400 years of pain

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

What happened 400 years ago today? Unless you were listening to Today on Radio 4 this morning, just as I was, you probably have absolutely no idea whatsoever.

In fact, 400 years ago today, James IV of Scotland was crowned in Westminster Abbey, becoming James I of England as well. This The Union of The Crowns was the first step towards the eventual Union of the Nations.

You can catch some oblique references to it, if you hunt around, but not many.

Of course, students of the history of the preceding few hundred years will note that the two had been one in some measure on and off for centuries. Scots kings were constantly swearing allegiance to the English, rebelling, getting invaded, rebelling again, swearing allegiance…

That uneasy relationship continues to this day, even after devolution and the formation of the Scottish Parliament. My fellow English folk have a terrible habit of using “England” and “Britain” as interchangeably as tourists do, which doesn’t endear them to the Scots. As a child growing up in Scotland, I was routinely irritated by kids’ TV wishing everyone good luck in their exams and giving guides to revision over a month after the Scottish schools exams had finished.

It’s common for the English to accuse the Americans of being isolationist and ignorant of the world outside their shores. How ironic that so many of us are just as ignorant of a land which borders on our own.

The call for devolution and a Scottish Parliament were an inevitable result of a London-focused Government and media that repeatedly neglected the land north of the border or, worse, used it as a test bed for terrible ideas like the poll tax.

One of the good things Labour did upon taking power was granting Scotland a measure of independence, satisfying that hunger for more control and recognition, without destroying the United Kingdom. What a pity that they screwed it up by excluding English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from a direct say in running Scotland, while allowing Scottish MPs a say in measures that don’t affect Scotland at all. This is the West Lothian Question, and years after it was first asked, nothing has been done to address it.

There have been calls for a English Parliaments, or to ban Scots MPs from voting on purely English matters in Westminster. Yet, the Labour Party continues to ignore the issue. Could the fact that Scottish MPs are predominantly from the Labour Party have anything to do with this unwillingless to address this constitutional nonsense.

400 years after we first welcomes a Scots king onto the English throne, we should be mindful of the fact that his political successors have more influence over their neighbour than is warranted. The English’s wilful ignorance of all things north of the border makes this a vain hope.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.