Imagine that today’s Scottish Independence movement fades away to nothing – and then J K Rowling and Euan McColm get to write the history that defines what the Independence movement was, and what the Independence movement stood for. Then imagine the effect of 250 years of teaching the Rowling/McColm version in schools, universities and media narrative, until everybody absolutely “knew” that the 21st Century Scottish Nationalists were homophobic, racist, sexist, vicious xenophobes.
Well that is precisely analagous to what happened to the Scottish Jacobites. Almost everything you believe you know about the Jacobites is a deliberate lie. The effect has been to make us think of the Jacobites as on the wrong side of history, doomed, anachronistic and faintly ridiculous. This has succeeded in making Scottish nationalism ashamed of its historic roots, by comparison for example with the Irish, who revere their resistance fighters. It has thus helped blind Scotland to its colonial status, in a way the Irish were never blinded. The whole effect has contributed massively to the national inferiority complex.
Ireland has a much smaller population than Scotland and a fraction of the national resources. Yet yesterday it released economic statistics that showed its economy growing at 4.5%, when income per capita already exceeds Scotland’s by 25%. The national inferiority complex that leads so many Scots to believe that Ireland can be a very successful independent country but Scotland never could, is in many ways rooted to the lies that state propaganda told us about ourselves and our history. And the Jacobites are a key part of that.
What is more, everything you are about to read here is not under serious academic dispute. This is now the accepted truth as unearthed by modern scholarship. This has been the case for a couple of decades now in History departments of our best universities – but has had zero effect on popular opinion, formed by centuries of propaganda.
Let me recommend to you Prof. Murray Pittock’s brilliant Culloden, published last year, and Maggie Craig’s Bare-Assed Banditti, which is written with less historian’s jargon. The book you really need is my next book, a biography of George Murray, but I still have two years’ more research to do before I can write it.
Here is a short list of myth-busting facts about the Scottish Jacobites.
1) Scottish Jacobites were in large majority Protestant, a mix of Episcopalian and moderate Presbyterian; they wished to wrest the state religion back from the extreme Presbyterians. They supported religious toleration – in that important sense they were much more “modern” than their opponents
2) Scottish Jacobites overwhelmingly did not, in any sense, support increased monarchical power or a rollback of constitutional government.
3) Scottish Jacobites wanted above all an Independent Scotland. The first major act of the Jacobites on taking Edinburgh was to repeal the Act of Union. Prince Charles Stuart, acting as Regent for James VIII, on 9 October 1745 did formally repeal the Act of Union. That’s something they didn’t tell you in school.
4) That is why they fought under the Saltire. This was overwhelmingly their banner at Culloden. It did not mean anything different then than it does now. When they carried their saltires at Culloden, they meant precisely the same thing that we mean when we carry them through George Square today.
5) One of the most pernicious lies is that there were more Scots on the British than the Scottish side at Culloden. This is completely untrue – by a margin of four to one. The maximum fencible potential of Scotland at this time – the number of fighting men who could conceivably be put into the field given the population and other unavoidable economic activities – was 30,000. At its greatest extent the Jacobite army contained 12,000 Scots, and there was much turnover. A clear majority of the potential armed men Scotland could put into the field, at some stage turned out for the Jacobites.
6) The large majority of the Scottish Jacobites were not Highlanders.
The idea that it was the intellectually and emotionally stifling extreme Calvinism, the legacy of John Knox and the Covenanters and the begetter of the Orange Order and the Democratic Unionist Party, the most narrow-minded doctrine in all Western European history, which was the force for “modernity” and progress, is self-evidently risible. Yet we have all been taught to believe it and it is implicitly accepted in our received historical narrative.
Similarly we are taught that the defeat of the Jacobites was essential to bring in the Scottish Enlightenment, despite the fact that at least half of the key figures in the Enlightenment were demonstrably Jacobite in their sympathies.
Of course the Jacobites were not a “national” movement in that there was a sizeable minority of Scots who opposed them – just as there was in 2014 (in 2014 a minority of Scots as opposed to Scottish residents, a different question). And the pro-British minority of 1745 was founded in sectarian bigotry, the directly traceable ancestors of the fascist thugs who stormed George Square after the referendum. Those willing to come out on the British side naturally increased in 1746 after it became plain which side was going eventually to win. Just as Parisians turned out en masse to cheer Petain when he visited during Vichy. That does not make the Vichy French the main stream of French history.
By the time we get nine generations back to Culloden, we have 1024 direct ancestors. I can be reasonably certain from family history that some of of mine lie in mass graves with the Athollmen at Culloden. My parents used to live in Incheswood, close by the battlefield, in the days before it was fenced. I have probably visited the site over the years much more than most people. I have never done so without crying for those who died fighting for the cause which is the same cause I work for. We have very few monarchists in the Independence movement, and I am most certainly not one. But that is only one of the many psychological obstacles erected to alienate us from those who died in the very last battle of the Wars of Independence.
I have no shame in embracing this part of our history. Until we get comfortable with our history, our future will remain out of reach.