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Giving the Sassenachs a Big Scare

Eilean Donan Castle, Lochalsh, Scotland. (Dave Conner / Flickr Creative Commons)

“Ach, the Sassenachs (English) be greet’in and gurn’in (moaning, groaning, wailing) most mightily.”

Every so often, the Scots like to rise up and give the Sassenachs a big scare. Next week, they are threatening to break their union with England and Wales which has been in effect since 1707. The United Kingdom may be no more.

Good for those rambunctious Scots! If Scotland goes independent, Britain will be left a shadow of its former shrunken self, deprived of oil, imperial pretensions, and much of its arrogance. Egad, the hated French will be stronger than England.

The British used to specialize in breaking up countries: Burma, China, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Quebec, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and many others.

If Scots decamp from the United Kingdom, many of these nations will savor sweet revenge. The Irish, who suffered centuries under the boot of British domination, will finally have their revenge.

Scotland has only 5 million people, but what a remarkable people they are, and what a history. First in war, the fierce highland regiments were covered in military honors. First in industry, science, economics and the Enlightenment. Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh was rightly called “the Athens of the North.” Scots brought commerce and culture to North America, the West Indies, and Australia. Their soldiers served the French kings.

Still, why would a notoriously practical, clear-thinking people like the Scots leave the United Kingdom and embark on an uncertain future that could bring financial crises and political isolation? Britain says it won’t allow the Scots to use sterling as their currency; subsidies from London will be withdrawn. Scotland’s offshore oil has peaked and may be in decline. Its share of Britain’s bloated debt is an estimated 143 billion pounds.

Nearly half of Scots will likely vote to stay in the United Kingdom. But Scots are an intensely proud people whose history goes back to Roman times. Their courage in fighting off British attempts to subjugate Scotland is legendary.

In 1707, Scotland’s ruling elite opted for union with Great Britain against the wishes of most citizens. The reason was truly sordid: the Scot’s elite had invested much of their wealth in a daring scheme to turn Panama’s narrow Darien gap between the Pacific and Atlantic into a nexus of trade. The scheme went bust, as did the first Panama Canal attempt by France in 1881. Financial loses in Scotland were huge.


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Along came the British and cleverly offered to reimburse the losses of Scotland’s ruling class if it would vote for union with Britain. London also promised the Scots trade access to its rich colonies. And so the deal was done.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s poet laureate, wrote: “We’re bought and sold for English gold.”

Ordinary Scotts bear a deep, historic grudge against London’s ruling class which, like its colleagues in Washington, has lost all touch with the common man and local issues. Proud Scots are sick of being lorded over, or plain ignored, by Britain’s distant elite, which they see as insufferably arrogant and incompetent.

“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” wrote John Milton in Paradise Lost. Many Scots agree.

Traditionally to the left, Scots have never forgiven PM Margaret Thatcher for wiping out much of their nation’s old heavy industry and mines that while inefficient provided large number of good jobs. Many want revenge.

Interestingly, an independent Scotland would not, as Britons warn, float away to nothingness. The Scots might join the European Union and resume their close historic ties to France. Britain would loses its nuclear submarine bases in Scotland and be forced to relocate them further south.

The United States is not at all happy seeing its faithful British satrap laid low by the Scots. If the Scots hit new oil or gas deposits in the North Sea, the Brits will be livid.

Independence for Scotland is more an emotional than a practical issue. To the devil with the bean counters and toff politicians in London. Sharpen the broadswords and break out the whiskey. The spirits of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace are rising.

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.

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