The Eye have teamed up with the Welsh thinktank Gorwel, and here we report on the latest talk in its series by Professor Colin Kidd on the 1707 act of union with Scotland, which created Great Britain.
It is worth repeating in these days of fraught Brexit negotiations: THE CONCEPT OF THE NATION-STATE IS A MODERN CONSTRUCT.
That was the theme running throughout last night’s Gorwel talk at Ty Hwel in the National Assembly building by Professor Colin Kidd of St Andrew’s University, although it was never stated.
Wales unfortunately does not get a look in.
Historically this was a time of ‘for Wales see England’.
Professor Kidd began by talking about public toilets – which is not something you hear often at the beginning of lectures!
In particular the graffiti in toilets in Glasgow.
You will never see the date ‘1707’ scrawled on walls but you will often see ‘1690’.
The latter was the date of the Battle of the Boyne near Drogheda in Ireland, when the Protestant army of William of Orange beat the Catholic forces of the deposed James II of England.
It is celebrated by ‘The Orange Order’ as marking a key moment when Protestantism beat Catholicism.
“Great Britain was founded at a point when nationhood mattered far less than religion,” said Professor Kidd.
And just to ram the point home, he repeated it even more forcefully: “Nationhood didn’t matter, but religion mattered ENORMOUSLY”.
“A background of the nation-state DID NOT EXIST.”
When Great Britain came into being it was only one of a hotchpotch of states across Europe.
Denmark, for example, was Denmark/Norway and owned territories everywhere.
There had, of course, been a ‘union of crowns’ in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, but this had been a “disaster”.
The political union between Scotland and England was “NOT an attempt to build a new state”.
Rather, said Professor Kidd, it came about because England wanted to avoid the Jacobites returning.
It is impossible to overstate the role of religion in forming Great Britain.
Professor Kidd put it in excellent terms when he said: “For the first two centuries of the ‘union’ the ‘grit’ was ecclesiastical… and left it inarticulate”.
The Scottish Church was fiercely independent and did not like this business at all.
In fact, rows and schisms continued until 1929 when the ructions finally came to an end when the separate spiritual identity of the Church of Scotland was acknowledged.
So when you hear politicians (for example with the announcement of the third runway at Heathrow) talk about the ‘national’ interest, be deeply sceptical.
Whose ‘nation’ and which ‘interest’?
That’s The Eye interpreting, not Professor Kidd stating.
He did however say this: “The ‘union’ survives by the slenderest of threads”.
If only Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis et al. realised…