Siol nan Gaidheal
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Siol nan Gaidheal (or in English, Seed of the Gael or Progeny of the Gael; pronounced [ˈʃiəl̪ˠ nəŋ ˈkɛː.əl̪ˠ][notes 1]) was and apparently still is an extremist Scottish nationalist organisation formed in 1978. In the 1980s it merged with the 1320 Club, another radical nationalist group whose founders included paramilitary Frederick Boothby.
SnG were anathema to mainstream nationalism: Scottish National Party leader Gordon Wilson denounced them as "proto-fascists" in the 1980s. With the rise in support for Scottish independence in the 2000s and 2010s, the group has been reinvented as an extremist, ethnic nationalist organisation, threatening violence against supporters of the Union with England, denouncing Unionists as traitors to Scotland, and taking part in violent protests. From its foundation, it had a keen interest in the theatrics of the independence movement, and it's not clear that the membership levels are as high as the noise it sometimes produces.
The Scottish independence movement has never had the same tradition of violent revolt seen in Ireland from Wolfe Tone through independence and civil war and beyond. After the 1916 Easter Rising, William Gillies had founded Fianna na hAlba (Sons of Scotland) with the intention of a similar military revolt to establish an independent Scotland, but it soon faded away, after discouragement from Irish Republican leader Michael Collins. The flowering of Scottish nationalism in the 1920s and 30s was largely peaceful and politically unsuccessful, while Siol nan Gaidheal arose out of the next, again largely peaceful, period of agitation for independence that began in the late 1960s.
SnG were founded in the late 1970s by Tom Moore, a Scot who spent his childhood in the USA; it was the era of the first referendum on Scottish devolution and the midst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Its members were inspired by Irish nationalism, particularly after the failure of the referendum, and organised parades with swords and Highland dress while speaking of armed rebellion. Early on, it appeared to have links with Freemasonry, Jacobitism, and other eccentric ideas, but it hardened into a more focused nationalism.
In 1982 they marched on the Conservative Party Scottish Conference in Perth, carrying flags and Roman-style eagle banners, and attempted to overrun Margaret Thatcher's car. In the 1980s SnG were focused around a newsletter called Firinn Albannach (Scottish Truth).
Some members formed Arm nan Gaidheal (Army of the Gael), a short-lived paramilitary wing, whose members were involved in incendiary bomb attacks on electricity substations. SnG and AnG were only two of a number of extremist nationalist groups formed around the same time, which also included the Scottish Nationalist Liberation Army, founded by ex-soldier Adam Busby, which launched a letter-bombing campaign in 1983 and occasionally revived since then.
In 1982 SnG merged with the 1320 Club. The latter was a nationalist organisation founded in 1967 by figures including the controversial poet and nationalist campaigner Hugh MacDiarmid and the nationalist campaigner Frederick Boothby. Boothby served in the British Army during World War Two. He became interested in Scottish nationalism in the 1950s and founded newsletter Sgian Dubh (named after a type of ceremonial knife) in 1963 before co-founding the 1320 Club. He also separately formed the Army of the Provisional Government, a paramilitary organisation which progressed in the mid-1970s from bomb hoaxes and vandalism to a genuine bomb campaign against power and oil installations and a botched bank robbery. The surprisingly light prison sentence he received for his crimes fuelled suspicions that he was an informant for the intelligence services.
The 1320 Club was regarded with suspicion by many for having a secret membership list. It promoted abstentionism towards the Westminster parliament, i.e. that Scottish nationalists elected as MPs should not take up their seats in parliament (this policy was shared by Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland). Members of the 1320 Club had also advocated violent action in certain circumstances, which led to accusations of fascism and a ban on members of the mainstream Scottish National Party (SNP) also being members of the 1320 Club.
The 1320 Club promoted a conspiracy theory about the Stone of Scone which was stolen from London in the 1950s; according to nationalist legend the stone while in the possession of its "liberators" was swapped with a fake that was returned to London while the true stone remained in Scotland.
As a result of the merger with the 1320 Club, members of Siol nan Gaidheal were likewise banned from SNP membership from 1982.
Its fortunes wavered later in the 1980s: it announced it had disbanded in the mid-1980s but in 1988 had apparently reconstituted itself and was claiming 300 members. It was eclipsed by other unconnected organisations such as Settler Watch, founded by Sonja Cameron, which vandalised the houses of English people moving to Scotland. (The German-born Cameron, aka Sonja Vathjunker, was briefly suspended from the Scottish National Party in the 1990s after a criminal conviction when hundreds of Settler Watch posters were found in her car, but in 2017 she was considered a reformed person by the SNP leadership and considered as an SNP candidate for Stirling Council in 2017.)
One former SnG member, Andrew McIntosh, took things even further. He became a member of the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA) and was jailed for 12 years for his part in a bombing campaign; he hanged himself in jail in 2004 after arrest on firearms charges. The SNLA also made various false claims of responsibility for deaths and disasters, and there are rumours that they were agents provocateurs funded by the British intelligence services. Other SnG members were involved with the Scottish Republican Socialist Party, which later joined the Scottish Socialist Party.
Siol nan Gaidheal was re-established as a largely online organisation by Jackie Stokes in 1997. Stokes' death in 2001 weakened the organisation, but it continued in some form. In 2006 it held a party conference for the first time since 1992.
Their proposals for an independent nation are far from the social democratic norm in Scottish politics. The have called for compulsory national service, and for a defence force using chemical and biological weapons if nuclear weapons prove too expensive. They have also criticised higher tax rates in Scotland.
Nationalism returned to the Scottish public agenda following the 2007 election victory of the SNP, and particularly in the run-up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. The group has been involved with mainstream nationalist protests, providing stewarding at a 2013 march and participating in the pro-Independence march on 5 May 2018. It claims to be a "Scottish Cultural and Fraternal Organisation", not a political party, which will leave politics to others, but seek to restore "hope, democracy, wealth, health, and pride" in Scots.
It was reported in 2014 that SnG members were disrupting speeches and meetings by pro-Union campaigners including Labour Party politician Jim Murphy. Bruce Ogilvie, a SnG activist, boasted that they had followed Murphy around for "in-your-face confrontations". Less violently, in 2015 they hijacked Remembrance Day memorials by adding white poppies to honour Scotland's dead.
The organisation reportedly believes that Scottish citizenship should be based on "Scottish ethnicity", unlike the SNP which believes residency should be sufficient. SnG has stated: "Scots who act as colonial minions and administrators are traitors, as are those who participate in an English parliament."
It is unclear exactly how powerful the organisation is; in 2014 the slightly-less-extreme nationalist Wings Over Scotland mocked press reports of the organisation and claimed it only had one member.
One of the most prominent figures in the organisation is Bruce Ogilvie, who was a member of Settler Watch in the 1990s. He has a long history with the Scottish National Party, being involved in its Bannockburn branch in 2005, and being photographed with then SNP leader Alex Salmond in 2009.
In the sort of bizarre court case that often follows fringe extremists around, in January 2019 Ogilvie was acquitted of starting a fight at a 2017 event celebrating the anniversary of Scotland's victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. It was alleged that he had started a fight with Irish attendees, but at the court case it emerged that the fight had actually started between Catalan and Spanish attendees.
The current (2010s) incarnation seems fond of mystical woo and pseudohistory, celebrating the Knights Templar. SnG's website compares the suppression of the Templars with that of the Scottish nation: "the once proud Knights Templar found themselves defenceless in the face of cruel persecution, deprived of substance or estate and denigrated by the pan-European sovereign office which had once extended them recognition. Scotland and The Order of Templar Knights have shared the experience of eclipse in all the palpable areas which had once denoted their singular marks of uniqueness." (Unlike the SNP, SnG are opposed to the European Union.)
They claim a strong Templar influence in the campaign for Scottish Independence, from the 19th century Society for the Vindication of Scottish Rights and early 20th century Scottish Home Rule Association, through to the formation of the Scottish National Party and Siol nan Gaidheal itself. They claim that Siol nan Gaidheal is the true descendant of the Knights Templar and "this organisation ... now carries the responsibility of articulating continuing Templar concern for the general condition of Scotland and the eternal charge of serving the nation in spirit and substance; the land, the people and their living culture, no matter the cost."
They entertain some other nationalist pseudohistory beliefs, such as the idea that Scottish Gaelic was not descended from Irish but originated in the west of Scotland alongside Irish; their website suggests that the Brittonic Celtic languages of Britain (Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric) arose from the (allegedly) autochthonic Scottish Gaelic language which they suggest is far more ancient than commonly believed. Not all their arguments with the history books are unwarranted: they support a historically respectable revisionist view of Macbeth and Duncan which holds that Macbeth's villainy was largely made up by Shakespeare and earlier English people.
Their idea of nationalism draws from their ideas about Scottish Gaelic as an ancient and essentially Scottish language, rather than the tongue of the Irish invader or immigrant (the usual historical view). They see Scottish identity as lying not in race but as an ethnic group, which they see as rooted in the Gaelic language of Scotland and the closely related Irish language, and claim a common ethnic identity shared with the Irish (notwithstanding differences in everything from religion to experiences of urbanisation and industrialisation). They are vague about what this ethnic identity actually involves (beyond mentions of democracy and the clan system). Presumably we'll figure it out once we're independent: "The Gaelic nature of our people is there, all be it hidden and subconscious, but ALL Scots are aware of our particular distinctiveness as a people". They utterly reject the civil nationalism of the SNP, and oppose Scottish citizenship for foreign residents, including the English. "We would never condone therefore the inclusion of aliens in any of the institutionalised areas of our cultural process - Education, Health, Defence, Politics and so on"
They view Gaelic language and Celtic culture as essential to Scotland. They have a (historically unsupported) view of the old Celtic culture as democratic and spiritual. The Scottish Gaelic language is essential to the rebirth of Scotland, they believe: "One of the biggest tasks will be to restore Gaelic to its rightful place as the language of Scotland. How can we express our most subtle thoughts and finest feelings in a foreign tongue? Gaelic will scarcely be our language in this generation, not even in the next. But until we have it again on our tongues and in our minds we are not free, and we will produce no immortal literature." Indeed, notwithstanding historical evidence, they are certain that all of Scotland is essentially Gaelic and Celtic (even the Anglic/Cumbric southeast, Pictish northeast, and Norse Orkney and Shetland).
- or if you're lazy/English "sheel nang keh-ull"
- See the Wikipedia article on Siol nan Gaidheal.
- Extreme Scottish nationalists: hunting lapdogs and traitors, Julia Rampen, New Statesman, April 2017
- Anti-English racists terrorising the No campaign in Scotland, Daily Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan, 7 Sep 2014
- Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes People (1952-2002), Timothy Neat, on Google Books
- Knights Templar, Siol nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- See the Wikipedia article on William Gillies.
- Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place, Scott Lyall, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p 149
- Scottish Nationality, Murray G.H. Pittock, p 121
- Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley
- The Hollow Drum: Scotland Since the War, Arnold Kemp, on Google Books
- See the Wikipedia article on Siol nan Gaidheal.
- See the Wikipedia article on Scottish National Liberation Army.
- See the Wikipedia article on Frederick Boothby.
- Settler Watch extremist with links to tartan terrorist gets nod from SNP chiefs to be party's council hopeful, The Daily Record, 17 Feb 2017
- Tartan terrorist's bid for a free Scotland ends at his own hands, The Independent, 22 October 2004
- Security, Siol nan Gaidheal website
- Finance, Siol nan Gaidheal website
- Why SNP arguments are not the end of independence, Paris Gourtsoyannis, The Scotsman, 15 May 2018
- Siol nan Gaidheal website.
- Anti-English extremist group hijacks famous poppy display on the M8 pyramids, Daily Mirror, 11 Nov 2015
- Wings Over Scotland, Twitter, 7 Sep 2014
- Scottish nationalist not guilty of abusive behaviour at Bannockburn clash, The Scotsman, 8 Jan 2019
- Nationalist groups shout sectarian insults each other during Battle of Bannockburn event, The Daily Record, 9 Jan 2019
- Religion, Siol nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- Dunadd, Sion nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- Duncan, Sion nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- Gaelic Civilisation: The Gaelic Soul of Alba, Sion nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- Race, Ethnicity & Nationality, Sion nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019
- Culture, Sion nan Gaidheal website, accessed 11 Jan 2019