Since Alex Massie has asked, I thought I would offer my thoughts on his latest Scotland-related post.
Mr. Massie writes:
Still, it’s more interesting that O’Hagan links the modern independence cause with the Confederacy. This isn’t quite as odd as it might seem at first blush (though I’d also suggest that if it is impossible to leave a Union then that Union is, ipso facto, to some degree coercive rather than voluntary).
Quite right. To digress for a moment, I said in recent weeks something to the effect that Lincoln could not have saved the Union, since the response to withdrawal from the Union marked the end of the Union as a voluntary confederation of states. The name union itself implies a joining together of disparate and discrete elements, and it is in the nature of such a union that there can also be a dissolution. In this sense, it is misleading to refer to the U.S. forces in the War of Secession as Unionists. They represented, in their effects if not always in their intentions, consolidation. It seems to me that one can praise or condemn the work of consolidation, but one cannot deny that it was something very different from the arrangement that had prevailed earlier, and that consolidation was in no way consistent with the federal principle of the Union.
That brings me back to Mr. O’Hagan. Likening the pursuit of Scottish independence to the cause of the Confederacy is an attempt to shame supporters of independence by playing on conventional hostility to the cause of the CSA. Above all, it is an attempt to confuse the issue. O’Hagan also frames it in a very strange way when he says, “It seems as lunatic to me as the argument of Southern Confederates in America, who feel they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln.” I suppose it depends on the moment in time to which O’Hagan is referring. If he is referring to the election of 1860, that might be one thing. If he is referring to the spring and summer of 1861, that is something else. Southern Confederates did not “feel” they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln, but were targeted for suppression by military force. Whatever else you will say about it, this is very different from what is going on in Europe today.
There is, I take it from Mr. Massie’s post, a drive to have people in the United Kingdom call themselves British. This reminds me of an anecdote. It was 1999, and I was flying to London. I was going to begin a six-week summer session at St. Anne’s College in Oxford once I arrived, and on the plane I was sitting next to a woman, a factory worker (as I recall) from the Kentish town of Deal. For whatever reason, U.K. politics became the topic of conversation, and the woman expressed to me her loathing for Tony Blair. Naturally, I felt the same. What was the thing she made a point of criticising? She hated that he referred to the country as Britain and to the people as ”British.” She was, she told me in no uncertain terms, English, not British. This was very important to her.
Now you might say that she was representative of the relatively recent surge in English nationalist feeling that accompanied devolution, but the point is that the idea of Britishness is not one that is necessarily widely shared by the people on either side of the border. ”British” is, as it has been for three hundred years, a designation of a political identity. Unlike the name American, which has tended to supersede identification with one’s home state in the 20th and 21st centuries, it is my impression that people in the U.K. will just as often describe themselves primarily in terms of being English, Scottish, Irish or, God bless them, Welsh. Perhaps it is because the name is relatively that much newer and to some extent seems more artificial than the names of the several places, and perhaps it is because these places have had their own political histories apart from that of England, with whose history they have become intertwined. In other words, there is a memory–even if it is sometimes a romanticised or exaggerated memory–of being something other than British. Aside from the few years of attempted independence, Southrons have been Americans, which sharply distinguishes the cases.
Mr. Massie notes:
It’s certainly the case, if I may generalise, that American conservatives tend to be more interested in Scotland than liberals. I should have ceased to be surprised by the number of Americans (and other foreigners) who say they are waiting for Scottish independence. Many, perhaps most, of these sympathisers are conservatives.
In part this may reflect the settlement patterns of Scots in the Carolinas and Appalachia which these days ensures that those most likely to appreciate their Scottish heritage are also, on balance, more likely to be conservatives than liberals. But it’s also the case that the idea of Scotland has a cultural resonance in the south - or amongst some conservatives - that it lacks in New England.
There really is a lot to this. Though you would not know it from my Norse-sounding surname, I have a Scots-Irish background through my mother’s father’s family. Perhaps in the same way that diasporans and American ethnics often seem more invested in nationalist myths than the people who live in the home country, I was raised with a keen appreciation for the difference of the Irish and Scots from the English (even though a large part of my heritage on my father’s side was English) and for whatever reason I sympathised from an early age with Irish and Scottish independence, whether achieved in the past or hoped for in the future. Like many other Scots-Irish, my grandfather’s people had settled in Appalachia (in what was Virginia and would become West Virginia). The story I heard when I was younger was that our original ancestor from Ulster had come over with the British army as part of the effort to suppress the rebellion of the colonies and then, as you might expect in such a story, switched sides. The story is almost certainly made up, but it reflected the romantic notion that had been kept alive in my grandfather’s family that they, the Scots-Irish, were deeply opposed to the British just as the patriots here were. So part of the attachment to the cause of Scotland, so to speak, is the attachment of descendants of Scots-Irish settlers (many of whom, like one of my ancestors, fought on the side of the Confederacy) to one of the old countries, but it is also a sense of common cause between Americans and Scots in overthrowing or resisting British rule. To the extent that conservatives romanticise the War for Independence more than liberals, they are also inclined to sympathise with other causes that are seen to be anti-British (some conservatives’ rather undue affection for Winston Churchill and the Empire notwithstanding). This is one reason why, no doubt much to Mr. Massie’s annoyance, American conservatives in particular take such satisfaction in the anti-British films of Mel Gibson and will tend to invest Braveheart with far more importance than it should have.
Mr. Massie continues:
In other words, the Jacobite cause is reactionary in the best sense of the term (and proudly so: I have one American friend whose personal email address begins, jacobite1688). To some extent this remains the case. The atavistic nationalism O’Hagan discovers is far removed from the sober calculation of the national interest favoured by the SNP’s smart-suited Young Turks in Edinburgh. Yet the latter requires the former, even if the former cannot prevail absent the latter.
I agree, and I am one of those reactionaries who sympathises with the Jacobites. This may be part of the explanation why some American conservatives find Scotland so intriguing and meaningful. It is partly that it parallels our own independence struggle, which in turn sympathisers with the Confederacy see as the precedent for the Confederates’ war for independence, but it is also that Jacobitism represents the defense of legitimacy, king and country against, if you will, the demands of a political doctrine, which is very attractive to those of us who think of conservatism as the antithesis of ideology.