Tuesday, 24 April 2012

What Makes Us Scottish?

The Identity Survey carried out by YouGov, to find out what identifying features make Scots, English and Welsh people proud of their country and natiionality, has caused some commentators to re-consider at least some of their preconceptions. For example, the survey showed that Scots are not as thirled to the monarchy as was thought, provoking the suggestion that the SNP may have to re-think its policy on the monarchy. I think that is hardly likely, on the basis of a single survey, but perhaps, it will give Unionists some pause for thought because if Scots were as attached to the monarchy as they (the Unionists) like to argue, even a single survey would have shown more support. What was interesting was the reaction of a whole range of people who were asked what they felt made them Scottish.

On Scotland Tonight, Pat Kane emphasised the culture of the people, which is perhaps not surprising given that he is a musician, with a degree in English literature, while Humza Yousaf decided that food was important and plumped for chicken tika masala. Perhaps like Robin Cook, he considers it to be the new national dish. Of one thing we can be sure, that is that the world at large has no problem with identifying Scots because there is no other country which has the tartan, pipes and the kilt in the combinations that we have. The problem with identity is with some Scots themselves, many of whom seem to be terrified to emphasise their identity in case they are accused of being Nationalists. The writer James Kelman, recently wrote that he intended to vote "Yes" in the independence referendum but quickly added that not only was he not a Nationalist but that he disliked nationalism. He is one of a long line of Scots, prepared to preface their voting intentions or, their dissatisfaction with some aspect of the present political arrangement in the UK, with the qualification, "I am not a Nationalist but....". It is only one aspect of the infamous Scottish cringe, where any expression of being Scottish must be preceded with an apology.

I have never had that problem, probably because my Scottish ancestry has been traced back several generations on both sides of the family, therefore I can satisfy two of the condition in the survey, required by 52% and 73% respectively, viz. that both parents and myself, should have been born in Scotland  in order to be considered Scottish. On my mother's side, the McGregors, I had an ancestor John McGregor who has been traced to the Atholl Braes where he worked as a dry stane dyker in 1760. The Fairlies have also been in Perthshire for generations, back to the 1750s, working in the Glenshee area as weavers and stockmen. Other family names include Stewart, McGillivray and Robertson. What that does is make me very comfortable in my own skin, born in Perthshire of a long line of men and women who were also born in Perthshire. It doesn't make me particularly proud to be Scots, I just am Scots. I am proud, however, very proud, of many of the achievments of the people of Scotland in medicine, education, science, engineering and a whole host of other areas where Scots have contributed to the betterment of mankind. There are other areas such as the slave trade or our well known fondness for the drink, of which I am anything but proud but unlike some, I see no reason to be forever apologetic for them or, to see our national "failings" as reasons why we cannot be independent.

The apparent obsession with identitiy in this country, the regular need to measure our "Scottishness" against our "Britishness", stems from the fear in the UK establishment that if "Scottishness" is allowed to become too dominant, the ties which allegedly bind us to the whole idea of Britain will become so threadbare they will cease to be effective. Thus, any lessening of Scots' devotion to the monarchy will obviously lessen our feelings of "Britishness" and weaken the UK. The other problem is that thrown up by the use of the words Nationalist and Nationalism. The dictionary defines a Nationalist as someone who favours independence and the interests of his own country or nation, but opponents of Scottish independence use it as if it is synonymous with imperialism - the domination of other nations - or chauvinism - the extravagant and exaggerated pride in one's own nation together with a contempt for other nations. Scotland has never been an imperialist nation and while we micht hae a guid conceit o oorsels, we are not contemptuous of others. If we were, the reception we invariably receive when travelling abroad would be entirely different from the kind of welcome we are shown. As I have pointed out before, Unionists rarely use the word independence, preferring the much more pejorative separation or divorce.

Prior to the Union of 1707, Scotland had only one main enemy and that was England, caused by that country's determination to subjugate us over a period of over 300 years. Our battles with the Danes and Norwegians were for the purpose of self-defence and our troubles with Ireland were a direct consequence of the policies of James VI and I, as he furthered the imperial policies of England. Scotland played a major part in the building of the British empire but again, it followed the Union of the Crowns then the Union of 1707, driven by the expansionist policies of England. Since 1707 our culture has been derided to the point where the Gaelic language has almost ceased to exist and we live in a country where the majority of our people cannot even pronounce the names of our own mountains and glens. It is only recently that Scots has been recognised as a distinct and separate language from English. Born into a family where agriculture played a prominet role, I spoke Scots as well as standard English from the earliest age, so that both were encouraged in my own children from the outset. When teaching, I made a point of speaking to the students in the day-to-day language they used themselves. On one occasion one young lad told me, "You dinnae speak snobby like ither teachers Sir", a rather sad indication of the way in which Scots had come to be regarded as the language of "the lower orders". The image of the taciturn Scot did not happen by accident.

Despite that, the survey showed that 67% of Scots were either very proud or fairly proud of their language while 29% were either not very proud or not at all proud. What does that say about our country when 29% of of us are ashamed of our language, the language in which Burns was able to forge a reputation that is recognised throughout the world. The survey also shows that a total of 20% of Scots were not proud of Ben Nevis, which may have meant no  more than that they were totally indifferent to it. That was the problem of the survey in general; some of the questions asked made little or no sense. What was the point of asking if people were proud of our country pubs or were those questions simply thrown in to disguise the real nature of the survey - to identify those things which make us British? Significantly, only 61% of English respondents had any pride in the flag of St George while 24% of them associated it with racism. Unfortunately 10% of Scots associated the Saltire with racism although 84% were proud of it. The pressure to be British is unrelenting, with surveys such as this constantly measuring and re-defining which mores and attitudes can be said to be Scottish and which are British. The Olympics will provide limitless opportunities to wave the Union Flag and proclaim our "Britishness". God help any Scot who is perceived to be less than totally committed to the flag, the Union and Britain.

Would the survey have told anyone what it is that makes us Scots? It may have given them some idea of some of the things we regard as being important such as being born in Scotland or having Scottish parents. However it would also tell them there is little colour prejudice in Scotland as only a total of 13% of respondents thought that being white was important to be considered Scots and that it was far more important (83% of respondents) that people considered themselves to be Scottish, whatever their country of origin. To me, the encouraging thing about the survey is that the majority of Scots still consider themselves to be Scots rather than British, a total of only 5% seeing themselves more British than Scots, particularly given the welter of propaganda to which we are subjected to convert us to the concept of Britishness. That may also encourage the SNP to stop pandering to those who are determined that we remain part of Britain.

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