A guest post from Craig Kelly today. Craig is a graduate of Dundee University and Masters student at Uppsala Universitet in Sweden. He specialises in early modern northern European history with specific interests in historical theory, environmental, parliamentary, and protestant history. Whilst in the cold hinterland of central Sweden he blogs on his experiences under the title of ‘ScotinSweden‘ and has become partial to fika.

I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or hear someone else say – the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25th 1707, is hereby reconvened’

These were the words proclaimed by an elderly Winnie Ewing as she chaired the opening session of the re-established Scottish Parliament. Yet, no one would suggest splitting the parliament into an estate structure and recreating the Lords of the Articles, so how useful is this reminiscence?  

In her post last week, Ruth Davidson turned historian when she claimed that ‘despite being in this political and economic union, we have still been able to maintain our own sense of nationhood’. Ruth, are you sure that has always been the case throughout the union? Is it fair to say that at the end of the nineteenth century Scotland had a distinct notion of itself?

Not to be left out, Tom Harris got stuck into a bit of historical theory when he countered Pete Wishart’s teleological trap ‘Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the inevitability of independence.’

These are some early examples of the use and abuse of history in the constitutional debate. They are not the first and nor will they be the last. One side will appeal to our independent identity defined by Wallace, the reformation, and the early modern parliament. Whilst the unionists will hark to our glorious shared past during empire. Neither are wholly helpful, and neither are wholly correct.

Where the politicians are right is that our history, whether we are aware of it or not, plays a substantial role in our understanding of the world. Many in the south west may instinctually be drawn to side with unionism. Is it not fair to suggest that this is a correlation with traditional Labour heartland, which in itself is covenanter territory? Hardened Presbyterianism turned Christian socialism, now strong unionism. Neither can the independence movement be separated from wider historical processes of change. As Tom Devine once argued, the growth of nationalism is in response to a union ‘not fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.’

This post is an open letter to Scottish historians. Will you stand idly by as the nation engages in the most important debate of our time? I will always remember the consensus that Dundee historians held in a panel debate, where they agreed that it was not the role of academics to get involved in the public sphere. I disagreed then and I disagree now. These people who have dedicated their lives to understanding our nation’s history are better placed than most to postulate on our future. This is not a demand for Plato’s philosopher kings, but it is a provocation to the academic community in Scotland. Jean Paul Sartre believed that philosophy was not only for the lecture hall when he accepted a role in the French government. So you, the historians of Scotland, have a meaningful contribution to make to our ongoing constitutional debate. Will you maintain your silence, discuss only in the corridors of humanities departments, and listen with aggravation as politicians butcher our history for their own ends?

As humanities departments are targeted for cuts by culturally ignorant Principles the length and breadth of Scotland, is this not the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what the study of the humanities can contribute to society?

To Julian Goodare, Tom Devine, Alan MacInnes, Fiona Watson, Christopher Whately, Alan MacDonald, Keith Brown, and the others to numerous to mention. Is it not time, to quote Charles Terry, ‘to play a fitting part in the nation’s history’?