As I Please
Tribune, 14 February 1947
Here are some excerpts
from a letter from a Scottish Nationalist. I have cut out anything likely to reveal the
writers identity. The frequent references to Poland are there because the letter is
primarily concerned with the presence of exiled Poles in Scotland:
Polish forces have now discovered how untrue it is to say An Englishmans word
is his bond. We could have told you so hundreds of years ago. The invasion of Poland
was only an excuse for these brigands in bowler hats to beat up their rivals the Germans
and the Japs, with the help of Americans, Poles, Scots, Frenchmen, etc. etc. Surely no
Pole believes any longer in English promises. Now that the war is over you are to be cast
aside and dumped in Scotland. If this leads to friction between the Poles and Scots so
much the better. Let them slit each others throats and two problems would be
thereupon solved. Dear, kind little England! It is time for all Poles to shed
any ideas they may have about England as a champion of freedom. Look at her record in
Scotland, for instance. And please dont refer to us as Britons. There is
no such race. We are Scots and thats good enough for us. The English
changed their name to British, but even if a criminal changes his name he can be known by
his fingerprints . . . Please disregard any anti-Polish statement in the
. It is a boot-licking pro-English (pro-Moscow you would call it) rag.
Scotland experienced her Yalta in 1707 when English gold achieved what English guns could
not do. But we will never accept defeat. After more than two hundred years we are still
fighting for our country and will never acknowledge defeat whatever the odds.
is a good deal more in the letter, but this should be enough. It will be noted that the
writer is not attacking England from what is called a left standpoint, but on
the ground that Scotland and England are enemies as nations. I dont know
whether it would be fair to read race-theory into this letter, but certainly the writer
hates us as bitterly as a devout Nazi
would hate a Jew. It is not a hatred of the capitalist class, or anything like that, but
of England. And though the fact is not sufficiently realized, there is an
appreciable amount of this kind of thing knocking about. I have seen almost equally
violent statements in print.
Up to date the Scottish Nationalist movement seems to have gone
almost unnoticed in England. To take the nearest example to hand, I dont remember
having seen it mentioned in Tribune, except occasionally in book reviews. It is
true that it is a small movement, but it could grow, because there is a basis for it. In
this country I dont think it is enough realized I myself had no idea of it
until a few years ago that Scotland has a case against England. On economic grounds
it may not be a very strong case. In the past, certainly, we have plundered Scotland
shamefully, but whether it is now true that England as a whole exploits Scotland
as a whole, and that Scotland would be better off if fully autonomous, is another
question. The point is that many Scottish people, often quite moderate in outlook, are
beginning to think about autonomy and to feel that they are pushed into an inferior
position. They have a good deal of reason. In some areas, at any rate, Scotland is almost
an occupied country. You have an English or anglicized upper class, and a Scottish working
class which speaks with a markedly different accent, or even, part of the time, in a
different language. This is a more dangerous kind of class division than any now existing
in England. Given favourable circumstances it might develop in an ugly way, and the fact
that there was a progressive Labour
Government in London might not make much difference.
No doubt Scotlands major ills will have to be cured along
with those of England. But meanwhile there are things that could be done to case the
cultural situation. One small but not negligible point is the language. In the
Gaelic-speaking areas, Gaelic is not taught in the schools. I am speaking from limited
experience, but I should say that this is beginning to cause resentment. Also, the B.B.C.
only broadcasts two or three half-hour Gaelic programmes a week, and they give the
impression of being rather amateurish programmes. Even so they are eagerly listened to.
How easy it would be to buy a little good-will by putting on a Gaelic programme at least
At one time I would have said that it is absurd to keep alive an
archaic language like Gaelic, spoken by only a few hundred thousand people. Now I am not
so sure. To begin with, if people feel that they have a special culture which ought to be
preserved, and that the language is part of it, difficulties should not be put in their
way when they want their children to learn it properly. Secondly, it is probable that the
effort of being bilingual is a valuable education in itself. The Scottish Gaelic-speaking
peasants speak beautiful English, partly, I think, because English is an almost foreign
language which they sometimes do not use for days together. Probably they benefit
intellectually by having to be aware of dictionaries and grammatical rules, as their
English opposite numbers would not be.
At any rate, I think we should pay more attention to the small
but violent separatist movements which exist within our own island. They may look very
unimportant now, but, after all, the Communist Manifesto was
once a very obscure document, and the Nazi Party only had six members when Hitler joined it.
change the subject a bit, here is an excerpt from another letter. It is from a whisky
regret we are reluctantly compelled to return your cheque as owing to Mr Stracheys
failure to fulfil his promise to release barley for distilling in Scotland we dare not
take on any new business . . . . When you have difficulty in obtaining a drink it will be
some consolation to you to know that Mr Strachey has sent 35,000 tons of barley to NEUTRAL Eire
for brewing purposes.
must be feeling very warmed-up when they put that kind of thing into a business letter
which, by the look of it, is almost a circular letter. It doesnt matter very much,
because whisky distillers and even their customers dont add up to many votes. But I
wish I could feel sure that the people who make remarks like the one I overheard in the
greengrocers queue yesterday Government! They couldnt govern a
sausage-shop, this lot couldnt! were equally few in numbers.
Skelton is not an easy poet
to get hold of, and I have never yet possessed a complete edition of his works. Recently,
in a selection I had picked up, I looked for and failed to find a poem which I remember
reading years ago. It was what is called a macaronic poem part English, part Latin
and was an elegy on the death of somebody or other. The only passage I can recall
est among the weeds,
God forgive him his misdeeds,
With hey ho, rumbelo,
Per omnia saecula,
has stuck in my mind because it expresses an outlook totally impossible in our own age.
Today there is literally no one who could write of death in that light-hearted manner.
Since the decay of the belief in personal immortality, death has never seemed funny, and
it will be a long time before it does so again. Hence the disappearance of the facetious
epitaph, once a common feature of country churchyards. I should be astonished to see a
comic epitaph dated later than 1850. There is one in Kew, if I remember rightly, which
might be about that date. About half the tombstone is covered with a long panegyric on his
dead wife by a bereaved husband: at the bottom of the stone is a later inscription which
reads, Now hes gone, too.
One of the best epitaphs in English is Landors epitaph on
Dirce, a pseudonym for I do not know whom. It is not exactly comic, but it is
essentially profane. If I were a woman it would be my favourite epitaph that is to
say, it would be the one I should like to have for myself. It runs:
close around, ye Stygian set,
With Dirce in one boat conveyed,
Or Charon, seeing, may forget
That he is old and she a shade.
It would almost be worth being dead to have that written about you.