Soon I will be dead. But, oh, to be alive at this moment in Scotland

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By Ian Hamilton QC

I am 86. Thus I have lived in the United Kingdom for more than a quarter of its existence.  My observations on its identity and mine may be of value.

Even in the 1920s and 1930s I always knew I was a Scot.  So sure was I of my identity that I never minded being called British or English.  If called the latter I just thought they were wrong.  During the war we were all called English.  As I grew up I discovered that my petit bourgeois contemporaries thought that there was no Scotland.

By Ian Hamilton QC

I am 86. Thus I have lived in the United Kingdom for more than a quarter of its existence.  My observations on its identity and mine may be of value.

Even in the 1920s and 1930s I always knew I was a Scot.  So sure was I of my identity that I never minded being called British or English.  If called the latter I just thought they were wrong.  During the war we were all called English.  As I grew up I discovered that my petit bourgeois contemporaries thought that there was no Scotland.  It had been absorbed into its greater neighbour.  Looking back this is not surprising.  The union gave us the chance to expand into the great free trade area that became the British empire.  We seized that chance.  Glasgow was the empire’s second city. We were the workshop of the world.

Seventy years ago it seemed that the price we had paid for the wealth of empire was the loss of our identity as Scots.  To be ignorant of who you are is profoundly disturbing.  England suffers from it badly today.  The England of the shires, of Puck of Pook’s Hill, has gone.  England is now London.

We have been luckier.  We are still us.  We blame the loss of our industries on successive English governments not on ourselves.  We did nothing. We continued to vote unionist.  The enterprise that built the great forges has been lacking.  I can tell you where it went.  It went to schools like Fettes and Loretto where the enterprise was whipped out of them and they were squeezed into the mould of English gentlemen.  They live on in their great-grandfather’s country estates here in Argyll.  The enterprise has gone elsewhere.

We lost our confidence when we lost our empire.  Don’t worry.  It’s coming back.  Even Mr Fred Goodwin, is a sign.  Better to gamble and topple a great bank than to live in the suburban inanity of Bearsden.  The 1878 failure of the City of Glasgow Bank led to the founding of the great law firm of McGrigor Donald and to the Industrial Exhibition of 1888.  McGrigors, as it was laterally called, has now joined up with a great London firm.

We Scots are true internationalists and there is no border to our abilities.  Failure is the manure of success.  The loss of empire followed by the loss of our industries has caused us Scots to look round.  Even the great landlords are affronted to think their estates end at the salt seashore.  The solum of the seabed to beyond the furthest horizon is still held by England.  That is where the next great development will come.  We have three quarters of the tidal power of Europe.  Oil is pocket money compared to the tides.


We have different values, we and London. No clearer example can be found than in our belief that education is everyone’s right. ‘Til the rocks melt wi the sun’ said our first minister on the right to a free university education.


Even in a nation’s history 86 years is a long time.  I remember the salient points of the change from British to Scottish.  None of them was political.  We never got the jail for the Stone.  The people cheered us.  There was public support for our ‘no numeral’ campaign when Elizabeth the ‘Second’ came to the throne.  Scotland had had no ‘First’ Elizabeth.  Our coronation souvenirs without the numeral were wildly popular.  The newspapers backed us in their news columns but refused to take our paid advertisements.  They were feart as they still are.

Then one day I went into a pub and found a group gathered round a TV set cheering wildly.  Someone had scored a goal against England.  The affectionate anti-Englishness of the general public is far more proof of the independent vitality of the Scottish nation than any vote.  There is more racial abuse towards us in the English papers than we would ever think of using towards England.  It is a much loved foreign country but it is recognised as foreign.

And now we are to have a referendum.  Mr Cameron, the near-illiterate occupier of the post of Disraeli and Gladstone and Churchill, steals a word from Quebec and refers to it as a neverendum.  Is there a better definition of democracy than a neverendum?  He will face a neverendum at the end of his five years if not sooner.  In the long history of Scotland our referendum’s only significance is that we feel unhappy and we want change.  Whatever the result that feeling will remain.

Recently I spoke on the same platform with a Tory and a Liberal.  They said they would abide by the result of the referendum.  I said I wouldn’t.  I would always listen to any argument for the continuation of the union if one can be found.  I have heard none except that change is bad.  I asserted a principle.  That Scotland is a nation.  Nations should govern themselves.  Can anything be clearer?

We have different values, we and London.  No clearer example can be found than in our belief that education is everyone’s right.  ‘Til the rocks melt wi the sun’ said our first minister on the right to a free university education.

I have lived through the last quarter of a union which brought great benefit to many countries including Scotland.  I wish I was in my first year of university instead of being 86.  Soon I will die.  To die will be an awfully big adventure.  But not as big an adventure as being young in our newly awakened Scotland.

 

Reproduced with kind permission from Ian Hamilton QC