There’s something that amuses me about Francis Fukuyama climbing down from his Neo-Con position and the tortuous logic required to sustain his End of History thesis, engaging in a kind of academic feedback that incorporates 9/11, Iraq etc. into it. Of course we’ve been here before with Hegel but that’s another story.
History matters because we’re part of it – or at least soon will be. What we do in this generation will fill the pages of Wikipedia tomorrow (my 9 year old’s got his first Google entry!).
But does it matter when it comes to events 300 years ago? The anniversary of the Act of Union between Scotland and England this year gives the historians the opportunity to parade their knowledge. Actually it’s more subtle than that- it’s the newspapers that are providing the space, commissioning the pieces, paying the fees. So how far is it the newspapers rather than the historians who set the interpretative agenda for our understanding of 1707?
Remember that no Scots of my generation were ever taught any Scottish history (except for that stuff about Run Rigs), and certainly nothing about the Act of Union. When it comes to history I was taught the First World War for ‘O’ level, the First & Second World War for Higher, the Second World War for Six Year Studies (Really – I did one of them!!). So unless you went to University, there wasn’t much history to be had (and before you ask – I went to University and yes I studies the Second World War!)
So I got my Scots history from where? Come to think of it where did you get yours? My guess is it was from the English – Whigs, Marxists, Whatever…unless, of course it was from Holywood. Tom Devine may be playing a blinder at the moment but even he can’t put to right the legacy of an education system that denied me my Scottish history.
Oh the Scots were rubbish because they fell for the Darian scheme (the dot.com bubble of the time). But what about the wider European context of the Spanish war of succession. Never heard of it? Funny since it provides the geopolitical context which drove the English into the Union. What about the navigation acts, the alien act, the Covenanters, the Protestant succession? (which was secured by the claim of rights not the Act of Union)
Do you need to know about these things in order to want independence for Scotland today? I DON’T THINK SO. We’ve left history to the historians for so many years that it now hardly matters. The Church is impotent; the empire’s gone; the army is just a single regiment fighting wars it’s hard to beleive in; the monarchy is a celebrity sideshow which could be of any faith(s). Right now it matters less about how we got here. Here we have a world riven by issues about security, stability and resource competition. A dangerous place, but it was ever thus. It is also a place of opportunity where the internet disappears distance – we no longer have to be the Ultima Thule, stuck on the furthest edge of Europe, stuck on top of a neighbour who has never aspired to do more than manage the Scots. With a diaspora that stretches across the world and freed from the legacy of Britain who knows what an independent future could bring?
The only thing that holds us back is our own lack of confidence and it was the historians who gave us that.