6 SEPTEMBER 1997, Page 24


Richard West on how the Princess's death

could add to Scottish passions beyond the referendum

THE PROUDEST achievement of Daniel Defoe was helping to get the Scots to abol- ish their parliament and join in a union with England. He went up to Edinburgh in 1706 as an agent of the secret service, as it was called, a pamphleteer and dispenser of bribes to the politicians and ministers of religion. 'I have my spies and my pension- ers in every place,' he boasted to Robert Harley, the Secretary of State, 'and I con- fess 'tis the easiest thing in the world to hire people here to betray their friends.' Whether or not he kept the money he said he was paying out to ministers of the Church of Scotland, Defoe went into busi- ness on his own account, trading in horses and wine and manufacturing tablecloths.

The most obvious difference between the mood of Scotland when it was just about to abolish its parliament and today when at next week's referendum it may restore the same is the present apathy and indifference. Defoe was abused and stoned as an 'English dog' by the Edinburghmob, and boasted to Harley, in one of his many appeals for more money, that he had 'run more risks than a grenadier storming an escarpment'. The worst insult an English- man can expect these days is the inquiry if he is 'one of the white settlers', a reference to the widespread belief that the natives of cities like Bradford or Birmingham are moving to Scotland to get away from Com- monwealth immigrants.

The belief is joined with fear that these `white settlers' are either the old, who will occupy Scottish hospital beds, or the unemployed young, who will be a drain on the Scottish social services. Otherwise Scottish resentment is no more discernible than in the past; in fact it may have dimin- ished since the departure from public life of Margaret Thatcher, whom many Scots still seem to regard as embodying all our national faults. In fact, if Lady Thatcher fulfils her promise to speak in Scotland the evening before the referendum, I fear she may swing many votes in favour of bringing back a separate parliament, with power to raise taxes.

I think, however, that many Scots have perceived the danger of this, to judge by the number of times I heard them warn against too many 'tiers' of government. In Dumfries especially they moan about the new 'tier' of local government, largely cre- ated by Heath and Walker in 1972, and made still worse by the 1948 Representa- tion of the People Act which brought in universal adult suffrage instead of voting by ratepayers only to council elections. Those two measures explain the recent scandals within the Labour party in Paisley and Glasgow. Clydeside, like Tyneside and Merseyside, is now governed by a corrupt and secretive Tammany Hall.

Defoe as a journalist covered the north- ern end of the first all-British general elec- tion in 1708, denouncing the 'fraud and venality' of the candidates. He warned Harley against the appointment of a Scot- tish Secretary for State, as his office would be 'the centre of the hungry solicitude nat- ural to this country'. He added that Scot- land no more needed a Secretary of its own than Wales or Yorkshire. The way the wind is blowing now can be seen from the fact that many Scottish MPs at Westmin- ster are preparing to stand for the new Scottish parliament.

`We the jury find the defendant er, oh dear, I've forgotten.' Much has been made of the Labour gov- ernment's use of the Braveheart film about William Wallace to whip up Scottish feel- ing against the English. Although Allan Massie compared Wallace with General Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leader, many Scots were impressed by the sight of this Norman nobleman's face painted with woad like a modern Scottish football sup- porter. Others recalled the clerihew from the 1930s:

Cecil B. De Mille By a mighty effort of will Kept Moses Out of the Wars of the Roses.

Intelligent Scots are aware that whereas Wallace and Bruce were fighting the English, or rival Norman barons now living in England, more recent wars were among the Scots themselves, above all between the Jacobites and the Presbyterians under their leaders, Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox, author of A First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. One should not imagine that just because piety is on the decline we cannot see a revival of ancient religious hatreds, as in Northern Ireland or former Yugoslavia. It is true that in Knox's Holy Trinity Church in St Andrews a woman minister some- times conducts the services, and a jazz band plays next door during Sunday lunch- time. Yet a history don at St Andrews said he believed that Scotland would soon be torn apart like Northern Ireland. Too many people assume, he said, that sectarian rival- ries are confined to football matches between the Catholic and Protestant teams, notably Celtic and Rangers. Fights at foot- ball matches set off the civil war in Yugoslavia.

The anyway torpid debate on the referen- dum came to a halt in the grief and shock over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. But this could affect Scottish attitudes to the Crown, which are part of the larger debate over parliamentary union. The most popular of the royals in Scotland is Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, the darling of the rugby football team and supporters. But it is not hard to see how the Scots could come to identify Princess Diana with Mary Stuart. Both were brave, beautiful, headstrong, amorous and perpetually out of favour with a Queen Elizabeth of England. Even Samuel Johnson could not forgive the Scots for making no effort to rescue Mary from prison and the block. It will not have gone unobserved by modern Stuart supporters that Diana's name was not mentioned last Sunday at Balmoral's Church of Scotland, the Church of John Knox. Forget about Braveheart. There are three Hollywood films on Mary Stuart in the making, one of them starring Meryl Streep, who bears a passing resemblance to Diana.

The author has just published The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Daniel Defoe, (Harper Collins).