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Britain & The World ; British Scholars Society - 22nd June 2012

SCOTLAND TRANSFORMED Cricket, Passports and the resilience of the Social Union

Keynote from :

Michael Russell MSPCabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong LearningThe Scottish Government

Principal, President, Delegates

I am very conscious of the honour you do our country, this capital city and myself this evening, and on behalf of the Scottish Government I would like to welcome you all to Edinburgh and express our gratitude that you have chosen to meet here this week. I hope the experience has proved stimulating and pleasurable at the same time.

You are in Scotland at an interesting time. Last night many of you would have attended a panel session which considered some of the key constitutional issues which will be put to the people of Scotland in a referendum about independence in 2014. You may have gleaned from that that - as ever - historical studies are not uncontroversial because some have, as I will indicate later, seen teaching Scottish history or Scottish literature as tantamount to preaching sedition some still do. And you may also by now realise that the disputations and passion about our future, which can be heard every day and in every form of media, actually often masks the fact that in mainstream political terms, much unites the main parties of Scotland.

This is therefore a place of contrasts and contention. But it is also a place of ideas and imagination. As Education Secretary I am very proud of the fact that Scotland is one of the top ranking nations in the world in terms of university excellence. Indeed no other comparable small country has 5 universities in the world's top 200, one of which is this one, my own alma mater.

Contrasts, contention, ideas and imagination I hope will abound tonight. They certainly abound in the very distinguished scholar who first invited me to undertake this task, my friend Professor Tom Devine who, I have no hesitation in saying, is ranked not just amongst the foremost historians that Scotland has ever produced, but is also one of our most valued public intellectuals; one who demands the highest of standards from his elected representatives (and I speak as one as I am lucky he has a house in my constituency of Argyll & Bute) just as he always did of his own students.

Tonight I want to talk about the Scotland I live in today and I want to do so by unfolding two narratives and touching on a third.

The first is a personal story - one of the 5 million, 254 thousand 800 that are all around us in this small country - that number being the latest estimate of Scotland's growing population given by our Registrar General just a few weeks ago.

The second is the counterpoint - the political tale of changes that have taken place in Scottish politics and in Scottish life during the last forty years and what they may imply for the future.

And in so doing I shall at least touch, I hope, on the teaching and understanding of Scottish history in our schools and universities.

I want to weave these strands together because, for me, they are all inter-related. And I hope by so doing to give you some insight into the country I call home.

Let me start 121 years ago, and well outside Scotland’s borders.

On the 23rd of April 1891 - St George’s Day of course, as well the date believed to be Shakespeare’s birthday - my maternal grandfather was born in the village of Abbots Langley, which lies to the north of London. It is the village in which the only English Pope - Nicholas Breakspear, later Adrian IV - was born almost 800 years earlier.

In March 1920 my mother was born there too, her mother, one Jessie Adair, having met my grandfather (as far as I can ascertain from the documentation) when she worked as a domestic servant in an asylum. However her father was Scottish and had joined the British Army in Kilwinning in the early 1860’s. Jessie’s brothers were born in Malta and Gibraltar during military postings and she entered the world at Woolich, near the Arsenal.

At some time and place between Kilwinning and Woolwich, Jessie's father had married a girl from Norfolk whose own father is listed in the 1851 census as living in Barmer Lane in the village of Docking, where he had been born in 1816, and where he was working as a shepherd.

That complex little cameo confirms that I am well described as being part of what the contemporary Scottish novelist William MacIlvanney called our “mongrel nation” - and proudly so. It also clearly indicates that, in Scotland, involvement in the national movement and nationalist politics is about a belief in self determination and - as I shall endeavour to show later - social and economic progress rather than any matter of breeding or blood. And most all it makes me very much a product of what is called the "Social Union ", that intermixing of marriage, sex and mobility which has peopled all the parts of these islands.

More prosaically, on my father’s side I can find my way back to Stevensons, Hunters, Montgomerys as well as Russells across the the Scottish county of Ayrshire. And into Galloway, where I can, apparently, stand distant heir to Margaret Wilson, one of the Covenanting ‘Solway Martyrs’ imaginatively painted by Millais. There will also be - and is - a smattering of Irish, some English, some Norse and probably a little Norman in me, the name “Russell”, deriving as it does from the old French for “red face or beard”.

To return to the English Home counties, however, my maternal grandfather came to Scotland in the early 1930’s to work for, and then own, a substantial printing and publishing business, which once published Enid Blyton! He died in Edinburgh in the mid 1960’s a man whose proudest boast was that he had once bowled out WG Grace at cricket - though the chronology would mean that Grace was well past his best.

Cricket, a sport commonly associated only with England, is an interesting side issue in the whole debate about Scotland, England and Britain. The Tory politician Norman Tebbit once memorably talked of the "cricket test" which was meant to provide a modern equivalent of the ducking stool to prove allegiance. Yet we should be cautious at describing cricket in any way that equates it solely with one part of these islands. There is a first class cricket ground in Wales, Scotland has played in the world championship and - most interestingly of all – it is alleged that there are more Scottish village cricket teams by head of population than there in England.

Indeed there have been many famous and infamous Scottish cricketers, some of whom have even played for England. The most celebrated would have been the former England captain Mike Derness, and perhaps also the 1931 cricketer of the year (alongside Donald Bradman) the spinner Iain Peebles. The most reviled - at least in Australia - was Douglas Jardine, who was at the heart of the famous "bodyline" controversy.

So Cricket does not divide Scotland and England - sometimes it unites it. For good and ill!

But for my grandfather cricket was England and it surprises even me to realise that he died less half a century ago, so much do his views appear of an entirely different time. Yet the year he died – 1966 - was the year before Winnie Ewing - certainly the most famous female Scottish politician of her time - won the Hamilton by-election for the Scottish National Party, starting the party’s continuous parliamentary representation and launching what we now think of as distinctive Scottish politics, in the modern era at least.

My lecture is entitled ‘Cricket, Passports and the Resilience of the Social Union’, so let me also at the outset bring in passports, albeit briefly. My father, was from an upper working class background - his father had been a motor mechanic and chauffeur for one of the “big houses” in Troon in Ayrshire who had managed to start his own small garage business. He had started a College course in Glasgow in 1938 but had left it in the summer of 1939 to volunteer for the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, then recruiting at Newton-on-Ayr Barracks. On his first night, in the barrack room with one of his friends who had joined up with him, they were the only two who were not speaking Gaelic after lights out. And by one of life’s little co-incidences the company they were assigned to was that raised in the small Argyll community of Glendaruel - where I came to live, quite unknowingly, some 54 years later.

His war time career led him from the beaches at Dunkirk (where he was badly wounded), through mountain training near Inveraray, to intelligence work in Egypt and the learning of Arabic. That got him a job as a Reuters correspondent post war and then a position in the British Consular Service, posted to Lebanon, Libya and Iraq.

It was in Mosul in Iraq the he met a young girl from Edinburgh with a sense of adventure who was teaching physical education to Iraqi children and who needed her passport renewed. That was my mother and they married less than a year later.

Several careers after that they were back in Troon, with my father finally qualified as a teacher, and myself and my two brothers attending the same school he had attended thirty years before - the Marr College.

So it would be as a 14 year old, 3rd year pupil at that school that I might have remembered the night in November 1967 when Winnie Ewing achieved a 38% swing to take Hamilton from Labour. And I would have been 17 when the SNP won the Western Isles in 1970 - the last seat to declare - and continued SNP parliamentary representation at a moment when it looked as if the SNP had once again gone from hero to zero in the space of a few years.

But although I have some recollection of the events, if I had any political focus then it would have been on Labour, a party I joined when I went to Edinburgh University that same year.

Winnie Ewing’s victory is worth pausing on for a moment. It was not the first SNP parliamentary victory - that was in Motherwell in 1945 when Robert MacIntyre became an MP for only a few months. And there are similarities between this success, MacIntyre’s election and Donnie Stewart’s in the Western Isles.

All took place in constituencies where politics had become moribund. In Motherwell in 1945 there had not been an election for ten years, and all the parties save the SNP had agreed on an electoral truce during wartime including (in that constituency at least) the Communists.

In Hamilton the election was caused by the elevation, by his own party, of a fairly ordinary MP to a profitable sinecure. And in the Western Isles the sitting member had been there for 35 years but now spent more time in Corfu than Callanish, he being a keen supporter of Greek democracy.

In these circumstances, the SNP inspired confidence and interest. They were the antithesis of machine politicians and they had enthusiastic, hard working and hungry teams, very unlike the mainstream parties who were jaded by years of electoral success.

In addition the clarity and compelling nature of the simple political message “its time for change” should never be under-rated. Nor should the attraction of a campaign that promises to give more control to the individual voter and less to the political system. And finally voters often like the opportunity - particularly at by-elections - to make decisions which go against conventional wisdom.

All of these factors underpin the rise of the SNP in electoral terms before 1974 - and perhaps even during that annus mirabilis. But they do not adequately explain the way in which that rise was triggered nor why it continued.

To do that we have too look a little further back and understand a current running in Scottish politics from almost the time of the Act of Union itself - the current of dissatisfaction about the effects of that constitutional settlement and a hankering for something better.

The campaign to re-establish the office of Secretary of State for Scotland - a campaign which grew in the middle of the 19th century, succeeded in part in 1885 and then in full in 1892 when the post became a Cabinet one - was the politically visible sign of a growing view that administrative devolution of power was a desirable and necessary mainstream objective in Scottish politics.

But the outrider of this campaign was a more fundamental objection to the centralisation of Scottish governance in London and the demand for the equivalent status of countries such as Canada and Australia - Dominion status as it was known.

Somewhere between the two of these position was what was known as “Home Rule”, which was as difficult to define as “Devo Max” is now. In its political incarnation it meant more than simple administration but less than government but it is in its literary and artistic incarnations that it was much better known in the 19th and early 20th century.

This took the form of a largely unfocussed desire for change allied to a search for a sense of Scottishness, actual as well as emotional, which would allow the re-creation of imagined past authority, planted in and nurtured by cultural soil.

And that process necessitated, in part at least, the re-discovery of Scottish history.

Not that such history was, in fact, ever lost. The political campaign to re-establish even minor administrative devolution had created a momentum that lead, for example, to the founding of the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography in this University in 1901, making Edinburgh the first modern home of Scottish historical studies.

And well before that the broad brush of Sir Walter Scott made the connection between who we had been and what we should be, although the line was from straight and the political implications of one were not to be carried over to the other. The Scottish past as a fit subject for fiction, the visual arts, drama and even music - Somervell’s “Highland” Piano Concerto probably concluded the genre in the 1920s but there were many examples before - did not extend to it being a fit subject for the classrooms of Scotland, except by dint of personal enthusiasm from teachers.

That conflict - between such personal enthusiasm and the view of educational and broader society - is wonderfully captured in a novel by the prolific but still undervalued Scottish novelist Robin Jenkins. Written at some time during the 1960s - Jenkins often left novels to ripen before submitting them for publication - Fergus Lamont covers a longish period in the 20th century, starting in the 1930s.

Early on in the work one of the key protagonists John Calderwood is teaching about  individual suffering during the Highland Clearances, with a child placed at the door of the class in case the Head Teacher, Mr Maybole comes by.

Of course he does, and remonstrates with Calderwood saying:

“I must warn you. You are filling these children’s minds with poison. You are undermining their confidence in legally constituted authority. It is a mistake to study the history of one’s own country. It divides us instead of uniting us ...... Why bother with stuff so out of date?”

There is however a perfect riposte. A child from the slums of the town in which the novel is set - the fictional “Gantock” speaks up immediately to say:

“It isn’t out of date, Mr Maybole. People are still being pit oot o’ their hooses.”

I certainly only started to discover Scottish history in my final year at school when, undertaking the old Certificate of Sixth Year Studies - a precursor for the Advanced Higher - I chose a local history project and moved from that into an interest in Scottish Ecclesiastical History which I followed up in my first two years as a Theological student, before finishing my studies at Edinburgh with a specialism in Scottish History and Literature. And that was comparatively unusual in the early 1970s when European and British History would have been much more common choices at University.

Even today there are more Chairs in other Historical studies in Scotland than there are in Scottish History though the situation has improved greatly in the last two generations. Edinburgh's foundation in 1901 was not followed quickly but it has been followed.

Glasgow now has the largest Scottish History teaching and research unit in the country, Aberdeen has a fine multi disciplinary degree programme which draws in elements of Celtic, Gaelic, English and Scottish History as well as a research institute of Irish and Scottish Studies, whilst back here in the capital the Scottish School for Diaspora Studies was created with what is still the largest single donation made to a history school in these islands - £1 million from Mr & Mrs Alan MacFarlane. And my old friend and co-author Dennis MacLeod supported the Chair of Highland History at the University of the Highlands and Islands with a generous donation as well.

These opportunities at higher level have helped to build and develop a wider approach in schools too. The individual enthusiasms - those, for example which led to our First Minister knowing of Blind Harry and his Scottish stories when still at Primary school - have been enhanced by a growing context in which a national priority is slowly being given to knowing about Scotland as a means of opening a window on the whole world. It is now, I think, unlikely that any child will not have at least had an opportunity to discover their own country's past as well as its creativity.

This is not an imposition, but an entitlement. It fits well without our national view of the need for a broad general education and for those who move on to qualifications in History there are now units Scottish, British and European and World History. This is not an insular approach.

But we can do better. In Higher Education we do provide a range of research on Scottish studies, but we still need to encourage more and make more inter-disciplinary links.

And in schools the wider context of Scottish Studies, now being taken forward from the recommendations of the working group set up after the last election, will strengthen the place of learning about Scotland across the curriculum and enable clear pathways to higher levels of study. The inclusion of Scottish texts in National qualifications in English and the development of an Award in Scottish Studies are important contributions to enhancing the place of Scotland's languages, heritage and culture in learning. And not just for us – other places learn from their Scottish roots, and wish to do more such learning. Just last week I met with some of those from McGill University, in Toronto, who wish to establish a Chair of Scottish Studies there too. Several already exist in countries of the diaspora.

We need such study and such opportunities at home and abroad in order to understand our country and to relate it to the wider world. We also need them because we should encourage others to reflect to us what we don’t know and need to be aware of. And we need it in order to join up our understanding of all the aspects of Scottish culture and heritage in order to create a stronger foundation for our future individual and collective growth.

Now I freely admit that my own sense of who I was and the richness of my mongrel background - which developed as I studied Scottish history and literature – had a political effect. But not in the sense taken by those who discourage the study of Scottish history for fear it would have electoral implications - a position most ludicrously espoused by Ken MacIntosh, a senior Labour MSP and candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership last year, when he condemned the development of any new opportunities to read Scottish texts or learn about Scotland's past as “just the SNP trying to brainwash children to their political view”.

In fact I continued in Labour party membership until my last year at University when the experience of the February 1974 election - during which I actually campaigned almost full time for Labour in the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency where my flat mate was the candidate, but then voted for SNP for the first time- made me consider what type of Scotland I wanted to see.

In this I was being very true to my father’s anti-establishment prejudices as well as to my mothers’ essentially decent Liberal view of what people should be encouraged and helped to achieve.

It was, to put it as simply as Jenkins did in Fergus Lamont, a matter of creating “a society in which poverty and all its humiliations had been abolished, without refinement and spirituality being sacrificed.” Or to put it another way, it was the start of my journey to find an answer to the question he posed in his later historical novel Lady Magdalen; “surely ordinary people must one day get their reward in a Scotland where honour and justice prevailed ?”

Those were the issues that propelled me to support the SNP in February 1974, which have propelled me to support it every since, and which go on sustaining me as we move towards the referendum on securing an independent Scotland which will be held in the Autumn of 2014.

In other words the political imperative for a better world is set, for me at least, in the achievable Scottish context - the context of a small nation state working with other nation states in order to benefit its citizens and the wider world.

Now I would accept the criticism that, in expressing the issue like that I am giving it a clearer distillation than that which was offered by the SNP in 1974 where the slogan "Its Scotland's Oil" clouded the broader issue of what you did with that oil, or more accurately with the national wealth it generated. But I think one of the key elements in the national debate in Scotland has been that of clarification of the national goal over several political generations. And that clarification continues, as it must.

The two elections of 1974 were watershed moments, none the less. They were not only record political successes, they also saw a party and a nation in transition.

Certainly there were common elements between these elections and previous by-election wins and near misses (of which there had also been several). There was a novel political approach, a committed political workforce (the successful candidates nearly always had constituencies with a thousand paid up party members or more - quite astonishing in today’s political climate) and a sharp and attractive message of empowerment and change delivered in the midst of industrial relations chaos south of the border.

But there was also something else - the beginning of an ideological positioning on the left of centre Scottish mainstream.

That had been brought about in part at least by a change of political leadership. Billy Wolfe who became the SNP party leader in 1969 recognised that the votes of Scotland were going and would continue to go to candidates who took a social democratic stance, as he did. It was important, therefore, to mould a party which sought to create a social democratic society, whatever home rule or self government or independence (a word that took some time to work its way to the top of the SNP lexicon) actually meant in terms of power structures.

Taking that position - putting politics into what was much more a movement for constitutional change and cultural self expression - was not an easy thing to do. The tensions in the SNP after electoral failure in 1979 (electoral failure is always a moment of most danger for a party) demonstrated the problem which was only resolved towards the end of the 1980s. By that time a generation who had worked their way up through the party - whilst many left - and who had previous links with Labour or at least sympathy with elements of Scotland’s Labour past and Labour traditions, was taking control of the structures and was embedding that political stance.

Despite the fact that the only party in the 20th century to have won both a majority of Scottish votes and seats at a General Election had been the Conservative and Unionists (a key juxtaposition) Labour’s dominance of Scottish politics was almost complete by the 1980s. So the SNP's up and coming political leadership would inevitably start to focus on ways in which that seemingly unassailable hegemony could be broken, perhaps - it was thought - most easily and rationally by what was commonly called a "realignment of the left".

Labour was a party with a strong Home Rule tradition but that had been progressively abandoned in the 1920s and 30s. Kier Hardie’s original platform of social justice, equality, temperance and self governmence had been re-packaged and the self government element did not recur until there was an electoral threat from a self government party. Temperence never reoccured.

Labour’s conversion to, and mishandling of, the 1970’s devolution issue is well recorded and I will not go into it here. Suffice it to say that by the late 1980’s the contrast between electoral dominance in Scotland and the inability to win a Westminster majority was stark.

Another spectacular SNP by-election success in 1988 at Govan drove it home - the concept of the “feeble 50 Labour MPs” echoed the reasons for Hamilton and even Motherwell. Scotland needed active political representation and it wasn’t getting it. But that fact made an "realignment" progressively harder and harder to achieve as Labour put itself behind the electoral barricades and saw the elimination of the SNP as its prime Scottish objective, because in many places both parties now fought for the same votes.

This is a point worth dwelling on because it may illuminate what appears to be, at times, a very artificial set of political hairs that are split between the parties.

I have already explained how my allegiance to the SNP came about because of a sense of social injustice. On one level that was driven by the sheer arrogance and wrongheadness of those whose argument against self determination - of any sort, from the 19th century on, through two devolution campaigns to the present day discussion of independence – was, and is, solely that Scots are, uniquely, incapable of governing themselves. And although many would deny that is the implication of their message, it is still at the core the Unionist argument. Too wee, too poor, too stupid. And therefore always going to be dependent.

More deeply though we have to recognise that there is a dichotomy between the public discourse in Scotland about the priority of social justice and the actual actions of successive Westminster governments.

That dichotomy exists not just in the simple way that the distance between political words and deeds can sometimes be too great and too long, but also in a very fundamental way.

There was, and sometimes still is, a clearly observable gulf between the social conditions of many Scots - in housing, in health and in education - and the rhetoric of a state which still believed in its own greatness. It is impossible to support the expenditure of billions on weapons of mass destruction in any moral society but it is even more impossible to support the pretensions of world power that nuclear weapons have given to the UK when Scottish mortality rates remained stubbornly high and when unemployment and social hopelessness continued and continues to shorten lives.

The argument from Labour that this can only be changed by changing Britain - essentially by giving an English electorate the veto over Scottish priorities - goes to the nub of this. If social change and the answering of Jenkins question - "surely ordinary people must one day get their reward in a Scotland where honour and justice prevailed?" - cannot be brought about by our own choice but only by the choice of others, if we cannot do but only be done to - then democracy has failed us.

In reality then when I talk about constitutional change I talk about a means to an end. Labour - to be fair - believes that such talk will not achieve those ends. But then they have not achieved them yet, generation by generation, so perhaps the evidence and logic may now lie more on my side.

This is perhaps also a form of re-imagining of the state in that it sees the primary role of the state as being instrumental in the long term change of populations. It may be that from a discredited (in places) concept of nationalism Scotland has brought forward a new meaning, a critique of society which connects accountability to action.

And that may also be why those who see Scottish nationalism in primarily historical terms - by which I mean those who interpret the referendum date of 2014 as a deliberate reference to the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, or who seek symbolism in the 300 years of the Union - tend to misunderstand what is being attempted here. There is culture, there is understanding of the past, and there is creativity in what drives us - but most importantly there is democracy and the desire for a fair, modern, democratic society.

80% of Scots vote for that - for either Labour or the SNP. Add in old fashioned Scottish liberalism and the total is even higher – and these are all votes for a tolerant, social progressive society with economic growth supporting a caring state. For the Scottish people the core choice is this, and it becomes clearer with every passing day. Can such a society be achieved within the UK or can it only be achieved and sustained by choosing an independent Scotland, collaborating with its partners, inclusive in its approach, but socially just because it has chosen, by itself, to make that place for its citizens.

Getting to the point where that offering can be made to the people of Scotland has neither been easy nor straightforward.

There has certainly been a divergence between the politics south and north of the border and that has been a factor. A national solidarity buttressed by two world wars and the emergence of the welfare state has been weakened by different priorities and by the erosion (through time and self-inflicted damage) of key UK institutions. But there have been other factors as well - for example the emergence of a credible, coherent and comprehensive vision of what an independent Scotland would look like, set within a European and Global context and framed by a social democratic internal and external view - has taken time and has only finally crystallised when the party with that ambition has gained the experience of government.

The emergence of a campaigning, well organised, modern party capable of winning an election after over 70 years in existence was the work of the 90s and the first few years of the 20th century. The growth into competent government, proving the ability of Scots to make good decisions even in very difficult times has been the work since 2007. Now the task is to convert that competence in some things into competence across the spectrum of government and to persuade Scots that choosing and building an independent state is the norm in this world, not the exception.

Hand in hand with that has gone the need for a clear understanding of what our place in that world should and could be. That has been greatly helped by the academic community, and indeed by the leadership of Tom Devine himself. He has helped us to see the indivisible link between where we stand on the globe and what role we have played there - for good and ill (and there have been both).

To be fair, all Scottish political parties (with the possible exception of the Conservatives) - have been keen to expand that role and have done so in Government, in the case of Labour often against the wishes of their colleagues at Westminster. This has been a process of rediscovery, created by greater confidence, influenced by economic and political ambition and advantage and driven and underpinned by long term connections whilst firmly embedded in our culture and sense of self. It is difficult to separate cause and effect, politics or society, chicken or egg in such a thing.

My personal story is perhaps germane here too. I have mentioned passports before, and the role they play in my conception. But I am one of three brothers and the the other two live permanently outside Scotland. Most families have experience of emigration going back generations but now it is not only a matter of economic necessity or imposition but also one of a positive embrace of globalisation. When my son talks about going to America to seek finance for his start-up company it is seen by him as a natural step in a wider world, not - though it may still in part be - an indication of geographic economic disadvantage.

But in other ways my son also wears his Scottishness more easily than I do. That is also a sign of a more comfortable set of times; where who you are and not where you came from is the most important issue. That is progress for Scotland as well.

My grandfather never thought of himself as anything other than English, though he may have confused the term with the word “British” more than once. I suspect my mother, though she too joined the SNP before she died, thought of her self as both of those things and Scottish too. My father was Scottish through and through and I think came to dislike the term British primarily because it meant to him an unacceptable level of pomp, privilege and deprivation. There will be many more such examples of different interpretations and self descriptions too. But polls tend to show that now many Scots identify more closely with the description European than the description British (though they don't disown that) and that they usually put their the Scottish identity first. But most are also part of that mongrel mix that I referred to several times and all are part of the social union.

Married as I am to someone from the Island of North Uist, I have added more diversity to the genetic mix. But I can sit on the SNP front bench conscious that there are many around me within equally complex combinations within them and some much more so. My dear and now departed friend Bashir Ahmed, the first Scots Asian to sit in the Scots Parliament, was born in Amritsar a mere 21 years after Brigadier General Dyer ordered the massacre of 1300 men women and children in defence of the British Raj in that very same city. As a child he was taken by his parents to Lahore, a victim of partition.

Yet in 2007 he became a representative of the people of Glasgow in a Parliament which had only existed for 8 years, having been prorogued for the previous 292. That was the social union in action too, embracing, amongst others Scots Asians, and its breadth and resilience overshadowing and indeed all but eliminating the need for a political union. People are stronger that treaties and, as Larkin observed in his poem “An Arundel Tomb”, what will survive of us is love and its consequences, not enforced cohabitation.

What survives of the political union - as times change , ambitions ripen and allegiances weaken - will be people and how they choose to live and work together. And people - in the end - cannot be frightened or bullied into staying where they do not wish to be.

Whether we believe that full independence within the European Union should be our national goal, or whether we wish to stop for a while at a less productive constitutional watering point, I think all of us recognise that our country is not the place it was forty, fifty, sixty years ago.

It has diverged from our neighbour south of the border in cultural, economic and social ways that we had not anticipated but which are a result of - as well as a driver of - political divergence based on the re-growth of a desire for increasing self determination. Our traditional strength of community and our shared values have transmuted themselves into a world view that is different from that of our neighbours and which sends us in a different direction.

What will come of that divergence? Well the evidence world wide is, I think, quite clear.

When such divergence takes place, when traditional self knowledge is restored and when different values are seen to underpin national life and national direction then the old structures cannot stand. Scotland being a country that moves slowly in constitutional terms the exact timing of change is impossible to predict - devolution took, one might argue, more than a century - but the likelihood of continued movement to completion of the Parliament’s powers is undeniable. Offering the chance to choose is therefore the right thing to do, and the right time to choose it is when the debate has taken place within an informed electorate which is comfortable and confident in its personal and social connections but ambitious in its economic and political goals.

As celebrations of this year’s jubilee come to a climax it is interesting to reflect that in 1952 the Queen became Head of a Commonwealth that had a mere 7 members. Today it is 54. The number of independent nations has almost quadrupled from 1900 to the present day. There are few who would argue that Scotland couldn’t join that number - the question for most Scots is, should we do so?

I would suggest we are better prepared to do so than we have ever been, and probably than any nation has ever been. You as historians might provide us with some of the examples of how such change works for good or ill. Or you might want to encourage us to behave as others behave and take responsibility for ourselves.

What perhaps you should remember above all, however, is that this is a country of individuals who will make the choice for themselves. Each of them has his or her own story. And each will be influenced or persuaded by others like them.

For cricket is not divisive. Passports can lead to marriages. And the social union seems to produce, year on year, greater and greater diversity, as well as greater and greater ambition. We don't need to live together to work together. If we understand ourselves and where we have come from, we can develop a better way of moving ahead.

It is people that transform nations, not politicians. And I believe a national transformation is already well underway.


© Michael Russell 2014