AA Gill

AA Gill
Sunday Times
August 2014


Someone said that Scotland doesn’t have history, it just has a longer memory for current events. Before talking about whether this uneven union should be split, it’s instructive to understand what forged it in the first place. 


The English, while offering gold with one hand, waved the cudgel with the other and passed the Alien Act, making any Scot not in the army or on business an illegal immigrant. London threatened tariffs on Scottish exports. So the vote was passed. As Daniel Defoe, an English spy, said, for every one Scot in favour of union, 99 were against. There had been hundreds of petitions agin it from every corner of the country, and not one in favour. There were riots in Edinburgh and Glasgow, martial law was imposed. 


As the ancient Caledonian parliament voted itself out of existence, the Earl of Seaford, with a heavy heart, noted that it was the end of an auld sang. And at St Giles Cathedral, the national church of Scotland, where Knox had preached, the bells rang out. The tune was Why Should I be Sad on My Wedding Day? 


Not many Scots, and even fewer English, know this story, the inglorious nuptials of the Union. But you don’t have to remember history to be affected by it. This act and all the bullying and perfidy, venality, weakness and snobbery that went before it make the relationship between the two countries what it is. The informed view of Big Ben seen from Ben Nevis was never a love match, nor the uniting of mutually benefitting equals. It’s the English who roll their eyes at the raking up the past and say, "Oh, get over it, move on. Stop being a victim," which is what wife-beaters always say to their victims. 


Still, despite 400 year of patronage and propaganda, Scotland isn’t the heathery extension of England. It remains stubbornly and grimly, often amusingly, a different place. Its humour, its character, its stories, it expectations, how it gets married and celebrates, how it gets buried and sees in the New Year, what is sings about and fights about, are all markedly, noticeable, fiercely different.