b l o g


'A Scotsman . . . is a terrible thing.' 

George MacDonald Fraser was even luckier than I am, and he was never wrong, not even once. He expressed the following (outrageously) correct opinion in The Steel Bonnets:

'The Scot has, and one suspects always has had, something of an inferiority complex where his big, assertive, overpowering neighbour is concerned. It is no wonder. The English race are certainly the most dynamic in history since the Romans. Within a few hundred years they turned themselves from a little nation state on an off-shore European island into the most profound influence in the world; they spread themselves, their language, their products, and, above all, their ideas over the face of the earth. There has never been anything quite like them. Admittedly, at their peak they had the Scots helping them, and only a national extremist would worry about whether the Scots' contribution, per capita, was above or below average. The point is that the English were by far the major share of the effort; as a national powerhouse, they were in a class by themselves.

'Scotland has lived with and alongside this for several centuries, and that in itself is an achievement. If anything in their history demonstrates that the Scots are remarkable, it is that in spite of being physically attached to England, they have survived as a people, with their own culture, laws, institutions, and, like the English, their own ideas.

'But it has not been easy, and the marks show. The Scots are an extraordinarily proud people, with reason, as they are quick to point out, and, like most geniuses, highly sensitive. Where England is concerned, this sensitivity borders on neurosis. Buried deep in the Scottish national consciousness is the memory of a cliff-hanging struggle for independence, which lasted more than three centuries in the physical sense, and in the minds of some Scots continues today. They know, better than anyone, how easily England spread itself, often apparently without trying, and the fear of English domination by force has to some extent been replaced by a fear of English supremacy almost by default.

'In fact, if the Scot would look, or could look, objectively at his history, he would see that the English menace was perhaps over-rated, not in physical terms, for there it was truly immense, but in what can only be called a spiritual sense. Scotland's vitality has always been strong enough, and to spare, to resist outside influence.

'But a small country that survives in Scotland's situation, under the shadow of a reigning champion, becomes quite naturally suspicious, sensitive, and fiercely jealous in regard to its neighbour. It fears him, but cannot help imitating him and being drawn to him. England appreciates this situation completely; the canny Henry VII put it into words when he noted that the larger inevitably attracts the smaller. And from its position of superiority it is natural that England should tend to overlook its smaller neighbour, and take Scotland very much for granted. Indeed, to England, Scotland is an appendage, an extension of the English whole, and when Scotland, resenting this attitude, makes its indignation known, the English are well aware that to find the indignation trivial or amusing is the very way to drive the Scot to distraction.

'It must not be thought from this that the English under-rate the Scots. Far from it; they may forget or ignore Scotland, and patronise manifestations of Scottishness, but for the Scots people, for the Scot as an individual when he comes to their attention, they reserve a higher respect than they show to anyone else. They recognise the Scots as formidable, and are secretly just a little frightened of them. In their case it may not be folk-memory, although Scotland in its time was a very real danger to England, simply by virtue of its existence on the same island; more probably it has its roots in the knowledge that a Scotsman on the make is a terrible thing.'

Erik Kennedy
Erik Kennedy


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