It happened today - March 24, 2016
If you use British and English interchangeably you will get angry letters from Scots, Welsh, Irish and who knows what other Celtic or other groups. Also historians, if you’re not wary of March 24, 1707.
On that date, exactly 104 years after James VI of Scotland became James I of England in the frustrated hope of becoming King of Great Britain, his vision became reality. To singularly little enthusiasm, it seems, on either side of the border.
The Scots felt betrayed by legislators “bought and sold for English Gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation” as Robert Burns later put it. And indeed there was bribery of Scots parliamentarians on such a wide scale that some payments went to people who weren’t even in the Aulde Parliament (which was, itself, an utterly feeble check on the power of the Scottish monarchy, to the point that James was unaccountably baffled to find the English kingdom he’d been scheming to acquire all his life wasn’t an absolute monarchy). The English, by contrast, feared a swarm of Scots on the make invading London, disloyal savages swarming over the border, and financial obligations without compensating gain.
The actual result was spectacularly different. Scots did come to England, and its colonies, in huge numbers and made good, for themselves and their new nation. For instance there are, I have seen it estimated, some 15 million people named some variant of McDonald around the world even though there are just 5 million people in Scotland so something went right. I do not see how they or the English could be bitter.
Scotland itself went from being a byword for backward barbarism, its highlanders charging barefoot at Culloden Moor to no avail backing a pretender of no value, to the home of the Scottish Enlightenment and a major source of the Industrial Revolution. That Adam Smith and James Watt were both working at the University of Glasgow is surely a sign not just that Scotland did wonders for Great Britain, but that the reverse is also true.
As for Britain’s position in the 19th century, it surely vindicates, even surpasses, the dreams of the most ardent supporters of Union, while in the 20th it stood almost alone against tyranny in two world wars long enough for its American offshoot to come to its senses and rally to the cause.
How it can be, just over three centuries later, that the Scots are either surly about or resigned to membership in one of the world’s great nations, and the English figure if the Scots want to shove off they won’t be missed? It’s one thing to have friendly ethnic rivalries expressed in unfriendly terms at soccer matches. But it’s quite another not to see that Britain is very much more than the sum of its parts.