Special Section: Scotland 2002

Article excerpt


`... it was not thought consistent with political wisdom, to draw the attention of the Scots to the ancient honours of their independent monarchy' (on the proposal in 1780 to found a Society of Antiquaries for Scotland)

Archaeologia Scotica 1 (1792): iv

From the Parliamentary Union with England of 1707 until the establishment of the new devolved parliament (although still within the Union) in Edinburgh in 1999 under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, Scotland was a nation with a `capital' and its own legal system; neither a colony nor sovereign; an active participant in rather than a victim of 19th-century imperialism (Davidson 2000). Since the Union the writing of the history of Britain has been a more or less political process (Ash 1980: 34), the viewpoint of the historian depending on the individual's position on the meaning and consequences of the Union and on the process of securing the creation of `North Britain' and `South Britain'--`the wider experiment to construct a new genuine British identity which would be formed from the two nations of Scotland and England' (Finlay 1998). A small country sharing a small island with a world power will never have a quiet life (as Pierre Trudeau described Canada's relationship with the USA--`being in bed with an elephant').

To an international audience the Scots' continued irritation with the almost universal equation of Britain=England=Britain probably seems absurd (although I understand Canadians do not much like being taken for citizens of `America')--it certainly mystifies many of our southern neighbours, who have considered being English a privilege to which any sane Briton would aspire. The study of the complex and often contradictory nature of Scottish identity within Britain since the 18th century has produced a vast literature (Murray Pittock's excellent Scottish Nationality (2001) is a readable introduction). You will see from this introduction that the wider issues impact also on archaeology and prehistory.

It is a truism that Scottish identity has to an unhealthy extent been established in that period by opposition to Englishness, and this has not been a positive process (e.g. too easy to blame 'London' for all ills (although, interestingly, in the recent mayoral contest in that city most of the candidates joined together to blame Scotland for London's ills)). However, since the establishment of the Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999 the need to assert difference aggressively seems to have diminished; the two countries appear to be setting out on journeys on different roads to the future (abolishing fees for higher education and paying for care for the elderly, for example). In terms of archaeological organization Scotland would once more or less have followed England, but in 2002 the main body of survey (the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) has not followed its English counterpart (the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England) into the embraces of the main state ancient monuments agencies (Historic Scotland (HS) and English Heritage respectively), but has achieved complete independence of funding and administrative control from HS. The Treasure Trove laws in the two countries reflect very different views of the nature of property (Saville, below), but the Ancient Monuments system is still run by a single `Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979' for Scotland, England and Wales; how long that will remain the case is a matter of conjecture.

However, the impact of the new Parliament on archaeology seems to have been limited as yet, although the clearing of the ground for the construction of the Parliament's new home has occasioned the largest urban excavation in Scotland. The archaeology, particularly on the upstanding urban palace on the site--Queensberry House--has come in for its Share of the gleeful press-criticism of the whole project (e. …