I believe that every Scotsman should be a Scottish Nationalist. If it could he proved that a separate Scottish Parliament were desirable, that is to say that the merits were greater than the disadvantages and dangers, Scotsmen should support it. I would go further. Even if it were not proved desirable, if it could be proved to be desired by any substantial majority of the Scottish people, then Scotland should be allowed to make the experiment, and I do not believe that, England would desire for one moment to stand in the way.
– John Buchan, Debate on the Address, 24 November 1932
I’m struck by the changing timbre of UK Government Party in Scotland. Back in the day, the party battled with the SNP over the votes of rural constituencies over who would defend their interests the best from a distant, uncaring, increasingly centralised Westminster: the Opposition Party, despite being born in Scotland, were for the most part not as interested in the reality of constitutional change as the likes of its own founders. So for much of the 20th Century we had the strange situation where the UK Government Party seemed more interested in highlighting & exploiting Scotland’s distinctiveness than the party of Keir “Home Rule” Hardie. One of the greatest activists for Scottish Gaelic revival in the last half-century was Iain Noble, nephew of Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Noble; Malcolm Rifkind, another SoSfS, lobbied for a Gaelic TV channel, only to be blocked by Margaret Thatcher herself; yet another SoSfS, Michael Forsyth, also campaigned for expansion of Gaelic television, and even attended the premiere of Braveheart in a kilt.
Then consider the above quote: this was said not by an SNP, nor a Socialist, nor a Trade Unionist, but a Scottish Unionist Party MP in the House of Commons. I thought it would be interesting to include the entire speech in a post. While there are some more familiarly Tory-ish bits and pieces (particularly the notion that Irish Roman Catholic immigrants to Scotland are “not Scots”) there are also several arguments & observations that wouldn’t be out of place on the most fervent independence supporter’s repertoire. Certainly it puts to bed the phoney demarcation between nationalism and patriotism put forward by the likes of Ruth Davidson, who even invoke Buchan’s words (as well as Orwell’s own oft-abused comments) as evidence for how far Scotland has come since those terrible old days.
It’s clear Mr. Buchan did not support Scottish Independence any more than he supported any nation breaking away from the Empire he worked so tirelessly to maintain. Nonetheless, the tone and reason in his arguments, acknowledging the genuine merit of the independence position, is a far cry from the patronising scolding of people who proclaim to be against all nationalisms (because their nationalism isn’t actually nationalism at all). Here is someone who recognises the democratic deficit, recognises Scotland’s identity as a nation rather than a region or province, and recognises that you are not going to make the problem go away by ignoring or suppressing it.
One wonders what happened to the party of John Buchan in the eight decades since he made this speech. The John Buchan Way isn’t just a lovely walk in the Borders: it’s a mark of respect & trust. It seems Ruth Davidson’s gang strayed far from the John Buchan Way a long time ago.