The largest battle of the Jacobite 45 was not Culloden and not Prestonpans but Falkirk. On 17 January 1746, amidst a howling winter storm, an 8,000 strong Jacobite army routed a similar sized Hanoverian force under Lieutenant General Hawley, which had been marching to the relief of Stirling Castle. By every conventional measure it was a Jacobite victory. They held the battlefield while the Hanoverians retreated pell-mell to Edinburgh, they captured the Hanoverian artillery and baggage, Hanoverian casualties were higher by about four to one. Yet the history books tend to call it a draw.
The Hanoverian force broken at Falkirk formed 80% of the victorious force at Culloden a few months later. Falkirk was decisive because, had the Jacobites chased Hawley’s force as it retreated to Edinburgh in great disorder and with shattered morale, it could have been destroyed. This did not happen, for a variety of reasons. The most important was that Charles Stuart thought it prudent to get all his ducks in the row by capturing Stirling Castle first. The second was that Charles had failed to appoint an overall commander or a commander of the left wing, and spent the actual battle with his senior staff indoors around a fire staying out of the storm, while George Murray, fighting on foot, led the right wing of MacDonalds and Athollmen to victory.
You will gather that the research for my biography of George Murray continues. But unless you are particularly slow today, you will gather that I see a lesson here for the Yes Movement.
This is our Falkirk moment. Both the Tories and Labour are riven by internal dissent over Brexit. The UK is in palpable political chaos, and the prospect of remaining tied to Westminster has never been less appealing. It is not the job of the SNP to “save the UK from a bad Brexit”. It is the job of the SNP to win Scottish Independence, after which Scotland can decide itself on whether it wants to be in the EU or not (and the fact is that when last asked it very much did).
I fumed when the SNP fought the last Westminster election on a “don’t mention Independence” platform, and deservedly lost MPs as a result. I fumed still more when I was not allowed to hold a fringe meeting on Indyref2 at the SNP conference, and the subject was rigorously excluded from the motions before the Conference itself. Now that Nicola Sturgeon is daily putting further and further excuses forward for not moving on Independence, I am inclined to fear that the comfortable fire around which Charles Stuart warmed himself during the Battle of Falkirk, is an apt analogy for the position of the SNP Establishment, who are doing very nicely, thank you, out of their position within the UK, and show no inclination whatsoever to stop warming their toes at the Establishment hearth and move out into the storm and bullets.
I have no more claim to be a strategic genius than the next man. But when I see my sworn opponents, disoriented, in disarray, and fighting fiercely amongst themselves, I cannot help but feel that now is the time to attack them.