THE aim of my article, “A Caliphate for Calvinists,” was, in large part, to puncture the smug Western assumption that religious fanaticism is a feature of Islam and something that we in the West have been immune from. I could have picked on any Western country to illustrate my point, but Scotland is from where I hail and it’s important we should not be smug about our own history.

The Covenanters in the 1670s and 1680s were one of the last manifestations of the Reformation. Scotland had already been won to Calvinism in the main in the 1550s and 1560s, but this was largely achieved by the nobility who resented the rule of Mary of Guise, regent for the infant Mary Queen of Scots, who was backed up by a French army.

It is true there were popular manifestations of opposition to Catholicism, such as the 1559 riots in Perth which followed a sermon by John Knox. But Knox entered into league with the nobles and having described the mob as his “brothers,” not attacked them as “the rascal multitude.”

The decisive event in the war which followed was the intervention of Elizabeth I, of England whose navy cut off the French supply route and forced Mary of Guise into surrender.

Calvinism may have been historically necessary as an ideology of revolution in the face of feudal absolutism, but we should not imagine that it was “democratic” outside of its own congregations.

Reading the sermons of the ministers and the last speeches of the martyrs one certainly encounters heroism and self-sacrifice, but also levels of hatred for Irish Catholics – and Episcopalian Highlanders – which we would easily recognise as forms of racism today. This was the period in which the distinction between the Highlands and the Lowlands was being made, and the racism which underlined this would feed into later episodes such as the Clearances.

In many ways the Covenanting “excesses” to which National reader John Robertson alluded were only limited because the technology of death available in the 17th century was simply much less that that currently deployed by Daesh. The thinkers of Scottish Enlightenment, in whose ranks Burns surely belongs, had to break with the traditions of Scottish Presbyterianism to produce their breakthrough works, and some did not always do so as thoroughly and explicitly as Burns himself.

In my book, A People’s History of Scotland, I am rather more sympathetic to the Covenanters than in this polemical article, and describe the government repression they faced.

But my critics cannot challenge the misogyny which underlay the horrific number of innocent women burnt at the stake for being witches – 4500 – or the burning of gay men. Nor, I hope, challenge the toxic legacy of sectarianism.

I grew up in a Scotland which was still largely Calvinist. Protestant Action’s John Cormack still sat in Edinburgh City Council when I was born and I remember as a young boy the swings being chained up on a Saturday evening – so we did not break the Sabbath. We should remember too that gay sex remained illegal until 1980, 13 years after England and Wales.

My book ends with a rousing call for independence and attempts to suggest some measures to ensure a radical Scotland is a long way from the Scotland in which I grew up, based on tolerance and solidarity.

Lastly, I am not going to debate theology with my critics but in response I cannot resist quoting a man from Fettercairn, Kincardine, who was threatened with excommunication in 1748.

He responded: “What care I? The Pope of Rome excommunicates you every year ... and what the waur are ye o’ that?”