An American in Scotland...

Hana Bieliauskas undertakes a virtual tour of Scotland and gets a taste for the real thing

What does the word 'Scotland' conjure up for you? I came to London in January from Midwest America to study and complete an internship at the New Statesman. I have yet to explore the UK beyond England, so ahead of getting on a train I decided to embark on a virtual trip around Scotland.

I begin my tour in the seaside town of Ayr about 36 miles from Glasgow. Ayr was formerly home to Scotland's main west coast port. With a street plan dating back to the 1200s, the town began as a settlement serving the castle of William I, which was built in 1197. Formerly, Ayr was known as St. John's Town of Ayr or Inverayr.

Today, nothing remains of William's castle, demolished by Cromwell's forces in 1664 to make room for the citadel they used to this country. But I discover plenty of historical sights to keep me busy – for example there’s the bridge, built in 1470, still standing over the River Auld.

After sightseeing, I escape to Ayr's beautiful garden of Belleisle to tee up for a game at the world-renowned golf course designed by James Braid in 1927. Certainly way over par, I console myself with a hike through the fields and woodlands at the 98-acre Rozelle Estate. In the old Rozelle House, I sip a drink at the coffee shop and wander around the Ayrshire Yeomanry Museum and Rozelle Craft House.

Next I drop in at the village of Alloway. Here is where the world-famous poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns' home is located, known as the Auld Clay Biggin'.

Born in 1759, Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is the author of, among many other pieces, the popular New Years song “Auld Lang Syne.” I even get a look at the song's original manuscript, displayed at the museum.

In need of a city fix, I decide to explore Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city. It’s dominated the banks of the River Clyde since becoming Scotland's second largest bishopric in the 12th century. The city grew around the Gothic-style Glasgow Cathedral,the only mainland medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland – it’s also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow, or St. Mungo after the saint who built it and whose tomb can be visited here.

Then I join the throngs of people visiting Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Since opening in 1901, Kelvingrove has become the most visited museum in the UK outside of London. Financed by the 1888 International Exhibition, one story goes that it was mistakenly built back to front, and the architect committed suicide when he learned of the error.

Heading out of the bustling city to Pollok Country Park, I find myself gazing at European paintings from the likes of Degas, Rembrandt and Cézanne at the Burrell Collection of Fine Art. A gift to the city from Sir Walter Burrell in 1944, the Burrell Collection opened in 1983. Burrell's only stipulation when he gave £450,000 to build the gallery was it be situated out of the city surrounded by nature. Following his wishes, the museum was eventually located in a park about three miles from the city centre. With over 9,000 items, it's impossible to digest everything at the Burrell in one go, but I hit up some of the highlights in collections from ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Next I head for the hills. Getting off the plane in Inverness, home of the Loch Ness Monster, it's easy to see the Scottish Highlands offer a completely different view of the country. Secretly hoping for a Nessie sighting, I am unable to resist spending some time searching for mysterious ripples in the waters of Loch Ness. Finally, I give up and separate myself from droves of tourists to head further up the coast.

It is in these more remote areas of the country that Scottish culture of today and yesterday collide. I take in the impressive castles that occupy Scotland's rugged coastline, from the Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness to the Dunvegan Castle and the Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Looking out across the ocean in the northern Highlands, it doesn't seem possible that a beautiful place could have such a violent history. However, Viking war galleys once roved the waters, and, later, in the 15th century, Gaelic clans capable of threatening Scottish kings occupied the region.

But it's not until I pay a visit to the Calanis standing stones at the Isle of Arran that I feel I am on truly ancient ground. The 50 stones have withstood the tests of time. Arranged in the shape of a cross, they are are over 5000 years old and were only excavated during the early 1980s. The tallest of the stones towers a couple meters above me at a height of about 4 meters.

Although the stones' main intended purpose will likely remain unknown, it's been theorised they were erected as a calendar system based on moon placement.

Taking off to Scotland's east coast, I find myself in the Athens of the North: Edinburgh and Scotland's capital since 1437. My gaze immediately falls on the fortress constructed on a massive piece of volcanic rock, dominating the city's skyline.

Edinburgh Castle existed first as a fort during the Iron Age, and it wasn't until the reign of David II in the mid 1300s that the castle began to appear as it does today. Wandering around within the castle walls, I come across the city's oldest building; St. Margaret's Chapel, built by David I in the 1100s, is dedicated to his mother, Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093.

To ensure I take in all of the big sights, I walk the Royal Mile Royal Mile. Established after David I founded the Abbey of Holyrood in the royal park, it links Holyrood with Edinburgh Castle.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, farther down the street, is the Queen's official Scottish residence. Built in 1498 by James IV, Mary, Queen of Scots, lived and was crowned in the palace, and her Italian secretary David Rizzio was stabbed within the walls. Holyrood has survived its dark past, though, and is used today for mostly State ceremonies and entertaining royal guests.

I don't miss visiting some of Edinburgh's main religious icons. First, I go to St. Giles Cathedral, founded in the 1120s when the royal family was attempting to spread the Catholic religion throughout the lowlands. The church's over two hundred memorials honouring distinguished Scots and Scottish soldiers bring into perspective who shaped Scotland into what it is today.

I also get a look at the Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by the Da Vinci Code. Before Dan Brown mentioned it in his best-selling book, the Chapel was a quiet place of worship, founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair. Then, after the book and movie were released, it suddenly became a prime tourist attraction. Although still a beautiful structure, Rosslyn's celebrity status attracts numerous tourists every day and threatens to lessen its charm.

The museum selection in Edinburgh is impressive, and I find two huge museums stand out above the rest. The National Gallery of Scotland had its founding stone laid by Prince Albert in 1850 and was opened to the public in 1859. Having undergone a major restoration, the museum was reopened in 2003 and has since held many prominent exhibitions. Browsing through the museum's many galleries, I realise I'm seeing the largest collection of European paintings in the country and the most Scottish paintings in the world.

Another museum that I need more than a day to fully explore is the Museum of Scotland, with its vast collections, high roof over the main hall and seventh-floor roof terrace that looks out across the city to Edinburgh Castle.

There I find out more about the Scottish people, culture and land than I ever knew existed. Opened in 1998, the museum contains items from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Museum. I travel through Scotland's geological history, which tells the story of Scotland's people and their achievements to create a bridge from the country's beginning into the 21st century.

My quick online excursion was a nice break from reality and offered further insight into Scotland, which I formerly knew just as the home of plaid kilts and the legend of Nessie. What it really did, though, was make me want to visit the country on foot rather than simply through a computer screen. Hopefully I'll be able to do so before heading home in May, and then maybe I'll be able to form a first-hand opinion of what Scotland means to me.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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The Great Huckster: Boris Johnson’s reckless distortions of history

As a scholar of Churchill, Boris Johnson could have articulated a constructive vision for Britain and Europe. Instead, he wilfully manipulates and distorts the historical record.

This month, 76 years ago, the defeated British Expeditionary Force was making for the Channel ports. Thanks to the ferocious resistance put up by the garrison at Calais, and Hitler’s hesitation, the bulk of the men were safely taken off the beaches at Dunkirk to fight another day. Whatever their private feelings during those terrible hours may have been, most of them knew even then that they would return to Europe to finish the job.

Their forefathers had been intervening in Europe for as long as anyone could remember. From Shakespeare’s Henry V through to Elizabeth’s support for the Dutch revolt, the Second Hundred Years War against Louis XIV, the French Revolution and Napoleon, and the First World War, London had always been profoundly invested in the continent. Defending the “liberties of Europe” and thus British freedoms was what Englishmen and Britons did. It was part of what they were.

In early June 1944 – on D-Day – the British, Americans and Canadians hurled themselves into northern France as their ancestors had done since the late Middle Ages. At least one British officer tried to inspire his men that morning as the landing craft approached the strongly defended beaches by reading out Henry V’s speech before Harfleur, in which Shakespeare has him exhort the men, “once more unto the breach”. The film version of the play was released that same year, dedicated to the “commando and airborne troops of Great Britain”. In the popular mind, these Englishmen and their North American descendants were part of the continuity of a European story that went back to the medieval English empire in France.

Some of those liberating Europe thought that they could not simply return to “business as usual” after the war. One of them was the later Conservative prime minister Ted Heath, the man who took Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973. He first defended Liverpool as an anti-aircraft gunner and then took the fight to Hitler as an artillery man during the campaign in north-west Europe. Over the course of the next 11 months, Heath and his comrades fought their way across the traditional battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries, including the Walcheren swamps in which their ancestors had been mired in Napoleonic times; and through western Germany into the centre of the Reich. They were to stay there, at the heart of Europe, for some 60 years. They created a stable European order, based on Nato and what was to become the European Union, which remains with us to this day.

Now the Brexit stalwart Boris Johnson, my fellow historian, claims that it was all in vain. “The European Union,” he says, “is an attempt to do what Hitler wanted by different methods.” Worse still, the EU is a German plot, whose currency, the euro, was “intended by the Germans” to “destroy” Italian manufacturing and generally grind the faces of its unfortunate members. Johnson has also invoked the spirit of Churchill in support of his arguments. He has since doubled down on his remarks and has received support from other members of the Brexit camp, such as Iain Duncan Smith, though not apparently from more informed figures such as Michael Gove. Unfortunately, Johnson’s claims are as historically wrong as it is possible to be, comparable in their crassness only to his predecessor as London mayor Ken Livingstone’s suggestion that Hitler supported Zionism.

Far from supporting European political unity, Hitler was violently and explicitly opposed to the idea. This was partly because it was proposed by his opponents on the “left” of the Nazi Party, such as the Strasser brothers. They belonged to the “anti-imperialist” wing of the Nazi Party, which wanted a pan-European front against the Jews and the British empire. Hitler’s hostility to the European project was also in part due to a racial antipathy to the half-Japanese Richard, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the author of the widely discussed book Pan-Europa (1923). One way or the other, Hitler condemned the Pan-Europa movement as “a fantastical, historically impossible childishness”, which would be no more than a “Jewish protectorate”.

Nor did he hold back with his alternative view of what the continent should look like. “The solution,” he wrote, “cannot be Pan-Europa, but rather a Europe of free and independent national states, whose spheres of interest are separate and clearly delineated.” Comparisons involving Hitler are usually odious but if one is going to draw parallels, his view of European integration then was much closer to that of the Brexiters today than that of the advocates of the European Union.

Moreover, the European project did not originate in the Nazis’ attempt to mobilise the continent on their behalf but rather in the resistance movement against Hitler. Take Sicco Mansholt, who hid Dutch resisters on his farm during the war, at great personal risk. He subsequently became the Dutch minister for agriculture and one of the fathers of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Take Altiero Spinelli, the Italian anti-fascist who spent ten years in Mussolini’s prisons. It was there, in June 1941, at the height of Hitler’s power, that he secretly wrote his draft manifesto For a Free and United Europe.

Take Paul-Henri Spaak, later prime minister of Belgium, first president of the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community – the forerunner of the EU – and secretary-general of Nato. He was forced to make a daring escape from wartime Europe in the false bottom of a lorry in order to carry on the struggle against Hitler in exile. Indeed, across Europe there were thousands of men and women who fought, died, were imprisoned or tortured because they believed in a free and united Europe. To suggest that they were trying to achieve the same thing as Hitler by different methods is an outrageous slur on their memory. If Johnson ever makes it to the top of the Conservative Party, and thence to No 10, he will have a lot of explaining and apologising to do in Europe.

***

As if all this were not bad enough, Boris Johnson’s invocation of Churchill flies in the face of everything we know of the great man’s attitude to the European project. To be sure, he began as a Eurosceptic. When army reforms were proposed in 1901 to support the creation of a substantial land force on the continent, the young Winston Churchill was one of the few MPs to oppose them on the grounds that the navy, rather than the army, was of crucial importance to British security. Writing in the Morning Post, Churchill argued that “history” and “geography” showed that the British empire was “essentially commercial and marine”, and had been defended by armies of foreigners.

As the German threat loomed large, however, he changed his mind. Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, told the Australians and New Zealanders in April 1913 that Europe was “where the weather came from”. It was the terrible storm of the First World War that caused Churchill not only to believe in the centrality of Europe but in the need for European – or at least continental European – unity.

In May 1930, the president of the Pan-Europa Union, the former French prime minister Aristide Briand, made a formal proposal for a “European federal union” based on a “European conference” with an executive to co-ordinate economic and military co-operation. The British government of the time rejected the surrender of sovereignty involved but many were sympathetic to the idea of continental European union under liberal auspices. The arch-imperialist Leo Amery, secretary of state for the colonies and later a powerful critic of appeasement, was a strong admirer of Coudenhove and his projects, which he regarded as the extension of Anglo-Saxon principles to the continent.

Likewise, Churchill, then chancellor of the Exchequer, told parliament in June 1925 that he hoped that one could “weave Gaul and Teuton so closely together economically, socially and morally as to prevent the occasion of new quarrels and make old antagonisms die in the realisation of mutual prosperity and interdependence”. Then, he continued, “Europe could rise again”. Churchill did not believe, however, that Britain should be part of any continental political union. “We are with Europe, but not of it,” he wrote in 1930. “We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.”

In mid-June 1940, however, as western Europe buckled under the Nazi onslaught, Churchill went a step further. He made an unsuccessful offer of union with France – involving joint citizenship and a common government – designed to lock the French into the war effort against Germany or, failing that, to secure their fleet. The Nazi threat was so existential, in other words, that it justified the surrender, or at least the pooling, of British sovereignty.

When the threat of invasion passed, Churchill returned to the theme of continental European integration. In October 1942, he “look[ed] forward to a United States of Europe in which barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised. He “hope[d] to see the economy of Europe studied as a whole”, and the establishment of a council of “ten units, including the former Great Powers [and thus presumably Britain], with several confederations – Scandinavian, Danubian, Balkan, etc, which would possess an international police and be charged with keeping Prussia disarmed”.

Churchill returned to the subject immediately after the war, as the Soviet threat menaced Europe. In a speech at Zurich University in September 1946, he urged the continent to “unite”, with Britain supporting the project from the outside. Once again, including the Germans was central to his conception. Churchill urged no less than the full political union of the continent in a “kind of United States of Europe” under the “principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter”. He again praised the work of Hitler’s bugbear, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi’s “Pan-European Union”.

Churchill demanded an “act of faith”, beginning with “a partnership between France and Germany”, assembling around them the states of Europe “who will and . . . can” join such a union. Its purpose was clear, namely “to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.”

Moreover, Churchill argued, “The ancient states and principalities of Germany, freely joined together for mutual convenience in a federal system, might each take their individual place among the United States of Europe.” In short, the new polity was designed to solve not merely the European question but the German problem, the two being one and the same. Once again, Churchill conceived of this United States of Europe alongside but not including the United Kingdom and the British “Commonwealth of Nations”, that is, the empire. Instead, he believed that Britain should be one of the “sponsors of the new Europe”.

Churchill’s attitude to continental European union was, unlike Hitler’s, highly positive. For Johnson to suggest, therefore, that he is donning the mantle of Churchill to prevent the current European Union from achieving Hitler’s aims through other means is a complete travesty of the historical truth.

Far from being intended to promote German power, the European Union was designed to contain it, or at least to channel it in the right direction. Contrary to what Johnson suggests, the euro was not planned by Germany to subjugate Italian industry or any other European economy. It was insisted on by the French to decommission the deutschmark, which they described as Germany’s “nuclear weapon”. Likewise, the Germans are not incarcerating the Greeks in their European prison: Greeks are desperate not to be released back into the “freedom” of the drachma and the corrupt national politics that they joined “Europe” to escape. If there is one thing worse than being dominated by Germany in the European Union, evidently, it is not being in the EU at all.

Boris Johnson may not have known the details of Hitler’s attitude to European integration, or the European sympathies of many resisters, but he is very well informed about Churchill and Europe. His ignorance is thus not just a matter of making mistakes; we all make those as historians. Nor is it simply a matter of these mistakes being, like bank errors, in favour of one’s own argument. To say that Johnson knows better is not a figure of speech: he has shown in print that he does. His recent book, The Churchill Factor, contains a very balanced account of Churchill’s position on Europe, including most of the statements listed above.

In making his arguments, Johnson is not appealing to the baser instincts of the electorate; it is far worse than that. The deeply ingrained British instinct to fight European tyranny is not base but fine. What Johnson and those who defend his rhetoric have done is to take something virtuous and pervert it. The European Union is not, as we have seen, the continuation of Hitlerism by other means and to suggest so is blatant manipulation.

The shame of it is that there is a perfectly plausible Eurosceptic argument on its own merits. It was well stated by Michael Gove at the start of the campaign. It insists on the historical distinctiveness of the United Kingdom, whose history does indeed set it apart from the rest of the continent. It makes the case for a reform of the EU. It rejects the scaremongering of “Project Fear”, on the cogent grounds that the United Kingdom has the political, economic and military weight to prevail even without the stabilisers of the EU. It scorns President Obama’s impertinent warning that Britain would have to “get to the back of the queue” for a trade deal after Brexit, with a reminder that Britain and her empire defied Nazi Germany for two years before the Americans joined the fray, when Hitler declared war on them (not vice versa). One does not have to accept every detail of this discourse to feel its force. Uniquely among the democratic European powers, the United Kingdom can “stand alone” if it must or wants to.

The Achilles heel of the Brexit campaign, however, is that it has no viable vision for continental Europe. Even Gove falls down here, as his idea of a British departure unleashing a “democratic liberation” of the continent is pure fantasy. It seems odd to have to explain this to Brexiters but Britain really is special. Casting off the bonds of Brussels will not emancipate mainland Europe but let loose the nationalist and xenophobic demons tamed by the integration project. This is clear when we look at the rise of radical anti-European parties in France, Hungary, Austria, Germany and many other parts of Europe as the European project fragments. These developments should not surprise anyone who knows the history of mainland Europe before the mid-20th century and to a considerable sense beyond.

***

 

Most of continental Europe had failed before 1945 and even now the European Union is only failing better. Unlike virtually every other European state, which has at some point or other been occupied and dismembered, often repeatedly, England and the United Kingdom have largely – with very brief exceptions – been subjects of European politics, never merely objects. In this sense, too, she is exceptional. Yet this should not be an occasion for British triumphalism. Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 23 June, the European Union is not an enemy of the United Kingdom. It should best be understood as a modern version of the old Holy Roman Empire; hapless and officious, perhaps, but not malign. It needs help. The failure of the European project and the collapse of the current continental order would be not only a catastrophic blow to the populations on the far side of the Channel but also to the United Kingdom, which would be
directly exposed to the resulting disorder, as it always has been.

In short, the Brexit camp in general and Boris Johnson in particular are missing a great opportunity in Europe. A student and partisan of Winston Churchill, the former mayor of London was qualified to articulate a constructive vision for Britain and the continent. He has failed to understand that the only safe way that Britain can exit from the European Union is not through Brexit – whose consequences for mainland Europe would be dire – but through Euroexit; that is, a Churchillian political union of the continent in close co-operation with the UK.

Instead, in addition to their distortion of the historical record, Johnson and the Brexit camp are committing the cardinal sin of making a decision before they need to. The European Union is not, sadly, a United States of Europe, even though it needs to become one to survive, and is becoming less like one every day. If and when it musters the strength for full political union, there will be plenty of time to leave. Meanwhile, the EU needs all the support that Britain can give it from within.

In 1940, the British forces had been defeated and retreat was the only option. The situation could not be more different today. This is no time to head for the beaches in what will be a legislative Dunkirk of epic proportions, with incalculable consequences not so much for Britain as for the rest of the continent. Unlike in 1940, the United Kingdom is not being forced out of Europe. It has hardly begun to fight there, unless shooting oneself in the foot through Brexit counts as combat. The battle in Britain today is a distraction from the great struggle on the mainland. There is much work to be done in Europe. It is time the British stop tearing themselves apart and return unto the breach once more.

Brendan Simms is a NS contributing writer. His latest book is “Britain’s Europe: a Thousand Years of Conflict and Co-operation” (Allen Lane). He is president of the Project for Democratic Union

This article first appeared in the 19 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Huckster