By Ian HamiltonÂ
The last few years of the Stewart Dynasty were so disastrous for Scotland that they were known as â€˜the killing timesâ€™. It was under the Stewarts, and particularly under Charles 11 that LondonÂ domination began. It has continued ever since. Why then do we have this silly romanticism about BPC?
BPC was an Italian on the make. Every Italian immigrant since has given us more. Ice cream comes to mind. BPC brought only destruction. A few thousand Gaels, conscripted by their lairds on pain of eviction, attempted a coup which mercifully failed. The thought of a return to monarchical government from London is an absurdity. So also is the BPC cult. A few old Edinburgh ladies now rise for him in romantic rebellion, and fight for him in the safety of their little meetings. None takes them seriously. The â€™45 was never a threat to the United Kingdom. What was sought by BPC was direct London authoritarian rule. The end of the Union was notÂ his aim. Culloden was a Scottish victory.
The tragic history of the Gael does not begin with the victory at Culloden at which as many Gaels fought for common sense as fought for BPC. It begins with the conscription of Highlanders to fight in Englandâ€™s wars. Indeed positive advantages for the Gaels followed Culloden. Gaelic society had never evolved beyond tribalism. Such a system of local government is open to abuse and abused it was. A system of hereditary judges is clearly not the best way of administering justice when it includes capital punishment. The abolition of the power of the lairds by The Hereditary Jurisdiction Act of 1747 was long overdue and Westminster is to be commended for its passing.
Had matters rested there the Highlander might have had a chance of changing his habits. His methods of agriculture had made no progress for a thousand years. That does not mean they would not have improved now that the evils of tribalism had been greatly reduced. Modern farming methods only found their way into Lowland Scotland well into the nineteenth century. A glance at the life of Robert Burns illustrates my point. It was not just that he was a rotten farmer. Of course he was a rotten farmer. No efficient farmer stops his plough to lament a daisy or talk to a mouse. It is clear that the very methods of Ayrshire farming were ready for improvement. These improvements would have come in the Highlands also but for one thing. That thing is usually and usefully blamed on sheep-farming. I suggest that the Napoleonic Wars were an even greater curse.
The English ruling class and their Scotch cousins were really frightened by Napoleon. They could see their power and wealth in danger. In the Highlands conscription was rigorously enforced. The reputation of the Highland Scot as a fighter was his own undoing. You sent your sons to fight or you were evicted. General Wolfeâ€™s well known aphorism needs only passing reference here. â€˜And no great mischief if they fall.â€™ The Scottish fighting man was as expendable then as he is today in Iraq. It was while he was away fighting that the Clearances began. Furthermore the defeat of Napoleon did for the Highlander completely. It confirmed the hegemony of the aristocracy. They could do what they liked and they did. A typical example is the Leveson-Gower House of the Dukes of Sutherland. Strathnaver is the example usually taken but it is only an example. It happened elsewhere. To use a common phrase it happened all over the place.
It is against this background that I have been asked to write a fifteen minute play to entertain members of the Clan MacIntyre Society who are shortly to visit the parts of the Highlands where I live. Taynuilt, the centre of their territory, has a direct association with the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly with Lord Nelson. I have long condemned the uncritical worship of English heroes by us Scots. One countryâ€™s hero is often its neighbourâ€™s villain. So is it with Lord Nelson. The first memorial to him was put up in Taynuilt by incoming English foundrymen. In a letter to the Herald on the two-hundredth anniversary of his famous victory I said that I would celebrate Trafalgar Day by pissing on the memorial. It is the most memorable thing I have ever written. People still stop me in West Highland Streets and ask if they can join me.
Plays should speak for themselves. If they are good plays they speak for us all. Soon Iâ€˜ll publish the play here, beneath this prologue. It is either a good play or it is nothing.