It was curious, if encouraging, to see the First Minister state that, as the Scotsman put it, “Scotland would still be part of the United Kingdom even after independence”. But these are early days, so let’s carry on with some more reasons why the Union has been and remains valuable to Scotland.
I’ve been on holiday in Australia, where I’ve lived and worked since September 2010. On the road from my base in Brisbane to the Whitsunday Islands in the north of Queensland I was struck, and not for the first time in my travels down under, by the evidence of Scottish influence. We drove out of the city past Edinburgh Castle Road, and north up the coast through towns such as Mackay, Strathdickie, Kenilworth. Through these isolated spots decades and centuries ago came Scots migrants, naming the places where they settled after the places in the country they’d left behind.
There were people already in Australia, of course, when the Scots along with English, Welsh and Irish migrants arrived. They did not ‘civilise’ the lands they colonised, as much as exterminate the local indigenous people and destroy their culture to make way for the anglo-saxon/celtic invasion. The Scots were among the most violent and vicious of colonisers in Australia, as they were in the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere in the British Empire. They were not coerced into imperialism and colonialism by sassenachs, but took to the task with relish.
I wrote in the Sunday Herald some years ago of a woman I met in Queensland on another holiday – the owner of a caravan park were we stopped for the night – who spoke with some pride of how her grandfather from Dundee used to shoot aborigines who strayed onto his land. I’m still shocked when I think about the casual manner in which this individual described the violent deaths of native Australians, less than a century ago.
My point, then, is not that the Scots always did good when they participated in colonialism as part of the Union, and then as the advance guard of the British Empire. Merely that, as a small nation within a larger, but still quite small nation in comparison with many others, they achieved a global presence and visibility which to this day strikes any Scot who travels as remarkable. In Colorado there’s a town of Montrose (as there is in Australia – at least one), and in Oregon a whole town full of McNairs who made their way across the Oregon trail in the nineteenth century (no relation, as far as I could ascertain).In Hong Kong there is a district named Aberdeen. In the south island of New Zealand is Dunedin (the old name for Edinburgh), where bag pipers are commonplace and Scottish influence is everywhere. In the north island I visited the town of Hamilton.
Back in Brisbane, I live in a suburb called Kelvin Grove, which is why I gave my blog that name. Having studied at Glasgow University in the original Kelvin Grove, it seemed fated. They came here from Glasgow a long time ago, it seems, and used names – I live in Dunsmore Street – to make this part of the sub-tropical capital of Queensland at least a little bit more familiar.
We can debate as to the impact of the Scots global presence. Arthur Herman makes a convincing case for the significant and positive influence of Scottish philosophy and ideas on democracy, universal education, universities and so on. Others note with shame the bloody history of the Scots in imperial adventures.
Maybe we Scots would not have developed such a warlike and murderous streak had we developed on our own, apart from the UK. Who knows, though the tribes of northern Europe, from the Picts to the Vikings, were never exactly slouches when it came to rape, pillage and slaughter. I tend to follow the Herman narrative and believe that, on balance and overall, as a result of our role in the Enlightenment, Scotland has been a civilising force on humanity’s evolution, and that this contribution is inseparable from our status as part of the Union. We have hit above our weight these last three centuries, and mostly for good. As a Scot I value this contribution, and regard it as part of my national identity. I wish to see it continue in the decades and centuries to come, which is why I want to stay part of the Union which made it possible.