Hugh MacDiarmid Square

April haters day has a fascist past

Hamish Gobson’s diary: the view from across the Uisge

          Monday 1st April 2024

GIVEN THAT Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Act comes into force today, April Fools’ Day, I thought it might help to put it in context by remembering Scotland’s fascist past. That story has been well told by a St Andrews academic, Gavin Bowd, in an important book called FASCIST SCOTLAND: Caledonia and the Far Right (2014). Anyone who wants to understand the nationalist connection with fascism would do well to consult Dr Bowd’s comprehensively researched and clearly presented text.

Perhaps the strongest impression that came across to me from Dr Bowd’s book is that, even a century ago, the driving emotion of Scottish nationalists was contempt for the English and their ideal of bottom-up government, with all its muddle, inconsistency and scope for unsystematic absurdity. Nationalists generally, including English ones like Oswald Mosley, were then as now more top-down in their approach to political decision-making.

Contrary to Winnie Ewing-ish myth, that was the mainstream tradition in this country from the medieval clans to the seventeenth century Lords of the Articles. It was preserved abroad after the Union by rough-tongued Scottish imperial administrators, often with an engineering background, without whose sinewy authoritarianism the Empire would undoubtedly have collapsed sooner than it eventually did.

In the twentieth century, Nazism and nationalism emerged at much the same time and in much the same context, namely post-War industrial dislocation and the fear of Communism. You can read an excellent review of this book which concentrates on the Nazi connection in Scottish Affairs. I will concentrate on the fascist angle as it is more relevant to the current direction of Holyrood politics.

Authoritarianism in Scotland was in harmony with much of Europe between the wars. Since then, Europe has matured but nationalist Scotland has not. The reason for this is the moral opportunism which Dr Bowd describes so well in the context of a lack cultural self-confidence. Since the decline of Victorian liberalism, Scotland has produced no internally generated ideology of international note. Nationalism took root in a derivative political culture, and remains there.

The socialist collectivism that became fashionable world-wide after the Russian revolution was imported from a country whose physical geography is largely flat, whether forested or steppe-based. Fascism was the opposite. It was popular in countries with mountains and valleys, where lonely goatherds high on the hills sang “Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee ho”. These ranged from Knut Hamsen’s Quislingland to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Mussoliniland, and even in a way to aspects of Francoland.

Within Scotland today I see innumerable crypto-fascists who favour top-down government. They include the authors of the Hate Crime Act, whose Big Mammie was Nicola Sturgeon. The essence of the fascist view of politics is that big mammie tells all little mammies what to do and how to think. How very sixteenth-century of her!

Remember that James VI was born a Catholic but re-baptised as a Protestant after he became an infant king a year later. That mattered because “wrong thinking” could be a serious crime then, unlike in most of the three centuries from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. The aim of the Hate Crime Act is to take us back to a post-Reformation-style persecution of dissidents, when sectarian laws protected the (Protestant) ruling class from public pressures of the sort that the infant James was subject to at the time of his (Catholic) mother’s death.

In its loutish, plebian essence, Sturgeonism is a reversion to the authoritarian tradition of pre-Union Scotland. As such, it is the exact opposite of the semi-liberal individualism which underpinned Scotland’s successful centuries, when most adult Scots outside the slums and the stalking estates could aspire to some sort of “agency”. Nineteenth century Scottish craftsmen were anti-trade union for a similar reason to their being anti-Catholic. Both trade unions and the Roman church were seen as collectivist or corporate in the same way that the EU is today. Both are a betrayal of the type of values that grow naturally in people who know intimately the people of their own glen or island but who steal the cattle of those in the neighbouring one.

Cultures of the plain, like small parts of central Scotland and large parts of England, but pre-eminently most of Europe east of the Lüneburg Heath, from southern Sweden to the Orenburg Steppe and beyond to Xinjiang, are more apt to develop mass organisations which depend for their force on their size. Stalin famously asked: “How many Divisions has the Pope?” Size and social cohesion have many virtues. They enable security due to safety in numbers, and they develop an ethos of respect for the larger group, which is healthy if not pursued too far (as both Nazis and Communists did).

But there is one virtue they lack: creativity. Nothing of true originality comes from the mass. Everyimportant example of artistic genius or scientific creativity in post-medieval history has come from the brain of one individual or from the collective purpose of a group no larger, as a rule, than a rugby team. The masses, qua masses, invent nothing, as the collapse of the Soviet Union so well illustrated.

When Scotland was individualistic it was a powerhouse of creativity, both technical and artistic, but when it subsided into socialism, especially of the “I’m Alright Jock” variety, it became a creative desert, with the exceptions only of some cussed individualists who refused to bend the knee to other people’s ideas of virtue and fun. Many of those emigrated to the freer air of England, America or the white Dominions.

Dr Bowd writes about Hugh MacDiarmid, one of Scotland’s most egregious examples of a stay-at-home artist in the age of authoritarian socialism. That was the political tendency which inspired Caledonian fascist chic from Miss Jean Brodie’s Rome to Humza Yousaf’s Holyrood. Not only was MacDiarmid a misanthropic hater of anything which he could not control, he was glibly inconsistent. “In June 1923, after Mussolini’s Blackshirts marched on Rome, he called for a Scottish species of Fascism.” (p. 131) In 1942, MacDiarmid said that “he had written a special poem… expressing Scotland’s love of freedom and hatred of Fascism” (p. 174)

According to MacDiarmid, the Scottish love of freedom went back to the Declaration of Arbroath (1320). That was a document which became fashionable for the first time in six hundred years during the inter-war period when nationalism was seeking historical “authority” for its hatred of the English, with their wimpish ideal of government by consent of the governed. But he misunderstood the sacred text in his own interest. The idea that “the Arbroath letter” represented much beyond fissiparous oligarchic selfishness has been explained elsewhere. It is important that the MacDiarmids of this world sucked up that destructive myth.

The diminutive dictator of taste with the weirdly tasteless hairstyle even managed to find an enemy among the free-thinking literary innovators of increasingly socialist Glasgow. “In 1962, at the Edinburgh Writers’ Festival, Hugh MacDiarmid had not hesitated to brand Scottish situationist Alexander Trocchi ‘cosmopolitan scum’.” (p. 252) Heard that phrase before, Tovarishch? The accusation was made by a man who joined the Communist Party in 1934, at the height of the Holodomor in which perhaps 7 million Soviet people, mostly Ukrainians, died in order to “liquidate” peasant individualism, but who was expelled from it in 1938 due to his political localism.

MacDiarmid rejoined the Party 1957 and went so far as to offer himself for election to the despised House of Commons as a Communist in 1964. In between times he had been so virulently anti-English that, in 1940, he wrote a poem celebrating the Luftwaffe bombing of London at a time when the Nazi-Soviet Pact dictated the destruction of Anglo-Saxon “bourgeois individualism”.

Unlike the Duke of Wellington’s horse, MacDiarmid was all hairstyle and no bottom; all gas and no grit. Much the same could be said of Humza Yousaf and his gang of corrupted hate-crime entrepreneurs in re-medievalised Holyrood. There is a ghastly continuity between the narrow, spiteful, self-regarding world Dr Bowd describes so well and that of the light-weight authoritarian grifters who now rule over us today in open defiance of the Union which gave Scotland the post-tribal space to develop its own brand of individualistic creativity and freedom.


Hamish Gobson lives on the Hebridean isle of Great Todday (Todaidh Mór) and features in Nicola Sturgeon: the Years of Ascent (1970-2007) – A Citizen’s Biography of a Driven Woman in a Drifting Parliament (Ian Mitchell, 2022) – available on Amazon and also reviewed here by Tom Gallagher.

Also written by Ian Mitchell is The Justice Factory (second edition): Can the Rule of Law Survive in Twenty-First Century Scotland? which considers the future of liberal democracy, taking Scotland as an example.

If you appreciated this article please share and follow us on Twitter here – and like and comment on facebook here. Help support ThinkScotland publishing these articles by making a donation here.


Weekly Trending

Scroll to Top