Stuart McHardy: Scotland’s Future History
‘The whole notion of this book, Scotland’s Future History, is a simple question; what should we be teaching future generations about Scotland’s past?’ During his talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, historian Stuart McHardy leads the audience through his answer to this question, interwoven with bouts of humour (including the occasional Scottish-Glasgow joke) and plentiful righteous outrage. Is the history that we’ve been given fit for purpose?’ According to McHardy, the understanding of Scottish history that we’ve been given today is not the whole picture, and often not the true picture. Although he concedes, ‘all historians are propagandists… this one included’ he believes that much of the history that we’re taught in higher education institutions has become ‘moribund… we need to open it up and become more critical.’
Just one of McHardy’s examples is 18th century Scotland. Depicted by many historians as a very calm, settled period, through his own research, he discovered that in fact it was quite the opposite; there was a low level guerrilla war which continued for almost 10 years. ‘Anybody read about that?’ he continually challenges the audience, only to be greeted with the desired silence. Later, he turns to the Scottish clans; although commonly portrayed in history as using the tribal system, McHardy reveals that this is far from the truth. In fact, the clans were far more egalitarian, far more autonomous; they picked their own chiefs, and indeed, as McHardy points out, these were chiefs, not kings. These are the kinds of discrepancies that McHardy asks us to question. But this is only the tip of iceberg; he believes that there is a whole period of Scottish history missing and that ‘we need an arc, we need a story arc that takes us from within the ice age to today’.
McHardy is not your usual historian; both endearing, ‘I’m lousy on dates… like the anniversary of my wedding’ and provocative ‘from my point of view we should just blow the whole thing [history] up and start again’, he certainly knows how to make history lively. At one point he challenges the audience ‘hands up who’s heard of Thomas Muir?’ and, when met with a show of hands, he yells ‘Brilliant!’ in his strong Scottish accent, and you get the sense you’ve become part of some kind of historical uprising. Which is, of course, exactly what McHardy wants. A born story-teller, he unites you to his goal of re-imagining Scottish history. He calls on the audience to question what we’re learning, saying ‘always be critical, take nothing on trust, make up your own mind. This is what history should be about… it’s almost like we have to tear down the building and start again.’ Radical, passionate and undeniably convincing, McHardy leaves you with the urge to go back to your books, to look a little closer, to question a bit further.
Copies of Scotland’s Future History are available to order here. RRP: £7.99