Modern Scottish Nationalism has led a fluctuating, intermittent existence since 1853. Now, quite suddenly, it has become a more serious political reality. In the past it has gone through many renaissances, followed by even more impressive and longer-lasting collapses into inertia; but the present upsurge looks likely to last longer than others, at least, and to produce more of a mark on history.
Seen from without—from London, or in the perspective of British politics—the change appears welcome for many reasons. Like the companion Nationalism of the Welsh, it brings an element of novelty into the hopelessness and corruption of the post-imperial political scene. Obviously, fringe nationalisms will be good for the English, by forcing upon them a more painful reassessment of
The importance of the phenomenon demands that we should look at it less superficially, however. What is Scottish Nationalism in itself, as distinct from its external repercussions? Such a consideration of its meaning—as with other, comparable phenomena of modern nationalism—must lead to recognition of the deep contradictions embodied by it. Only some insight into these contradictions can allow us to try and form any real estimate of the movement’s significance.
Externally a positive reaction to the humiliating agony of a long era, Scottish Nationalism has another inwardness. For the Scots themselves, it is the late reflorescence of a dream, the hope of an identity, to which they have clung, obscurely and stubbornly, across centuries of provincial stagnation. Such a dream—and still more so, the time of its reflorescence—have a meaning which is bound to be far from clear outside Scotland.
Not that it seems too clearly appreciated within the country, either. Nothing demonstrates more surely the mythical nature of Scottish matter-of-factness and ‘realism’ than the small amount of effort the Scots have given to the prosaic understanding of what really matters to the country. Their dourness is at once a disguise, and a shield. A stony confrontation of the small change of living—counting the pence—protects them from a broader understanding that might threaten their identity: and also from what a Calvinist heritage apprehends as the sinful inner chaos. Behind the wary eyes and granite countenance of Scotland there lies not one dream only, but a whole inheritance of dreams, whose accumulation has made the psychology of modern Nationalism.