Neal Ascherson (2014 [2002]) Stone Voices. The Search for Scotland.

Everything has a past, even the future. Let Scotland be Scotland it the cry here, but what type of Scotland and who’s Scotland are we talking about? He takes a page out of Hugh MacDiarmid’s  On a Raised Beach:

‘…We are so easily baffled by appearances

And do not realise that those stones are at one with the stars.

It makes no difference to them whether they are high or low,

Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace or pigsty.

There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined


Ascherson asks us to be honest about our past, while avoiding the use of the word ‘authentic’. He notes, for example, how this idea of authenticity had been weaponised. This book was written before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, or the rapist moron’s moron election as the 45th President of the United States (who unfortunately has a mother born on a small Scottish island, Skye).

Americans like Senator Lott of Mississippi, for the South, also liked to claim Scottish heritage and ‘Confederate Tartan’. Like Margaret Thatcher giving us the poll tax, mangling the Sermon on the Mount and claiming essential Scottish virtues, Senator Lott claimed the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) prefigured The American Declaration of Independence (1776).  What we have here is Braveheart. Mel Gibson’s film was so successful, he made it twice. In one he painted his face blue. In the other he shot at different but the same English soldiers that needed to be sent home to think again. And they might take our liberty, but they’ll never take our Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!

The Declaration of Arbroath was propaganda. Its purpose was convincing the Pope in Rome that Scotland was indeed a kingdom and not a wee part of England. The rhetoric was asking the divine Pontiff not to support Edward II’s claim to be rightful ruler of a land that was his by God’s design, or Edward I’s successful conquest. Bernard Linton, Abbot of Arbroath, put his quill to papyrus. He claimed Robert the Bruce, and William Wallace before him, were directly descended from 113 Scottish kings arriving from ‘Greater Scythia’. Culminating in the crowning of King Robert I at Scone.

The crowning glory was the subterfuge in undermining the arguments for the divine right of Kings as little gods with little or no need to consult with the little people in their power.

‘By the Providence of God, the rights of succession, those laws and customs which we are resolved to defend even with our lives , and by our own just consent, he [Robert] is our King…Yet Robert himself, should he turn aside from the task that he has begun and yield Scotland or us to the English King and people, we should cast out as the enemy of us all, and or subverter of his right and our own, and should choose another king to defend our freedom: for so long as a hundred of us are left alive, we will yield in no least way to English dominion. We fight not for glory, not for wealth, not honours; but only and alone we fight for freedom [libertas] which no good man surrenders but with his life.’   

We the people demanded sovereignty in the fourteen century and escape from English rule in the same way we do in the twenty-first century is a simplification. England has not invaded our borders as Russia has invaded Ukraine’s. But neither have we voted for or supported Thatcher or any type of Tory rule from Westminster. The SNP mirrored Jim Sillars’ language and used to the derogatory term of Labour’s ‘feeble fifty MPs’ elected here in Scotland, but had no power down there. Times have changed but not much, after the elections of 2011, with the SNP having the equivalent of the feeble fifty in Westminster, while also dominating Holyrood.  

But the purpose of the Scottish National Party is in the name. A separate nation with the ability both to raise and spend its own taxes. To make its own decisions. Ascherson supports independence. I also voted for it, but as we know, to no avail.

It’s not that I hate England or the English. Rather I hate Tories and petty nationalism trumped up not only as a virtue, but neoliberal necessity. We’ve been here before, of course. The standing stones of the Covenanters signalled a call to freedom, but only on theocratic terms understood by the elect. The Talibanism of Scottish cultural life. We hoped for more. We hoped for better. Instead what we got was David Cameron and George Osborne sucking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Boris Johnson dancing on the head of the law, while claiming not to. It’s not surprise I want to separate myself and my nation from such Tory scum. We the people demand better. Or I dae anyway.   


Since Sturgeon's stepping down, I read that there is an ongoing shift in support away from SNP and that independence is something like 5th in the list of priorities for Scottish voters. It could be that the opportunity has passed for a truly independent Scotland. To be honest, I find most people I talk to aren't fussed if Scotland wants to do its own thing. It seems more of an issue for the politicians, none of whom want to be seen to oversee a break up of the Union on their watch. Thoroughly enjoyed your review, especially the historical aspects which I haven't come across before.


p.s. Boris Johnson has resigned as MP. I guess our number comes up in the end. 


Let's hope it's a landslide and the moron's moron in the US ends up in prison. But we know money always walks. Support for the SNP has waned. They've been in government for so long it was bound to  happen. Ascherson calls it right. We can't touch the poverty in which large parts of Scotland in which people live. The Scandanavian countries began to address the issue of equality 50 or 60 years ago. We've went the other way.