While The Nation is only half as old as the Scottish and English Acts of Union—we were founded in 1865, the United Kingdom in 1707—we have, in our century and a half, taken great interest in affairs north of the River Tweed. In the winter of 1871, a heated debate on Scotch linguistics broke out on our letters page, with Angus Croupar of Chicago going so far as to call Thomas Davidson of St. Louis “hypocritical.” The Nation’s editors were forced to step in: “We know too much of the tenacity of the Scotch character to let two Scots carry a discussion of this kind any further in our columns.”
In the fall of 1878, the England-residing Henry James—a frequent contributor of travel essays and art criticism to The Nation, beginning with our first issue—wrote a two-part dispatch from Scotland. In the first half, James describes a walk up Edinburgh’s Calton Hill and then back down into the city.
Concluding the essay, James writes: “There is nothing invidious in saying that an American coming into Scotland after a residence in England cannot fail to be struck with the democratic tone of the common people. They address you as from equal to equal, they are not in the least cap-in-hand, and they are frugal—almost miserly—in the use of the ‘sir’…. I have encountered in Scotland but a single sect—the sect whose religion is hospitality.”
In the second dispatch, published two weeks later, James added this memorable line: “There is one advantage which European life will long have over America—the opportunity that it affords for going to picnic in the shadow of ancient castles.”
As the movement for Scottish home rule accelerated toward the end of the nineteenth century—imitating and drawing strength from the more volatile and popular Irish version—The Nation regularly updated its readers about Scotland’s political affairs. In 1887, amid a debate about Scottish autonomy, a Nation correspondent wrote: “There is perhaps a latent element of regret and discontent which no scheme of home rule can remove. Scotland is a nation, if ever there was one, and yet her tie to England, with all that it bestows, has deprived her of some things that belong to a nation.”
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The issue smoldered through most of the twentieth century, only to re-emerge with the discovery of massive oil deposits in the North Sea off Scotland in the late 1960s. In 1976, David Scheffer—then a student of law at Oxford, now a professor at Northwestern—wrote an article for The Nation titled, “Will Britain Break Up?” It mostly focused on the question of devolved powers to Scotland and Wales—finally accomplished, to an extent, in the late 1990s—but also raised several issues central to the current debate on full Scottish sovereignty. It also serves as a good primer on the twentieth-century history of the independence movement.