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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  • Gaia Hepburn

    I think it is a good example of the pernicious type of myth that can subvert the fabric of Scotland’s history and culture. It reminds me of the Myth of the Aryan Invasion designed in the 1820’s to strengthen the imperial grasp of India. Myth like mud seems to stick. Thank you for this clarification. Tartan is as Scottish as mist and midgies.

  • Hector

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

    He’s perfectly right about the modern kilt, as it happens; especially the idea that it was Scottish national dress rather than the clothing worn in a particular area by tribesmen with their own distinctive language and culture who were feared and hated by their fellow-countrymen.

  • MJ

    “Every culture has a right to reference its roots and history without ridicule”

    No it hasn’t. Respect isn’t a commodity available on demand. If you insist on poncing around in garish skirts while making horrendous noises by blowing down a dead flamingo then a little gentle chiding probably comes with the territory and you’ll have to take it on the chin. If people laugh just be pleased that you have made a small contribution to the net sum of human happiness.

  • Joseph Kurtz

    Fabric of Scotland’s history .. good pun. I’m Australian and i believed the 19C invention story. I’m Catholic** but it is interesting that the plantation in Nothern Ireland was probably just returning people home who had invaded Caledonia from Hibernia ie. the Scots.
    But it had nasty intentions and outcomes.

    My real surname not Kurtz is English but I’m 3/4 Celt. [Catholic paternal GM COE patnernal GF and presbos with Welsh background on mothers side] Parents had to marry in vestry of Catholic church as mixed marriage.

    Knowing true history is important and v interesting.

  • craig Post author


    Yes. There is a picture here of two good friends of mine. One is in his national dress and one is not. The one in his national dress is, among other things, an English barrister. What he is wearing is a toga like garment – as much a “skirt” as a kilt is. You can’t hear the local music playing, but to most British ears it is more discordant than bagpipes.

    Now do you want to make the same jocular remarks about his traditional dress? If not, what is stopping you? Serious question.

  • MJ

    “Now do you want to make the same jocular remarks about his traditional dress?”

    Sure. His garb certainly made me smile. Is that a problem?

    “to most British ears it is more discordant than bagpipes”

    I find that very difficult to believe.

  • craig Post author


    You ducked. How about saying what you said about the Scots, that he is “poncing about in garish skirts”.

  • Anon

    “Now do you want to make the same jocular remarks about his traditional dress? If not, what is stopping you? Serious question.”

    If I could interject: it is deemed acceptable in the current culture to take the piss out of a porridge wog, but not an African. Take it as a compliment. 🙂

  • Juteman

    Come to Dundee, and call me a porridge wog to my face. I’ll gladly remove your front teeth. Take it as a compliment. 🙂

  • MJ

    Juteman: quite right. “Porridge wog” is a horrible expression, not amusing at all.

  • Resident Dissident

    No problems with the kilt being claimed as part of Scottish ancestry. But while we are on the subject of airbrushing. perhaps we might address the views towards the Union of nearly all the main figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, whose contributions to thinking and Science, rather leave behind those of the Highland clansmen.

    BTW is there a story behind the shield painted on the portrait of Lord George Murray – photoshopping isn’t entirely a modern phenomenom and I wonder what might have been behind the shield originally.

  • Anon


    Thanks for the invitation.

    I’m not calling anyone a porridge wog. What I was showing was that to take the piss out of the black man would be deemed racist. Craig laid the trap for MJ, but it was rather a hypocritical attempt for an ‘anti-racist’ because it implies that taking the piss out of a black man in bath robes is a more grievous offence than taking the piss out of a Scot in a kilt. Were I Craig’s friend in the photo I would feel embarrassed and ask him not to view me as deserving of special protection. It’s patrionising and rather paternalistic, almost racist in itself.

    Of course MJ played a blinder by taking the piss out of the black man’s clothes as well as the Scot’s, so all ended in equality and harmony and thankfully we can still take the piss out of anyone.

  • Anon

    Anyway, kilts, bagpipes, whisky, haggis and the Loch Ness Monster. Thjs is what it means to be Scottish in the 21st Century. Don’t let the English imperialists rob you of your identity! 😀

  • Juteman

    I’ll try to make the Steps, Craig.
    Look for someone in the audience wearing a pearly king outfit and eating jellied eels.
    I may also be wearing a necklace of front teeth.

  • Mary

    I googled images for Craig Murray wearing a kilt and this was the only one that came up.
    Ghana gang: Craig Murray, centre, with some of the VIPs he encountered: Prince Philip, the Queen, Clare Short and Roger Moore


    Jim Murphy was allowed by Dimblenbore to give out Better Together propaganda on Any Questions on Friday.
    See the entry under

    He was a NUS president like Straw and is ‘a member of the Henry Jackson Society Advisory Council’. How revolting.

    Also he did not preface his remarks on Israel and Gaza at the beginning of AQ with a declaration of his interest as a Labour Friend of Israel and one time chair.

    He appears not to have ever had a job. 9 years at Strathclyde but did not graduate???

  • Julian

    @Craig I enjoyed your article on the Kilt. It did disabuse me of some myths, in a humourous manner. You should write some more funny articles. We don’t want you stereotyped as a dour, angry scotsman, do we ;-).

  • Anon

    MJ – “If you really want to cut a dash I’d suggest going dressed like this”

    Morris dancing is so last century. The most recognisable English dress today is shalwar kameez and hijab. We turn up in that and the Yes vote will surely prevail.

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    When I am Emperor of the World, I will round up all the bagpipers, line them up against a wall, and one by one, give them a choice. They must either burn their bagpipes or play a tune without any flat notes in it. If they choose the latter, first bum note …. rat-a-tat-atatttt.

    If they survive the first round with their bagpipes and bodies intact, they get a second choice. They must either burn their bagpipes or play only tunes whose notes are included within the very limited range of the chanter. If they choose the latter, the first time they substitute one note for a totally inappropriate other one …. rat-a-tat-atatttt.

    If they survive the second round with their bagpipes and bodies intact, I will allow them to go and live together on a remote island and torture each other’s ear drums with the few very simple melodies that the bagpipes are actually capable of playing.

    Once a year, on Independence Day, I’ll round them up again and march them down Princes Street as part of a massed pipe band, the only situation where bagpipes are appropriate, and, in fact, quite exhilarating.

  • MJ

    “They must either burn their bagpipes”

    That’s cruel. I think the bagpipes should be set free and returned to the wild.

  • Anon

    “That’s cruel. I think the bagpipes should be set free and returned to the wild.”

    Same goes for the Scotch.

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