Scotland, From Serfdom to the Possibility of Independence


Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

By TLB Contributor: Ken LaRive

Author’s Notes: The following was taken from my travel diary back in 2005. It was published in several Louisiana Newspapers from 2005 to 2008, and found its way into the Lafayette Political Buzz Examiner page in 2009. At the time, who could have foreseen that with just a simple and singular vote, Scotland might be free from Britain’s domination, and yet, it seems there may be a chance that the vote might keep everything just the same… you see, the Progressive left has a great hand in that say, and Unions do not want to relinquish their hold on labor… we will just have to wait and see…

Scotland, and the idea of Liberty...

Right now, I’m working on a North Sea platform, and as usual, pumping the locals for ‘color.’ I had a conversation with a Scottish friend who gave me an interesting insight into a bit of Scottish psyche. He has traveled extensively in the States, and loves the idea of the Constitution guaranteeing personal freedom, and he spoke to me about the Bill of Rights in a way that is lost to one born to it, and taken for granted. He was trying to explain the frustrations of being proud of his Scottishness, while at the same time being frustrated at the lack of freedom, and liberty in his country, when compared to being an American in America. He told a story, which highlighted this problem that I would like to share…

He had two friends, let’s call them Tommy and Bill, who worked for the railroads, maintaining and repairing track as members of a ‘rail gang.’

“These rail gangs were made up of hard men. Tommy and Bill played at right and left back (defense) for the railway soccer team, which was infamous as being the hardest team in the league. Bill and Tommy’s motto was “they shall not pass!” and woe to any opposing forward who tried to run past them with the ball!

The rail gangs were also noted for their extreme left wing political views, and during their lunch breaks there were always discussions on the merits of various forms of Socialism. The only ganger’s who weren’t stanch members of the Labour party, were staunch members of the Communist party! These were men who would, in times of war, have helped form the backbone of any fighting unit of the famous ‘Gordon Highlanders’ regiment in the British army. Their foremen at work treated them with the respect that was due to hard working, hard fighting men. They had a fiercely independent streak, and were proud of the fact that they felt themselves to be the equal of any of their so-called ‘betters’ in the aristocracy. They were proud of the fact that they worked in all weathers… and no train would be stuck because they were inside a hut warming their hands. Not that they did it for the railway company mind you, but because of pride in their own toughness, with ability to brave the elements. It was their responsibility, and they took that serious…

One day, as they were repairing a section of track, the whistle blew to warn them of an approaching train, and they moved to the side of the track to allow it to pass. The train slowed to go over the damaged track, and crawled along at less than walking speed.

As the train passed this rugged line of men, they looked up at the carriages and the many faces looking out. And there, they were so surprised to see, was the Queen Mother, the most respected member of the British royal family. When she saw the men, she smiled and waved her hand gracefully (as only she can do). Then, this group of hard men, these hardened socialists, who would punch a boss rather than take any abuse, all at the same instant… doffed their caps to her! When the train had passed, each of them avoided the eyes of their mates, put their caps on, and never mentioned the incident to each other ever again!

“It seemed that, in spite of their strongly held socialist beliefs, that ‘we are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns’ (we are all equal), centuries of kow-towing to the aristocracy had made the cap-doffing an instinctive reaction. These men would have had their eye teeth removed rather than admit this, but nevertheless it was so. Because there has never been a revolution in the UK, and because the ruling classes are still there, the ordinary people have never known what it feels like to be truly free. There are still hereditary peers in the house of Lords who have the right to vote on legislation, not because they are qualified in any way, shape, or form, but because their forefathers were part of the ancient aristocracy!

In the distant past, people were elevated to the peerage for performing some service to the king, perhaps even providing women for his pleasure, and their sons and grandsons have been reaping the benefit for generation after generation. Only recently has the Labour government made changes to the House of Lords, with some of the hereditary peers being turfed out of their cozy club. Even this radical Labour government didn’t have the courage of their convictions, however, and left some of the hereditary peers in place. If the ruling government still doffs its cap to the aristocracy, small wonder that Tommy and Bill doffed theirs!”

Now, before we Americans start to scoff at the serf-like attitudes of these men, it’s worth thinking about the fact that our forefathers were probably driven out from Scotland (or countries like it) – and had to fight tooth and nail in the War of Independence, so that their children would never have to doff their caps to their ‘betters’. Even so, think about how the east coast intelligentsia in America fall over themselves to get close to visiting British royalty, even after nearly 260 years of freedom. Take these railwaymen out of Scotland for a couple of generations, let them breathe the free air of America, and they would be no different from any of us.

Finally, a few words of warning about America which my Scottish friend passed on, and which I quote almost word for word: “Freedom is a precious commodity that has to be re-won each generation. A lazy and apathetic population will have their freedoms eroded slowly and smoothly by those in the halls of Congress who ‘know what’s best for you.’ Don’t, as a people, allow a ruling class to get too entrenched in the corridors of power! This is not a party political statement. I don’t care if you vote Democrat, Republican, or any other political party, it behooves each of you to vote regularly, and to regularly call your government representatives to account. Are two generations of Bush in the White House enough? Should you even contemplate voting for another Kennedy? Remember, it’s only a few years since Richard Nixon contemplated the idea of changing the constitution so that he could run for a third term! And it was only through the incompetence of a few burglars that it was discovered how far he was prepared to go to hang on to power! You should make sure that you elect more Thomas Jeffersons, rather than the scions of a few ruling dynasties. Don’t create your own royal families, so that your children don’t ever feel too ashamed to look each other in the eye as they stand with doffed caps and watch some dignitary sweep past in an armored limo”.

Far fetched? Maybe, but we should check even the smallest tendency for the ruling classes to rear their ugly heads in this fine country of ours – just in case! My friend tells me that he cannot openly write about his feelings, and envies my ability to do so. I felt a lump in my throat when I realized the implications of what he said, and how much for granted I have taken our freedoms… Liberty, in danger.

I had not paid much attention to the political climate of America or the world until I started to travel. And of all the cultures I have met along the way, from the high road to the low, Scotland and its people are a part of my heart. I hope they can find enough patriots who want to be free from the yoke of tyranny. God bless you Scotland.

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