After reading Chris Paton's excellent piece in Your Family Tree (Issue 109) about the Highland Clearances I felt better informed and, well, depressed at the same time!
The piece clearly showed the complexity of politics and clan loyalties colliding in a country split between Highland and Lowland existence. It showed how The Clearances were a lot more complex than what I find to be the most common understanding of the events in Scotland today - namely, rich English landowners throwing out native Scots to breed sheep. I have read many wonderful pieces that have better analysed Scottish History, spent hours in the excellent Culloden Visitor Centre where you realise the Jacobite movement was Europe-wide and the battlefield on that day contained as many if not more Scots and Europeans than English soldiers facing Bonnie Prince Charlie. So why does the myth of Scotland -vs- England always persist?
Perhaps it is purely a matter of time as new generations are taught a different version of events but how will a Scottish Education System take to it, dare I say, under a Scottish Nationalist Party administration whose raison d'etre is seperation from the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland? For example, as a parent I have to fill in my children's nationality and origins in a little form so the Government can have facts and figures on the make-up of the children passing through the system. Now, I was born in England to an Irish father and have been brought up in Scotland- imagine my puzzlement when I realised if it had been my father trying to describe my origins, there was no box to say "English" Pakistan and many others are recognised but for some reason not the other countries in the United Kingdom, other than Scotland. As it happens, I always write Anglo-Irish in Census returns under "other" but I find the current administrations efforts to ignore the countries they occupy a Union with a little disquieting!
So back to the teaching of history - has it changed. Whilst I only have anecdotal evidence from my son and his experience, so far, in Primary School it does not look like much has changed. Young children probably would lose interest if we attempted to teach them all the ins and outs of such a turbulent period of history but the overriding message my son has apparently received is "Scotland good, England bad!" As time passes, hopefully he'll understand better and we have good discussions about it all - he is lucky to have Scottish, Irish and English grandparents for a wider understanding than some others. He gets to hear about the positive and negative experiences may parents had when moving to Scotland, the stories my father has about discrimination against Irish and Catholics from the 1950's onwards plus my my mothers' perspective of that discrimination during the unsettling time of the IRA activity and pub bombings near where they lived in the Midlands of England.
But what of those who don't have a wider family background if the education system does not change? Can a rounder picture be gained from media? I would say, yes and no. Excellent print media and internet articles, like that of Chris Paton or Scottish History programmes such as those fronted by Neil Oliver give hope and everyone I have spoken to who has come into contact with pieces of this kind are amazed at how little they know of the history of their own country. Outside of this and into the general morass of noise on the airwaves and news-stands the message seems less clear. Willingness to break away from the Shortbread, Whiskey and Tartan image of Scotland as the downtrodden neighbours of the Imperious and Beastly England seems very lacking. This is not a problem isolated to Scotland. My Irish relatives have differing views of history also with one set grudgingly acknowledging that some Irish farmers did well from cattle exports during the Famine years whilst their countrymen starved ("People know who they were" they darkly mutter); others firmly placing all blame at the doorstep of the English whilst ignoring the bad treatment Irish immigrants received from the Scots as well as the fact that many of the "Planters" were Scottish and Dutch as well as English.
It's easy to get disheartened in this day and age when it is so simple to reinforce old misrepresentations with a flashy internet viral or government backed initiative or policy. However, I am confident as time goes by and people of my generation introduce their children to the wonderful new resources available; engage in discussion debate and learn from but don't live by history- we might, at last, be free of the twee and permanent underdog label of being Scottish.