If a Welshman’s language is at the heart of his national identity then, linguistically, Scotland must suffer from a broken heart. In 1138 David I fought the English at the Battle of the Standard leading an army made up of “Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians, men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Galwegians and Scots.” Historians agree that these disparate peoples created a united national identity during the Wars of Independence. Yet at Stirling Bridge the spearmen most definitely did not shout “FREEDOM!” – Gaelic, Scots, French and Norse would have been heard; none of which were collinear to the realm. In fact, anthropologist Anthony Cohen says that Scottish identity did not arise from a unifying Scottish language but from the certainty that whoever the Scots were they were most definitely “not-English.” Thus, the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s birth certificate, conceived national identity as ultimately that which was distinct from England.
Early modern attempts to form a national linguistic identity for this not-England failed for the precise reason that, unlike Welsh, neither Gaelic nor Scots has historically been spoken all over Scotland. Mirroring the religious aspects of Hindi and Urdu, Gaelic and Scots, according to Celtic historian Victor Durkacz, came to represent respectively a Highland Catholic and a Lowland Protestant identity. Neither encompassed Scotland the nation; thus, civic national identity, as exemplified by the SNP, though not-English in design is thoroughly English-speaking in character. Because Scotland’s not-Englishness was asserted through the medium of English, the poet Edwin Muir claimed “Scotland can only create a national literature by writing in English.” Neither Scots nor Gaelic was a feasible means to form a modern Scottish national identity that bridged the Highland line. Even Hugh MacDiarmid, ardent proponent of Lallans as a synthetic national Scots, wrote:
“Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?”
French, Spanish and Chinese national identity was built from a Platonic form of the language. In the same way, in 1921, the Irish Free State quickly set about standardizing Gaelic, transforming it into a national language of education. But in Scotland, Standard English united the “multiform” languages of Scotland into a united not-English national identity. Scotland proves the historical picture is not always as simple as that of French or Mandarin. The Scotsman can know that his language, whether it is Gaelic, Scots or English, is independent of his national identity.