It’s an odd thing to share an island and a nationality with certain groups who exhibit a superficially friendly appearance that feebly disguises an undercurrent of dislike. The origins are often centuries old but have been embellished and enshrined in the regional psyche by romantics who perpetuate selected injustices or injury that, in their eyes, are neither forgivable nor forgettable.

 

The independence referendum brings to a head a boil that has been festering for years and is one that now needs lancing – but it is not without its dangers. Sadly, whatever the Scots decide on 18th September it will be a poorer nation. If one side’s hopes are raised, only to be dashed, or the other side’s fears are ignored, there will be a palpable resentment whose effects will endure for years hence and have divisive consequences.

 

The Darien project was an attempt by the then Kingdom of Scotland to become a world-wide trading nation by establishing a colony, called Caledonia, on the Isthmus of Darien (modern day Panama). The first expedition arrived in 1698 and letters sent home created a false impression of well-being. But poor planning and provision, weak leadership, epidemics, food shortages and disease assailed it from the outset. The second and last expedition, in 1699, fared no better. The colony was besieged by the area’s dominant power, Spain, and finally abandoned in 1700. Darien had been backed by about 20-25% of all the money circulating in Scotland, much of it the wealth of nobles, landowners, town councils and tradesmen, most of whom were ruined. Its failure came as a shock and, nearly bankrupt, Scotland’s only practical course was to turn to England for salvation.

 

The Union of 1707 was seen as a humiliation for Scotland in that it had to admit its dreams of empire were over. However, it could not have known that, in concert with The Auld Enemy, undreamt of opportunities were yet to be realized – and it would take full advantage.

 

History is littered with articulate messiahs who believe they can lead their people to some imaginary utopia. The difference today is the educated, informed and connected population who could decide that, like their forefathers, hard headed realism counts more than a misty-eyed view of a promised but highly speculative future. Guaranteed this time is that the promoters of Darien 2 will have ensured they are not among the losers if the Scots say ‘Yes’ and it subsequently goes the way of the original.

Photo by tricky (rick harrison)

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