Selling Scotland

In 2008 the Scottish Government began using the Anholt-GfK Roper (now Anholt-Ipsos) Nation Brands Index “to assess and monitor Scotland’s reputation around the world”. The NBI produces an annual assessment of the overseas reputation of about fifty nations. It conducts a series of interviews with adults in twenty “core panel countries”, measuring perceptions of a nation’s exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration and investment. In 2020 Scotland ranked seventh in the world for national beauty and twelfth in the world for tourism.

Scotland’s current overseas reputation, as reported by the NBI, is “reflective”, says Murray Pittock in his new book, Scotland: The global history, “of a national reputation” for mountains and tartan created between 1740 and 1860. Even as Scotland lost its statehood, the country capitalized on its profitable knack of projecting a positive global brand. Pittock’s own Scottish government-commissioned report on Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy (2019) put the value to Scotland of the poet’s brand at £203 million. This book is in some ways a continuation of that report. History in the Romantic period was a commodity, the author suggests. And it can be still.

The story of “a small country with a primarily relational history”, Pittock’s book is “the first global history of Scotland titled as such”. Global histories of Scotland have been written before – Emma Rothschild’s The Inner Life of Empires (2011) and Jessica Hanser’s Mr Smith Goes to China (2019) are two captivating examples – but Scotland: The global history is more ambitious in scope and less innovative in approach than either of these predecessors.

Choosing, unusually, to begin his history during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), and indebted to the late Sir John Elliott’s notion of composite monarchy – an arrangement that was typical in the early modern period, but is uncommon now – Pittock tracks the loss of Scotland’s statehood. Its position within the Union of the Crowns drew the country into European conflicts such as the Anglo-Dutch wars, which were not always in its interest. But, despite losing embassies and being subservient to a more powerful partner, Scotland still had some autonomy, engaging in “paradiplomacy” and exerting soft power. The importance of its future membership of the EU is spelled out in the final chapter – Pittock is certain that an independent Scotland could not thrive without it – and he is careful to stress the historic and durable relationships between Scotland and its European neighbors throughout.

In two post-Union chapters Jacobitism looms large. Pittock here seeks to correct a received narrative that diminishes the strength of the Jacobite cause in Scotland and the significance of the north, where Jacobitism and Episcopalianism were popular. The focus on Jacobite-European connections and the recasting of Culloden as a battle with global repercussions are refreshing, yet it remains the case that most Scots supported Hanoverian Presbyterianism and ultimately acquiesced in the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, a phenomenon that Pittock chooses not to explore in any depth. He contrasts the chauvinistic bigotry of Tobias Smollett – a Presbyterian north Briton whose periodical The Briton defended the policies of the unpopular Lord Bute, the first Scottish prime minister of Great Britain – with the cosmopolitanism of Scottish Jacobitism, distinguishable, in Pittock’s eyes, from the more xenophobic and less justifiable English variety.

Subsequent chapter soutline Scotland’s disproportionate involvement in British imperial affairs. The Scots continued and expanded after 1707 the long-established tradition of establishing “commercial communities” abroad. Pittock is careful, drawing on recent pathbreaking work, not to shy away from Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade, slavery and other colonial atrocities. Yet, to underline Scottish exceptionalism he emphasizes the significance of Scottish “fratriotism”, which he defines as “the espousing of the causes of other small or oppressed nations”. Though some Scots and some Indigenous groups did enjoy harmonious interactions, recent research suggests there was no distinctly Scottish pattern of engagement with Indigenous peoples. It is surely going too far to link settler colonial uprisings such as William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada to a tradition of fratriotism. Many First Nations individuals fought for the Crown against Mackenzie, whose rebellion, and the reform movement to which it contributed, ultimately led to the consolidation of settledr colonialism and the further dispossession of First Nations.

Besides charting the invention in the Romantic period of Scotland’s national brand, Pittock seeks to examine a different and seemingly contradictory Scotland: the one responsible for the “sinews of empire”, and whose extraordinary intellectual achievements remain, in the author’s view, unsurpassed. Pittock here challenges the assumptions of the 2020 NBI report, which placed Scotland outside the top twenty global for innovation in science and technology, highlighting the past importance to Scottish achievement of the country’s distinctive education system as well as its future potential for scientific excellence.

Mythology, invention and cliché are “central”, he argues, to a country’s “marketing to internal and external audiences”. It is the job of the historian, he continues, both to bust myths and to acknowledge their appeal, a challenge he embraces in Scotland: The global history with gusto. Part history book, part manifesto, throughout it demonstrates his concern to emphasize the distinctiveness of Scotland – one of the “longest-lived of all global nations” – within Great Britain, “a relatively modern state”, as well as to highlight the historical significance of the country’s external relationships. In the right hands, Murray Pittock suggests, Scotland’s global brand could be as marketable and as profitable as ever.

Valerie Wallace is a lecturer in the history of Scotland and the wider world at St Andrews University, and the author of Scottish Presbyterianism and Settler Colonial Politics: Empire of dissent2018

Browse the books from this week’s edition of the TLS at the TLS Shop

The post Selling Scotland appeared first on TLS.

Leave a Comment