Friday, 19 September 2014

The Scots: Wha's Like Us ...

It was during the eighties when I could first afford to buy my own books, instead of borrowing from the library. There was something about that growing collection that thrilled. At first, the ranks of books grew on the floor of my bedroom ....and then there was more than enough for me to justify me buying that first bookcase from MFI.

I still have those first books. Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, Jean M Auel, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen Donaldson, Eric Van Lustbader etc etc ... and the eagle-eyed among you will note that there’s not a Scot among them. A thought which prompts a shameful memory. I used to go into bookshops and walk quickly past the Scottish section. From somewhere I had grown the impression that if the writer was Scottish, it must be crap.

At my school in the seventies the only books we got to read were either American or English: Shakespeare or Steinbeck. Robert Burns’ poetry books were wheeled out once a year, but almost apologetically and without any effort to explain what the strange Scots words actually meant. There was no context given, we were simply expected to wrap our tongues around the odd collection of vowels and consonants. Although we spoke Scots on the playground, this was actually like a foreign language.

Our History lessons focused on certain topics that were likely to come up in the exams. Subjects like the Industrial Revolution, The French and Russian revolutions, The Boer War and the First World War. Again, note the lack of Scottish themes. We weren’t taught our own history.

Around this period TV was gaining traction and it became the social norm for families to gather round the television to watch the news (beamed in from London) and popular entertainment programmes (beamed in from London and the US). There were very few Scottish accents.
Admittedly, there were a handful of Scottish TV programmes but largely and especially in the early years they were of the tartan and shortbread variety and the production values – even to my unpractised eye –were second rate. BBC Scotland received (and still does) a fraction of the funds that Scots contribute to the TV licence fund. All of this confirming yet again, that if it came from Scotland, it was poor.

Demonstrate often enough to a child that it is too wee, too poor and too stupid and it will soak it up and accept it as fact.

(I actually heard two guys talking in my local gym and one used this as a reason to his mate as to why he was voting no. See. Imply it often enough and they will believe.)

In subsequent years we have Thatcher – a boom and bust economic cycle – a trumped up war in the Middle East – and now a government that has inclined so far to the right in recent years it’s a wonder Big Ben doesn’t have a lean to compete with thon tower in Pisa.

The impact of this kind of cultural stifling is subtle and yet, to my mind, far-reaching. I make no claim to being a social anthropologist, but I would contend that this is exactly the kind of situation from which our famous Scottish Cringe was born and has thrived. Throw in our Calvanistic propensities and it’s a certainty.

 Never heard of the term? It has its own page on Wikipedia, from where this quote comes …
…“a sense of cultural inferiority felt by many Scots, particularly in relation to a perceived dominance of English or anglocentric British culture, partly due to the importance of London, within the United Kingdom.”

One of the reasons I wrote the book, Carnegie's Call was to challenge this and to contribute to the conversation that would take us beyond it, to grow into a self-confident nation – for we are a nation – ready to take its place in the world on its own terms, not as the northern region - a narrow tartan backwater, as one pro-Unionist described us - of a larger state.

I don’t think such an inherited inferiority complex is unique to us Scots, but many other countries are able to work through it with an acceptance of their culture and shared identity and an ability to express their reality through self-determination.

In my view, there were lots of compelling reasons for us Scots to accept a state of independence, but for me, this was the most important one. I took in the arguments on the currency, the economy, our defence capabilities, our role on the world stage and thought, aye, fair enough, we can work through all that, but why is no-one talking about this?

With self-government would come self-confidence. It’s much more important than the pound/ euro/ groat in our pocket. To a nation that has been stifled in many ways, for more than 300 years  it is beyond price.