Scotland’s fate Canada’s lesson

A sobering analogy: If Scotland belongs to England do we belong to America?

HUGH MacLENNAN October 1 1973

Scotland’s fate Canada’s lesson

A sobering analogy: If Scotland belongs to England do we belong to America?

HUGH MacLENNAN October 1 1973

Scotland’s fate Canada’s lesson

A sobering analogy: If Scotland belongs to England do we belong to America?


Ever since Washington announced its new economic policies two years ago, such parts of Canada as are political have been living in a trance. This is what often happens to people and nations when they are aware of something new they cannot bear to contemplate because, if they do, they will be confronted with unpleasant decisions they don’t know how to make.

It happened to millions of individuals immediately after the 1929 stock market crash.

Over the centuries it has happened to many a nation — to the United States, for instance, in the decade before the Civil War when the Americans evaded the fact that their country could not endure half-slave and half-free.

And to Britain and France in the 1930s, when neither could endure the idea of another war fought to contain the Germans’ ambitions. Ultimately, in such situations, the new reality strikes home. But first comes the national trance.

Canada today faces no Fort Sumter or blitzkrieg, but unless we soon make up our minds about our future relations with the United States, we will drift or be pushed into such a position that our nation will become a mere territorial expression of American aspirations — as Scotland is a territorial expression of England.

When I was young I often heard people say, “Canada is the Scotland of North America.” Only recently did it occur to me that it might be worthwhile considering the extent to which this is true. There are certainly some obvious parallels. As Scotland is the hard northern cap to the British island, with the rich farmlands and cities of England just below her, so is Can-

“Unless we soon make up our minds about our relations with the United States, we will become a territorial expression of American aspirations — as Scotland is of England.”

ada to the United States. Both countries were gouged by the retreating glaciers, which left them on the subsistence level so far as good farmland was concerned. It also gave them a heritage of spectacular beauty uncrowded by cities and towns, and of this they were both inclined to boast. When one of Boswell’s friends told Dr. Johnson that Scotland had “many wild, noble prospects,” Johnson retorted that Lapland also had wild noble prospects, but that “the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high-road that leads him to England!”

A good many high-roads for a good many years led Canadians into the United States, where most of them maintained a pawky pride in the country they had abandoned. So did the Scotch who went to England. A well-known story has it that when an Edinburgh man returned from a week of business in London and was asked how he liked the English, his reply was, “I don’t rightly ken: I was only meeting the heads of companies and they were all Scots.” (He should have added that these company heads were permanently lost to Scotland, for invariably they sent their sons to English schools and universities.) Still another resemblance is the belief held by Scotsmen and Canadians that they are more moral than their rich southern neighbors. But the most interesting parallels, of course, are political and economic, and here the resemblances are balanced by many important differences.

After centuries of insane clan warfare and unspeakable treacheries on the part of nearly all her leaders, Scotland finally destroyed her independence for good and all when the

chiefs gave the Pretender enough troops to invade England with the purpose of putting him on the throne. After the English had mowed down this feudal army of sword-wielding clansmen at Culloden, they treated the clans with a ruthlessness worthy of Stalin in the Baltic States. Many were hanged, a few were beheaded and thousands were transported to the southern plantations of America.

In spite of a half-century of romantic songs about Bonnie Prince Charlie (“Will ye no come back again?”) once the reprisals ended, the majority of influential Scots agreed that the total knockout of nationalist hopes was the best thing that had ever happened to them.

Having reduced Scottish nationalism to the harmless level of St. Andrew’s Day balls, ceremonial bagpipes and clan tartans, England treated Scotland as a part of herself, to the almost unanimous applause of the urban Scots in the Lowlands. The order she imposed, together with the investments she made in Scottish industry, made possible Scotland’s so-called Golden Age. True, not many Scots participated in it, but the names of some who did are still in the history books of the world: David Hume, James Watt, McAdam and Telford, Adam Smith, Robert Burns, Walter Scott.

But Scotland’s Golden Age was short-lived. Even during its brief flowering the fate of most poor Scots, above all the Highlanders, was as tragic as it was sordid. Their own chiefs, still trying to live in the style of English lords, decided to copy the methods of English industrial farming. In order to turn the glens into massive sheep runs they evicted nearly all the inhabitants, burned their crofts, killed or transported any who resisted them. Tens of thousands of starving Highlanders emigrated to Canada, my own forebears among them, and now their descendants here number several millions, many of them speaking French.

For at least a century these past miseries and betrayals were never spoken of; the pretense was made that the old book was closed and forgotten. But an experience like that can never be forgotten; it lurks underground in the collective unconscious, as Freud proved toward the end of his life. I am convinced that what Freud called “memory traces on the subconscious” have been responsible for Canada’s otherwise bewildering diffidence and humbleness in most of her dealings with the United States. We hold in our collective con-

“We hold in our collective consciousness a memory of Scotland’s loss to England.”

“The evidence is overwhelming that American leaders believe they can make Canada an offer she cannot refuse.”

sciousness a memory of Scotland’s loss to England. It accounts for our profound distrust of any expression of self-confident, rational nationalism. The supreme example of this was Mackenzie King, the grandson of the old Scotch rebel of Upper Canada. King virtually went on all fours to President Franklin Roosevelt and at the end of his life he was given a sizable grant by the Rockefellers.

Now let’s change the key and get down to cases.

Scotland failed not only because her old-time leaders were incompetent and insanely rash and boastful. Above all she failed because she never discovered a single constructive idea that might have made her national survival of value to the rest of mankind.

It is very different here. Though few Canadians dare believe it, Canada today may quite possibly be the best-liked nation in the world. We obstinately refuse to become a melting pot. The kind of federalism we are trying to work out here may have many weaknesses, but it still is a light shining in the darkness of an almost universal tendency to Romanize mankind. Our national survival is of value — but the difficulty is that too many of us either don’t believe this or don’t realize we are in danger.

Nobody in Canada wishes a confrontation with the United States, but it is coming, if in fact it is not already here. The friendly neighbor of the past looks so different under Richard Nixon that millions of its own citizens wonder whether they are still living in the same country. A confrontation between us and the United States is certain because the Americans are demanding it.

I believe this explains the otherwise inexplicable trance that has gripped our political life in the past two years. The symptoms of a nation unwilling to make up its mind popped up all over, but nowhere more obviously than in the grotesque results of last fall’s election. It was paralysis reduced to simple addition and what now is important is not what happened, but why it happened.

A prime minister, who only two years earlier had been the most popular in our history, suddenly became anathema to the press and to a large number of the general public. Pierre Trudeau’s genuine achievements were completely forgotten. What two years earlier had been extolled as his virtues — his candor, his gaiety, his wit, his courage — suddenly all these appeared to be deliberate rudeness, indifference, hardheartedness, arrogance. Certainly Pierre Trudeau made mistakes, but no matter what he had done or failed to do there would still have been a substantial measure of unemployment. It was not because of his government that the voters humili-

ated him. This was proved by the post-election Gallup poll which indicated that a very large majority of Canadians still believed that the Liberals would make the best governors. Why then such a change of feeling about their leader?

I don’t think the historians will find much difficulty in answering that one. Trudeau is the most outspoken leader we have ever had, and in crisis one of the most decisive. Remember his response to the challenge of the American oil companies in the Arctic? His decision to recognize the People’s Republic of China? His leadership during the FLQ crisis? For all these things the bulk of the world’s press applauded him at the time. So did we, or at least the majority of us. And then we turned on him. But we did not turn him completely out of office. We merely paralyzed him. If the collective public mind was so sure he was the detriment and detritus the trendy gossip made him out to be, why did it not give Robert Stanfield a clear mandate? Why did it hold the NDP down to its usual 25 plus seats?

Politics are almost invariably irrational and it is in the area of the unconscious, as Mackenzie King knew so well, that the really important events of political life have their genesis. Was it that we feared Trudeau? Feared that a man like him might break our trance vis-à-vis the United States just as he had broken Quebec’s trance vis-à-vis English Canada?

From 1960 until, I would say, the end of 1970, the key to Canadian politics was Quebec. Living as I do in that province, I think I can say with some certainty that so far as Quebec is concerned the strange and exciting trance of the Sixties is over. I believe Quebec proved this by voting overwhelmingly — but overwhelmingly — for Confederation in 1972. Whatever the rest of Canada may have thought, to the average Québécois Confederation was what that entire election had been about. They declared that they wished to stay in if they could. But Québécois in general seem oblivious to the inevitability of a general Canadian crisis in regard to the United States and yet everything in their history should prepare them for confrontation and defeat.

In fact all four ethnic groups that came together to create Confederation — the French, the Loyalists, the Scotch and the Irish — were the children of four separate defeats and abandonments. Nearly all Canadians born when I was born had a fear close to taboo of offering to Canada an undivided loyalty. Their forebears had offered a loyalty, pressed down and running over, to weak causes that had been lost from the beginning. What more natural than for a Scotch Canadian to feel that a total commitment of loyalty to Canada, as weak relative to the United States as Scotland had been weak relative to

. . The French, the Loyalists, the Scotch and the Irish came together in Confederation — the childen of four separate defeats and abandonments.”

“Tens of thousands of starving Highlanders emigrated to Canada, my own forebears among them, and now their descendants number several millions.”

England, would end in a personal disaster? Or for a French Canadian to feel the same when he remembered the devotion his forebears had shown to an indolent and indifferent France? Or for a Loyalist Canadian to remember the price his ancestors paid for supporting the insane George III?

I was 30 years old (and, significantly, had just come to live in Quebec) before I understood that it was the memory traces of these traumatic experiences, imprinted on the subconscious of all four founding ethnic groups, that explained the Canadian fear of admitting a total loyalty to the country where they lived. The French Canadians were absolutely loyal to their Church. English-speaking Canada transferred its absolute loyalty to Great Britain. It was not for Canada’s sake that this country plunged into the two German wars. It was for Britain’s. Or perhaps it was our need of her approval. Where are those old sheet anchors now? The foundations of all our traditional loyalties faded in the 1950s and virtually disappeared in the 1960s. But during this same period, a new element of incalculable strength entered the country — the several million New Canadians who admired Canada as the descendants of the old pioneers had feared to do. It is no accident that New Canadians are among the most outspoken advocates of Canadian independence and the most prideful in their assertion of the nation’s excellence. Who was it that cried out to his fellow-countrymen after that hockey debacle against Russia in the third match of the series? — cried out with tears in his eyes, “We love Canada!” It was Phil Esposito.

Well, if there was one thing we could be sure of in the uncertain time before the Watergate scandal, it was that the leaders of the U.S.A. neither knew nor cared about the causes of Canada’s trance. Having succumbed to Richard Nixon’s terrifying real politik, all they asked of us was that we “share the continent with them,” which in practice would mean giving three quarters of Canada away. It was the same kind of invitation that England presented to Scotland after 1746.

When Nixon, miraculously, found himself caught in his own spider web, Canada once more

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was given a breathing space. At the time I write this, it seems impossible that Nixon will be able to retain his office to the end of his term. But no matter what the short-term results of the Watergate may be, and no matter how encouraging it is to see such a sudden renaissance of American democracy, Nixon’s successor, if not Nixon himself, will be faced with the same concern about Canada’s water and energy. I still wonder how many Canadians yet understand why this continental sharing is so important to Washington, and why Washington’s economic and energy planners have Canada so much on their minds.

Beneath all the propaganda and show biz surrounding Nixon’s dubious “peace with honor” ending to the Vietnam war is a hard fact of incalculable historical importance. The United States is withdrawing from its imperialist adventure in the Far East, and for Canada this means that we are now alone with our neighbor as we never have been before. Our neighbor is still the world’s richest country and may even be still the strongest, though this latter is highly doubtful But there is no doubt at all that her appetite for resources is more Gargantuan

than ever and that her need for profitable investment has not abated. The evidence is now overwhelming that American leaders believe they can make Canada an offer she can’t refuse. They are also likely to make it in terms most astutely calculated to exploit their long experience with Canadian diffidence and guilt neurosis whenever negotiations between our two countries occur.

One of the most typical spokesmen on present Canadian-American relations is George Ball, whose career has been a fascinating one. He has been a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and was an undersecretary of state during much of the Kennedy-Johnson years, in which time he visited Ottawa and hinted to our government that if it made any attempt to modify the almost total American monopoly over our periodical journalism such a move would be regarded in Washington as an act more hostile than shipping arms to Cuba. When our government promptly collapsed and shelved the O’Leary Report, Mr. Ball must have drawn an obvious conclusion. Threaten, and Canada will faint.

Ball is now a senior partner of Leh-

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man Brothers, the famous New York investment bankers, and Canada is still on his mind. “A wave of economic nationalism,” he told a seminar of “top U.S. executives” early in 1973, “is preventing Canada from taking a reasonable approach to trade negotiations with the United States... In a country like Canada, where foreign investments and capital have assumed a particularly large role in domestic life, there is concern — almost panic — that Americans are playing too dominant a role.”

Elsewhere he said, “Canada, I have long believed, is fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable . . . The great land mass to the south exerts an enormous gravitational attraction . . .” Might I interpolate the comment that the even greater land mass to the north has now begun to exert a most alarming gravitational attraction on the overpopulated smaller land mass to the south?

But let Mr. Ball continue: “Sooner or later, commercial imperatives will bring about a free movement of all goods back and forth across our long border, and when that occurs, or even before it does, it will become unmistakably clear that countries with economies so inextricably intertwined must also have free movement of the other vital factors of production — capital, services and labor.”

Mr. Ball’s clincher, which he repeats in a variety of different contexts, is this: “I wonder if the Canadian people will be prepared indefinitely to accept, for the psychic satisfaction of maintaining a separate national and political identity, a per capita income less than threefourths of ours.”

There, my friends, is the bait — no doubt offered in complete sincerity — and it is the same bait England offered the Lowland Scotch after she lost the American colonies and had yet to consolidate her second empire in India, Asia and Africa. The Scotch swallowed it whole, and the long-term results of that ingestion should be remembered by Canadian voters and decision makers today. After a temporary prosperity, Scotland went into a long decline, for a reason painful to any Canadian to contemplate. The ablest men left Scotland for southern England where the fields were greener, and this brain-drain was perhaps the greatest loss of all. How many Scotsmen gained greatly in living standards because of the total economic and cultural union of the two countries? A mere handful. That is why so many emigrated, why most of Scotland’s land area is now almost empty.

It could be the same in Canada. Yes, I can see Toronto’s Golden Mile gaining by a union with the U.S.A., but only providing the gain suits the stronger competing cities south of the border. If the production of automobiles must be

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curtailed, as surely it must in view of diminishing oil resources, will Oakville and Oshawa be spared if Detroit and other American cities are desperate for customers? All the way down the line you can see what will happen. Indeed, you can see a lot of it happening right now — and not only here, but south of the border as well.

Does the average citizen of the Deep South, of upper New England, the Dakotas, Utah, New Mexico enjoy a standard of living equal to Mr. Ball’s glowing image? Of course not. But more important is the question of our priceless resources, and the knowledge that we are trustees for them, and the equally clear knowledge that the present American compulsion is to squander them for the sake of an affluence that has already made the United States one of the world’s most unhappy lands.

I could therefore pray that at last we abandon our diffidence and built-in fears. If we cannot stand up for this country now, not with hostility but with dignity, and pull in our belts if we have to, we will deserve our fate. We may well go down in the end. We may even have become so soft that many of us want to go down.

Yet this I cannot believe of all of us, not after having crossed Canada once again this past summer from coast to coast, seen the aurora over Labrador, the clear sun making Lac Saint-Jean as blue as the mid-Atlantic, wandered through the lush farmlands of Ontario’s Grand River Valley, looked down from 35,000 feet at the Red River delta extending itself still farther under the waters of Lake Winnipeg, stood beside the Kootenay as it flows home into British Columbia after its journey in the United States and talked with a youth on the top of Anarchist Mountain who grinned and said, “Isn’t it just great!” He was talking about the land, of course, and his cry of happiness poses a question. The land is certainly great, but will we, I wonder, be too small for it? ■