by Ian Hamilton
To be conscripted by poverty and killed in a Scottish regiment was all the nationalism we were permitted for more than two hundred years. Still the conscription goes on. Until recent protests the army recruiting teams scoured the sink housing estates offering a job and a home to the poorest. It is an old British tradition. Nelsonâ€™s fleet scoured the coastlines of Ireland and Scotland kidnapping all the men they could find. Now the Royal Navy has the insolence to boast that one third of Nelsonâ€™s sailors were Scots. There is a monument to him in my neighbouring village of Taynuilt. I piss on it on Trafalgar day.
The violence of hunger and the lash did not end there. The sailors were discharged at Portsmouth and had to make their own penniless way home. The English vagrancy laws were passed to make it more difficult for them to beg. Today there is a direct parallel. Wounded and sick soldiers are left untended, and in some cases sent back to Iraq. Maybe it is not all that proud to be British when we remember such things, and why should we forget?
There was a time when the Labour Party did not forget. In the days before New Labour many town councils would not let recruiting parties near their schools yet I see them still at it. They have resorted to even meaner methods. In my childhood they had a recruiting poster saying, â€˜THREE SQUARE MEALS A DAY AND ALL FOUND.â€™ To the hungry such a cynical appeal had its merits. That is what I mean by conscription by poverty. Do you wonder that I rage at the British armed forces?
This arrogant treatment by the haves of the have-nots should be a thing of the past but it isnâ€™t.Â For many the schoolroom map still glows a comforting red from the time when the empire was there to keep the blacks in order, or so we were taught. We have a very hazy idea of what the empire did. We know that at home it enriched a few and impoverished the rest. Not until we were rid of it could our rulers say, â€˜Youâ€™ve never had it so good.â€™ It was these hungry conscripts of the Royal Navy and the Highland Regiments who won the empire
The Highland Regiments march on in every Scottish heart. Forgotten are such lowland regiments as the Cameronians, the only regiment never to drink the â€˜loyalâ€™ toast. It is the Highland Regiments we dream of. Who among us has not a secret thrill at their history of bravery and at their pipes and drums and tartans? We love the Thin Red Line at Balaclava and the pipes at Lucknow. Even when they could not defend their own homes Colin Campbellâ€™s unwavering soldiers still enchant us. The enchantment for my part is a secret one because I am ashamed. To the world the Highland Regiments typify Scotland and Scotland is not like that at all. The Regiments gave a home to the defeated Highlanders. Their colonel was their chief, but all that was make believe. The real truth lay in the words of the poster, â€˜THREE SQUARE MEALS A DAY AND ALL FOUNDâ€™.
Against that background the Edinburgh Military Tattoo continues to blaze away. A fine spectacle it is and I love it too. Yet in no way is it typical of Scotland or our history. It is an irony that the tartan is our international badge for the clans were broken at Culloden. The clansmen, conscripted by loyalty to their chiefs, died for nothing and vanished from history. I suspect the Braveheart Warriors will disagree. They will sit on the Castle Esplanade in their thousands, bold with the bevy. â€˜Finest small country in the world,â€™ they weep into their beer, and then vote unionist for their own destruction. It is the false sentiment I attack, not the soldiers. Their boots go echoing on in every conscience.
Nowhere do they echo more loudly than in Downing Street which has no conscience. When I volunteered for the forces all those years ago I did so because I believed the fight was just. Soldiers do not fight in cynicism. They fight for something they value. In the Iraq war we sent our youngsters to defend ourselves against weapons of mass destruction, or so they told us. They told us lies. There were none. These youngsters in Iraq are not defending their Scottish homes. This war is the last dying twitch of imperialism and our soldiers out there know it. That is why I, an old man, rage for them.
Blair betrayed us and them. The sands of the desert are sodden red, not red with the wreck of the imperial square that broke. They are red with the blood of all nations, Iraqi, Scottish, English, American alike, dead for oil and Halliburton. Blair says he will answer to God. He should answer first to a war crimes tribunal. More than people have died in Iraq. Regimental pride and the false glamour of soldiering have died with them. Maybe at last the echo of the boots will shuffle into silence.
Just inside the West door of Westminster Abbey there is a stone on the floor saying, â€˜REMEMBER WINSTON CHURCHILL.â€™
Remember Anthony Blair. Some day he will be brought to justice.