Edinburgh Book Festival: Murray Pittock and Christopher A Whatley; Nationalism and Unionism; the background.

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Murray Pittock, Christopher Whatley, Laura Marnay (chair)
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Professors Murray Pittock and Christopher Whatley have studied different aspects of Scottish historical experience and take divergent positions in the light of their experience, promising a lively and informative hour.

We were not disappointed, as the two academics ranged over the events leading to the Treaty of Union and over the last fifty years in Scotland.

Whatley has made an extensive study of the period leading up to Union, and points out that the belief that the nation was ‘bought and sold for English gold’ is largely myth. Although a few prominent figures may have been bribed, he argues that acceptance of the Treaty of Union was for more Scottish parliamentarians a pragmatic decision based on potential economic advantage and prevailing political conditions.

As with Whatley’s ‘The Scots and the Union’, Pittock’s ‘The Road to Independence? – Scotland since the sixties’ has been revised and updated in order to respond to current events.

Taking its actual starting point somewhere around 1945, Pittock charts the decline of Scottish heavy industries since that date, the substitution of state-sponsored redevelopment of limited and short-term effect and resulting deprivation and alienation, and a rise in nationalism as being in part a response to these experiences.

What binds both books, and authors, is a recognition of economic circumstance as a shaping force in political response. It may seem mischievous to label both unionist and nationalist perspectives as essentially ‘marxist’, but both their arguments reflect economic change as a driving force both in 1707 and the present day.

Although clearly taking different positions on the present debate, it was perhaps significant that both participants recognised that some degree of change was both unavoidable and necessary.

Perhaps the best point at which to leave the various debates on the immediate future that have been part of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.

‘The Road to Independence?; Scotland in the Balance’ Murray Pittock Reaktion £14.95 (pb) isbn; 97817 8023 2874

‘The Scots and the Union; then and now’ Christopher Whatley EUP £24.99 isbn 97807 4868 2786