Bring Back the Danelaw
The legend of the Danish King Cnut attempting to bid back the waves springs to mind when considering the response of London apparatchiks to Scotland’s tidal movement away from the Union in general and London in particular.
Scotland, led by a Scots Nationalist government recently re-elected by a landslide, is gearing up for a vote on independence. This isn’t going down well with London, which hates not being at the centre of everything.
Worse is in store, however: London is going to be ignored. In preparing for an independent future, Scotland is also beginning to shift its attention away from the Sassenach south, and back to its historic neighbours in the east and north.
‘An independent Scotland would shift much of its attention away from the UK to become a member of the Scandinavian circle of countries, with its own army, navy and air force modelled on its Nordic neighbours, according to detailed plans being drawn up by the SNP.… They reveal that SNP leaders want an independent Scotland to look north and east in Europe for partnerships, trade and key defence relationships, rather than continuing to focus on western Europe and the Commonwealth, as the UK does now.’
This story caused howls of anger and ridicule in England – or rather, in the London media and political elites which seem united in their bitter opposition to the increasingly inevitable prospect of Scottish independence. Largely because this means the end of the imperial/global pretensions of ‘Britain’ and ‘Britishness’, and of course those London institutions founded on it.
Personally, I welcome and support full Scottish independence. Partly because I think it will do them a power of good, but mostly because it means us English will have to finally find out who the hell we are.
And closer ties with its Scandinavian neighbours seems to me a perfectly sensible move for Scotland. The Scots have much in common with the Scandinavians. Many are descended from them. Scotland and Scandinavia are oil-producing, socialist-leaning, sparsely-populated regions which also tend to produce very similar hard-drinking morose TV detectives.
But then, England, when it isn’t tuning into the latest series of The Killing is in denial about its own Scandinavian heritage. By rights, we should talk not about ‘Anglo-Saxon’ but about ‘Anglo-Saxon-Danish’. As a result of large-scale settlement by Vikings the English language has been greatly enriched by a host of rather useful Danish words, such as ‘law’, ‘sky’, ‘window’, ‘knife’, ‘husband’, ‘call’, ‘egg’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ and ‘arse’. Without the Danish contribution to English our TV soap opera scripts would be very difficult to write indeed.
As a measure of the influx of Danish blood, English patronymics ending in ‘son’– e.g. ‘Clarkson’ or ‘Simpson’— are likely to be Danish in origin. And under the Danelaw in the 8th and 9th Century, half of England was occupied and run by the Danes, from my hometown of York (then Jorvik), which was at the centre of a thriving trade network stretching from Iceland and Dublin to the Black Sea.
And in the Danelaw, not only were Danish/Old Norse words borrowed by English, Anglo-Norse dialects which were in some ways more Scandinavian than English took root, bequeathing us the distinctive sounds and argot of the Lake District, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
In the early 10th Century the Danish King Cnut the Great managed to preside over a kingdom that included Norway, Denmark, all of England and much of Sweden. His reign in England was said to have been maintained in part through ‘bonds of wealth and custom’ rather than sheer might. In other words, a shared trade and culture. A wise and popular king, it was only the Cnut’s failure to produce a lasting heir that brought the collapse of his Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom (and single currency) which would have changed the history of these islands, and perhaps Europe itself.
His famous bidding back of the waves was not a sign of megalomania but rather a deliberate demonstration to his subjects of the limits of kingly power. It’s a lesson that Westminster really needs to learn again in regard to Scottish independence.
It was of course the successful invasion by William the Conqueror in the watershed year 1066 that finally oriented England southwards and towards the Continent for the next Millennia, replacing the ruling Saxon class with fellow Normans. But Francified William was of Scandinavian descent himself: ‘Norman’ means ‘men from the north’. And he defeated the Anglo-Saxon king Harold at Hastings in part because Harold was exhausted by a forced march to York (and back again) to defeat an invasion by… Norwegians. 1066 was a very Scandinavian year indeed.
So as a ‘-son’ of York who dwelled in London for a decade or so but has since returned to his ancestral stomping grounds to become a provincial lesbian, I say good luck to Scotland with its dreams of a future safe in Scandinavia’s arms. And if a newly single England still won’t acknowledge its own Scandinavian heritage, or if the south keeps inflicting a London/Norman/Tory government on the rest of us maybe the east and north, where valleys are Danish ‘dales’, streets Danish ‘gates’, and counties are still — no matter what the south insists — Danish ‘ridings’, should just revolt and bring back the Danelaw.