Podcast & Video: History’s case for Scotland in Europe

Billy Kay

Is it possible to think of Scotland outside Europe? Our special guest this week is author, presenter and social historian Billy Kay, who argues that our relationship with Europe is so intertwined with our history – stretching long before the Act of Union – that it would be unnatural to turn our back on the Continent.

Billy points out that Scottish sea trade with the Baltic states, Scandinavia and Russia was crucial to our merchants long before the 18th century. We have long links with Russia and Poland, so much so that Scottish societies of merchants existed there in the 1500s. He points also to the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment on French educational history, and long links to Italian and French places of study.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Today’s podcast is a valuable discussion that puts Scotland firmly in the European context. Billy and his host, Derek Bateman, discuss the prospects for next month’s EU referendum, its implications for Scotland, and even the impact of a “Brexit” vote on Scottish public opinion and European views of Scotland in that scenario.

Billy remains of the belief that Scotland will be independent, although he accepts the referendum may be several years away. Here he explains why.

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Billy’s interview is now available in video:



  1. “Smaller nations fowk often speak several languages.” Sounds good to me, Billy. We need to have the Scots language taught in our schools and universities, like Scotland’s other indigenous language, Gaelic, which also has a TV channel. The latter required a Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005), so in the interest of fairness and equality we need a Scots Language (Scotland) Act. I look forward to your forthcoming article on the connection between Scots language and human rights.

  2. Billy Kay and I are pretty much on the same wavelength as regards our political views. While I have not been able to access the podcast, since I suffer from severe congenital deafness, aggravated by age, I know about the links with Russia, Poland, Norway, Austria and Burgundy, etc. The latter is something of a black hole in Scottish history; it has been forgotten that Burgundy was Scotland’s principal link with the continent at the end of the Middle Ages and at the height of the Northern Renaissance, when it was the major economic and cultural power on the continent.

    I mentioned Scotland’s intimate dynastic, trading and cultural links with Burgundy in the recent article I wrote for the Saltire Society on the Book of Hours of James IV, King of Scots. It has not been published yet, since the Saltire people are still trying to decide what to do with it, but it is meantime attached to the mini-bio that David Thomson did of me at: http://www.electricscotland.com/history/articles/wilkie.htm . It is not mentioned by name, but a new link describes it as an updated version of the article that follows the bio text.

    Scotland’s historic links with Europe are indisputable, but that is a far cry from equating “Europe” with the EU, a single, disastrously flawed central European concept with a limited membership that has been a disaster when extended to the periphery, far away from its relatively homogeneous heartland. Its whole setup is decades out of date and out of touch with current trends.

    The other major all-European institutions, up to twice the size of the EU, continue to be highly successful in their fields – the Council of Europe (which forced the restoration of the Scottish Parliament and Government), the 57-mmember OSCE with its Parliament in Copenhagen, the 56-member UN Economic Commission for Europe, and even NATO with its 50 member and partner states are all-European in membership and functions. The EU is just an association of 28 states within Europe; it is in no way Europe itself, and cannot speak for Europe. It is the all-European OSCE that represents Europe at the UNO and reports to the Security Council on European affairs. The EU with its limited membership cannot represent Europe anywhere.

    There is therefore no reason why Scotland needs membership of this tottering anachronism, especially since all the economic advantages lie in membership of EFTA. One must keep the questions of Scotland’s links with Europe, and membership of the EU, firmly in two separate compartments. And that is what practically no one is doing at the moment.

    Incidentally, my new article on CBRN weapons of mass destruction was published by Scottish Review last week and remains available in its archive:

    • Interesting that Norway, a member of EFTA (and NATO etc), but outside the EU, enjoys several daily passenger+freight ferry connections with the EU – Bergen/Stavanger to Denmark; Kristianand to Denmark; Oslofjord to Sweden; and Oslo to Germany (Kiel) – alltogether carrying millions of EU tourists and much trade. Yet Scotland, currently an appendage to an EU member, and a country with a similar population as Norway, enjoys no direct daily passenger+freight ferry connection with other EU states.

      As Margaret Cuthbert/Reid Foundation paper confirmed, Scotland’s trade has been falling over a number of years, and that is as being (part of) an EU member. http://reidfoundation.org/the-library/. EU membership therefore has done little for our trade, or for Scotland’s economy.

      I would suggest from this that Scotland would be better to be both independent and remain outside the EU but, as James suggests, become a member of EFTA, like Norway – and, in reference to our once impressive trading history, concentrate on developing our ports and sea connections!: http://reidfoundation.org/2016/01/sort-out-our-ports/

  3. The day after I left school I departed on a trip to France. I went by train, catching the boat train and boarding a ferry at Dover. There was a limit on the amount of cash one could take abroad. This was £30. This was not a problem as I had barely £30 to take, for my indeterminate trip. I took it in Scottish notes. I encountered no problems. The French banks changed my notes without a murmur. The French were French some of the time and very friendly the rest, especially when they learned that I was Scots and not English.
    What is my point? This was in 1965. Travel, trade, visits, business, and school exchanges all took place in the years before the Common Market was finally established in 1969. (Although if you try importing wine, you will find that the trade barriers still exist courtesy of a stroppy HMRC.)
    We were not a member. Our membership has brought some trade benefits. We will not lose these if we leave as the EU members have more to lose than we have as most of our trade is now elsewhere in the world. So we will still buy German cars, French wine – still knee deep in claret -, Polish pork, Italian olive oil and so on. The countries of Europe will still buy our whisky, our beef, and our fish (and we will get back our fisheries for our own fishermen).
    We won’t have to allow our legal system to continue morphing into the Code Napoleon, or allow in people we don’t want or need, or have our farmers grow what the EU want them to grow, or follow a myrad inappropriate rules.
    We will not be turning our backs on Europe, we will be turning our backs only on the monstrous political construct that the EU has become. We have nothing to fear.


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