On Scottish Independence and Unicorns

If you are a fan of Braveheart, you are likely watching the Scottish vote for independence with some degree of interest. No one is painted blue this time around (well, maybe a few), but are rather just going peacefully to the voting booth.

But what do unicorns have to do with anything?

When you spend a few years teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, you learn a few interesting things about Scotland. For starters, the official animal of Scotland is a unicorn, and the official animal of England is a lion. Why does that matter? Because in Celtic mythology, the unicorn and lion are considered enemies, fighting to be the leader of beasts, the unicorn representing magic and harmony and the lion cunning and sheer strength.

When the two nations were united in 1707, a coat of arms with the unicorn on one side and the lion on the other represented the union. The Scots, however, mindful of the turbulent history between the two nations, never quite accepted the English version and adapted it.

Note the differences between the two: In the English version, the lion (England) is on the right (power) side and crowned, and the English Lion sits atop the crest.
The underlying motto “dieu et mon droit” (Latin) is featured, meaning “God and my right”, a reference to the divine right of English kings and their favor from God.
The blue garter around the shield reads, “honi soit qui mal y pense” (French), meaning “Shame be to him who thinks evil of it”.

In the Scottish version, the Scottish Red Lion sets atop the shield, the Unicorn (Scotland) is on the right, and is also crowned. The underlying motto “nemo me impune laces sit” (Latin) is featured, meaning “no one can harm me and go unpunished”.
The blue garter has been replaced with thistles growing from the ground, the national flower of Scotland. Also note the prominence of the Scottish Red Lion on the shield instead of the English Lion.

So this desire for independence is clearly nothing new, and has been brewing in Scotland since the initial union. It is intriguing that this independence battle comes not through by sheer strength, but the magic of the popular vote. We will know within a few hours whether the lion or unicorn wins this latest battle.

5 thoughts on “On Scottish Independence and Unicorns

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