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In Search of The Golden Grievance

The Golden Grievance Battle

After 17 years of SNP rule, support for Scexit would appear to be finally on the decline. A recent opinion poll ranked Scexit as only the 7th (18%) most important topic that would decide voting intention at the next General Election. Way out in front was the economy on 64%. This must be gut-wrenching news for independence supporters: 17 years in power and zero progress made in convincing Scots to vote for Independence.

Could it be that when the idea of a constitutional solution to all of Scotland’s problems hits a cost-of-living crisis that has trashed the living standards of millions, the harsh reality of the present trumps the utopian vision of an independent future?  Especially when the party that would be responsible for delivering that future is currently mired in scandals and is increasingly perceived to be run by incompetents, who can’t even ensure ferries are built on time let alone be considered to be capable enough to deliver an independent country.

In this General Election year, it’s clear to see the SNP’s polling ratings are tanking. The UK Supreme Court also made it quite clear that Holyrood cannot hold a second independence referendum without Westminster’s approval meaning that all roads to achieving their dream of an independent Scotland are blocked for the foreseeable future. For the first time in 10 years the tectonic plates of Scottish politics are now shifting back from the Constitution to the traditional Left/Right axis. When the appeal of voting by constitutional allegiance is fading and electoral disaster is beckoning, the SNP need to do something — anything — to get politics back onto their preferred constitutional axis.

 Prepare the Golden Grievance! A perceived slight so powerfully laden with anti-English sentiment and seared so deeply into the Scottish psyche, that it could automatically revive flagging support for independence and the SNP.  Now what perceived injustice carried out by the British State against Scotland could possibly meet that criterion?

Redcoats to the ready!

If you want to anger a bull, show it a red rag. If you want to anger a Scottish Nationalist show them the true symbol of British oppression –  a café named after Redcoats. 

Never mind that said cafe has nestled in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle undisturbed since 1992, doling out tea cakes and scones, when Doug Chapman, an SNP MP,  came across news of its refurbishment, it was time to unleash a social media pile on to bully Historic Scotland into considering renaming this insult to Scotland. The horror!

If the mere sight of the name ‘Redcoat’ makes a nationalist want to firebomb the café, one would think that there is a very real possibility that an SNP media campaign which focused on the notorious Battle of Culloden and its bloody aftermath would result in an army of Scottish nationalists storming Westminster, claymore in hand, demanding the head of Rishi Sunak on a spike. 

More than that, a media campaign could shift the dial in favour of Scexit by stirring the emotions of even the most hardened pro-UK voter to the cause of independence, by demonstrating how brutal Cumberland’s army was to the highlanders.

 Culloden and the horrific events which took place after it, is the ‘go to’ grievance used when nationalists want to point out how horrible Britain has been to Scotland.

Without any historical context as to what the battle was about, Nationalists frame Culloden as a straight Scotland versus England battle where Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Catholic Prince Charles Edward Stuart, was in command of the 5000 strong Scottish Army. while the Protestant son of the King George II, Prince William Augustus AKA the Duke of Cumberland was in command of the 9000 strong English army.  

The atrocities committed by Cumberland’s army in the aftermath of the battle consisted of raping, pillaging, torturing, and killing highlanders in order to determine the whereabouts of the fleeing Bonnie Prince. As a result, the Duke was given the nickname ‘Butcher Cumberland’. The sobriquet of ‘Butcher’ one would have thought is evidence enough to give this historical event – automatic Golden Grievance status as every Scot has heard of Culloden and the notorious Cumberland. But hang on, was this as straight a Scotland versus England fight and English-led post battle massacre as the Nationalists would like you to believe?

Culloden mythbusting

If the Scotland v England framing of the battle and post battle massacre can withstand factual scrutiny this Nationalist grievance will indeed have achieved Golden Grievance status and arguably could be used in a co-ordinated SNP media campaign to remind Scots of what their ‘imperial masters’ did to them in 1746 without the fear of it being ridiculed for promoting false facts.  

Firstly, Cumberland’s army was not an ‘English’ army. In fact, there were more Scots fighting on the side of Cumberland for the British Crown, than there were fighting against them in the Jacobite Army. A fact that never appears in any nationalist tropes about the battle. A third of foot battalions of Cumberland’s army consisted of Lowland Scottish Clansmen plus over 600 Scottish Highland Clansmen who all wore the Redcoat. As did one battalion and a militia raised from Clan Campbell Scottish Highlanders, plus other Scottish Clans that fought on the British side which included Munro, Ross, Sutherland, Grant, Cathcart, Colville, Sempill, Kerr and Cunningham. 

So the verdict on the ethnicity of Cumberland’s British army would suggest that along with English soldiers it also comprised a large Scottish Clan contingent as well. 

But surely it would have been just those beastly English soldiers who committed the atrocities after the battle? After all, no true Scotsman could have possibly been involved in committing such heinous crimes against their own kith and kin – could they?

This article on the aftermath of Culloden published in the SNP’s house paper, The National, suggests – oh yes they could and they did 

What happened next is Scotland’s secret shame. For it was not just English troops under Cumberland that carried out atrocity after atrocity in the search for Charles and the remaining Jacobites, but also Scots, many of whom were Highlanders themselves. John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudon, along with George Munro of Culcairn, co-founder of the Black Watch regiment in 1725, led the companies of independent Highlanders – Campbells and MacDonalds – who were loyal to George II on punitive raids into Lochaber and Shiramore while English dragoons roamed far and wide, killing indiscriminately.

Finally, let’s state the bleeding obvious here, which strangely enough never appears in any Nationalist framing of these events either. Charles Edward Stuart and his Jacobite Army went to battle to usurp the Hanoverian King George II and place Charles’ father, James III on the throne in his place. It would therefore appear that a more accurate framing of this battle would be — wannabe British Army v real British Army.

The evidence would therefore suggest that this was a civil war fought for the throne of Britain – not a fight between Scotland and England. So, in terms of Golden Grievance status the verdict must be, not even close and definitely no cigar.

Tanks for the (fake) memories

But are there any other Golden Grievance contenders lurking there which have seen Scottish blood being spilled by British forces? 

Scottish Nationalists claim that there are indeed two events which meet that criterion, both involving the revered Sir Winston Churchill. The most notorious of these is the ‘Tanks in George Square’ myth.

Tanks In George Square

It was claimed up until fairly recently that this photo provided prime facie evidence that Churchill sent in 10,000 English troops armed to the teeth with artillery, machine guns and tanks to crush a 60,000 strong riot of striking engineers who had gathered outside the City Chambers in George Square demanding a 40-hour week. Although this myth wasn’t created by Nationalists (its chief perpetrator was Labour Lord Manny Shinwell) it most certainly was hijacked in an attempt to create a Golden Grievance to deliver Scottish Independence in 2014. 

At initial glance, all the essential ingredients to create anti English sentiment are there – the English troops riding roughshod over unarmed Scottish strikers – the bonus of Scottish blood being spilled allegedly by said English troops. This myth also hits the jackpot for Golden Grievance hunters as it traduces the reputation of the most famous Britain of all – Sir Winston Churchill.  

However, the reality surrounding the events which took place that day, do not match the mythologised version. Firstly, the photo of the tank was debunked 99 years later as having been taken in Glasgow a year earlier in 1918 as part of a publicity drive to increase the purchase of Glasgow war bonds. The army, composed mainly of Scottish soldiers, not English, did not cause deaths and injuries because they arrived after the police had lost control of events. And Churchill did not send the army or the tanks in to stop the riot, it was the Sheriff who called for military assistance (which didn’t include tanks) after the crowd failed to disperse after being read the riot act. 

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good grievance.

Abandoned hope

The second charge against Churchill is arguably far more serious: That in 1940, he deliberately sacrificed the 51st Highland Division by ordering them to stay behind and fight off the advancing Germans, to enable 330,000 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force and French troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk. 

This myth first appeared in 1991 in a letter by ex SNP leader Gordon Wilson in the Glasgow Herald. But it is, once again, easily debunked:

Firstly, Churchill could not have ‘sacrificed’ the 51st Highland Division, because he did not have the power to do so as the 51st was no longer under the direct command of the British Army. Command over the Division had been transferred in April 1940 to the French 10th Army under the control of Major General Victor Fortune who however did contact Whitehall but not Churchill himself with regards to the evacuation.   

LIke the other myths, that idea that Scots were uniquely targeted by the evil British is once again proven false: As is the myth that the 51st Highland Division consisted entirely of Scotsmen which is not true

Nominally a Scottish Highland division, the formation which had left Scotland in 1939 was nine months later as diverse as any regular British army division, with gunners from Staffordshire and Flintshire; Pioneers from Ayrshire and Norfolk; machine-gunners from Northumberland and London; and infantry from Kent, West Yorkshire, East Surrey, East Sussex, Shropshire, Cumberland and Nottinghamshire. The 51st (Highland) Division of June 1940 was Highland in name only and the defenders of St Valery were more than just the 51st Division. 

Lastly but not least, the use of the word ‘sacrifice’ would lead the reader to suggest that the 51st were deliberately abandoned to fight on against the Germans. In fact over 15,000 troops were successfully evacuated, some even at St Valery itself. Which left 8-10,000 troops to surrender and spend the rest of the war in captivity. 

What are we to make of this macabre search by Scottish Nationalists for a British inflicted injustice?The obvious conclusion from all three examples must be that Scotland does not have a Golden Grievance worthy of the name, which is why nationalists go to so much trouble to promote mythologised Scottish history to try to create one.

As the end of 17 years of divisive nationalism draws ever closer, let’s all be extra vigilant and call out maleficent attempts to distort Scottish history for political gain, wherever and whenever we see it. The historical integrity of our country at least deserves that. 

Robert Hoskins is an ex-lecturer from Glasgow. Follow him on Twitter @hoski67


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Written by Robert Hoskins

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