View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Punch on Scots

In 1707 England and Scotland were joined by the terms of the Treaty of Union, which created a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain. However, by the mid 19th century educated, politically-minded, mostly middle class Scots, had become dissatisfied with the way Scottish affairs were handled by Westminster. Business particular to Scotland was not given enough consideration, Scottish affairs were sometimes derided or dismissed by English MPs, Scotland herself had too few MPs, and the terms ‘England’ and ‘English’ were often used in place of ‘Britain’ and ‘British’, to name a few of the complaints. Some Scots felt that instead of an English Home Secretary, a Scottish Secretary should be appointed to handle Scottish affairs. There were clear signs that Scotland was beginning once again to diverge politically from England and in 1853 the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights was formed to agitate for political reform.

In response to the formation of the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, the London magazine Punch published a clever satire, in the form of a mock petition, which provides us with a number of insights into linguistic and political identities of the period. The magazine reflected Conservative (Tory) politics and the preoccupations of upper class English society. Gross satire, suggesting that the Scots intended to subvert the identity of the English, couched in an unfamiliar language (to English readers), made real complaints seem bizarre and unreasonable. Behind the satire is the very real fear of the English upper class that the dominance of their customs, language and identity might be threatened. It was in that period that the terms ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Celtic’ – each taken out of their original context – were employed as competing ethnic labels by the English and non-English peoples of the British Isles.