Walking the Boards

I’m no furra huving magasatapeep by hearing dear old Stanley Baxter backs Naw. I’m even happy to be told by an anglo troubadour that I don’t know any better than to think Braveheart was a documentary and, yes, he’s right – I did come out of the multiplex ready to hurl nachos at effete Englishmen. See me, see tribal. It would have been nicer though if he’d worn an Easter bunnet and a gingham dress and simpered: ‘Nice girls do it Better Together…’


But what really got to me was Simon Schama describing the Yes movement as a tribal identity which would destroy ‘expansive, inclusive’ Britain. Read those words again and remember who put the Go Home Foreigner vans on our streets, who elected wholesale UKIP councillors and MEPs, who openly denounces Romanians and Bulgarians and wants tighter immigration. Inclusive Britain sounds like the kind of out-of-time expression that someone who doesn’t actually live here could make. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article4128355

simon schama


And of course, someone who hasn’t taken the slightest trouble to examine what is actually going on in Scotland. Like so many others only fleetingly engaged, he is convinced he knows what the movement is without bothering to check – a not uncommon weakness in opinionated academics.

Tribal presumably refers to a type of blood nationalism that has never formed the heart of the SNP and which Scots have rejected. But that doesn’t fit the story Schama and the other denouncers have to tell. In following dozens of other countries into nationhood at the UN, Scotland is part of the shifting pattern of people and states away from the monolithic.


You might as well argue that if Scots are wrong to want independence, so were the Baltic states and that Soviet Russia should still exist. Does his tribalism jibe apply to Tibet trying to leave China? What does Simon imagine the optimum state to be? Is it Luxembourg, Malta, a conjoined Germany? When does a natural, human pride in nation turn into vicious tribalism? Perhaps that’s what took the British into Ireland, India, Africa and Asia to loot, exploit and subjugate. British tribalism is one of the most virulent forms of state violence in history yet Schama forgives the history (his subject) to say we should remain tied to the UK. Perhaps it’s looking at rich, multi cultural London that skews his perspective. Well, why shouldn’t we aspire to the same?

Go home van

How tribal are we that we live in a multi cultural society and recognise the need for immigration and have it as a policy to invite more in?

Schama eviscerates his own reputation when he links a civic drive for self- determination with the Balkans and puts himself alongside the brain-numbing idiocy of George Robertson. The demand to run our own multi ethnic country is the same force ‘causing ethnic and tribal wars, immense massacres,’ he says. Does he mean the re-enactment of Bannockburn? It is one silly idea after another, each one revealing the well of his ignorance which leads him to the edge of bigotry.

Which brings me to an uneasy point. Schama made The History of the Jews and is himself of Jewish stock. It may be why he detests the idea of tribalism and ethnic discrimination which I can understand, although it’s no excuse for failing to find out if that really is at the heart of Scotland’s democratic movement. His mother was Lithuanian, so does he think Lithuania would be better off as part of the Soviet Empire and was it tribalism that inspired the Lithuanians to take back their independence?

And if there is a state founded on tribalism and identity it is surely Israel itself. The ethos of the movement to make it a Jewish homeland was founded on religious belief, on literal interpretation of the bible and the idea of Jews as the chosen people.

Only today I read the government in Tel Aviv will ‘push ahead with a rare change to Israel’s basic laws – which amount to the country’s constitution – to insist Israel is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people’. Netanyahu said: ‘The state of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status.’

If Schama is worried about tribalism leading to wars, does he apply his template to Israel because it seems to me a much stronger candidate for a tribal society that leads to violence than Scotland does.

Frankly, I prefer Baxter’s account. He lives in England, has done well there and thinks we’re too stupid to understand that Braveheart was fantasy. In essence – too wee, too poor, too stupid. Seeyooyanumpty!



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29 thoughts on “Walking the Boards

  1. I don’t get it. Surely the concept of the UK is in itself “tribal”. But in Schama’s view UK okay, Scotland, bad. Naw disnae work for me. He contradicts himself. Numpty.

  2. See also Richard Keens Qc chairman of Scottish Cons coments in the sunday Herald scots dont want independence as unlike the irish Republicans we have never took up arms and could be bought
    Faint praise or a insult
    I truly think if No and the campaign they have run the Damage will be immense

    • Off topic, but I don’t consider the man who completely missed cast-iron evidence that his client was 1000 miles away when the Lockerbie bomb was smuggled into the baggage container to be any sort of intellectual, or genius. He got his client (Lamin Fhimah) acquitted by a piece of legal sleight-of-hand that dropped Abdelbaset al-Megrahi right in it, when he had all the evidence right there in his possession that both men were completely innocent.

      Not impressed.

      • Morag, I have your book on my birthday wishlist. I just hope I get it because it sounds fascinating and (get this newspapers & Mr Schama) well researched.

  3. My impression of Simon Schama is that, regardless of his origins, he has been assimilated into the Establishment, which, collectively, cannot imagine why anyone would not want to be ruled by such superior beings as themselves.

  4. I am getting fair sick of people telling me why I am voting in favour of a yes to an independent Scotland. I am especially sick of so called metrocentric thinkers and commentators passing judgement on something they have absolutely not the first clue about because it doesn’t fit with their world view.

    Until I see the likes of a Simon Schama sitting in on a few YES public meetings and actually conversing with those involved and listening to what is being said, his musings are nothing more than a meaningless and pointless exercise.

    • Well you have said all I was going to , you and Les, so I can merely commend both your comments. Sick to death of being told i am stupid, brainwashed etc by people who have really no interest in Scotland on a normal basis. The likes of Simon Schama, well he is a disgrace to his profession.

      • Must admit Helena, I couldn’t give a stuff about Mr Schama’s past achievements or CV nor indeed that of any other commentator waxing lyrical about Balkanisation or ethnic nationalism. They have either willingly joined an narrative without question, which basically makes them lazy and ill informed or they are deliberately spreading misinformation in full knowledge of the situation.

        I recognise none of the pictures painted by the politicians and media of YES Scotland. The movement most certainly is not based on ethnic nationalism and the campaign for independence to date has been one of the most peaceful in history. I already know who I am and what principles guide my vote and I fancy that many of the people I know to be yes positive personally and those I talk to online hold similar principles of peaceful self determination and inclusion close also.

        I’m disappointed in Mr Schama, but talking guff, is talking guff, is talking… etc.

  5. James Coleman

    Excellent evisceration of Simon Schama’s lightweight and disgraceful contribution to the Indy debate. I did my bit on twitter at the time but your piece above really shows up how shallow is his thinking. And he is supposed to be a top historian!?

  6. Derek.
    I’m a big fan of Simon Schama and I watched the series he did about the history of the Jews avidly. I read his book about the French Revolution when it came out. He is a highly esteemed Historian and you can’t take that away from him (I know you’re not trying to.)
    I lived in London for a long time and knew many Jewish people. Most of them are very supportive of Britain and the Monarchy, probably because they perceive the stability we have here, in comparison to many of the places in which they originated. They fear nationalism for obvious reasons.
    I won’t stop being a Schama fan because he would vote No. I won’t stop being a Schama fan at all!
    I used to enjoy Baxter on TV. He’s been away too long to have any real interest in the referendum. Maybe someone put him up to this outburst! Maybe it was Ronnie Corbett! Nae kiddin’.

  7. smiling vulture

    Strange how The Scotsman lumped Baxter, Schama together in the same article.

  8. What makes these people think that it’s any of their business! They don’t live in Scotland, don’t have a vote and Schama wasn’t even born in Scotland………So why is he bothering himself? Bet he doesn’t shout the odds in Israel.
    On a happier note, I’ve just received an email from someone back from a holiday in the Basque country. Seemingly “Yes Scotland” is to be seen along side their own “Yes” graffiti.

  9. Being selective is a Schama trait.
    I watched all of his history of Britain and out of 15 hours Scotland merited 10 mins or so.

  10. I’ve heard Simon Shama and David Starkeys brief potted history of Scotland , funny enough I’ve never had the opportunity to hear or watch Tom Devine , a man who may have something to say on why (GB) is,how it is,why is that?
    Not because I think Simon Shama or Tom Devines opinion on the Referendum is relevant but because of the different aspects of Scottish, Irish and Welsh history that have gradually being reduced to flag waving days or Olympic opening ceremonies.
    It’s like the old Andy Murray joke, if he wins he’s British if he loses he’s Scottish . Writers, builders, engineers all became British in those Ladybird books of old. As,I don’t know, thousands of us grew up, getting copies as Birthday presents , we bought into the myths left , right and centre.
    The downside was, there was never any amendment at the end of those books, to say, the names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, there was never any room to reflect , that perhaps as Captain Cook was charting the seas or claiming the lands, the locals ( and crew) weren’t too happy with their treatment or that wee woman picking the tea leaves , was being exploited in the name of good old Blighty.

    Spoke to a friend recently , who knows I have my Yes sticker on the car and attend Yes meetings but has never broached the subject with me. She tentatively put forward , you know, ‘we’re not actually governed by the folk we vote for?’
    Rather than the hard sell, I told her about the discussions taking place, the blogs, the films, the poems, the books and the Postie Rome from home, she was amazed as she has never heard of any if this.
    Isn’t it a shame that Britains history, which we are living, is still being portrayed as if it is a Ladybird book ? Simon Shamas view on Scotland is on a par

  11. There is,unfortunately,quite a long list of Scots (not for publication) who associate themselves with the British elite.
    We Scots who wish to bring democracy to our country are viewed by many of these
    people as primitive back woodsmen who don’t know our place (unlike them).
    How pathetic is that?

  12. The opinions of diasporic Scots and Jews have something in common – they are heavily skewed by those of their adopted country (in this case England), as evidenced here.

    Schama is the more interesting figure and is likely to be a Zionist ( in polls, 70% of Jews outside Israel consistently assert this ) and so will be torn between his adopted and ethnic beliefs.

    One of the perverse advantages of Christianity in our secular society is that it is watered down, but the avid faiths such as Islam and Judaism, once a big enough ghetto is created, have all sorts of problems, since their law is that of the Qu’ran and Talmud. So their priests can only insist that they police the law, but cannot change it.

    Therefore Netanyahu ( who by the way is really American, with a poor command of Hebrew ) is doing no more than politically asserting what Judaism dictates in term of land ownership. For a demonstration of how aggressive this is have a look at “Five Broken Cameras”.

    In the long term though, this will come back to bite his successors since it will negate the consistently Jewish insistence on victimhood ( pogroms and holocaust being the most modern examples ) and lead to an examination of what is Semitism. and then of course the resultant anti-Semitism.

    • Margaret Brogan

      I believe Simon Schama is also American, or at least more American than English.
      While deploring his comments on the Scottish Referendum, I have in the past found his work to be very interesting, particularly a series in which he discussed the building of the cross continent railroad in the United States. His documentation of the abuses suffered by Chinese labourers during this was graphic. He highlighted the fact that they were written out of the history of this huge project, although they were major contributors.
      So, perhaps mistaken this time, but not all bad! Human like the rest of us?

      • Odd that me Schana can note the Asian contributions to the building of the USA but seemingly be wilfully ignorant of the role of Scots in the history of the UK? Or just playing to the prejudices of his program sponsors? He gets right on my wick!

  13. The question I am increasingly asking myself is, are these characters stepping forwards to offer their views? Or are they being sought out by a desperate No campaign? Baxter for instance is 88, and living like a recluse. Schama, as noted, doesn’t have a scoobie. It all smacks of them being sought out.

  14. Simon Schama: Propagandist or the British nationalist imperialists in the last remnants of their tawdry underwear.

    An abject irrelevancy.

  15. Typo: Apologies. “…for…”.

  16. Schama appears to be doing his bit in spreading the “blood and soil” Nazi smear. This is another despicable propaganda ploy of the British Establishment. His reward? An ermine robe awaits?

  17. I’m afraid this campaign has finally destroyed every shibboleth that I grew up with, that is in the sense of cultural values:

    The integrity and truth of the press and media, particularly the BBC; the fairness and rigour of British and Scottish justice; and the honesty of our leaders and teachers.

    Every one of those beliefs lies in tatters, destroyed by the complete remorseless destruction of truth by the above institutions working as one on behalf of the British State.

    Sharma is another self-styled ‘personality’ ‘historian’. One of a long line of Oxbridge clones all completely without objectivity or real intellectual rigour. All disfigured by their rigid adherence to a British establishment ideology.

    Rewriting British history at will, eliminating the pesky Celts: The Romans couldn’t be bothered to conquer ‘the Barbarians kin the North’; the Stuarts were all weak; the First World War was not an unnecessary bloodbath (Hew Strachan); Britain is still a world leader etc. ad nausea.

    ‘Shibboleth’ interestingly is a Hebrew word. In the Hebrew bible, the Book of Judges’ it describes differences in dialect as distinguishing ‘others’, with the example of the Gileads slaughtered Ephraimites who could not pronounce the word properly.

    Is not Sharma’s disdain for Scottish self-determination nothing more than classic racist disdain for people who can’t speak the Queen’s English and don’t fit into his world view of important states?

  18. It jars when an academic expresses an opinion at odds with widely available evidence. An old astronomy lecturer of mine, an expert on artificial satellite orbits, was also president of the Society for Phsychical Research. I think it was the same sort of phenomenon as Schama: believing what you want to be true rather than what you can show to be true.

    But my old lecturer was fun, and I actually attended some SPR lectures to hear what he had to say. Schama isn’t fun. If I’m not confusing him with someone else, he proudly declared himself a Zionist on TV.

    As an antidote to Schama, if you haven’t read it already I recommend ‘The Invention of the Land of Israel’ by Shlomo Sand.

  19. Derek,

    Sorry to come late to this. Since you wrote this piece there’s been an even greater effort to brand the Yes campaign as being driven by a nasty form of nationalism based on phobia and racism.

    I’ve written about this on my own blog (http://haivers.com/?p=143).

    Re Simon Schama: I note only that he resides in the US; so much for favouring “expansive, inclusive” Britain.

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