Sixty-five years ago John MacCormick put forward the National Covenant. It began: ‘We the people of Scotland’. It called for a measure of self government. It was signed by two million Scots. Then it vanished into the walled city of London and was heard of no more.

Yet not quite. John MacCormick had influence even although he never had power. This is the view stated by Kenneth Roy in his great book ‘The Invisible Spirit’. I knew John well. He was less concerned with government than with the very existence of our country. In the 1940s it was touch and go. Scotland nearly became a hinterland of England. We needed magic. Sometimes words have magic. ‘We the people of Scotland’ had magic. Suddenly we were a nation again. Two million of us spoke, even if politically it was only a whisper. Now look at us. By the Scotland Act, creating the Holyrood parliament, England recognised Scotland as a nation with separate needs. Where do we go from here?

Let us get some rubbish out of the way. The SNP doesn’t embrace all Scots. You don’t need to belong to a political party to love your country. For that matter, the SNP will fly apart as soon as its aim of independence is achieved. That said, sooner or later there will be a revival of party politics in Scotland. We must face that as a nation we have the responsibility of nationhood. We cannot hide a handful of MPs among the crowds at Westminster and kid ourselves that it gives us influence. It doesn’t. We have 4% of the legislators. We have no voice to speak to other nations. Independence means that we pick and choose our friends.

I’m not sure where England stands in the pantheon of our friends. England changes. The England of the shires and the village green has gone. England is now the walled city of London. The torrent of Better Together that daily disfigures our papers shows a frightened London. The real fight of the 21st century is not between Britain and the Common Market. It is between Scotland and London.

London has sucked the wealth of these islands into its walls. It manages things. It doesn’t create them and for this reason it fears a rival who does. We are the only country with the wealth and vigour to rival them. If that were not so they would patronise us, not shout at us. If we are poor why are they so keen to keep us? They have been asked what makes us better together. Like Goliath on the heights of Garth they stand, red-faced, and go on shouting. But answer they nothing. Will he who shouts the loudest win the vote?

When we vote I shall be into my 90th year. I’m not afraid for the future of my country. No one can ride two bicycles. No government can rule two countries. Many who vote No will hope to get greater powers for Holyrood. Some hope! Which bike will they ride when nothing comes?

I remember the lonely years with John MacCormick. John has won. In the long vista of history influence is more important than power. Power passes. Influence changes things. Scotland’s future is secure. We are an uneasy country. We are not at home in a walled city. Yes or No, Scotland lives.


This piece first appeared in The Scottish Review, the vital weekly on line Scottish magazine.

As proof of its vitality my piece was lifted and reprinted in The Scotsman whose editor would sooner miss his breakfast than miss The Review.

5 Responses to “THE YEARS BEHIND”

  1. Andy Says:

    Thank you Ian, great words, great man :)

  2. Steve de Moray Says:

    Great piece Ian. We owe John McCormick much and we are lucky his influence lives on.

    But those who seek to deprive us of our future and resources, have learned much from the dictators of the great wars. Through the technical devices of the time, like radio and loud-speakers and newspapers, they deprived almost eighty million people of Germany of independendent thought and through those means it was possible to subject them to the will of one man.

    All of Scotland must wake up and realise the truth before its too late. Lets hope the truth rises like a Scottish lion. You don’t need to defend it, you just let it free it will defend itself.

    Saor Alba Gu Brath

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