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

1 2 3 4
  • Kempe

    I can’t see how the kilt could be a phoney Victorian invention dreamt up by the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott as they’d both died long before Victoria came to the throne. I’ve never heard this story before anyway, it was said to have been invented by a Lancashire Quaker in 1720 but some earlier paintings of Highlanders have cast doubt on this.

    Every reliable source I can find confirms that the Divine Right of Kings was a central plank of Jacobite philosophy. Any chance of some evidence? Why if the Young Pretender was only interested in liberating Scotland did he try and march on London? If the Jacobites had stayed behind the border and consolidated they might’ve had a greater chance of success.

  • Vronsky

    Bagpipes are not particularly Scottish, being known in almost every European culture including English. I think the earliest reference is in Ancient Greece, where they are reported as being played by a captured ape disembarking at Syracuse (Curt Sachs, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, recommended). It seems the reputation of pipers has changed little over the centuries.

    I played bagpipes from the age of 8, competing at most of the main Highland games, complete with kilt. On occasions when I showed up as a spectator, sans kilt, piping friends would say ‘I see you’re wearing slacks today’. This always stung – slacks were things that girls wore.

    Like Craig I’d like to see the back of the royal family, with one little twist. The gates of Traquair House were closed in 1745, never to be opened until a Stuart king again sat on the Scottish throne. So I’d P45 the Windsors, crown any nearby Stuart King of Scots and open the gates at Traquair. Just for fun. And declare a republic a week or two later.

  • Rhisiart Gwilym

    Craig, why don’t you delete the childish-idiot comments? They take up space – and patience – that could be used for actually useful conversation by adults.

    Dmitry Orlov does this sort of idiot pre-clensing on Club Orlov, and John Michael Greer on The Archdruid Report does it in spades; no idiots ever get through JM’s filters; always a mercifully idiot-free zone where adults can speak or just read in peace from them. The quality jumps by an order of magnitude at least, straight away, compared to what grown-ups have to endure in less moderated sites.

    Both take part in the comment conversations also, Dmitry now and then, JM dutifully, several times on each post, meticulously responding to every single poster. I know you do too, Craig, but so often it seems to have to be to rebut an idiot comment, as in this post. Waste of space and psychic energy, isn’t it?

    The quality of the conversations in the comments benefits immensely when it’s exclusively between adults making serious inputs in good faith, as in those two cases. There’s still plenty of disagreement allowed through, both between the commenters and against things which Dmitry and John have posted themselves. It’s by no means ‘everyone sing from the same song-sheet or else’. And of course that’s no more than it should be in a real, adult conversation. But obviously the fools and knaves buggering up the comments here aren’t going to make grown-up, good-faith, useful inputs. And that’s a real nuisance, because your blog is one of the best around, with a steady flow of vital information and insightful analysis; precious, and not too readily found in many places, in this era of the Permanent Bullshit Blizzard in all of the Anglophone world’s lamestream media, and in far too much of the net.

    I still find it worthwhile skimming through the comments on your blog, stopping at the grown-ups. But the idiots make it an irksome exercise, quite a bit. Their intent is brainless piss-taking at best, and hasbarollockser-style dis- and mis-information at worst. So off ’em, Craig! Inclusiveness of differing viewpoints is essential; but so, I suggest, is the pre-deletion of fools, ignoramuses, and malignants. And sure, it’s a judgement call; but every blogger has to do that. Either so, or let the idiots flood in and ruin your comments conversations altogether for many would-be readers.

  • Iain Macmillan

    Great article Craig, Slainte! I’ve studied Scottish Highland history all my life and constantly have to dispel the myths that folk have been getting taught. I notice that it’s rattled the cages of all the Scotophobic bawbags though. They really don’t like the truth, do they? Bit like the nawbers at Bitter Together.

  • Kempe

    “Bagpipes are not particularly Scottish ”

    Brought back from the Middle East by returning Crusaders I believe (like much else). Muslim forces used them to scare the Crusader knights horses.

  • Bugger (the Panda)


    I have been, I think, at Traquair House and saw the brewerey.

    I took a tour and visited the House, including looking into the Priest’s Hole. No not that sort, I leave that to your twisted imagination.

    So, I think it has been opened again, unless I am wrong.


    B t P

  • MJ

    Vronsky: it dawned on me a while ago that you were a piper but I reckoned you wouldn’t take too much offence at the joshing. Certainly none was intended.

    You’re right about English bagpipes. Northumbrian as I recall.

  • craig Post author


    Charles Edward Stuart certainly wanted to march on London. The Scots didn’t, they wanted an independent Scotland. That was what the council at Derby was all about and why Murray and CES fell out. This is an excellent analysis of who the people out in the 45 really were and what they wanted

    Charles I certainly believed in DROK and it was a key mid 17th century philosophical argument. By 100 years later people, including Charles Edward Stuart, had rather moved on – Charles I seemed a fairly practical disproof of the theory. For an extensive consideration of what CES believed in read this

  • Juteman

    Re Traquair.
    In my fitter days, i ran the Two Breweries hill race from Traquair brewery to the Greenmantle brewery. 18 miles of Scottish border hills with free beer at the end. Mmmmm. Those were the days.:-)

  • Ken

    To be fair the kilt is being sold these days as Scottish national dress when it is nothing of the kind. Two centuries ago the only man in a kilt that you would have seen in Edinburgh would have been the one dangling from the gallows in front of the castle for the Papist, Irish speaking cattle thief that he was.

    The Victorians did make highland garb into a national costume, with the result that it is worn across the country, especially by middle class types who back in the day would have screamed for the Duke of Cumberland’s men to string up anyone wearing it.

  • Mary

    Anon My posting of that cartoon of Craig in the Mail was not intended to be insulting of him. Just for the record.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Wish there had been mention of Scottish leaders after the Act of Union, especially Robertson and Hume.

    Robertson seems to have made out the worst in Scottish history, so much so that his grandson Henry Brougham had to settle for being brought up in Westmorland. He challenged the idea when he was maturing, moving back to Edinburgh, only to discover that the French Revolution had made it into Hume’s true home, and a renewed imperial partner..

  • craig Post author


    On pipes, they feature strongly in a number of linked Celtic cultures – Scots, Irish, Breton and Asturian – and there are distinct similarities in the music. Certainly they exist in other cultures too, but their predominance in Celtic cultures separated long before the crusades would seem to preclude that origin theory. Indeed, given that they do exist fairly widely, why would the Scots not have had them earlier?

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    “I notice that it’s rattled the cages of all the Scotophobic bawbags though.”

    I hope I’m not included for my anti-bagpipe rant. I’m a Scotophilic bagpipeophobe.

  • fred

    I don’t know what made you think the kilt was a Victorian invention.

    The Victorian invention was the tartan being tied to the clans. Before that it was said that you could tell where someone lived from the tartan they wore but people of one clan and even one area would wear many different tartans. Look at the picture of the head of the Royal Bank of Scotland then look at the Campbell tartan.

    I expect it was this fact that people got confused.

  • Resident Dissident

    It will of course be Northumberland bagpipes that will be heard when Edinburgh is returned back to its true roots as part of the Kingdome of Northumbria! The banished Picts will of course be free to wear whatever they want.

  • John Edwards

    As a morris dancer myself I would like to point out that although commonly associated with England one of the first historical references to morris dancing is actually to a performance taking place at the Scottish court. It was also found in Wales up to the 19th century.

    I am not an expert on bagpipes but my understanding is that they were common in England (I remember hearing an historical reference to Worcestershire as a place to hear bagpipes). I do not know the origin of Northumbrian small pipes.

  • fred

    It’s commonly thought that Morris dancing originated in North Africa with the Moors. There isn’t any real evidence either way, it might be true or it might be just one of those myths most countries have about their culture and most don’t seem to mind.

  • Hector

    The division has been there for centuries, Craig. The two territories spoke different languages to begin with. The kings of Scotland had bodyguards of Highlanders in their Lowlands castles.
    Unless a future Scottish government plans to repopulate the Highlands, which will be an expensive and difficult undertaking with little chance of success, it’s an irrelevant distinction. There are hardly any highlanders now, but most Scots imagine they’re Highlanders and identify with them. The demographic victors are the Lowlanders, the psychological victors the Highlanders.

  • Johnstone

    More than just an affront to vernacular dress code is the popular myth that Estates are part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and that they drive a successful Highland rural economy.

    The current rush to ‘mitigate against climate change impacts’ in other words on-shore wind farm development is a case in point. Less than 4 % of UK onshore wind farms are community or part community owned in stark contrast to Germany and Denmark. Benefits therefore accrue to landowners and energy companies (share holders) while the costs fall upon communities, (noise, flicker, loss of amenity and even income from tourism). There is no legal obligation to compensate communities although some energy companies have their arms twisted by regional councils that are the planning authority.
    Some public institutions, especially those receiving gifts or contracts from energy companies, like universities and rural research institutes, are providing these landowners with tool kits to help them manage their estates to put a sustainable ‘face’ on their manifestly unsustainable ‘bodies’
    Craig, do you think an independent Scottish government will speed up land reforms through punitive land value tax, fair energy policy or better still compulsory land purchase?

    Land ownership in Scotland: there are 1947 landholdings covering 9,826,891 acres (

  • fred

    “Land ownership in Scotland: there are 1947 landholdings covering 9,826,891 acres ”

    Google says Scotland has an area of 78,387 km², I make that around 19,367,625 and a half acres.

  • Phil

    Not that I’ve given it much thought but I had never questioned that kilts were a Victorian thing.

    And of course, down with the crown!

    I enjoyed reading this thread. I laughed at MJ’s comment and glad that we are not all too sensitive to laugh at ourselves and others.

  • Johnstone

    My source could be wrong that’s possible. Are you sure yours is reliable? What ever, do you dispute the disproportionate nature of Scotland’s land ownership pattern?

  • Phil

    Rhisiart Gwilym
    “Craig, why don’t you delete the childish-idiot comments? They take up space – and patience – that could be used for actually useful conversation by adults.”

    Well done for jumping in and telling Craig how to run his blog. This place has been missing your advice. You may have noticed by the responses how missed your advise is.

    I hardly agree with anyone here and no one agees with me. But that’s life. We are a mixed bag.

    You are an arrogant, patronising, censorious, middle class, self important, intolerant bore of a lefty. Fuck off back to the media lens forum.

  • fred

    “My source could be wrong that’s possible. Are you sure yours is reliable? What ever, do you dispute the disproportionate nature of Scotland’s land ownership pattern?”

    Your source is not comprehensive. If you read the FAQ you will see the owner of the site hasn’t finished listing all the land in Scotland yet and what is more he started with the large properties first so you can’t really establish a pattern.

    It doesn’t matter much but people seem to be bending Scottish culture to suit the Nationalist agenda and I believe Scotland has a right to be seen as they are not portrayed as serfs of the land owners.

1 2 3 4

Comments are closed.