WHEN Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas made a remark on Saturday’s show that “there’s not a household in England” that hadn’t enjoyed Ruth Langsford and Anton du Beke’s comedy routine, the complaints poured into the BBC pointing out that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also pay that unavoidable regressive form of poll tax known as the television licence.

Ballas was merely betraying the thoughts of so many people south of the Border who think “Britain” really just means England. It is an attitude that has been prevalent from the 1707 Act of Union to our own present day. Remember the theme tune to Dad’s Army? “Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler, if you think old England’s done?”

Another well-known example is from 1805, when Admiral Lord Nelson signalled that “England expects” before the Battle of Trafalgar in which at least a quarter of the fleet’s crew were Scottish and much of the vital equipment on board the British ships was manufactured in Scotland, not least the Carronade guns made in Falkirk which gave the Royal Navy a significant advantage over other nations’ fleets for decades.

No wonder that in the 19th century many Scots were conscious of the need to maintain our national identity within the Union, although even then there were advocates for outright independence. Sir Walter Scott was not one of those independentistas, as he was a passionate Unionist all his life. He was, however, a Scottish patriot who saw no difficulty in reconciling his Scottishness and Britishness, an example of what in 1919 the literary critic Professor G Gregory Smith first described as the Caledonian Antisyzygy, words that Hugh MacDiarmid took up with gusto – it basically describes that peculiarly Scottish ability to hold contradictory notions in the mind at one time.

It should be noted that Sir Tom Devine Devine has recently asserted his belief in the notion that the Union did not weaken Scottish identity.

He told our sister paper the Sunday Herald: “If you take the history of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the key factors you see is the survival of Scottish identity, and indeed its development within the Union.”

The current wave of nationalist or identity politics, he points out, couldn’t have taken place without that survival.

“If you look at articulate Scots writing in the 18th and 19th centuries, they’re all in favour of the Union but they’re very fearful of Scotland being assimilated into England.”

The evidence shows that to be the case, but there is no doubt that Gaelic and Highland culture were attacked. From the 1745 Jacobite uprising onwards it was deliberate government policy to suppress the Gaelic language and culture, and that imperative spread into Scottish society in general. The King’s English was promoted as the only acceptable form of speech in polite society and schools and universities were “Britified”, with the teaching of Scottish history put on the back burner if it was taught at all.

At the end of the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment brought a realisation that Scottish thought and reason was in no way inferior to that of any other country – the French philosopher Voltaire famously said: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.” English was still in the ascendancy, however.

The man who almost singlehandly saved the Scots language from extinction, as opposed to Gaelic – which survived thanks to a litany of great poets and scholars – was Robert Burns. Yet even he had to acknowledge that Scots was second to English – remember the Kilmarnock edition that transformed his life was entitled Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Not a language but a dialect. People are still arguing about that.

Regular readers will recall that Scott and Burns met in Edinburgh at Sciennes House sometime during the winter of 1786-87. Scott later credited Burns as an inspiration, which brings me nicely to the main topic of today’s column.

He may have virtually founded the literary genre of the historical novel but Scott, especially in his bestselling series Tales of a Grandfather, often played fast and loose with accuracy. Nevertheless it would be wrong to deny that Scott had a huge role in promoting Scottish history, even if he too often saw that history through the prism of Unionism.

Scott first came to prominence as a poet of the Romantic school, and The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion – “O young Lochinvar is come out of the west” – and The Lady of the Lake all made him famous before he wrote his first novel, Waverley, in 1814. Scott wrote it anonymously, but the Prince Regent, later King George IV, loved it so much that he insisted on knowing the name of the writer.

THE prince and the poet-lawyer with the lame foot – Scott had suffered from polio as a child – dined together and at last Scott was able to put in a request to be allowed to solve one of the great mysteries of Scottish history, a quest which to my way of thinking kick-started the reclaiming of Scottish identity within the Union and Empire.

For it would lead on to Scott’s greatest achievement – convincing George IV that his Scottish subjects were people of history and a culture that was all their own and should be celebrated, a notion which George gleefully embraced when he became the first reigning monarch in nearly 200 years to visit Scotland with his triumphal visit to Edinburgh in 1822. It was choreographed in its entirety by Scott, and overnight tartan became fashionable and everybody looked to find Scottish ancestry.

It was a romantic view of Scotland, one that George’s niece Queen Victoria would share and spread, especially after she and Prince Albert made Balmoral Castle their Scottish home-from-home.

If you look at the history of Scotland in the early 19th century, however, apart from the bravery of the Scottish soldiers fighting under Wellington and against Napoleon – they were cheered to the echo in various victory parades across the UK – one incident stands out which sparked a serious interest in Scottish history and got Scott that 1822 job.

It was that quest by Scott to find the lost Honours of Scotland, our own Crown Jewels, which were among the oldest royal regalia in the world but which had been “missing” for more than 100 years.

The bicentenary of the successful solution to that quest will take place on February 4 next year, and there are plans under way, especially at Edinburgh Castle, to celebrate the extraordinary find by Scott and his chosen colleagues. The mystery is how the Honours – the Sword of State with its scabbard, the ruby-topped Sceptre and the magnificent Crown, the first two papal gifts – were ever thought to be lost in the first place.

They were not “lost” as such, it was merely that nearly everybody had forgotten that they had ever existed, and their resting place was a matter of considerable dubiety. It was known that they were supposed to be hidden away in the depths of Edinburgh Castle, but was that version accurate?

IN the course of more than 160 years, all sorts of rumours had circulated about what had happened to the Honours which had first been used at the crowning of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots and had last been seen in public at the crowning of King Charles II at Scone on Ne’erday, 1651. Cromwell’s New Model Army was then already in possession of Edinburgh Castle and the Honours had to be spirited away to Dunottar Castle, the coastal fortress near Stonehaven and ancestral home of the Earl Marischal of Scotland, William Keith.

They were taken into Dunottar hidden in sacks of wool, but the secret of their location slipped out. Sir George Ogilvie of Barras, governor of the castle, knew he would have to defend them with his 70 soldiers.

After Charles’s defeat at Worcester in September that year, the vengeful Cromwell scoured Scotland to find the Honours, intent on showing the Scots who was the real ruler of the whole of Great Britain and Ireland by taking and presumably destroying Charles’s Crown Jewels.

At this point Cromwell’s forces went to Dunottar and demanded that Ogilvie surrender before they laid siege to the castle. Two strong patriotic Scotswomen intervened – Ogilvie’s wife Lady Elizabeth Douglas and her friend Christian Fletcher, wife of James Granger, minister at Kinneff Church near Inverbervie.

There are two versions of how they smuggled out the Honours – either Fletcher concealed them about her person or they were lowered in a basket to the beach below the castle – but in any case they successfully relocated the Honours to Kinneff Church. When the castle was taken, Lady Elizabeth managed to convince the Roundhead troops that the Honours had been taken to France.

That is partly why General George Monck seems to have relented in the search after he became Governor of Scotland for Cromwell in 1653, and the Honours safely reappeared at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

They disappeared again, however, after the Act of Union in 1707 – after all, who was going to need two sets of crown jewels now that there was a United Kingdom?

During the winter of 1817-1818, Walter Scott charted the history of the “lost” Honours and by the end of January in the latter year he was ready to give his solution – that they were concealed in a box in a strong room deep in Edinburgh Castle.

His motivation was to find them and remove a possible cause of upset for those Scots who had never really come to terms with the Union: “For it was evident the removal of the Regalia might have greatly irritated people’s minds here, and offered a fair pretext of breaking the Union, which for thirty years was the predominant wish of the Scottish nation.”

On February 4, 1818, Scott and a team of workmen went down into the bowels of the Castle to a strong room in which lay an old wooden box. Breaking open the box was “neither an easy or a speedy task”, as Scott himself put it.

Eventually the lid was raised and there lay the Honours, wrapped in the same linen cloths which had surrounded them for 110 years.

He immediately wrote to John Wilson Croker, the Prince Regent’s close associate: “I have the pleasure to assure you the Regalia of Scotland were this day found in perfect preservation. The Sword of State and Sceptre showed marks of hard usage at some former period … I know nobody entitled to earlier information, save one (the Prince Regent), to whom you can perhaps find the means of communicating the result of our researches.”

He wrote again shortly afterwards: “The Sword of State is a most beautiful piece of workmanship, a present from Pope Julius II to James IV. The scabbard is richly decorated with filigree work of silver, double gilded, representing oak leaves and acorns...

“A draughtsman has been employed to make sketches of these articles, in order to be laid before his Royal Highness (the Prince Regent) ... his Royal Highness’s goodness has thus restored to light and honour, the Scottish regalia.”

Scott’s discovery was absolutely sensational in its day, and sparked widespread displays of Scottish patriotism which never really went away. Despite 199 years of the Union since then, that patriotism, like the Honours of Scotland, has never disappeared.