Surveillance was the game, getting Scotland godly was the aim. These days they’d be rebranded to TKS, with a mission statement like “TKS. Watching you so God doesn’t have to”.
Sinners in this super-spiritual nation had to be hunted down and held accountable, and you bet they were.
Of course, TKS didn’t have bugging devices, long-range lenses or leaked emails about “bring your own booze” parties to spy on people. What they did have was neighbours, and by jiminy, everyone in Scotland seems to have leapt to the game of snitch on the folk next door.
We know a lot about what everyone was accusing each other of, because, being Scots, we took notes.
The perp would get hauled before the kirk, and I like to think that the congregation, having sat through a fairly long sermon, then sighed and settled back. They could have reached for the Mint Imperials, if only they had been invented then.
All of the charges were carefully written down by the kirk session clerk.
Brilliant historians have dug deep in these amazing archives, and so we know that in July 1609, one Marion Mitchell got hauled before North Leith Kirk Session for calling the minister a liar.
She had committed a “sin of the tongue”. We in Scotland had a particular penance for such loose talk. The accused had to literally hold their tongue before the congregation, then give that tongue a stern ticking off.
Quick aside, you would have thought Marion would have been a bit more careful with that sinful tongue of hers, but no. In addition to bad-mouthing the minister, she opened verbal fire on a woman she accused of trying to steal her husband, went full-on Jeremy Kyle, called her a “commoun hure” and swore at the entire congregation. What a Sabbath that must have been. Bet she was the talk of the steamie for weeks.
Persistent offenders could face the stocks, which was fun for all the family. Well, not the sinners, obviously. Righteous kirk-going folks would make a day of the sinner standing stock still and go along to show they had community support, if by support you mean rotting veg and the occasional contents of the chamber pot being lobbed at the sinner.
So, you see, we know a lot about public shame, name and blame. And we know how to deal with it.
So, Messrs Johnson and Sunak, half-hearted apologies and feeble fines be damned. Convene the kirk sessions and get that clerk a new pen. We see sins of the tongue, lies to the people and birthday cake in a Tupperware box.
Haud yer tongues in shame, or better still, bring back the stocks. I’m talking full works here, five full days at the Mercat Cross, with the peasantry chucking rotten cabbage, squishy tomatoes and rancid tatties, although, given the food prices right now, quite understand if people generate their own volleying ammunition. You know what I mean, people.
This being a national crime, we’re talking touring every Mercat Cross in Scotland, and we’ll accept applications from community centres, shopping malls and bus stops to be considered temporary stock stands.
This is how we do repentance, Scottish-style.