Act-of-union Day

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the act of union between England and Scotland. The Telegraph is appalled that schools are doing nothing to celebrate this. It is disgusting, it is ludicrous, it is outrageous. Give the letters page time to get going and I’m sure it’ll be some kind of violation. Obviously, I am not one to argue with the Telegraph. The act of union is being forgotten? As a tribute I’m going to take just a couple of minutes out of my day and try to care.

Nope, didn’t work. Let me try again.

Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Just isn’t happening. There must be reasons it’s worth spending any time thinking about, right? And worth boring schoolkids to tears over?

I had a great history teacher at GCSE. He could probably make the act of union seem interesting. I’m sure it is, when you investigate it enough and put it into context. Most things are. But, what’s the point? I’m probably more interested in history than the average person, and I’ve had a quick look at the relevant wikipedia entry. I learnt that Daniel Defoe was involved as a spy for the English, that on the day itself Edinburgh castle bells played the tune of ‘why should I be so sad on my wedding day?’, and that plenty of money changed hands. It has some virtue as fodder for general knowledge quizzes, but, quite frankly, wasn’t worth more than a few minutes. I can see that there’s a certain symbolism, but relative to hundreds of other events in ‘British’ history it seems of minor importance. There’s only so much time in a schoolday, and there are many exciting and relevant historical events to study. ‘Why is more being spent to mark the abolition of slavery?’, asks the Telegraph. Presumably because that’s an important lesson, an inherently interesting thing and something that dramatically improved the lives of millions of people. When the best you can do is:

[h]istorians consider [the union] one of the most important events in the nation’s history, laying the foundations for imperial expansion a century later

It sounds like you’re reaching. Chest-swelling “it’s a part of our heritage” patriotic sentiment is fine for people who are into in that kind of thing, but why force it onto schoolkids who find history dull to begin with?

I think this irritated me because of the obvious pretence. Maybe there are people who feel a patriotic swelling when they think of the act of union, but I doubt it. Do the people writing articles demand ‘we’ mark the anniversary of William the Conqueror’s arrival too? Surely that’s a far more important date in British history? It seems unlikely. So what’s it really all about? Here’s where I have no evidence and start making things up. Is it to remind people that Scotland and England were once separate countries? Is it, like Neil says, that what they really want is an independent Scotland and a larger, more powerful and thoroughly Tory England? Or is it just to snipe at education?

I guess some people would say ‘it’s interesting if you’re Scottish’. Really? The only way it gets relevant is if you think that Scotland is actively harmed by the union to this day. I don’t know about that, but there’s such fuss it seems possible there could be legitimate grievances. But they’re drowned out by the ‘Scotland should become independent’ brigade. The fact that this seems completely stupid is probably because I’m a southerner and haven’t had to suffer the indignity of an ‘English’ parliament setting rules for Scotland. Or whatever. Maybe there are valid complaints in this regard, but surely there are better solutions than declaring independence? Like regional assemblies, or something? It’s not like the UK is really one big, arbitrarily-divided island, with people who are, on average, the same, with minds that if wiped of all memory of three-hundred year old slights against people long dead would have no reason to resent each other. I find it hard to believe that the ‘English’ parliament is actually blind, nationalistic and uninterested in the issues that arise in Scotland, but I can see that devolution would be beneficial, up to a point. I’m sure I’m naive, comfortable in my little isolated existence etc. but isn’t it always the case that creating artificial boundaries between people causes more problems than it solves?