Independence: Looking back to move forward


by Roddy Macleod

Like most Nationalists I am still taking in the events of May 5th and the monumental result in favour of the SNP. I first joined the SNP in 1968 and have seen, and felt the ups and downs of the struggle with our party’s attempts to regain Independence.

The excitement of the 11 SNP MPs in 1974 to there only being Donald Stewart in the Western Isles left to carry the torch. The disappointment of the first Scotland Act, and the betrayal of Scotland by the Labour Party that heralded in Maggie and the Tories for 18 long years. The barren 80s and 90s and all the false dawns that vanished as quickly as they had arrived. However like the tide going out, each time the wave came back it settled a little further up the beach. When the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999 at Holyrood, again my optimism rose, only to be dashed by two thumping defeats and two terms of ineffectual Lab/Lib governance. The idea of Scottish Independence seemed to me something that would never happen in my lifetime.

Then came Alex’s return from self-imposed exile and the magnificent result in 2007. That day will remain etched in my brain till my last breath. I never thought that it could get any better, that was till May5th/6.

Like so many Nationalists I watched as the results came in and could hardly believe the scale of the victory. I was convinced we would be the largest party, however, 69 seats and an outright majority, not in our wildest dreams did any of us think that possible.

It has set me to thinking ever since what might be the eventual outcome of this monumental election. I think it was Winston Churchill that said “you cannot look forward, without first looking back.” I have been doing that over the last couple of weeks and thought of the last time Scotland got so close to resuming its parliament and sovereignty.

I think of the Jacobites in Derby, the road to London lay open, there was panic in the city. The grey suits of the day were ready to tell the German King to sling his hook and offer the throne to Charles Stuart. They were prepared to do, or say anything to save their own necks and privilege (some things never change!)

Part of that settlement would have seen the Scottish Parliament reconvening and the sovereignty of the Scottish people being restored. For many reasons, the Jacobites – not sensing how weak the opposition was in front of it – took flight and as we all know it ended tragically at Culloden.

The retribution showered on the Scottish people was horrific, ethnic cleansing was born, persecution of an entire race began, London had its revenge. Resettlement of entire communities, the banning of the tartan and the playing of the pipes forbidden, summary executions, sheep replacing people.

The rebellious Scots indeed were crushed and for centuries their self-esteem and confidence was constantly eroded. Never again would London allow its supremacy to be challenged by the Scots.

The Scots were caricatured as dour, mean of spirit, drunks, aggressive and not very clever. Scotland was told – and still is – that it is too weak, too stupid and too poor to self-govern. We alone, amongst all the nations of the world, apparently are not good enough or smart enough to rule ourselves.

Even to this day the Enlightenment gets little or no mention on either side of the border. When historians look back in the future this is the high point of the Union and should be held up and lauded as the best of the Imperial days.

For without the Enlightenment and the discoveries made by Scots there would have been no Empire for Westminster to lord over. Looking further back to our first struggle for Independence from London dominance you must look to Wallace and Bruce.

Setting aside the highly-entertaining but historically incorrect Braveheart, the Battle of Bannockburn was not the day of Independence. That was perhaps the catalyst yet it took many years and many more skirmishes, a new English king and an Anglo French war to finally bring London to the opinion that best to give up on Scotland .

Then Edward III gave up all claims to Scotland and its realm and concentrated on purely English matters. That remained the case until James VI “forsook his crown the south to rule” as the wonderful Gaberlunzie song so eloquently tells.

Where is all this leading you may ask?

Today, Scottish Independence has had its latter day Bannockburn, 69 seats attests to that fact. As in the Jacobite times, London is in a panic, they are ready to concede much, not all, but certainly enough to buy them some time to reorganise their forces the Scots to crush.

The repercussions if we fail at this time will be as catastrophic for Scotland, even worse than the ending of the 45 rebellion. They cannot ethnically cleanse us, they cannot ban the tartan, or the playing of the bagpipes. They could however set back the independence movement for decades if we do not play our hand correctly.

This time, unlike the Jacobites, there must be no turning back, there must be no compromising of our aims and eventual goal.

The end result is simple, the slogan used in the early 1970s for the SNP still holds relevance “Independence Nothing Less.” The prize of Scottish sovereignty is too great a prize to make any mistakes now.