Being in a far-flung corners furth of Scotland for the last week (Glendale AZ; Sonoma CA) the marking and portent of St Andrew’s Day had slipped by me until somebody tweeted a link to Stephen Daisley’s OpEd column for STV News. In it, he rather dismisses what is perceived to be the perky patriotism of the average Scot, couching it largely in terms of the modern politics of nationalism and undermining the basis for such sentiment with emotionless pragmatism such as :
Scotland is a small country, not special or essential. If we vanished from the map tomorrow, warm eulogies would be given for our Enlightenment and inventors and the cute tartanry but the world would keep turning.
Technically, the man is right. But we are firmly in “knowing the price of everything but value of nothing” territory here; the man inhabits a reality that few Scots outside of 67 Northumberland Street N-W Lane, Edinburgh would recognise.
Were MORI to do an international poll of a statistically significant sample of the peoples of the world from Tierra del Fuego to Nova Zemlya and all points between as to the country with the highest positive profile, the USA would come out top. But, if the question were limited to small countries, Scotland would beat dull Switzerland, pricey Norway, peaceful Costa Rica. acerbic Singapore or any of the rest of them for high profile, let alone contributions to the world.
Because of an extensive, hardy, hard-working, shrewd, successful diaspora, Scotland’s profile in America and the dominions is sky-high—better even than the stratospheric level of the Irish who tended not to dissipate across the country. Once a poky little place on the edge of Europe, Scotland went out to meet the world as soldiers for Gustavus Adolphus, traders in the Low countries and admirals for the Czar. Little wonder they seized the opportunity in an empire-building partnership with England.
So much so that a century ago, half the world’s ships were being launched on the Clyde—an epic of achievement and a source of pride. From Bank of Scotland to Jardine-Matheson, Scots explored, built, pioneered, led, soldiered and founded with the best of them. Nobody suggests their achievements were unique but they stand as fine a testament to a people’s abilities as anywhere.
However, even if “Here’s tae us; whae’s like us? Damn few, an’ they’re a’ deid” is stretching things, are we as egalitarian and socially seamless as we like to think? Does Peter MacMahon have a point when he blogs to question “this idea that Scotland is a country with social justice running through the national veins“? He cites three recent studies that imply otherwise:
- A survey for the Scottish government found doctors’ surgeries in the poorest areas of Scotland are getting less money per patient than those in wealthier areas.
- A report from Edinburgh University academics said there was no evidence the SNP’s policy of ‘free’ tuition fees has increased poorer students’ access to higher education.
- A report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission ‘Elitist Scotland‘ says the country’s leading professions are dominated by those from private schools and elite universities.
There is no reason to doubt any of the above. But neither do they imply Czarist levels of inequality, nor do they preclude a cultural couthyness that goes well beyond cats looking at a king. There are devoted royalists across Scotland. But, without wishing to disparage anyone, they are in a serious minority, especially compared to widespread reverence across England, as amply voiced by Auntie Beeb.
Most Scots give elitism short shrift, seeing no reason accidents of birth accord anyone superiority in life. (It is no co-incidence that, from Carnegie in the States to MacQuarrie in Oz, Scots have flourished in the more can-do egalitarianism of the colonies.) Some of this derives from chippy resentment of English domination of Scottish life, as voiced by more ardent nationalists. But most seems to come from a genuine belief in the ‘Lad o’ Pairts’—the self-made man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and earned any respect he was shown.
And—many though the rich subcultures in Scotland are—from Portree or Portobello, this derives from a plain-talking sensibility. Originally dinned into us by strict dominies and stern meenesters, it was carried on by grizzled grandads who’d been in the pit/yard/factory/field. They passed their lack of pretension and ready questioning of authority on to their 21st-century grandchildren. Anyone who lives here experienced this.
Nobody thinks we live in an egalitarian paradise. For example, Nicola Sturgeon wants to address the inequalities McMahon highlights, being “particularly concerned about the attainment gap between poorer and better off pupils in Scotland’s schools.” She has launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge, backed by £100 million, to try to close the gap.
Stephen Daisley may well be sincere when he fumes: “Scottish nationalism leaves me cold because there is no philosophy to it. It is about being Scottish — or more accurately Not British — and nothing else” but he entirely misses the point. Yes there are hardcore types who resent the helplessness of the 1980’s against Thatcher and see more Tory rule as alien and objectionable.
But the bulk of Scots embrace Winnie Ewing’s iconic “Stop the world—Scotland wants to get on“. They travel more, benefit from the biggest influx of immigrants since the Vikings and have found their cultural and political feet in the last two decades as much as independent Eire. Multi-faceted though it may be, a Scottish voice and cogent individuality exists—and it is far broader than individuals like our Andy Murray.
What Mr Daisley seems to have missed is that most Scots have ambition to be other than England’s poodle, to be more than a province of North Britain that speaks funny and where nasty stuff like nukes can be safely parked well away from the fount of all that is good in the Home Counties. We look at Norway or Singapore or Finland—ex-colonies all. We see they prosper. We see the global good they do. We see strong, friendly links with neighbours. We see nobody targets them because they give little reason to be targeted though they act as peacekeepers around the globe.
And, to correct Mr Daisley, we Scots are British, just as Norwegians are Scandinavian. But a geographic term and strong links based on history and mutual interests need not require political unity. And once that no longer applies, watch the chip that he perceives (probably rightly) to still sit on some Scots shoulders fall away.