Among all the makers of the Scottish Reformed Church one stands pre-eminent: John Knox. To some, he was the greatest-ever Scotsman. To others, such as Andrew Lang and Edwin Muir, he was a paranoid bigot responsible for all the ills we have suffered since the Reformation.
Yet, for all the attention he has received, key facts in Knox’s life remain a mystery. Even his place and date of birth are uncertain. The general consensus is that he was born at Haddington in East Lothian. But when? The traditional date was 1505, but recent scholars prefer 1513-14. Over against this we have to set the fact that in 1564 a contemporary described Knox as "a decrepit old priest". If he was born only in 1513-14, he must have been decrepit in his late forties: a claim that the rest of the young elderly will find hard to thole.
Few historians of the First World War have deigned to consult the ‘Monthly Record’ of the Free Church of Scotland. That is their loss. The ‘Record’ might have had little contact with so-called ‘men of affairs’, but it was in very close contact with ministers, chaplains, soldiers, sailors and, above all, with Highland parishes. Its editor, Archibald McNeilage, was a brilliant professional journalist; and the annual Reports of the Church’s Highlands and Islands Committee still give a splendid insight into the social problems of the time.Read more about 'The Highland Churches and the First World War'...
Most of our readers now sleep soundly, secure in the knowledge that Calvinists are extinct. After all, you never see one on telly, and it’s a good seven years since the last stamping on fiddles or smashing of bagpipes.
But being, as it were, possessed of inside knowledge, I knew there were still some Calvinists around. I had even seen one or two, though much harder to spot than of yore, since they no longer wore black hats.
Now the really bad news. Not only are there still a few Calvinists around, but another closely related species has suddenly appeared: New Calvinists, the same but different.
Once more into the breach. I fervently hope it’s for the last time; and I fervently hope I have not been born to write the obituary of my country.Read more about 'Independence: Greater Personal Freedom?'...
The question on everyone’s lips is, What would life be like in an independent Scotland? At least, that’s what the political and chattering classes think is on everyone’s lips.Read more about 'Life in an Independent Scotland'...
First, a word about the national religion, football. Former Cardiff City manager, Malky Mackay, found himself in hot water last week when it was alleged that he had sent racist and homophobic texts to a pal. He’ll shortly be sentenced to be boiled alive; or at least, banned from all football-related activity.
As a Gaidheal I have a vested interest in opposing racism, and I cannot see that a man’s gender orientation has any bearing whatever on his prowess as a footballer. But have we really reached the point where malice can put private correspondence in the public domain and ruin a man in a day?
But then on Monday I was ambushed (sorry for being so abrupt). It’s hard to explain how it happened. The Referendum campaign is driving me nuts, forcing me to adopt a life-style which minimises the risk of bumping into it. It’s turned me into a fugitive, compelled to walk in the shadows and send out advance-parties to make sure it’s not there. These are days when a man’s got to watch what he sees and hears.
And if there’s one place where you’re bound to meet Referendum it’s Reporting Scotland; and on Monday night my guard slipped or, more precisely, I got the timing wrong. I usually manage to switch on just in time for the weather-forecast (it’s important to know whether there’s going to be sunshine and showers in my study tomorrow), but this time, to my horror, Remote put on Referendum; and, paralytic with shock, I froze, unable to switch off.
Few issues of principle have taken the foreground in the Referendum debate. Instead it has remained obsessed with one question, ‘Will we or won’t we be better-off?’ and this in turn dissolves into statistics which are no sooner heard than forgotten. Few of us want to clutter our heads with figures about Scotland’s contribution to the UK economy, the funding our universities receive from the UK Research Council or the number of barrels of oil that still remain under the North Sea. Apparently the nett result of such calculations is that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and this, claim the partitionists, is clear proof that we can go it alone; to which the clear-headed might surely reply that, on the contrary, it is clear proof that Scotland has done very well under the Union. We ain’t broke, so please don’t fix us.Read more about 'Independence, Scottishness and Armed Cops'...
Even the slightest hint of a possible increase in the Yes! vote in the forthcoming referendum gives me a severe attack of the heebie-jeebies. Why break one nation in two, why partition one small island, and why turn our back on institutions which for generations have served as models for other democracies, and delivered levels of prosperity matched by few other nations on earth?
Yet, there have been hints recently that the Yes! campaign is gathering momentum, and there seem to be two main reasons for this.
Last weekend highlighted one of the major problems facing the No! campaign in the independence referendum. It was the weekend of the SNP’s annual spring conference, and it provided separatists with a platform that unionists simply cannot match. The Scottish National Party exists for the sole purpose of promoting independence. It is organised to deliver that outcome, passionate about it and resourced for it. Its leaders live for it, its foot-soldiers march for it, its Press Office is geared to it.
Inevitably, then, its annual conference is choreographed to ensure that in the full glare of the media all the forces and faces of Nationalism are marshalled to argue that we’ll never be properly grown-up till we stand alone on our own two feet, send the Americans packing, deliver Scotland from the curse of Toryism, and provide free child-care for all working mothers (Santa to pick up the tab).
The tragedy is that the No! campaign has nothing comparable. There is no Scottish party to whom the Union matters as much as independence matters to the SNP. Nor is there any other party as well organised at grass-roots, or able to deploy such a fanatical political infantry. Neither Labour, Tory nor LibDem stand first and foremost for the Union. Nor do they seem able to put their differences aside and stand together to save it. Even in the Western Isles, the parties are reluctant to be seen working together; and where they do work together there is nothing like that critical mass of explosive enthusiasm which the crisis demands.