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 themselves than any they have yet undergone. The smug ‘deep sleep’ Orwell spoke of—the fruit of the oldest and most successful of modern imperialisms—would be more disturbed by the loss of Wales or Scotland then ever it was by the loss of India or Africa. And at the moment, a particular attraction to many must seem the near-destruction of the Labour Party’s power which would result from the permanent loss of their Scottish or Welsh strongholds. In the slow, festering decay of British State and society, they are the most important forces of disintegration to have appeared yet: they prefigure the dismemberment of the united British society which built up the imperial system itself. They are at once a product of the collapse of the system, and the sharpest possible comment on the advanced state of this collapse. What justice it would be, if the Wilson Government which came to power to ‘save the Pound’ ended by losing Wales and Scotland as well!

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.

The now dominant dream of Scotland re-born should perhaps be seen as the third phase in the dream-psychology (which has very often been a dream-pathology) of Scottish history. It is deeply marked by both the great dreams that preceded it. Like them, its most important trait is a vast, impossible dissociation from the realities of history. The best short definition of Scottish history may be this: Scotland is the land where ideal has never, even for an instant, coincided with fact. Most nations have had moments of truth, at least. Scotland, never. The resultant chronic laceration of the Scots mind—most brilliantly conveyed to the world in Stevenson’s fable of Jekyll and Hyde—is the thing which gives poignancy to the hope of a Scotland re-made, when seen from within. Scottish autonomy must appear there as the healing of the secular wound which has informed—and most often poisoned—Scottish consciousness ever since the Union of 1707. The real drama of the situation lies in its potential tragedy. It is not at all evident that the forms of autonomy one can reasonably foresee—whether partial or total—could cure the disease. They might perpetuate it, crystallizing the long, central hopelessness of Scottish history within a framework of archaic bourgeois nationality.

But this is to anticipate. The logical place to begin is with the first tormented vision Scotland was subjected to: the Reformation. The great debate about Protestantism and Capitalism established a certain affinity between the two; it has not given us any formula for the easy interpretation of the actual relationship in any given society. However, this is not too hard in, say, 17th-century Holland, or in the London or Bristol of the same period. There the immediate value and efficacy of Protestantism as the ideology of a dynamic, mercantile middle class is evident. But the case of Scotland is radically different.