Book Review: Future History

Stuart McHardy Scotland’s Future History, Luath, 9781910021415, £7.99

According to the publisher, Scotland’s Future History ‘unlocks a vision that is free from the kinds of distortion, bias and error that have plagued our understanding for centuries’. Ah, the sweet smell of conspiracy. True, it is a scandal that Scottish history – distorted or otherwise – is not a syllabus requirement after the age of thirteen, unlike Religious Education. Given the book’s title, I was hoping that redefining our history might be along more expansive lines of works such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel or even Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

But what we get is a further dose of the narrow ‘Wha’s like us?’ revisions of events in our wee bit of hill and glen most likely to appeal to those various types of Little Scotlanders. These are the people who keep assuring me that the ‘establishment’ keeps a tight control of taught history because the ‘truth’ would reveal that Scots were inherent racists/Marxists/collectivist /jugglers/fill-in-the-blank and yes, I kid you not, real National Socialists.. McHardy lets us know, repeatedly, that he is against the Great Satan – aka, received opinion. Of course, reappraise ‘facts’ based on research but be equally aware of the many agendas which want to replace received opinion with a more ‘correct’ version of it. I fear that is what McHardy is aiming for.

He asks ‘What if prehistoric Scotland was not some dark, remote land peopled by barbarians but was actually home to a highly sophisticated civilisation? What if the Scots never came from Ireland? What if Scots never fought any ‘Wars of Independence’? What if Culloden wasn’t the end of the Jacobites? So what’s the problem? Yes, research, publish and add to the wonderful debate that is history.

However, the tone of the book suggests that these issues are suppressed by some, presumably pro-union, cabal to prevent Scots having a more positive view of themselves. Ancient Scotland’s portrayal as uncivilised is hardly unique – all of northern non-Roman Europe got the same treatment though research has given us a more accurate picture even while discounting the Nazis’ stalwart attempts at inventing an improved received opinion.

So what if the Scots did not originate in Ireland? Interesting but does anyone really think that this has a bearing on the here-and-now? The fact is that ALL of us came from Africa so there’s a piece of received opinion that will no doubt upset the ‘patriots’ who march behind the big drum at this time of year. So the Bruces and others of the medieval Scottish toff-aucracy were not of Norman descent despite holding lands in England? If true, an interesting footnote but does it really matter in our understanding of the ‘Wars of Independence’ that apparently hadn’t happened.

Here McHardy’s protest is one of semantics – how about the ’Wars of Continuing Independence’? Does that sound snappier or is the author denying that something was up between 1286 and 1328? Culloden certainly was not the end of the Jacobites: the late David Niven told us that on giving the loyal toast in the officers’ mess, Scots would surreptitiously toast the King Over the Water indicating that Jacobite sedition was alive and fun in 1942.

Besides, name me an untenable cause that simply ends just like that. I don’t regret that a Stuart victory might have left Scotland in 2015 as the last country in Europe with a ruler insisting on the divine right of kings defended by a bunch of noble claymore wielding clan warriors, the latter much admired by the author. Did you know that the murder rate of the Southern states of the USA is so much higher than the Northern ones because the South saw a large influx of Highland Scots who introduced their noble clan warrior culture of ‘honour’ violence? There’s a wee nugget for a future history.

Donald McCormick is a retired history teacher, anti-ideologue and a grumpy optimist