Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh’


We traveled to the capital of Scotland in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival which was our intent:  Ben had promised to show me his birthplace  (in nearby Kelty) and to take advantage of the literally thousands of different plays, musicals and book readings just outside the door of  “The Cally”.  (Our hotel was The Caledonian, a frightfully expensive converted Victorian train station, but as Ben says, “if its good enough for Sean Connery, its good enough for me!” )

We also landed in the middle of the Independence vote, which frankly, was not our intent.  Oh, we had heard something about the vote on September 18, but we were unprepared for such an impassioned  debate. (These are Scots after all:  one wag described his people  as ”stoic, serious and dour like a church of Scotland minister on a wintry Sunday morning”. Not to mention their legendary frugality.)

We attended a slightly veiled piece of propaganda for the “Yes” side,  a play about a man who, after much soul searching, decided to decline the offer of a knighthood from the British crown.  It was brilliant:   all raw emotion and playing on heart strings. Afterwards in the pub,  a Scottish/British couple overheard us trying to make sense of the arguments.    Their exasperated view was that it was simplistic and even dangerous to assume all will be sunshine and roses if the “Yes” vote won.

But that was indeed what the leader of the “Vote Yes” movement, Alex Salmond was promising:

Above all – and this was an audience heavy in writers and intellectuals – there was a sense that voting Yes for Scottish independence was somehow more authentic, more daring, and more exciting than going for the stodgy status quo or paying attention to those boring arguments about economics or self-interest. Never mind if the amount of offshore oil (much less who it really belongs to) is open to question. Never mind whether taxes in Scotland will have to go up to maintain the same level of services. Perhaps Sean Connery, a long-time supporter of independence, who lives in Monaco, will move back to help pay the cost of what he says is a promise of “inclusivity, equality and core democratic values.”   Margaret MacMillan  Oxford Professor of History and a Canadian

Mmmh, perhaps that explains why Sean needs to stay in a hotel when he comes to town. But I digress.

When we toured the site of the Battle of Sterling Bridge, you could almost hear the haunting sound of  bagpipes, wafting over the battlefield.  It was here that a virtually unknown William Wallace won a stunning victory over the British and was subsequently appointed the Commander of the military and the leader of diplomatic efforts in Europe to secure support against England.  This battle took place in the 13th century,  when deeply entrenched medieval rules of  hierarchy meant it was remarkable to have a “mere” knight hold power over the  Scottish nobles.  Those same Scottish nobles when faced with no hope of success in the struggle against England,  gave a collective shrug, held their noses and signed the oaths of allegiance to Edward.  All except Wallace  of course.  He would not acknowledge the King as liege lord,  and so was branded outlaw and traitor.  I won’t relate the details of his gruesome execution except to say that traitors had a particular piece of their anatomy removed. I see Ben wince.

To get to the top of the Wallace monument  you must ascend a steep, narrow circular set of  246  stairs.  But there is respite from the climb:   on the first floor, there is a recounting of the William Wallace story, and the centrepiece is his impressively large 700 year old 2 handed broad sword. (Based upon the weight and height of the sword, it is estimated that he had to be at least  6’ 6’ :  a fine height for a hero. )  Further up the stairs (and yours truly was grateful for a break)  is a room with more heroes:  busts of some of  the great intellectuals from the Scottish Enlightenment such as Adam Smith (my personal hero), David Livingstone, and Sir Walter Scott are side by side with the inventor James Watt who developed the steam-engine.

Although medieval in style, the  tower was constructed in the 19th century during one of the first waves of Scottish nationalism.    I actually sensed  a “tartan tinged”  design behind the steep narrow staircase and the conveniently placed “Hall of Heroes”.  I’ve been in the spin doctor business:  I know what manipulation looks like.

But what is the curious appeal of nationalism?  After all, the idea of being part of nation, as opposed to a clan or a tribe, is less than 200 years old.  However, for good or ill, historians weave together myth and legend, fact and fantasy to create a compelling story that goes well beyond the factual, the rational and the pragmatic.    Far easier and much more romantic to wave a sword in the air crying “they’ll never take our freedom” ala Mel Gibson in Braveheart, than to worry about paying the bills when they come due.

A nation is a group of people united by a mistaken view of the past, and a hatred of their neighbours. The Uses and Abuses of History. quoted by Margaret MacMillan.

The day before the vote,  Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and a Scot,  rose to the challenge and gave the speech of his career, indeed, possibly his life, without resorting to notes or teleprompter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J39bBV7CBJk   His goal was to win over those who might be sitting on the fence.  It  was also a brilliant piece of nation building, which is rather ironic.   And for those who lost to the “No Thanks” side, well, they can take consolation in the knowledge  that they have Westminster over the proverbial barrel and can extort whatever concessions they desire.  Much like Quebec does to the rest of Canada. But I digress again.


We will of course return to this charming historic town: it’s very walkable,  the people are friendly (even if the Scottish brogue is as thick as stale oatmeal) and it’s where my recently minted husband is from!






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