IT’S my third and final week as artist in residence here at the Schotse Huizen (Scottish houses) in the historic Dutch port of Veere. In the first two parts of this diary, I wrote about how this town became the Kingdom of Scotland’s main trading gateway to Europe over many centuries.

This week I’m looking at the final years of the Scottish merchant community which once thrived here, and how a 20th-century revival of interest in the town’s Scottish connections led to a special honour being bestowed on one of Scotland’s most iconic political figures, Winnie Ewing.

PART ONE: Veere in Netherlands was Scotland’s gateway to Europe

One of the things I have found particularly interesting about Veere is the way in which whatever was happening historically in Scotland was always reflected in the Scottish community here.

It was almost a kind of Scotland-in-miniature, constantly reacting to and mirroring cultural changes at home.

The Scottish community here worshipped according to the Church of Scotland, establishing the first official congregation outwith Scotland itself.

PART TWO: Kilting at windmills, a trip through the Netherlands

You can still see the outline of the Scots Kirk where it once stood against the wall of the Grote Kerk (Great Kirk) at the heart of Veere. Now only a congregation of jackdaws nests on the remaining ledges and in gaps in the masonry.

A copy of the National Covenant was signed here at the Scots Kirk during the time of the Covenanters. King Charles I even wrote a rather stern letter to the Dutch authorities, complaining that the Covenanters’ rebellion in Scotland was being aided and supplied by the Scots of Veere.

News from home was never far from the minds of the Scottish community. The Union of Crowns in 1603 and the Union of Parliaments in 1707 both had their impacts here, as Scotland lost control of various aspects of its trade and foreign relations.

That said, there was no one single cause of decline for the port. The nature of Scotland’s place in the world, the nature of European relations, and the nature of foreign trade itself, had all changed significantly since the early days of the staple port at Veere. The Netherlands, too, was changing. A new way of governance inspired by the French Revolution was ushered in, and the old system of Scottish trading privileges in Veere didn’t quite fit the new ideals.

The National: Andrew Redmond Barr in VeereAndrew Redmond Barr in Veere

Even after the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, the Scots of Veere continued to operate distinctly as Scots, pursuing Scottish interests, and working still as representatives of the “Scottish Nation” rather than amalgamating into the new enlarged state. In some ways Veere was almost a final outpost of Scottish independence in Europe, stubbornly clinging on as the world around it shifted.

In December 1799, in the final month of the final year of the 18th century, the Scots Kirk in Veere came to the end of its final session. The Scottish community dissipated, some returning home, some becoming Dutch citizens, some going to places like Rotterdam or elsewhere in Europe.

But that wasn’t the end of the Scottish connection to this place. In the late 20th century there was renewed interest in the old relationship. Both Scotland and Veere were working towards some kind of revival, with Scotland moving towards a new devolved parliament and Veere aspiring to reverse its long-term decline. It was the opportune cultural moment for the connection between Scotland and Veere to be remembered and renewed.

NOBODY had filled the role of Scottish Conservator (whose task it was to oversee Scottish-Dutch trade) for centuries, but by the mid-1990s a plan had been hatched to award the new position of “Honorary Conservator” to a living Scot.

For the Dutch organisers there seemed to be no-one better to represent the modern Scottish-European connection than Winnie Ewing, who was at that time a Member of the European Parliament and had acquired the French nickname “Madame Ecosse” for her vocal pursuit of Scottish interests. It would also be the first time in history that the Conservatorship in Veere would be held by a woman, marking a fresh start for the new relationship.

The appointment of Ewing was considered to be good for Veere, good for Scotland and good for Europe. In her acceptance speech, given on a special visit in 1996, Ewing highlighted her own involvement in setting up the Erasmus scheme, allowing students to study all across the European Union. A picture of one of Ewing’s visits is still held in the local archives at Middelburg, with Ewing depicted alongside a rather chuffed-looking delegation from Scotland.

The year 1996 was an interesting one for these historic links to be rekindled, as it was the following year in 1997 that Scotland voted for a new devolved Scottish Parliament. There was something in the air, and the story of Veere must have chimed with a Scotland seeking to rediscover itself.

Speaking of air, there is something to be said about the special quality of the light and skies here. Several people I’ve met have told me about the salt particles in the air, which colours the environment and which has attracted generations of artists and painters to Veere. In the early 20th century the town became an artist colony, due in large part to the quality of the air and sky.

THE Scottish merchant community themselves were no strangers to this artistic side of life several centuries earlier, commissioning stained-glass windows for their houses and shipping European artwork and paint supplies to customers back home in Scotland. This has always been a place where art and culture matters, both to the Scots and the Dutch, which is why it has felt like such an honour to have taken part in an artist residency in this special place.

As my time in the Netherlands draws to an end, I realise that everything I have learnt, seen and experienced in Veere all points towards one recurring question: What do we make of Scotland’s place in the word? We live at a time when that question still hangs in the balance, but the potential for transformation is an exciting one. Veere offers us glimpses of both past and future possibilities.

One thing’s for certain – if Scotland does more fully re-establish itself as a distinct presence in Europe, it would be perfectly in keeping with Scottish history, and from the many conversations I’ve had during my time here I know that Scotland would be welcomed with open arms.