Ballads of a Nation

Christopher Harvie examines Scottish cultural identity since the Act of Union, and argues that writers and intellectuals have been the real keepers of the national flame.

At the beginning of the 1997 general election campaign in Scotland, the Scottish National Party’s delegates were told to ‘play down the kilted image’. This surprised no one. The same advice was given seventy years earlier to the infant National Party of Scotland by its president, ‘Don Roberto’ Cunninghame-Graham. This was odd counsel coming from perhaps the most flamboyant MP ever -- laird, essayist, gaucho cowboy, and socialist veteran of the Bloody Sunday riots in Trafalgar Square in 1887. But Don Roberto’s career and views emphasised the gulf between the popular image of the country and the ideas and ambitions of Scottish political activists.

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