A Reply to Allan Armstrong

The full, illustrated pamphlet is available from the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement

Allan Armstrong is to be commended for his excellent contribution to Scottish radical/revolutionary history, Between Broadsword and Bayonets, Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 5/6. In this piece Allan seeks to expose the left nationalist and left unionist traditions within the SSP and argues eloquently for an internationalism from below analysis of Scottish history. The period in question is the period of the Scottish revolution in the seventeenth century.

Allan and I go back a long way in this debate. We got fraternally stuck in at many a meeting as well as in the pamphlet, Jacobite or Covenanter?[1]Jacobites or Covenanters? Which tradition – A Scottish Republican debate, Scottish Republican Forum, 1992 Though I hope that Allan would at least believe me, left Jacobite, nationalist that I am alleged to be, when I say that Charlie is not my darling and I don’t hope he comes back again! It is unfashionable and hard for some on the left to understand but I maintain that there is a place for clan democracy in the Scottish radical tradition and that clan democracy, more than any Stuart, represented the real Jacobite threat.

I do confess that Allan has influenced me over the years. Initially, the Covenanters were merely mad, rampaging seventeenth century Orangemen! I now realise that there were progressive, republican mad rampaging Orangemen in their midst – just kidding. While I believe that the Covenanting/Cameronian tradition is important, I cannot buy into Allan’s Reds against the Whites analogy. There are many planks of Allan’s argument, which I would like to come back to.


For Allan, the question of Jacobitism is straightforward. Its emphasis was on divine right monarchy and the attempt of the Stuarts to re-claim the Crowns of Scotland and England. As such its politics were reactionary and high Tory[2]A. Armstrong, Emancipation & Liberation Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets (Issue 5/6), p25-6. This one sided analysis is useful for Allan as it allows him to pose a left /right dichotomy between the men and women of the Covenant and the Stuarts with their almost sheepish feudal army standing in the way of revolution and progress.

Jacobitism was more complex than that. Allan describes Stuart Jacobitism well. What is revealing in Allan’s article, a point which he concedes for the first time in print, is the existence of a, sub-Jacobite oral culture of song, ballad, poetry. As Allan puts it: The oppositional, sub-Jacobite oral culture, with its songs and ballads, also contributed to a new artisan and working class culture. It certainly wasn’t the politics of Jacobitism, with its mystical emphasis on monarchy, legitimate succession and hierarchical deference to kings and lords.[3]A. Armstrong, Ibid. p.25

To talk of a sub-culture is to talk either of an undercurrent or after an event. I assume that Allan is referring to the tradition that arose after the ’45 rising. Read Allan’s article for the difference in song and writer. Lady Nairne, Tory and anti-French revolution, wants you to have a wee greet for poor Chairlie and his loyal clans. Rabbie Burns denounces the Stuarts’ cynicism while supporting those clans who fought for Scotland and against the new Whiggish, British State. (I hate to disappoint Allan, though I should mention that the ‘boak inducing’ Charlie is my darlin’ is accredited to Burns!)

This difference of emphasis is exactly my point. The Jacobitism of the clans was different. They were defending their society (which was neither Celtic communism nor feudalism) and their Gaelic traditions and way of life. Allan is absolutely right to say that Charlie had no interest in this. The clansmen who fought for him did. We have to ask: why? After all, the attack on clan society was begun by a Stuart, James VI and I, in 1609 with the infamous Statutes of Iona. This was none other than a racist attack on the ‘barbarous’ Irish (sic) language and way of life.

The attack on clan society continued after the signing of the Covenant in 1638. Argyll, chief of clan Campbell, was also a leading Covenanter. The new regime in Edinburgh allowed him to extend the power of his clan in the Highlands. Campbell/Covenanting armies marauded their way through the Highlands in the years before the outbreak of Civil War in 1644. Montrose was pushing at an open door in the Highlands and found many clans sympathetic – especially clan Donald under the brilliant commander, Alasdair MacColla. Many Gaelic bards spoke of the men of Alba as if they were a foreign people.

What is significant is that the Scottish covenanting revolution – which at no time challenged the king’s right to rule – waged war on the majority of the population of the country, their way of life and culture with the self-interested connivance of one of the main clans. This was the civil war within the civil war. This links in with my later discussion, which Allan grapples with, on progress.

This question of the alienation of the Gaeltacht within Scottish and, post 1707, British society did not go away. Graham of Claverhouse – Bluidy Clavers himself – left the Estates in 1690 and headed for the Highlands. Both Stuart pretenders tried to rally the clans in the eighteenth century. That door was still open. It is true that the clans backed a loser but where did they have to go? The writing was on the wall for their way of life. The military roads, the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the suppression of the language would have happened without the various rebellions. In essence, what the Stuarts began in 1609, the Covenanters continued in the 1640’s and the forces of the British State and the clan chiefs finished the job in the years after 1745.

In truth, this was more than an oppositional sub-culture. This was more than an undercurrent or a tradition that arose out of defeat. Firstly, there is the difficult question of Scottish nationalism. Allan poses his argument in contradistinction to any ‘left nationalism’. I do not embrace nationalism by recognising that ideology as a significant factor in the Scottish Jacobite critique of British Whiggism. This is primarily a post – Union factor and there is no doubting the Stuarts’ opportunism. This does not detract from the fact that the Union was still unpopular among large sections of Scottish society. An unaccountable, Whiggish majority sold out Scotland’s independence in 1707.

There were Jacobite risings in 1708, 1715, 1719 and 1745. In 1715 James VII, the Old Pretender, annulled the Act of Union in his manifesto. His young, pretending son also repeated that Act on 10th October 1745. The famous broadsword recovered from Culloden, on display in the Museum of Scotland, bears the inscription, For Scotland and No Union. Compare this political, nationalist slogan with the a-political, reactionary slogan of Claverhouse before the battle of Killiecrankie, For King James and the Church of Scotland[4]M. Linklater & C. Hesketh, Bonnie Dundee, 1992, p.214. This articulated nationalism was also representative of all the Jacobite risings and those rank & file who supported them. Was this political nationalism progressive? That is a key question to which I shall return.

Secondly, this was not just about the clans. Post 1707 – Jacobitism was upheld in Lowland towns such as Perth and Dundee. Indeed, one writer, Murray Pittock, has written of the ‘Myth of the Jacobite Clans’[5]M. Pittock, The Myth of the Jacobite Clans.. He shows that more Lowlanders fought for the Stuarts than Highland clansmen. I believe Scottish nationalism to be the main reason.

Thirdly, it is true that the Stuarts had a degree of popularity in Scotland. The ‘King over the water’ was toasted in Lowland & Highland towns. The Stuarts were opportunists and they were populists. They told disaffected Scots what they wanted to hear. Just like today’s slimming industry which boasts a million easy ways to lose weight (while we all get fatter), the Stuarts would free Scotland, protect the clans and restore the ‘rightful King’.

All these factors combined in a real Jacobite threat. It was no accident that the Stuarts kept coming back to Scotland. The threat to the British State in 1745 was not the threat of dynastic change. It was the threat of ‘rebellious Scots’ to an ascendant empire. As Frank McLynn has noted, Jacobite forces could have potentially reached 30,000[6]F. McLynn, The Jacobites, 1985. It was not a rising doomed to failure. Yet this is how the rising is often portrayed. The ‘Bonnie Prince’ on shortbread tins. A failed attempt to restore a failed, reactionary dynasty. The political dynamic that led the majority of the Jacobite army to fight is relegated to a historical footnote. As Ray Burnett has written:

Indeed, creating and embracing a de-historicised Jacobitism was an essential element in enabling the consequences and implications of Williamite and Hanoverian victories in Ireland and Scotland to pass unchallenged and uncontested into a received Anglo-Brit political and cultural orthodoxy. The defeat of the ’45 was conversely the victory of the Protestant succession underpinning an aggressive, intolerant and Anglo-Brit State unyielding in its determination to retain a subjugated Scotland within the Union and a colonial Ireland within the Empire.”[7]R. Burnett, Past imperfect but better than nothing, Scotland on Sunday, 23/7/95

Ray has hit the nail on the head. I believe that a political challenge to the British State and its attack on Highland society was waged under the umbrella term ‘Jacobitism’. That Jacobitism has been neutered; the history re-written to the point that it was the Highlanders fault for backing a loser. The brutal repression by the British State that followed Culloden is ‘progress’. The victors have written the history. Allan accepts part of their version.

The clans, in particular, did not sheepishly follow[8]Although I do accept Allan’s point, made in conversation, that there was no wing of the Jacobites who acted independently (as he has argued the Cameronians did.) My point remains that we cannot dismiss those forces or what they fought for from our radical tradition.. I have argued that there was an underlying motivation that drove Jacobitism. The ideology of divine right and hereditary kingship was the Jacobitism of the Stuarts and high Tories. This did not fan the flames of Jacobite rebellion in Scotland.

Nor did Allan’s sub-Jacobite oral ‘culture’ develop in a vacuum. Those songs and poems of resistance, communality and national struggle summarise the ideals and intentions of the vast majority who fought. Allan alludes to the resistance that continued for a good few years after the ’45 was defeated[9]In the 19th century the English artist, Sir Edwin Landseer, painted Rent day in the Wilderness which shows rent being willingly collected in the Highlands for the Jacobite cause (the occupying red coats in the distance).. Reactionaries such as Lady Nairne also neutered this ‘sub-Jacobite’ culture. McLynn mentions that the threat posed, ‘was only finally destroyed with Hawke’s victory at Quiberon Bay’[10]F. McLynn, The Jacobite Army in England 1745, 1998, p.198. The destruction of Highland troops lessened the threat. “Little mischief if they fall” as Wolfe remarked.

Allan paints a picture of sections of the Scottish left embracing this ‘sub-Jacobite culture’. He has a point. Many Leftie folk-singers like to belt out Jacobite songs. Even the Salford born, Ewen McColl, was partial to these songs. However there has been no real debate, excluding the Jacobite or Covenanter pamphlet within the left as to the crucial significance of Jacobitism from below/the other Jacobitism. The left has accepted the image of de-historicised Jacobitism and ran away from it. The Scottish left cringe at images of Chairlie, the kitsch, tartanalia and the monarchical pretensions and, in so doing, have written off an important part of our history. Many of us have bought into the Anglo-Brit state history of Scotland. Others have just shut Scottish history out completely. They do not see that the ‘Bonnie Prince’ is a smokescreen behind which the real history is hidden. Allan has embraced the men and women of the National Covenant to get to that true history.

The thing about the Covenanters…

In the Covenanters, Allan sees the Scottish revolution. His article is a coherent, impassioned case for the Covenanting contribution to Scotland’s revolutionary tradition. The contradictions and tensions within that movement are laid bare. Allan’s is also a seductive argument. Scottish socialists, looking to discover their country’s radical past, could do worse than embrace a movement which challenged the crown, was inherently democratic and was capable of independent, united action.

However, the Scottish left has not embraced the Covenanters. They pose more questions than answers[11]The following discussion draws on an earlier article of mine. See G. Cairns, The Victors and the Vanquished, Scottish Workers Republic, vol. 2, no. 7.. There are 3 main problems associated with the Covenanters. The first, Allan would accept: namely, their religious fanaticism, Presbyterianism was the glue, which held all wings of the movement together. A fear of Popery was the motivation. This manifested itself in a zealous bigotry. After Montrose’s defeat at Philiphaugh in 1650, Kirk ministers literally screamed for the murder of Irish women and children who had been following the battle. Similarly, the later conventicles were hotbeds of anti-Catholic bigotry, even though it was really Episcopalianism that was the religious enemy.

Now, you may think that this is applying 21st Century standards to the 17th Century. Is it really? Fanaticism and hatred are still with us. The fanaticism that I refer to was whipped up to frenzy by intelligent, articulate Covenanters.

The second problem is the problem of Ireland. Allan does not mention in his piece the Scots Covenanters intervention in the Irish civil war in 1642. There had always been historic links between Scotland and Ulster. Gallowglass was a term used to describe those clans who flitted between both. Indeed, the MacDonalds of the western Highlands were related to the MacDonnells of Antrim. It was James VI who planted Ulster with Scottish and English settlers. The Covenanting regime in Edinburgh sent a Scots army to protect the settlers from the native uprising.

This is not the place to go into the detail of the Irish uprising. Suffice to say that while the royalists opportunistically exploited Irish national sentiment, the Covenanting army did not exactly cover itself in glory with its brutal intervention. Ireland was equally the Achilles heel of both revolutions north and south of the border. Allan is silent on this intervention.

Finally, the Covenanters’ attack on the Gaeltacht cannot be ignored. I was very disappointed to read Allan’s comments directed toward the
SRSM. I am a republican socialist not a left nationalist. There have been positive, progressive aspects of Scottish history but I do not adopt a nationalist analysis of Scottish history. (I shall return to this.)

Nor do I hold to a glib view of Scottish national identity. Indeed I have argued that the Covenanters were guilty of a Lowland racism toward Highland society and waged war on that society [12]Cairns, Ibid.. In this the Covenanting regime in Edinburgh had a loyal clan – clan Campbell. It was a Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, who headed that regime. Power, influence and the desire to defeat clan Donald went hand in hand with a Lowland, Presbyterian desire to extinguish the ‘Irish tongue’ and clan culture.

There was real cultural /racial/ religious tension in 17th Century Scotland. Clan bards referred to Lowlanders as the men of Alba, as though they were foreign. Ian Grimble is one of the few writers to pick up on Covenanting brutality in the Gaeltacht during the revolution[13]See I. Grimble, Scottish Clans & Tartans, 1973, p. 98.

The irony, as David Stevenson points out, is that the clans backed the King of Scotland against the ‘men of Scotland’.[14]See D. Stevenson, Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil War, 1984 for a superb analysis of the ‘Highland problem’.

There is a later example of this intolerance. After the defeat of the ’45 rebellion, Lord Chesterfield decreed that the loyal should be punished with the disloyal. Loyalist, covenanting clans such as the Munros and the Ross’ faced the same fate in terms of dispossession and proscription and clearance.

The reason was simple. Allan’s class warriors were also waging war on the clans and their culture. Charles I and Montrose were pushing at that open door. MacColla and the clans (from Scotland & Ireland) had their own agenda: defence of their society and way of life from Edinburgh and clan Campbell.

This Lowland prejudice was (is?) endemic in Scottish society. The covenanters did not invent this. However their anti-Irish, anti-Gaeltacht, anti-Catholic racism was endemic in their revolution and this makes their revolution all the more problematic. Allan has never squared this circle!

One of the most powerful images, for me, is the portrait of the Lowland Montrose being taken, captured, through the streets of Edinburgh by Covenanting soldiers. The look of a Highland warrior – long hair, beard, tartan kilt/plaid – attributed by James Drummond to a Lowland aristocrat who cynically used the clans to further his own royalist cause. The populace and soldiers look at this strange, ‘Highland’ creature. Let us not forget that Montrose signed the National Covenant in Greyfriars cemetery.

The romantic imagery conjures up the problem of today’s ‘Highlandism’ – a culture caricatured by the victor’s culture. We wear our kilts to weddings, sing Highland songs in Glesga keelie accents when we’re drunk (well, I do!) with little knowledge of why Highland society/culture went into decline.

We are not alone in this. White, liberal, middle class America now loves all things ‘red Indian’ and Muhammad Ali[15]See Thomas Hauser, Ali: The Legacy in Observer Sport Monthly, no. 45 Nov. 2003, p. 58: Ali’s legacy today is in danger of being protected in the same manner as the estate of Elvis Presley is protecting Elvis’ image. New generations are born; and to them Ali is more legend than reality, part of America’s distant past.. The Irish Free State built a statue to James Connolly and the Catholic Church would have you believe they were right behind the 1916 rising!

Allan has helped to disentangle the Covenanters from orthodox interpretations of 17th Century Scottish history. Scots have been fed a diet of Campbell-MacDonald feuds and royalist sentimentality for too long. However Allan is guilty of his own romanticism. His red guards were guilty of trying to impose ‘progress’ on the Gaeltacht, a progress which Allan, in his article, would seem to reject. These two areas – revolution and progress – are key to an understanding of how Scotland travelled from the 1640’s to the 1740’s. They are also instrumental in undermining Allan’s eloquent argument.


Allan sees two main revolutionary phases: 1649 and 1689-90. While I shall give Allan’s position some consideration I do believe that he has done Scottish radical history a great service in his writing and research. For example his account of independent Cameronian meetings in the south-west gives a real feel of revolutionary popular resistance to the Restoration regime in Scotland. It cannot be denied that these Covenanting/Cameronian traditions infused later radicals in the west and south-west.

The first phase

That said, the two revolutionary phases cited above pose many questions and answers. Allan argues that the period after the signing of the Covenant was the ‘first phase’ of the Scottish revolution[16]See A. Armstrong, ibid. p.29. I have just painted a very different picture to Allan, above. I must also take issue with his account of the anti-Engager regime that took power in 1649. While Allan sees those who refused to engage with Charles’ son as the left – the red guard – of the revolution, the reality was different.

As Ted Cowan put it:

The parliament of 1649 set about the creation of the new Zion during Scotland’s brief and unhappy experiment in theocracy. Royalists were excluded from office; lay patronage was abolished; death was decreed for blasphemy, idolatry, parent cursing, incest and witchcraft; the codification of Scots Law was discussed.[17]E.J. Cowan, Montrose and Argyle in G. Menzies (ed.) The Scottish Nation, 1972, p.128

The rub is this: Neil Davidson (author of Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692–1746) looks for English/European revolutionary references. Davidson has no Scottish revolution to write about. Part of the reason lies in Cowan’s quote. There’s simply no Scottish equivalent to the Levellers political challenge to the Cromwellian regime. Instead despite Allan’s best efforts, the reality in Scotland was a brutal Protestant theocracy, which followed divisions within the movement and was ended by Cromwell’s invasion in 1651.

Allan is right to argue that there was a Scottish revolution in 1638. His revolutionaries, though, were flawed. Allan sees the ‘red guards’ of the Whiggamores romantically taking Edinburgh. I see a different kind of counter-revolution. Political/social tyranny and a theocracy resulted, as was the Whiggamores’ intention.

Allan is hammering orange squares into red holes.

The later phase

Allan provides an excellent, highly readable account of the events of 1689-90. His treatment of this period had me pondering, constantly, two questions: was a Stuart restoration, as sought by Claverhouse and the Jacobites, reactionary in 1690? Was King Billy’s revolution progressive? These are two key questions.

There is no doubt that ‘Bonnie Dundee’s’ fight for James VII’s restoration was wholly reactionary. Allan presents a compelling argument of the popular democratic debates that took place in the United Societies from the Convention of the Estates in the capital to Wanlochead and Sanquhar. The majority of the Scottish people did not want an absolutist monarch.

In principle, though, William’s revolution in England in 1688 was not all that progressive either. True, he was a more progressive option than James was but the mantra of ‘liberty and the protestant religion’ did not initiate any immediate social and political revolution in England.

I am reminded of Christopher Hill’s assessment of the first phase of England’s revolution: … it is true that in ecclesiastical matters as in everything else, the English revolution got stuck half way[18]C. Hill, Economic Problems of the Church, 1968 edition, p.350. Like the restoration of 1660, the glorious revolution of 1688 south of the border was a compromise between different sections of the ruling class.

Why did the Scots throw their lot in behind Billy? It is true that there were Cameronians who wanted a republic. The Scots Claim of Right was more far reaching than the Bill of Rights in England. The parliament that convened in 1690 over a period of time would be more independent of monarchical power, would introduce more checks and balances on that power. In this, Allan argues, Billy had to bow to the revolution from below.[19]A. Armstrong, ibid. p.36

In short, the Scottish revolution was not the compromise that was patched together in England. Yet, as Allan concedes, the Cameronians never had their October 1917! Commercial landlords and merchants pushed aside the popular forces. This was not 1917 and analogies of ‘Red’ and ‘White’ armies don’t hold up. I have already dealt with the alienation of Highland society. While ‘Dundee’ was a counter – revolutionary there were reasons why he could command such a big support. Similarly, when Allan writes of an armed stand off between Jacobite and Covenanter in Dumfries in 1715: Nevertheless, the radical Covenanters, unable any more to initiate ‘revolution from below’ were still able to play a big part in preventing ‘White counter revolution’.[20]A. Armstrong, ibid. p.41

Really? In 1715? What was the revolution to defend? The Hanoverian succession? Whiggism? Union? Just as the Cameronians were a different force in 1715 who were unable to initiate ‘revolution from below’, so too were the Jacobites a different force. I shall return to this impact the 1707 Union had on both sides.

Suffice to say Allan uses such Russian revolutionary terms too loosely in a more problematic Scottish historical environment.

Yet again there is no escaping the Cameronian Achilles’ heel. The Cameronians fought at Dunkeld under Billy’s Orange banner. That banner may have different connotations today but there is no doubting that Presbyterianism was still the exclusivist glue that held the ‘Red Army’ together. James Connolly was, rightly, no fan of ‘Seamus a chaca’. Likewise as an Appendix to The Re-conquest of Ireland he quotes the historian W.E.H. Lecky. Connolly is pouring scorn upon the claim that, the Williamite forces of the Battle of the Boyne fought for civil and religious liberty[21]J. Connolly, The Re-conquest of Ireland, 1983 edition, p.74. His quote from Lecky summarizes the other side, the non-progressive side, of the victory at Dunkeld:

While England was breaking loose from her ancient superstitions. Scotland still cowered with a willing submission before her clergy. Never was a mental servitude more complete, and never was a tyranny maintained with more inexorable barbarity.[22]J. Connolly, ibid. p.75

For all the gains in 1690, not much had changed in the Covenanting journey from the theocracy of 1649! While there were revolutionary gains, I feel that Allan confuses by-products for substance. He is right to pay tribute to the influence that these by-products of the Scottish revolution – the Queensferry paper, the united fronts and revolutionary democratic debates – have on today’s struggle. He ignores the substance. It may just be that the reason that the Covenanters and Cameronians did not take the struggle forward was because they got what they wanted – a radical, protestant Scotland.


The question of progress in history has long perplexed the left. Allan has an understanding of the problem and seeks to provide clear water between his ‘revolution from below’ and Neil Davidson’s ‘revolution from above’ in 17th Century Scotland. Allan and Neil debated this question at the SSP’s Socialism 2003 conference. There is a real difference between these two historians. Allan grapples with the problem of progress and its ‘collateral damage’ (as militarists might call it!) – the people swept aside by so-called progressive change. For Neil Davidson this is not an issue. Socialist revolution cannot happen without capitalism. Therefore, capitalism has to exist. It represented, a necessary change[23]Quotes from Neil Davidson’s contribution to a debate on Revolution in Seventeenth-century Scotland, at Socialism 2003, Glasgow Caledonian University, 18 October 2003. If this meant destruction of the clan system, no doubt, so be it. Indeed, Neil totally ignored my question, on the day, on where the brutal repression of the clans fitted into his view of progress.

Neil argued that pre-working class movements are by nature contradictory: his exceptions being the Sans Culottes of France and England’s Levellers and Diggers. No surprise that this very British socialist should adopt non-Scottish reference points!

I must say that Neil made some cogent points in critique of the Covenanters as a truly revolutionary force. His point that the same class were in power in 1690 as in 1637 was a point that Allan cannot, and did not, answer. Yet Neil did not come out with any Scottish revolution of his own. He argued that a better starting point would be the periods from the 1790’s down to the ‘general strike’ of 1820, which is a slight drawback when you’ve written a book on Discovering the Scottish Revolution, 1692 – 1746! Neil did not talk about any such revolution. In fact, it is my opinion that Neil is not interested in any such revolution. His talk was an anti-Scottish diatribe, full of the old cultural references of the British left while being totally dismissive of our indigenous traditions of protest and revolt. The clans were backward, the Covenanters were fanatics limited to the base of the south-west while salvation lay ahead with those north Brits of Enlightenment Edinburgh & the rise of the ‘British’ working class.

If Neil is a ‘superb, socialist historian’ then I must seriously question Allan’s judgement.

Neil Davidson represents, for me, that mechanical, deterministic strand of Marxism which Marx and Engels spent their later years disassociating themselves from. It is lazy, Anglo-centric and wrong to see the Jacobites as some feudal force that the ascendant bourgeois revolution had to sweep away. That bourgeois revolution never happened anyway. Who’s to say that the patched up compromise (discussed above) could not have endured with King James instead of Geordie. Don’t just take my word for it:

Are we seriously being told that, had Charlie handled things differently and actually succeeded in toppling George from the throne, that capitalism in Britain could have been un-invented? That the extensive, mining, engineering, shipping, manufacturing revolution already well in spin would have halted and reversed?

Sorry, mate – expert or no, that is nonsense.

Dave Douglass, in his superb reply to Neil Davidson, shows history in all its complexity. Sometime we may have to go back to A before we go from B to C – we still get to C nonetheless.[24]D. Douglass, Provocative and Insulting, Emancipation & Liberation, vol.7, p.43

Allan understands this. He is dismissive of Neil Davidson’s view of progress. He sees this as a symbol of ‘revolution from above.’ It is the clans who pose the most problems for Allan. While he cannot countenance or justify the brutality heaped on them (to loyal and rebel clan alike), he still feels that they backed a loser. Jacobitism was a one-way street – feudal, aristocratic, and backward with the clans as their cannon fodder.

And yet Allan cannot dismiss them. In a quite brilliant passage, Allan writes:

The Cameronians and the Highland clans had to struggle, just as we have to struggle. Their fight was not some misguided, backward – looking affair, holding back future progress. It was the cry of humanity, in a world where ‘salvation,’ ‘improvement’ or progress was nearly always promoted separately from the needs of the people. Resistance to this inhumanity should be part of our socialist tradition.[25]A. Armstrong, ibid. p44

Alleluia! What, then, of clan resistance, under the umbrella of ‘Jacobitism ‘? What of a nationalist resistance – under that same umbrella – to the ascendant Brit state?

Allan is sincere. He must see that the clans’ fight was as much against the men of the Covenant as it was against the Whig, unionist ruling class. The Covenant and progress went hand in hand and the Covenanting victors wrote the history.

Jacobites, Cameronians & 1707 Union

The SRSM cannot cope with any class division which can be seen to divide their ‘independent’ Scottish state or nation.[26]A. Armstrong, ibid. p.28

This gem of a quote summarises Allan’s hostility to the SRSM’s ‘nationalism’! In fact this quote is tosh! It is unfounded and unfair. Republican socialists have argued that there has been a progressive, nationalist critique of the British State and Britishness? This does not make us nationalists – left or otherwise. Nor does it make us uncritical of any Scottish state (past, present or future). Indeed, my analysis above of the ‘new Zion’ Scots state of 1649 should prove this (for that matter James VI’s statutes of Iona). Allan’s critique of the SRSM is pretty desperate. Just as his historical analysis sees him caught between the Covenant and the clans, so his platform inside the SSP (the Republican Communist Network) sees him caught today between Brit federation and Scottish republicanism. Instead of making common cause with fellow republicans to forge a common ‘history from below’ he distances himself from a supposed left nationalism.

Yet, after the Union of 1707, nationalism was a factor. Popular nationalist unrest affected both Cameronians and Jacobites. The old Cameronian democracy was stirred into debating the Act. In an act of popular resistance the Articles of Union were burnt in the market square in Dumfries. Likewise the Jacobite threat was no longer solely dynastic. Clan chiefs mobilised against the Union. Support for James became dependent upon his renunciation of the parliamentary union. An old pro-Jacobite soldier led the Edinburgh riots. Previous animosities between the 2 factions were lessened as moves began to unite against the Union and English domination of Scotland.

In many Lowland, Presbyterian towns many wore tartan sashes as a symbol of their anti-Unionism. One of the most fascinating ‘what if’s’ of Scottish history was the plot to unite the 2 factions in a national uprising in 1708.[27]Interestingly, at Donald Anderson’s instigation, Allan concedes that this may have been a positive development.

In response to the Cameronians’ nationalist response to the Union the Scottish
MP, Lockhart of Carnwath, wrote that in this crisis the Cameronians were,

so far reconciled to the northern parts whom formerly they hated heartily upon account of their differing principles of religion and Episcopal party, that they were willing to join and connect measures for the defence of their native country.[28]J.S. Gibson, Playing the Scottish Card – the Franco Jacobite invasion of 1708, 1988, p.77

Meanwhile the Jacobite Duke of Atholl was raising a force of 7000 men. The leaders of both camps were making overtures. The impetus was a popular nationalism from below that united Jacobite and Cameronian. The English spy, Daniel Defoe, summed up the mood in the capital when the Equivalent (or bribe money to pro-Union supporters) arrived in carts, [they] call it the price of their country.. [they] are incensed by the subtill Jacobites and too much by some of the Presbyterian ministers, and they go along the streets cursing the very English nation. [29]J.S. Gibson, ibid. p.101

Defoe believed that Scotland was ripe for rebellion. Significantly, the evidence seems to suggest that the Cameronians were willing to support James on condition that he abolished the Union and embraced Presbyterianism. No such united rising took place. The duplicity of leaders such as the Duke of Hamilton and Ker of Kersland ensured that no mobilisation took place. An attempted French landing on the East Neuk of Fife came to nothing.

This failure in 1708 was a missed revolutionary opportunity. For Cameronians of the south-west, the urban proto-working class of the 4 main cities and the clans of the north to unite on class & national grounds to overturn the Union would have altered the course of Scottish history. Later fragmentation would have been avoided. The best sections of both traditions could have united. Instead, the reactionary wings triumphed ensuring that the Presbyterian democrats of the south-west and the clans were marginalised. ‘Poor Chairlie’ and the dour ‘meenister’ would be representative of two valid radical traditions in this country’s history. Put very crudely, Walter Scott’s interpretation won over Burns.

Towards a republican history from below

The Jacobite – Covenanter debate has brought, whether Allan admits it or not, Scottish republicans closer together on this key historical question. A radical revolutionary history from below of Scotland cannot write off the clans fighting for their way of life nor sit on the fence in its attitude toward the anti-Unionism of post-1707 Jacobitism. Our positions have more in common than we have with the mechanistic ‘Marxism’ from above of Neil Davidson. It is undeniable that Jacobitism poses real problems for the Scottish Left. The juxtaposition of Jacobitism, nationalism and Scottish independence provokes embrace (in song and discussion) and retreat (in debate) in equal measure. Jacobitism is a contradiction that sums up the Left’s attitude to Scottish history. The problem lies in the fact that too many socialists have unwittingly bought Scott’s version and have abandoned Scottish radical history. John MacLean and Red Clydeside is safe terrain. Jacobites and Covenanters represent a historical minefield.

That is why it is essential to push a united Scottish republican history from below for the same reasons that 19th century weavers in the west of Scotland could remember Drumclog or Culloden (or Drogheda!) yet make common cause on class issues. Jacobitism is dead. So too is the National Covenant. The Cameronian soldier at Dunkeld was no more a Red Guard than Clan Chattan were social revolutionaries on Culloden Moor. Yet out of the struggles of both, distantly, will the Scottish republic of the future have its historical basis.

Gerry Cairns


1 Jacobites or Covenanters? Which tradition – A Scottish Republican debate, Scottish Republican Forum, 1992
2 A. Armstrong, Emancipation & Liberation Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets (Issue 5/6), p25-6
3 A. Armstrong, Ibid. p.25
4 M. Linklater & C. Hesketh, Bonnie Dundee, 1992, p.214
5 M. Pittock, The Myth of the Jacobite Clans.
6 F. McLynn, The Jacobites, 1985
7 R. Burnett, Past imperfect but better than nothing, Scotland on Sunday, 23/7/95
8 Although I do accept Allan’s point, made in conversation, that there was no wing of the Jacobites who acted independently (as he has argued the Cameronians did.) My point remains that we cannot dismiss those forces or what they fought for from our radical tradition.
9 In the 19th century the English artist, Sir Edwin Landseer, painted Rent day in the Wilderness which shows rent being willingly collected in the Highlands for the Jacobite cause (the occupying red coats in the distance).
10 F. McLynn, The Jacobite Army in England 1745, 1998, p.198
11 The following discussion draws on an earlier article of mine. See G. Cairns, The Victors and the Vanquished, Scottish Workers Republic, vol. 2, no. 7.
12 Cairns, Ibid.
13 See I. Grimble, Scottish Clans & Tartans, 1973, p. 98
14 See D. Stevenson, Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil War, 1984 for a superb analysis of the ‘Highland problem’.
15 See Thomas Hauser, Ali: The Legacy in Observer Sport Monthly, no. 45 Nov. 2003, p. 58: Ali’s legacy today is in danger of being protected in the same manner as the estate of Elvis Presley is protecting Elvis’ image. New generations are born; and to them Ali is more legend than reality, part of America’s distant past.
16 See A. Armstrong, ibid. p.29
17 E.J. Cowan, Montrose and Argyle in G. Menzies (ed.) The Scottish Nation, 1972, p.128
18 C. Hill, Economic Problems of the Church, 1968 edition, p.350
19 A. Armstrong, ibid. p.36
20 A. Armstrong, ibid. p.41
21 J. Connolly, The Re-conquest of Ireland, 1983 edition, p.74
22 J. Connolly, ibid. p.75
23 Quotes from Neil Davidson’s contribution to a debate on Revolution in Seventeenth-century Scotland, at Socialism 2003, Glasgow Caledonian University, 18 October 2003
24 D. Douglass, Provocative and Insulting, Emancipation & Liberation, vol.7, p.43
25 A. Armstrong, ibid. p44
26 A. Armstrong, ibid. p.28
27 Interestingly, at Donald Anderson’s instigation, Allan concedes that this may have been a positive development.
28 J.S. Gibson, Playing the Scottish Card – the Franco Jacobite invasion of 1708, 1988, p.77
29 J.S. Gibson, ibid. p.101