Scotland: From Small to Outsize

Sean Connery, arguably the best ‘Bond’ ever, in his book Being a Scot tells us:  “today the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, meandering over the hills from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth, remain as a worrying reminder of our troublesome past (Being a Scot p. 127)." 

Scotland’s values against England’s values have aligned over the years, but it was not always so.

Any teenager consuming American movies in the 90’s can quote you William Wallace’s “Freedom!” line from Braveheart. This movie is full of factually unsupported details, with plenty of creative license taken regarding the pivotal Robert the Bruce character, and drips with sensationalized Hollywood drama; but the hardscrabble Scots and the overzealous English with much better horses and shinier armor come to life on the silver screen as separate moral-cultural universes.

Scotland is its own country with its own Scottish flag, the saltire, even as a constituent member of the United Kingdom, with its own Parliament, Holyrood. It has plenty of distinctive things about it. But rather than being the implacable types that the movie Braveheart depicts, Scotland was also the boiler room of the British Empire, with Glasgow and all of its nearby coal and iron ore making its Victorian incarnation easily the 2nd city of the Empire, and a dazzlingly wealthy one at that. Even in Hong Kong, as a child, I knew the name Jardine. Jardine, Matheson, and Co. were somewhere between legendary and notorious, depending on how and from where you consume your history. Nonetheless, they were reputed. And like so many British names in Hong Kong, like MacLehose, Cowperthwaite, Black, Legge, and Wilson, they were Scots. These people, who might well have some pangs of Scottish self-determination were the unmistakable emblems of British Empire- they were its standard bearers. And therein is a story of the Modern West, emerging from the Dark Ages--residual squabbles in tow, with outsize influence over the last couple of centuries once the legal, scientific and economic institutions were able to scale.