so many posts disparaging it. Generations of ‘education’ about inferiority really are hard to undo.

  • Miss Castello

    Craig; 11.07 am

    John / Nana; Which one did win in the end? Apologies if you’ve already said. Too many comments to scroll thru:-).

  • Roderick Russell

    When I was a boy I wore a kilt everyday to school. It was preferable to the alternative – school uniform and shorts – and very much more comfortable: warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. I haven’t worn a kilt in years, but as I recall it is a very practical form of clothing.

  • DoNNyDarKo

    FRED: Is that what everybody believes up at Dounreay where you claim to stay ??
    The “modern kilt” whatever you may think or whoever you may think designed it was what traditional highland dress evolved into.
    Scottish regiments were issued 9 yards of material for their kilts, they didn’t adopt them.
    James the 5th of Scotland took a ship up to “your part of Scotland” and describe the wild men in their highland dress or feilidh-mór as it was called back then.
    If you take the Celt civilisations back to the Hallstadt culture,then the leather tunics with belts round the middle resemble Kilts.The Greeks and Roman wore kilt like clothing.
    I am quite sure snobby Scots had snobby kilts but the form of dress itself is ancient.

  • fred

    “Is that what everybody believes up at Dounreay where you claim to stay ??”

    You would have to ask them, I hardly know anybody at Reay.

    Now we have established your credentials for getting things right it is your choice if you would prefer Scottish traditional dress to be based on what the rich elite wore not what the common man wore. I have my opinions and they would be the same as where I lived. The north of England I would rather see represented by the clogs of the clog dancer not the top hat of the mill owner.

    That is my opinion, obviously you have your reasons for having a different opinion.

  • Mary

    You are so funny Brian. 🙂

    At first I thought it was an Isle of Barra rip off but then I saw the difference!

  • DoNNyDarKo

    Agh Fred, You have moved house since you said you lived in Sutherland,but you still know a few folks.That’s nice.

  • Juteman

    I think when Fred stood for UKIP in the council elections, he was ran out of town. Methinks a few highlanders demonstrated how quickly a kilt can be used, and his arse is now in tatters. 🙂

  • fred

    “Agh Fred, You have moved house since you said you lived in Sutherland,but you still know a few folks.That’s nice.”

    I have never said I lived in Sutherland.

    Dounreay isn’t in Sutherland.

    I, and most of the people I know are opposed to the disneyfication of Scotland and resent having a Celtic culture imposed on an area with a Norse heritage.

  • Shuggy


    >The north of England I would rather see represented by the clogs of the clog dancer not the top hat of the mill owner.

    National dress examples the world over are often not what the working class might wear day-to-day (Not sure where this idea came from? Your imagination?) but in many cases what people might wear on a special occasion, at a wedding ceremony Etc.

    Also over time national dress has often been adapted to become more convenient either to make or wear. Few nations would have someone harping that their national dress is not ‘real’ and/or it was foisted on them by another nation. Scotland seems to get this kind of marginalisation as a matter of course for reasons best known to those performing the cultural persecution.

    Also have you tried to ascend into the Lost Valley wearing a 9 yard Highland special? Seems unlikely this was what was always worn even then.

  • fred


    A fascinating site, I could spend hours looking at it. Just Norway alone has such a wide range and huge diversity of national costumes.

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