DUNCAN MACLAREN. Boris Johnson: the Embattled ‘Hammer of the Scots’

Oct 9, 2019

The Scots were largely ignored by English politicians during the Brexit negotiations but they now loom large in the fight to stop a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Will this urge Boris Johnson to become the embattled ‘Hammer of the Scots’, the moniker given to King Edward I of England in his wars against Scots’ wishes not to be an English colony like the Welsh in the 13th to 14th centuries? If so, there is something which the unelected UK PM should remember from history.  

Edward’s forays against the Scots resulted in Scottish independence being confirmed, not extinguished.  As that remarkable medieval document, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, stated, “For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, we shall never submit to English rule. It is not for glory nor riches nor honours that we fight but for freedom alone which no man gives up save with his life”.

Well, last Saturday in Edinburgh, 200,000 people marched in favour of Scottish independence through the streets of the capital in the rain. The ‘All Under One Banner’ marches which have meandered throughout Scotland are known for their peacefulness, their humour, their openness (you’ll see Catalan, Welsh and English flags there) and their complete lack of a nationalism that says we are better than anyone else, unlike the exceptionalism of Brexit English nationalism. We are annoying Boris Johnston in more ways than just marching – or, indeed, voting for a majority of Scots pro-independence MPs in the Scottish, UK and European Parliaments as well as councillors. We are using the law.

The 1707 Treaty of Union between Scotland and England guaranteed the continuation of certain elements of Scottish nationhood, notably the law. Scotland’s highest law court, the Court of Session, made a judgment that the UK’s unelected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had lied to the unelected Monarch about his reasons for proroguing Parliament as well as MPs and the electorate. His sin was to try to frustrate or prevent “the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification”.

The PM appealed to the UK Supreme Court where the eleven judges supported the Scottish Court’s judgment. Prorogue wheeze over, MPs then legged it back to Westminster while the Tories were having their conference where the PM then again promised to “get Brexit done by 31st October”. Joanna Cherry, the tenacious SNP MP, who happens to be a QC, then led another petition to the Outer House of the Court of Session to ask the PM to send a letter to the EU requesting a Brexit extension if a deal is not reached by 19th October (which is unlikely given the EU’s collective dismay at Johnson’s thin gruel of a ‘new’ deal). The only reason the Scottish Court decided not to grant the order was that the UK Government lawyer was forced to say on Johnson’s behalf that he would abide by the Benn Act that mandates him to ask the EU to delay Brexit if there is no deal. Meanwhile, Johnson keeps on saying that the UK will leave by 31st October “come what may”. Does he know the meaning of the word ‘contradiction’?

It is not just the use of Scots law to defeat him that has the PM rattled by the Scots. The leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson (or ‘Remainer Ruth’), who managed to claw back 13 Scottish Conservative seats after they had lost all but one, resigned ostensibly to be with her partner and new-born child but also because she could not work with Brexit Boris. The latest polls in Scotland show that the SNP would win all Tory seats so that Scotland would once again be ‘Tory-free’, as we were for years after the despised Thatcher butchered services and industries. Civil war has broken out in the Scottish Tory party with an interim leader betraying Ruth’s legacy against a ‘no deal’ Brexit to follow Boris without telling his colleagues, some of whom want a Scottish Conservative party and structure separate from the UK one. Secession in Johnson’s ranks!

In his conference speech, the PM also referred to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 as being promised to the Scottish people as a once in a generation event. Fibs again. It was said by one politician and was not policy of any party. The only binding document at the beginning of the 2014 referendum was the Edinburgh Agreement signed by then UK PM David Cameron and then First Minister, Alex Salmond, agreeing on the rules and fairness issues. There is not a word in the document about its being a once in a generation event.

The Scottish Parliament has already approved a second independence referendum but it looks like we’ll have to wipe out the Tories electorally in Scotland for it to be accepted by Westminster. Boris Johnson is fond of Latin and Greek tags so he will know that Edward I’s tomb in Westminster Abbey has the Latin for ‘Hammer of the Scots’, ‘Malleus Scotorum’, scratched on the side. He must also be having nightmares, perhaps in Ancient Greek, that bekilted men and smart law lassies will be his Nemesis, the Greek goddess who wreaks vengeance on those who show hubris.

Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University but writes in a personal capacity from Glasgow.

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