What is Scotland?

Rainbow Kiss

a play by Simon Farquhar, directed by Will Frears
at 59E59 Theaters, New York City, March 12–April 13, 2008

Black Watch

a play by Gregory Burke, directed by John Tiffany
at St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, October 20–November 11, 2007, and October 9–November 30, 2008


More than any other writer, Shakespeare seems devoted to evoking the spells that human beings and nations may cast over one another. Macbeth is a play about a false king under the spell of his falsifying wife. One can see that mockery is very much the Macbeths’ style, but it is also, most painfully, their substance: they are fictions, after all, in the pageant of fictions that makes Scotland real to itself and others. Yet those of us who are Scots might often recognize something of ourselves in Macbeth’s wide-eyed amazement at the costs of invention. To believe in Scottish nationalism one must set a place for Banquo’s ghost at the end of every table and then feel able to ignore him throughout the ensuing feast.

On July 24, the constituency of Glasgow East fell from Labour to the Scottish National Party (SNP). A working-class area of the city, Glasgow East had been the third-safest Labour seat in Scotland—the previous member of Parliament won by a majority of 13,507—and the 22 percent swing in local opinion was seen to be a harbinger of doom for Gordon Brown’s struggling UK government. The election officer read out the results at a building in Tollcross, two minutes’ walk from the graveyard where my grandparents are buried, and it was hard not to think of my grandmother in particular being stirred by the news.

Glasgow East was once held by John Wheatley, a crucial figure in the founding of the Labour movement and one of its greatest thinkers: a member of the 1924 government, Wheatley was a municipal house-builder and a poverty-blitzer, a Catholic socialist with no time at all for home rule. On July 25, sometime after midnight, the Nationalist candidate, John Mason, entered the hall where the Glasgow East count was taking place and made himself busy with victory salutes. There were already rumors of a large swing away from Labour, but Mason, a former accountant, councillor, Baptist pilgrim to Nepal, and supporter of Clyde football team (for which my great-grandmother was a player), was in no doubt that the unbelievable had occurred. After 3 AM and a recount, Mason stood up to give the winner’s address. “This victory is not just a political earthquake,” he said,

it is off the Richter scale. It is an epic win and the tremors are being felt all the way to Westminster…. It is time for change—a change to the policies that are taking our country and the UK in the wrong direction…. Tonight’s vote is a vote of confidence in Scotland, in the Scottish government and the progress the SNP is making. This is the first by-election which has put a Scottish government against a UK government and the people of Glasgow East have made their voice clear…. Tonight we have removed the dead hand of Labour control.

The room was filled with ambitious cheers and the corridors resounded with the noise of clapping. It is true that Gordon Brown, a son of the Scottish manse, was mortified by the result on July 25: unlike Tony Blair, he is a scion of old Labour and Glasgow was very much its heartland. In a previous incarnation, Brown’s first and truest one, he wrote a biography of John Wheatley’s friend the Labour firebrand and pacifist James Maxton, who held the neighboring constituency of Bridgeton for twenty-four years.*

Like those old Scottish socialist icons, Gordon Brown was known as a friend of the working class and a believer in the Union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. But the Glasgow East result in July was seen as a rebuke to his government, from a place where poverty is at its worst in Britain, where life expectancy for men is four years below the Scottish average, and where the rate of low-birth-weight babies is more than 40 percent higher. Even in his own cabinet, nobody thought Brown’s career as prime minister (just over a year old) could survive the shock of the result in Glasgow East, and several of his colleagues immediately began positioning against him.

The Scottish parliament in Edinburgh sits in an ugly, prison-like building directly under Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, and across the road from the Palace of Holyrood, where Scottish royalty and northern witches have been housed or deposed or rigorously exposed since the early years of the sixteenth century. The new parliament came about less than ten years ago—after a break of nearly three centuries—in order to honor what the late Donald Dewar, a former Labour secretary of state for Scotland and keen constitutional reformist, called “the settled will of the Scottish people.”

Under Tony Blair, Dewar shepherded the Scotland Bill through the UK parliament and became in 1999 the newly devolved parliament’s first minister. (For those unfamiliar with this fairly baroque system: Scotland now elects individuals to its own parliament at Holyrood while simultaneously sending MPs to the UK parliament at Westminster. The result of the Glasgow East by-election was to send the Scottish Nationalist victor John Mason to the UK parliament.) The Scottish Nationalists always saw the establishment of a Scottish parliament as the first step toward independence; walking through the Edinburgh parliament building today there is a sense that this once fanciful notion has never stood closer to being realized. In May last year the Nationalists won control of the Scottish parliament by one vote, and their leader, Alex Salmond, became first minister with a minority government. Salmond is a fierce though intellectually dowdy politician, wily enough not to release the tartan furies right away—he has concentrated on sane and gentle governance, while seizing every opportunity to ridicule his Labour opponents.

Before the Glasgow East by-election victory in July, his government in Scotland had distinguished itself as an effective, small engine of managerial thinking, topping up Labour woes by fair means and foul, though there are few signs Salmond and his colleagues can really imagine Scotland afresh. Always, with small countries, it is the imagination that carries the day: the Scottish electorate may be sick of Labour to a large extent, and that will always show as an advantage to the Nationalists—the Conservatives hardly exist—but the minority government in Scotland, despite appealing to every myth of Scottish nationhood available to them, might lack the cultural and political imagination to replace one strong myth with another.

That is now their challenge. In recent years, the Scottish Nationalists have begun to seem less like a regressive force, and that is an achievement marked by their electoral successes (they are expected to win a second by-election due to take place in Glenrothes in early November); yet they are still a party speaking neither truthfully to the past nor with vision to the future. They are stuck in the ignorant present, looking for opportunities.


Scotland may be the only nation in modern history to voluntarily secede, if only yet in part, from a parliament that allowed them greater benefits than the other member countries. The Scottish people benefit more from government investment than England does, and they also have two parliaments, the Edinburgh one and the London one, to which they elect representatives and express their views on all matters. A Scottish person today not only has a bigger piece of the cake and a formidable Scottish presence in UK government but an MP who is able to vote on hundreds of matters relating to England that have nothing directly to do with Scotland. No English person could say as much of his or her own powers, and yet it is Scottish nationalism that is increasingly respectable at a time when English nationalism is still thought to equate with Enoch Powell, Oswald Mosley, and the National Front.

Alex Salmond’s Nationalists have no equal in Europe: they lead their own parliament (which has tax-raising powers it hasn’t used and which Gordon Brown proposes to increase). At the same time, the country they lead has all the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom, yet the Nationalists’ central argument, now gliding toward completion, is that Scotland would be a better place if it got rid of its association with England. In order to set about proving this, Salmond and his more or less talented crew, sometimes without quite seeming to know it themselves, make it their business to exploit a fiction of past and present injury and press it with alacrity into the Scottish mind.

In a way it is simply effective politics: the Nationalists want to wield greater power, and to get there they must persuade the people firstly that they are a people, and secondly that they are a people that is getting a bad deal. But the population of Scotland will never get a better deal than the one the Union has afforded them for over three hundred years. The Nationalist genius is to go about forging a connection with deeper historical anxieties. There is a part of the Scottish psyche that will always be keen to upgrade the nation as it appears in its own eyes: a part of the culture that craves nobility and responds to peddled rumors of past glories as if they were not time-drunk myths but latent promises. It is a country where propaganda, in the end, can mean much more to the ravenous soul of the nation than any degree of reality. That is what Scottish history tells us, though not if it can help it.

Long before he died, Hugh Trevor-Roper identified the problem and expressed his dismay at Scotland’s apparent unwillingness to take regular cold, hard, and penetrating looks at itself. Of course, there had always been stray writers and artists who had done so, and occasionally politicians, but historians of Scotland have long been tourists in their own land, feeding scraps of national destiny into the hungry machine. Jeremy J. Cater, in his foreword to Trevor-Roper’s posthumous, indispensable book The Invention of Scotland, conveys Trevor-Roper’s remarks from the 1960s about the apparent addiction of the Scots to historical myth. “He had blamed the professional historians of the country,” writes Cater, “for doing too little to educate their compatriots into more self-critical habits of thought. And he had said that, if native historians were reluctant to de-mythologise, he would lend his own pen to assist the process.”

As a historian, Trevor-Roper had critical and analytical brilliance to burn, and he grew certain that Scotland, a country he loved and wished well, had exceeded most small nations in its efforts to fashion a series of politically convenient myths of origin. These had been composed and propounded by historians and fraudsters, by the novels of Walter Scott and by the fashions set by Queen Victoria’s Balmoral set, thereafter by a thousand agents up until our own day. Those myths are now signature truths of the tourist board, the public relations industry, Hollywood, and the Scottish National Party.

Trevor-Roper didn’t live to finish his book, but it is nevertheless more finished than a hundred books about Scotland, testifying to a remarkable country’s long search for a “healing myth.” Those with an eye to other nationalisms, too, will learn from his work, for it shows in the end that patriotic angst and identity-mongering can be forms of common delusion perpetually in thrall to Ibsen’s “saving lie.”

It should be no surprise that Scotland invented the historical novel: the country’s historians and chroniclers were novelists all along, inventing life and periodicity with ungay abandon. In the year 697—a mere 1,231 years before Gabriel García Márquez was born—Adomnan wrote The Life of St. Columba, in which we find snakes being conjured out of the sea, though this may be allowed on grounds of heavenly intercession as opposed to the wiles of literary style. Not so heavenly, and much more savage, were the imaginary efforts of Scotland’s first nationalists, who saw historical writing only with regard to its political function. “The early history of all countries is obscure,” writes Trevor-Roper, “but the mist which envelops the early history of Scotland is unique, both in density and duration.” Where Anglo-Saxon England produced very few myths, Scotland produced thousands, giving rise to a lineage of primitive kings whose claims were as questionable as their names are unpronounceable. Ungus son of Uurgust, anyone?

Like every nation, Scotland is not an ideal essence so much as a meeting of riveting fictions, the only difference being that Scotland has made more of a show of denying it than most nations. It is no more of a singular totality than the United States, yet it shows ferocity—and its historians have shown dedication—in making it appear “a tribe, a family, a people,” as Edwin Muir wrote in his poem “Scotland 1941.” As Trevor-Roper argues, Scots historians, and modern-day nationalists, are apt to mobilize a plethora of fabulations in order to uphold the idea of an ancient, noble, unified Scottish identity, free of barbarism and forced out of its native high-mindedness only at the point of despotic swords. Yet the original Scots, such as they were, came from the northeast of Ireland, and were alleged to be cannibals.

These invaders crossed the Irish Sea and set up home on the coast of Argyllshire, named Dalriada. The native people who already lived in Caledonia, as the Romans called it, were Picts (“people who paint their bodies”); and after many disputes, and perhaps after joining forces to fight the invading Norse, the Scots (Irish) and the Picts (natives) melded and Scotia was born, or Alba as some said. A process of Scotticization (or, really, Irishization) then began in 800, the true, known beginning of Scottish history. “The result,” adds Trevor-Roper,

was that the Irish Scots, from a small original colony in a corner of Argyll, succeeded in imposing their name, their customs, and their language upon the more ancient and numerous people inhabiting the rest of the country.

From that point, Scotland begins to become Scotland, with Norman and Anglo-Saxon influences feeding in, creating “a modern feudal monarchy and a modern diocesan church.” The establishment in Scotland was Anglicized and the Gaels were pushed into rudimentary life in the Highlands. That is what happened and this is what we know. It was a brutal, name-calling history, with nothing properly recorded before 800. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t suit those in later centuries who wished for more decorous origins, those who dreamed of a founding myth in which the people of Alba were gods and princes with a holy or anointed claim to nobility.

Now enter, stage left and right, the official historians. The results of their efforts still glow in the daily life of Scotland. Testament to the arts of storytelling and self-imagining, the early Scots histories were vain of respect and obsessed with ancientness. These stories proved useful, as they still are today, in colonizing history rather than telling it, allowing the Scots-Irish to find themselves not brutal usurpers and burners of villages, feasting on the buttocks of their opponents, but inventors and poets reaching back to Athens or the pharaohs. They allowed the Scots of the fourteenth century to see themselves as more than equal to the English, indeed to be their betters, with a list of Scottish kings 113 long and wreathed in glory. The lack of documentary evidence was also blamed on the brutality of the English, on that of Edward I—the “Hammer of the Scots”—who took all the papers and the coronation stone of Scone, “the stone of Destiny,” to England. In an act symbolic of increased nationalist power, the stone, or some version of it, was returned to Edinburgh with full pageantry in 1996.

In 1357, John of Fordun, Scotland’s first historian, needed no reliable papers, only a surfeit of dislike for the English, in order to begin the writing of what would become the Scotichronicon. “Groping backwards in time,” writes Trevor-Roper,

he pushed his way back through the dark ages until history disappeared in myth…. Whenever he came upon the word “Scotus” or “Scotia” he interpreted it as “Scotch” or “Scotland.” In this way he appropriated to Scotland much that was Irish; which greatly assisted the accomplishment of his intention. He was not the last Scottish writer to do this.

The result was predictable. Out of the ancient genealogies and king-lists, and the propaganda and the chronologies of the previous two centuries into which they had been subsumed, Fordun created, for the now clearly independent kingdom of Scotland, the first continuous, literary narrative history of its past.

Thus are nationalist dreams expressed and constituted.

It was only in the sixteenth century that the antiquaries of England, Wales and Ireland began to cast doubt on [their own] fabulous stories. Only in Scotland would such doubts not be entertained.

There are several mysteries inside the mystery-making. Why, in the sixteenth century, did the stars of international Calvinism, a great many of them based in Scotland, not disabuse the people of this nonsense? “That was not because Scottish critics did not exist,” answers Trevor-Roper, “it is because Scottish society would not listen to them.” He is here referring to John Major, whose work was ignored, while Hector Boece’s highly fabular History of the Scots became a runaway best seller. For Boece, with his ghostly sources, the Scots were a Kulturvolk, a polite people who had traveled in many lands and passed through many porticos of wisdom in ancient times before landing in their rightful place, Alba.

Boece could easily have joined in the chummy backslapping at the recent Glasgow East by-election, because he haphazardly sought to articulate, as the SNP does now, a version of Scotland that frames the people as aristocrats solely on account of their nationality. “So the portraits of all those mythical kings can still be seen—forty almost identical faces, painted (it is said) from the same model—in Holyrood House,” reports Trevor-Roper. And this is so: these fictions stare into the current day from a hall not five hundred yards from where the modern Scottish parliament does its best to stir the nation into action, or all action into nationhood, whichever can be achieved on the party’s minimal resources. “We have been long reformed from Popery,” said the Scottish Enlightenment judge Lord Hailes, “[but] we are not yet reformed from Boece…. As fast as the cobwebs of fictitious history are brushed away, they will be replaced.”

The test of a good mythology, however, is the extent to which different parties with opposing needs can use it. In Scotland’s case, the myths have proved extremely robust: after centuries of retold tales involving bogus superiorities and lists of imaginary kings, George Buchanan, the Scottish poet and teacher of Montaigne, said by many to have been the best Latin scholar next to Erasmus, used the history of Scotland, so called, to prove that kings could be rough and fallible. In such style he gave justification not only for an ancient, Whig constitution of Scotland, but for the movement of the local nobility against Mary, Queen of Scots after the death of Lord Darnley. Kings were subject to the people’s choice, argued Buchanan, presenting the old lies in a newly invigorated form, one that could prove convenient to those wishing to remove the Catholic queen. Trevor-Roper writes:

Buchanan knew that Boece was historically worthless and could not be safely followed or openly cited; but since he depended on him for his essential thesis, he secretly used his work and made it more plausible by quiet adjustment in inessential matters. The result was that the old fabrications were presented to the learned world in a more acceptable form. They now appeared not as the fabulous tales of the credulous and exploded Boece but as the critical conclusions of the great scholar Buchanan.

O what a tangled web we weave,” wrote Walter Scott in Marmion, “when first we practice to deceive!” But it was literature in the post-Reformation period, particularly Scott’s, that best conveyed the Scottish myths of origin. There have been other wonderful sources—tartans, clans, and all the tremendous nonsense associated with them—but strong elements in the national literature gave heart (and still give heart) to patriots eager to find something very sovereign in their own substance. Trevor-Roper has little to do with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, but he could state, as Edmond Malone did with more detailed authority in his Third Variorum edition of the plays, that Macbeth is drawn from the fabrications of Holinshed, which are based on the fabrications of our friend Boece. The play’s content has much to say about the role of fraud in Scotland’s notion of selfhood, but the play’s form, its own actual myth of origin, reflects that content precisely. Trevor-Roper finds local examples of literary make-believe being used to set forth the table of Scottish cultural necessity, but he spends too little time (or had too little) on Walter Scott and Robert Burns in this respect, settling instead on the myth of Ossian as his favorite.

As a small country, Scotland has been punching above its weight, in literary terms, for eight hundred years. At one point, during the late eighteenth century, it would have been difficult to argue with the fact that Scotland was adding to a new sense of the human. David Hume and Adam Smith could be seen on the same street, with James Boswell, Robert Burns, and Hugh Blair on the other side. All this, while James Hutton and Lord Kames arrived from an adjacent close and youngsters Walter Scott and Francis Jeffrey came running off the hill to meet them at the crossroads.

In these same cobbled streets, say, somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow, a ruby-faced gang of Scots could meet with respective burdens and inventions: the great justifier of human reason with the definer of capitalism, the inventor of modern biography with the world’s most humane poet, and here, arm-in-arm with him, the person who invented English as a university subject. The inventor of geology is crossing the road now with the gentleman who improved Europe’s sense of natural justice, and the children will have their day, inventing the historical novel and forming the idea of a journal, the Edinburgh Review, a progenitor of the one you are holding now. Taking no account of other ages and other geniuses, you would think this was enough to embolden a virile sense of nobility in any nation, yet Scotland finds in this post-Union excellence a lack of Scottish purpose.

They needed Ossian, an invented Scots bard to compare with Homer, and they found him in the same period. Rosemary Goring’s book Scotland: The Autobiogaphy is a spirited collection of witnessing from all the periods of Scottish history being discussed here. The choices she makes are quite exquisite and collectively the book fulfills the very needful function of telling the Scottish story itself. We get the aforementioned George Buchanan on “The Habits of Highlanders” (1582), Daniel Defoe on “The Run-up to the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments” (1707), Adam Smith on “The Death of David Hume” (1776), the riveting Jane Carlyle on her husband “Thomas Carlyle’s Tax Return” (1855), right up until Alex Salmond’s “The SNP Come to Power” (2007).

There are two hundred more witnessings and it is hard to imagine many countries near Scotland’s size being able to provide such a gigantic vision of human progress, ingress, regress, and finesse. Yet the hunger for frauds and nobilities are heard like pangs throughout this history. Rosemary Goring does not ignore Ossian, the subject we might understand to have been Trevor-Roper’s obsession. Here is Goring’s introduction to Walter Scott’s “The Ossian Fraud” (1806):

There was great excitement throughout literary Europe when in 1762, 1765 and 1773 the young Scottish schoolmaster and poet James Macpherson published translations of an extraordinary series of epic poems he claimed to have found by an ancient Gaelic bard called Ossian. Romantic and emotional, they proved a huge success, and were widely translated. Samuel Johnson was the first to cast doubt on their authenticity, and after Macpherson’s death, a report in 1805 concluded that the works were founded only on scraps of Gaelic originals which he had embellished…. Walter Scott added his stern views on the subject in a letter to his friend Anna Seward.

The subsequent extract from Scott shows little recognition on the part of its tartan-loving author of his own addiction to myth: “I am compelled to admit,” he writes,

that incalculably the greater part of the English Ossian must be ascribed to Macpherson himself and that his whole introductions notes &c &c is an absolute tissue of forgeries…. In searching out those genuine records of the Celtic Muse & preserving them from oblivion with all the curious information which they must doubtless contain I humbly think our Highland antiquaries would merit better of their country than confining their researches to the fantastic pursuit of a chimera.

Dr. Johnson is still remembered with little fondness in Scotland for pointing to our easy reception of myth. (“A Scotchman,” he wrote, “must be a very sturdy moralist who does not love Scotland better than truth; he will always love it better than enquiry; and if falsehood flatters his vanity, he will not be very diligent to detect it.”) One could not expect him to be loved for this, and indeed his arguments fail at times to recognize how Scotland’s experience of its own legend was not always negative, merely an attempt to make a ritual adjustment to the requirements of society, or, as Trevor-Roper remarks, “a formal accommodation of barbarism to civility.” Every nation, not least England, not least America, has something of that in its ongoing story. Scotland just wears it very blatantly.

In any event, England has played its own part in the invention of Scotland—the kilt was invented by an English Quaker from Lancashire; “The Sky Boat Song” was written by Sir Harold Bolton—and we see throughout the whole post-Union period not only a willingness on the part of Scotland to see itself in terms of fantasy, but for England, its sister nation, to garland it in false equipment. Trevor-Roper was perhaps anxious, as a writer, to see wars and warriors as providing the locations where national values come to lay their bones. He is keen to point out in this book how the Highland regiments, and all their frauds, came into the service of the British army.

The kilt would eventually become famous and feared on the battlefields of Europe, though Trevor-Roper here allowed himself to be oversimplistic in his account of how Scottish Highland regiments, especially the “Black Watch” in their “tribal dress,” were redirected after 1745 from being Jacobite adventurers trying to restore the House of Stuart and directed toward British “imperial purposes.” Yes, they were, but not without resistance. A more reasoned picture is presented in Michael Lynch’s recently revised Oxford Companion to Scottish History, in which Andrew Mackillop’s description of the regiment allows for two great and important subtleties. The following passage shows the dual nature of Scotland’s historical experience, at one and the same time the victim of English imperial prejudice and a great force of imperial prejudice in its own name:

Any further expansion in the army’s efforts to recruit Highland manpower by offering culturally customised regiments appeared to be blocked permanently by the military and legislative crackdown upon all expressions of clan militarism in the aftermath of Culloden [the final battle in 1746 between the Jacobites and the Hanoverian British government]. Although the development of Highlanders in kilted regiments was later proclaimed as somehow natural and inevitable, the years from 1750 to 1756 show the military was extremely reluctant to create any such units.

By late 1756, however, the threat to Britain’s imperial interests in North America, allied with William Pitt the Elder’s refusal to pay for additional German mercenaries, forced the duke of Cumberland to accept two new Highland units. The result was the 77th and 78th Highland regiments, commanded by Archibald Montgomery,…[which played] a prominent role in the suppression of the Cherokee from 1760, a campaign that, ironically, witnessed Highlanders perpetrating punitive policies of fire-raising and summary execution that had been the hallmark [during and after the Jacobite rebellion] of Cumberland fourteen years earlier.

Charm is a powerful element in some cultures. The power to enchant oneself and others, with whatever degree of success, may be counted a constituent part of what is meant by happiness. A recent poll suggests that Scottish people are among the happiest in Europe. Yet it is an argument that historical bad faith can also force trouble into the soul of nations, and Scotland’s gift of enchantment constantly runs up against the hard igneous rock of reality: it is a nation with horrible rates of violent crime, infant poverty, drug abuse, and heart disease. Man and woman cannot live by enchantment alone, and a great deal of contemporary Scottish literature finds its pulse at the point where the customs of idealism meet and inflect the vicissitudes of fact.


This year has seen the arrival in New York of several Scottish plays that are keen, whatever else, not to take too much national enchantment for granted, and they succeed in demonstrating the critical, replenishing spirit Hugh Trevor-Roper sorely missed. Rainbow Kiss, directed with elegant, cool insight by Will Frears, reveals the sinking of Keith (Peter Scanavino), a likable young man living in an Aberdeen housing project, into an ever-present world of psychosis and self-harm. All the coarse elements of a certain Scottish reality—which exists out of earshot of nationalist piping and away from the census-takers of happiness—is shown falling about the ears of young Keith as he tries to cope with his life. Literature has its ghosts, too, and one can picture the words falling to earth from Macbeth. “Alas, poor country,” says Ross. “Almost afraid to know itself.”

Black Watch is mainly set at Camp Dogwood in Iraq with flashes forward to a pub in Fife. It tells the story of a group of young Scottish soldiers fighting a pointless war, by turns suffering from boredom and shelling at a time when their regiment, the Black Watch, is being amalgamated, an act that will effectively bring its military traditions to an end. We also see the men on their return to other battlefields, the ones back home in Scotland where they must fight prejudice, unemployment, and the aftershocks of war. With its music, dance, and mime, its probing political intelligence, Black Watch has been playing to sell-out audiences all over the world and has become a testament to the “felt life” that Scottish art may throw in the face of perpetual mythmaking.

In one scene, a leading character, Cammy (Brian Ferguson), is whirled around by the other men and dressed and undressed in all the costumes of the regiment since the eighteenth century. Cammy speaks throughout, in a voice that every Scot would recognize:

Then off tay France tay fight the Kaiser. Trench foot and mustard gas. And rats. And lice. Where the mud on the bottom ay your greatcoats used tay cut the backs ay your legs, so we’d cut them off above the kilt.


Mons and Neuve Chapelle, Festubert and Loos. The Somme and Beamont Hamel. Arras. Wipers. Passchendaele. A hundred battles where more Scotsmen died than ever before. A hundred Cullodens.


So fuck Culloden. Again.


…Then tay Syria tay drive out the Ottoman Turks. Which we did in 1919, in Mesopotamia.




Where the fuck have I heard that before?




Here we are.



—October 22, 2008


She Didn’t Play For Clyde February 12, 2009

  1. *

    Gordon Brown, Maxton: A Biography (London: Mainstream, 2002).