Colin Kidd's study of Scottish Unionism goes, as he himself insists, sternly against the prevailing ideological current, which is focused on the emergence of political nationalism in both Scotland and Wales. Kidd thinks his book will serve its purpose if it unsettles this debate, and brings about a revision of 'the basic categories of political analysis'. These categories should acknowledge that the wish for some kind of union with England has a specific history, which started long before the formation of the Scottish National Party, or indeed the 1707 Treaty of Union itself. Kidd shows that various notions of union came and went - mainly but never exclusively ecclesiastical in nature. Nor has this 'taxonomy of unionisms', as he puts it, come to a halt in today's more nationalist-inclined age. We still find unionists supporting forms of devolution or autonomy - which is not too surprising since, as Kidd points out, 'administrative devolution to Edinburgh was a shibboleth of unionism throughout its history.' On the other side, nationalists often seem over-anxious about maintaining links with England: independence, they insist, is a matter of equality, rather than mere difference. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this landscape often assumed a frankly racist form in the contrived ethnology of an underlying 'Saxondom', which perceived 'Lowland Scotland and Northumbria as the true ethnic heartland of Great Britain, the home of the most purely Anglian stock within the island', and dismissed its Celtic strains as alien or spurious.
LRB 30 April 2009 | PDF Download