Colin Kidd

Colin Kidd teaches at St Andrews. He is the co-editor of Literature and Union: Scottish Texts, British Contexts.

The​ political volatility of the last decade has made fools of us all. Very little has panned out as pollsters and pundits predicted, and the rapid succession of bizarre new normals has made it difficult to recover our previous expectations about the likely trajectory of political life. Predicting the course of politics has always involved a speculative flutter; but it’s usually more...

Lewis Namier’s Obsessions

Colin Kidd, 25 November 2019

In​ 1951, at the height of his celebrity and a year before he received his knighthood, the historian Lewis Bernstein Namier was sufficiently well known to appear – only lightly caricatured – in Cyril Hare’s An English Murder. The events of the story take place in a country house whose archive has attracted the attention of Dr Wenceslaus Bottwink, a Central European Jew and...

John Law

Colin Kidd, 12 September 2019

Britain’s​ early Enlightenment, between the 1680s and the 1750s, was the golden age of ‘projectors’, the name given to promoters of speculative schemes, some for making money, others for human betterment. After the Civil Wars of the 1640s the ingenuity which had once been applied to calculating the date of the Creation and the timing of the Second Coming was increasingly...

The 1975 Referendum

Colin Kidd, 25 October 2018

In​ the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, prudence, self-interest and the ministrations of Project Fear kept the Scottish electorate from succumbing to the over-optimistic prospectus presented by the SNP. Surely, David Cameron reckoned, the same formula would work again a mere two years later in the UK-wide Brexit referendum. After all, there was also the reassuring story of the...

Democracy’s Ends

Colin Kidd, 13 September 2018

A historian​ ought to know better, I suppose. But for the last decade – ever since I passed a long queue of anxious depositors outside a branch of Northern Rock in September 2007 – the idea that we might be living through our own version of the 1930s has proved irresistible. The run on Northern Rock augured a financial collapse on the scale of 1929, and has been followed by...

About Last Year

Colin Kidd, 25 January 2018

Postmodern Britain lies well beyond Orwell’s imagining, a country where superannuated teenagers in certain walks of middle-class life, including journalism and politics, stay in a condition of more or less permanent adolescence from puberty to retirement. Surely it’s time for the authentically middle-aged – we know who we are: square, clapped out, disillusioned and cardiganed – to take charge before the inheritance is squandered?

Popular Conservatism

Colin Kidd, 4 October 2017

In the quest to capture the middle ground that wins elections in a first-past-the-post system, the party of the left inevitably finds itself in an unacknowledged relationship of co-dependence with the party of the right. So much the better, surely, if that enemy on the right is not messianically capitalist?

Our National Hodgepodge

Colin Kidd and Malcolm Petrie, 28 June 2017

Unacknowledged both by Leavers and Remainers, EU membership has served to disguise the messy contradictions of Britain’s multinational state. The uninhibited restoration of parliamentary sovereignty – in this context, the brute expression of English dominance – is no solution. In recent decades, the EU has helped to ease tensions at national borders as well as serving as a safety net for devolution. Some kind of substitute – or, more likely, an array of alternatives – will be required, if Brexit is not to bring about the disintegration of our anomalous early modern hodgepodge.

Rory Stewart’s Borderlands

Colin Kidd, 19 January 2017

Last June’s​ xenophobic campaign and the Brexit vote that followed have left Scots – even the most unionist – estranged from the idea of Britain. In the months before the independence referendum of 2014, a large body of undecided Scots, while alienated from the Englishness of Toryism, the Home Counties and the City, still felt torn between a sense of solidarity with...

Clement Attlee

Colin Kidd, 17 November 2016

It is hard​ to imagine Clement Attlee, the most effective champion of ordinary working people in Labour’s history, thriving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Not only was he a conventional public school product – enormously proud of his Haileybury connection – and an unquestioning British patriot of military mien and experience, he had very limited patience for...

Diary: After the Referendum

Colin Kidd, 18 February 2016

Pets​ aren’t just for Christmas, as the animal charities remind us, they are for life. A bit of responsible foresight is required, to see beyond the delight the family gets from cuddling the puppy on Christmas morning to the wet evenings when somebody needs to put on an anorak and take the dog for a walk. Scottish independence, similarly, is for life. Once the link with the rest of...


Colin Kidd, 4 February 2016

Buffeted​ by events, the attentions of lobbyists and the gusts of media whim, politicians need a reliable compass if they are to maintain a steady course. The party manifesto provides a basic ready-reckoner, but there are occasions when something more foundational is required, and at such moments politicians have recourse to party tradition. In the Cameron era, the Conservatives have...

The Watergate Tapes

Colin Kidd, 5 November 2015

The Watergate complex​ is a set of five buildings – three luxury apartment blocks, an office building and a hotel-office hybrid – built on the banks of the Potomac between 1963 and 1971 in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. Its handy location between the centre of government and the traditional residences of Georgetown proved attractive to congressmen and members of the...

Scotland’s Law

Colin Kidd, 23 September 2015

Notwithstanding​ the 55:45 split between unionists and nationalists in the independence referendum last autumn, the major – if unacknowledged – cleavage in Scottish politics lies within the SNP itself, between its cannily cautious leadership and its enthusiastic rank and file. The SNP has grown phenomenally since last September, when it had about 25,000 members, to its current...

English Nationalism

Colin Kidd, 29 July 2015

Until​ our recent discontents England had never succumbed to doctrinal nationalism. Absent from English history was the obsessiveness found in many countries across Europe about the recovery of authentic nationhood. Although the English have often been perturbed about the condition of England, they have rarely floated nationalist solutions to their problems. The slogan ‘English votes...

America’s Royalist Revolution

Colin Kidd, 18 December 2014

The notion​ that toil, ability and ambition might be enough in themselves to propel the humblest of citizens from log cabin to White House is a vital ingredient in the American Dream. Indeed, it has served as a powerful anaesthetic against the inequalities of American society. But for how much longer? A rampant dynasticism – verging on royalism – threatens the efficacy of this...

Britain’s Napoleonic Wars

Colin Kidd, 20 November 2014

Familiarity,​ oddly enough, is all too often an obstacle to historical understanding. The more we think we know about a period, the more preconceptions we have. In the case of the Napoleonic Wars, a patriotic mythology fixated on the achievements of Nelson, Wellington and Sir John Moore at Corunna tends to filter out fear and uncertainty in favour of a seemingly inevitable procession of...

The Trial of Sacheverell

Colin Kidd, 20 August 2014

The birth​ of Prince George obviates the immediate need for the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 which introduced gender equality into the line of succession. Section 2 of the Act addresses, though only in part, another outmoded form of discrimination: ‘A person is not disqualified from succeeding to the crown or from possessing it as a result of marrying a person of the Roman...

Scotland and the Constitution

Colin Kidd, 16 April 2014

Whatever​ the outcome of the independence referendum in Scotland this September, it will be followed by an extensive inquest into the workings of the British constitution. In some quarters inquiries have already started. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of the House of Commons issued a report in March last year titled Do We Need a Constitutional Convention for the...

Coalition Monsters

Colin Kidd, 6 March 2014

Common sense in British politics tends to be aligned with the wisdom of party managers: that the electorate abhors uncertainty, and is incapable of understanding either internal party divisions or Continental-style coalitions. Only very occasionally, when the whips are thwarted by force of circumstance, do the voters – and indeed a frustrated cadre of pragmatic and independent-minded politicians – escape the iron cage of partisan constraint. In early 1974 Britain seemed divided and ungovernable.

The Enlightenment

Colin Kidd, 5 December 2013

In the course of 15 years teaching history at the University of Glasgow, with between a hundred and fifty and two hundred students in my classes, I inevitably received a few complaints. Some have stuck in the memory. ‘He made us read a whole book by Hume.’ Or the student in a class on 19th-century intellectual history who grumbled about having to read books from the anthropology...

Loyalism v. Unionism

Colin Kidd, 7 February 2013

‘For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.’ Visiting Northern Ireland as home secretary in 1970, Reginald Maudling, whose mellow moderation verged on a slothful desire for an easy life, was understandably exasperated by the Ulster problem – but no more so than a long line of politicians, before and since. Churchill – not so easily...

The Tories

Colin Kidd, 24 January 2013

Reason revolts against the notion that cod anthropology might yield a more persuasive account of the Conservative Party’s inner workings than the current insights of political science and organisational behaviour. Yet when confronted with the culture of the Tories since 1945, the mind drifts off time and again to the sacred grove of Diana at Lake Nemi in the Alban hills. In antiquity...


Colin Kidd, 24 May 2012

When I go home to the Ayrshire town where I grew up, I’ve noticed in recent years that even the dowdiest and most traditional hotels, where the outer limits of exoticism used to be a round of tinned pineapple on top of a gammon steak, have embraced fusion cuisine. Multicultural eclecticism, from food to fashion, is the norm in today’s Britain, and not just in the big cities. Among...

The End of Labour?

Colin Kidd, 8 March 2012

The prospect before the Labour Party has changed very dramatically since the start of the year. Instead of a hard but manageable slog to overtake the Conservatives as Britain’s largest party at the next general election, Labour politicians now contemplate a dismal scene of long-term exclusion from government: from the government, that is, of the rump UK, minus Scotland. The reason is that David Cameron, attempting to outflank the SNP during a midwinter silly season offensive, has managed to provoke Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, into a daring dash for independence.

The Obdurate Knoll

Colin Kidd, 1 December 2011

The cultural consequences of 22 November 1963 are far more interesting than the events of the day itself. Historians like me tend not to find much of interest in the killing of one person by another, especially when the killer seems to have been a dysfunctional misfit. Of course, the assassination had puzzling aspects: Lee Harvey Oswald’s lengthy stay in the Soviet Union during some of the hottest years of the Cold War; the unlikely trajectory of one of the three bullets fired from the Texas School Book Depository, the ‘magic bullet’ which passed through the president’s neck and then through the body of the Texas governor, John Connally; and Oswald’s own murder while in police custody at the hands of Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.

James VI and I

Colin Kidd, 16 June 2011

Since the 1960s, social historians have made enormous efforts to expand the range of history beyond the familiar cast of monarchs, courtiers and parliamentarians to recover the lives of the lower orders. ‘History from below’ has complicated and enriched the national story: witches and wet nurses, Ranters and Muggletonians, autodidacts, knitters and servants have all emerged from...


Colin Kidd, 31 March 2011

Maurice Cowling was the English intelligentsia’s self-appointed pantomime ogre. Hamming up his villainy, he deliberately courted boos and hisses. In 1990, on the publication of the second edition of his book Mill and Liberalism (1963), he remembered with delight that one of its original reviewers had ‘obligingly’ described it as ‘“dangerous and unpleasant”,...

Adam Smith

Colin Kidd, 7 October 2010

‘I’m sometimes told that the Scots don’t like Thatcherism,’ Margaret Thatcher told the Scottish Conservative Conference in 1988. ‘Well, I find that hard to believe – because the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of.’ The Scot she meant was Adam Smith, a figure popularly identified as the founder of economics, an apostle of...

Vandals in Bow Ties

Colin Kidd, 3 December 2009

David Cameron risks reviving the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, which was hard enough to take when uttered by Conservatives who had risen from the lower middle class, like Margaret Thatcher or Norman Tebbit, but is impossible to swallow from Cameron and other graduates of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, who carry out acts of vandalism dressed in bow tie and tails.

J.G.A. Pocock

Colin Kidd, 6 November 2008

Few areas of the humanities have undergone such a remarkable transformation over the past half-century as the history of political thought. Students were once introduced to it by way of its giants – the likes of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Marx. Rather than a living discussion among contemporaries, between great thinkers and lesser fry, political thought was...

Hugh Trevor-Roper

Colin Kidd, 22 May 2008

Hugh Trevor-Roper, who died in January 2003 shortly after his 89th birthday, had several of the qualities cherished in Britain’s so-called ‘national treasures’. His schoolboyish playfulness and relish of mischief never deserted him, nor did an unerring compass in matters of style, which assured an elegant, and seemingly effortless, command of language and bearing. Above all,...

The Scottish Elections

Colin Kidd, 26 April 2007

Since the rise of Scottish Nationalism in the 1970s various prophets have foretold the imminent break-up of Britain. All too often, however, the signs and portents seem to have misled political seers – nationalist dreamers and unionist Cassandras alike apparently confounded by their own predictions. It is easy to discount unfulfilled prophecies, to become inured to pundits crying wolf; but the credibility of the Nationalists with the Scottish electorate has proved more resilient than the credibility of the commentators, and Britain – no longer underpinned in Scotland by loyalty to the ideal of a United Kingdom – remains fragile. Recent history may well be an unreliable guide in these matters, however: so far, at least, each looming crisis has been played out as farce.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Colin Kidd, 22 March 2007

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) presents several faces to the modern world. His measured acceptance of the new forces of democracy unleashed by the American and French Revolutions made him an icon of moderate centrist liberalism. However, he has also had his champions on the right, at least among sophisticated Cold Warriors determined to maintain connections with a broader liberal tradition,...


Colin Kidd, 14 December 2006

Until the past two decades most historians tended to be dismissive of Jacobitism as a subject of little more than antiquarian interest. In particular, they questioned both the scale of the threat posed by the exiled Stuart dynasty to the new regime established at the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the extent of support for the cause (so called because ‘Jacobus’ was the Latin for...

The Idea of Devolution

Colin Kidd, 23 March 2006

At the time of the devolution referendum of 1997, doom-mongers feared that the Scots were about to join ‘a motorway without exits’. Separation from England seemed inevitable in the long run. En route, Scottish politics would be hampered by a systemic instability. After all, the anti-devolutionists whined, the Nationalists needed to win only once in Scottish parliamentary elections...

The American Revolution

Colin Kidd, 17 November 2005

Their resolve fortified by the sturdy civic virtue of Cato and Brutus, and their idea of republican self-government indebted to Greco-Roman models, the founders of American independence deferred to the authority of the ancients, even as they embarked on a revolutionary political experiment. George Washington, for example, identified himself with Cato of Utica, whom the 18th-century British...

The Republicans

Colin Kidd, 4 November 2004

Since the ‘stolen’ election of 2000 the Republican Party has set out its values with a starkness not revealed even during the despised regimes of Nixon and Reagan. This has yielded a rich seam of material for satirical film-makers, caricaturists and polemicists, though at some cost for dispassionate analysis of the political scene. Cartoonish simplicities abound. The electoral...

The Invention of Globalisation

Colin Kidd, 2 September 2004

Globalisation presents formidable challenges for history, a discipline which is congenitally nationalist. The academic study of the past emerged during the 19th century in tandem with the rise of European nationalisms, and remains coloured by its origins. This sinister twinship wasn’t acknowledged, however, until in recent decades historians began to confront their subject’s...

The Dark Side of American Liberalism

Colin Kidd, 25 September 2003

“Relocating the Puritan ancestors from folksy Thanksgiving remembrance to a place of honour (or dishonour) as the principal begetters of the American way of doing politics, [Morone] proposes that Puritan ideals loom large behind the ‘zero-tolerance’ version of liberalism. The Puritans first conjured up the notion of America as a redeemer nation with a sacred mission, popularised the jeremiad – a sermon of complaint against backsliding and declension – which would become in time ‘a kind of American anthem’, and set precedents for the harsh treatment of demonic otherness.”

Adam Smith’s Legacy

Colin Kidd, 19 July 2001

Among the intellectual figures who have shaped the modern world Adam Smith stands out as someone who doesn’t frighten the laity, might be positively welcomed indeed by middle England. Should the neighbours catch a glimpse of the Wealth of Nations sitting on the bookshelf alongside Thatcher’s memoirs or the latest Delia Smith, there’s no risk of ostracism. Adam Smith’s...

The British Enlightenment

Colin Kidd, 8 March 2001

A central tenet of the current Eurosceptic case resides in the contrast between English pragmatists, blessed with an instinctive distrust of the systems concocted by philosophers, and dreamy Continentals whose chequered histories bear witness to a dangerous addiction to fresh starts, a priori blueprints, legal codification and all the other follies of political rationalism. This caricature...

Edward Gibbon

Colin Kidd, 6 July 2000

Tall, silver-haired and bearded, with a mesmerising voice and beguiling manner of delivery, John Pocock has long struck me as the Gandalf of the historical profession. The range, altitude and stylistic sophistication of his writing seem almost other-worldly, though legend has it that his distinctive accent derives from a small community of Channel Islanders in New Zealand. In prewar academia there, the teenage Pocock, the son of a classicist, could observe such notables as Karl Popper and an offensive visitor from Australia, the young professor of Greek at Sydney, Enoch Powell. Trained as a historian in New Zealand and by Herbert Butterfield at Cambridge, Pocock has since the mid-1950s woven a spell over the history of early modern British political thought, a subject whose contours he has refashioned in unexpected ways and endowed with an allure which has captivated younger generations of scholars.

The election in Scotland

Colin Kidd, 27 May 1999

An embattled oil executive with personal experience of the formidable ‘Scottish lobby’ once observed that you could tell when a planeload of Scots had landed at Heathrow because the whining noise continued after the engines had stopped. For the past thirty years, since Winnie Ewing’s triumph for the Scottish National Party in the 1967 Hamilton by-election, the rest of Britain has become ever more accustomed to hearing Scots drone on about their distinctive identity and needs. At last we Scots have had an opportunity to redress our grievances. On 6 May 1999 we cast our votes for the first Scottish Parliament since the Union of 1707. And almost 42 per cent of the electorate stayed at home. It did rain, I suppose.


Colin Kidd, 7 May 1998

Our experience of Freemasonry is one of the minor peculiarities of the British. From The Grand Mystery of Freemasonry Discover’d (1724) and Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected (1730) to Martin Short’s Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (1989), the dominant genre in Masonic literature has been the ‘exposure’. Rituals, passwords, oaths, handshakes and symbolic imagery pique the curiosity of the uninitiated, or ‘cowans’ in Mason-speak. Yet, despite its exotic paraphernalia, the Craft’s wider influence on British society is perceived to be mundane and narrow in compass. The list of allegations on the dust-jacket of Short’s book runs to corruption in local government, perversions of justice, ‘the promotion of mediocrity’ and ‘marital break-ups’: why, the cover asks, ‘do so many husbands don an apron at the lodge when they wouldn’t be seen dead in one at home?’‘

Sing Tantarara

Colin Kidd, 30 October 1997

In his lifetime an unyielding critic of priestcraft and superstition, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) stands today at the heart of a cult which has been variously described as America’s ‘civil religion’, ‘the religion of the Republic’ and ‘American Shinto’. As individuals and families, Americans worship their own gods, or, more commonly, God in their own way: but collectively, as citizens, they learn the creed, and participate in the rituals of a sacralised American Way of Life. Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the reverence which attends the life and utterances of the atoning Christman, Abraham Lincoln, together represent a universal drama of exodus, freedom, inherited sin and deliverance which binds this ‘nation with the soul of a church’. A legion of commentators now wonders whether the American Way of Life will survive ethnic fragmentation. However, this sense of an impending crisis is itself integral to the civil religion, which wallows in the Puritan rhetoric of jeremiad and backsliding.

Bastard Gaelic Man

Colin Kidd, 14 November 1996

Nurtured over two centuries ago in Scotland’s ‘hotbed of genius’, the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment endure. Their genetic code lurks in the inheritance of Liberals and Marxists alike, while the New Right delights in a pedigree which reaches back to David Hume and Adam Smith. In the United States scholars have established the influence of Francis Hutcheson, Hume and Smith on the American Revolution and the making of the Constitution. This view has been widely disseminated – to the liberal left by Garry Wills, to the right by the Liberty Press, in whose catalogue the works of Hume and Smith are found alongside those of the Republic’s founding generations. On both sides of the Atlantic, furthermore, the Scottish science of man is embedded deep in institutions. Hume, Smith, Adam Ferguson and John Millar have become tutelar deities of campus and think-tank, the respected grandfathers of the social sciences and patron saints of the policy wonk. Yet, for all this familiarity, the otherness of the Scottish Enlightenment tends to elude us.’

Unionism’s Graveyard

Tom Nairn, 30 April 2009

Colin Kidd’s study of Scottish Unionism goes, as he himself insists, sternly against the prevailing ideological current, which is focused on the emergence of political nationalism in both...

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Theories of Slavery

Nicholas Guyatt, 4 October 2007

In 1659, during the last months of the Commonwealth, 72 slaves from Barbados managed to escape to London. They complained to Parliament that they had been living in ‘unsupportable...

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