This week I felt that the referendum was stifling my creativity –or at least the meeja bombardment was. It’s gone beyond the ludicrous into the oppressive at times. We’ve had the usual run of the mill nonsense: pensions will disappear, energy prices will go up AND the Chairman of BP thinks we’re better together. Sigh. BRITISH Petroleum?
Having avoided the Referendum programming thus far, only a respect for Stuart Cosgrove made me give his ‘5 Million Ways to be Scottish’ a go last night – it’s only being broadcast in Scotland but YOU can catch it on iplayer for the next 7 days (or repeats on BBC news if you are an insomniac and don’t want to watch winter Olympics!)
Here’s the link. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03tgtmt Set aside an hour.
It was an ‘interesting’ programme (as I’d expected) but also no small bit depressing. There was rather too much focus on ‘identity politics’ from which I learned that there really is no place that a post modern sensibility hasn’t snuck into in our modern world. Identity, it seems, is a flexible feast. What I learned most from this programme was how and why people don’t see being independent as an important part of being Scottish. (I’d genuinely been baffled by that till now.) So I have the answer. It doesn’t make me happy of course, but I have a greater understanding.
Yes there were a couple of people for whom being Scottish seemed a ‘core value’ of identity. One guy suggested being Scottish was like having an arm. You didn’t think about it most of the time but you needed it. One suggested it was like an insurance policy. And this was the most erudite we got about Scottish identity. Apart from (English) Prof Smout (retired Prof of Scottish History) who said it was about a sense of ‘belonging’ (I’ve never forgiven him for when I studied SH at Uni the party line was that Scotland ‘has never been a nation.’) for most of the others it seemed to be something (as they describe it) ‘flexible’ – something perhaps less important than all their other identities which ranged from comic to surfer. Indeed that bastion of ‘Englishness’ Billy Bragg made about the best comments on national identity. I sense that he feels English in the same way that I feel Scottish. He doesn’t feel British, that’s for sure.
But now I get what it means to be ‘British.’ It was Hugo Rifkind who finally opened the door for me. His rabbit in the headlights look combined with a piteous appeal to all, that he doesn’t want to feel like an ‘exile’ while living in London, cut me to the quick. Yes, that’s it, so that a few rich guys who abandoned Scotland and moved to England and are living it up should be able to still say they are ‘Scottish’ and not feel ‘unwelcome’ or ‘out of place’ is enough to convince me that we’re ‘Better Together’ (not.) Hugo thought he should have a vote on the matter but did have the grace to realise that maybe, not living in Scotland was a factor. I suggest he needs a bit of a lesson in the consequences of choice= making. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is all I need to say. What came across was that like all the Scot/British lobby he wants to have it all. As I say, that’s when I ‘got it.’ There’s a simple equation
British = Scottish +
That’s it. I will go on about this at greater (and hopefully more creative length) another time, but this is the essence. Scots who consider themselves British seem to think that it’s a ‘layer’ That being British is somehow MORE than being Scottish.
For me (and if the programme is anything to go by I’m in the minority here) I’ve never wanted to be PLUS Scottish. Being Scottish is enough for me. I don’t want or need any more identity. Being Scottish supplies all my identity needs thank you.
I’ve never felt British in my life. I’ve never understood it. And I don’t really know what ‘pride’ there can be in being British since the only thing Britain seems to be known for is imperialism. Failed imperialism. Oh, and the Industrial Revolution... Followed by failed manufacturing...
One of the interviewees on the programme pointed out that he felt pride in/ commonality with The Two Ronnies, Monty Python etc (And maybe Carry On?) and that’s why he was British as well as Scottish. No one on the programme mentioned Rab C.Nesbitt, or Billy Connelly (that’s amazing isn’t it?) or Andy Stewart or The White Heather Club – they seemed stuck in their own wee cultural backslapping bubble -yes they did a cursory glance at tartan and shortbread and haggis and black pudding and surmised that we had ‘lost’ our pride in our ‘food culture’ but that we were getting it back. They did wax lyrical about the clootie dumpling. Baloney isn’t Scottish so I’ll use a guid Scots word ‘bahookie’ or maybe even ‘bawbags’ as my comment on that. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Two Ronnies are funny but I don’t find them a part of my cultural life experience. They are English comedians. Billy Bragg is an English singer and I like him as that. Maybe I feel about my country as he does about his, but I don’t think we are members of the same ‘identity’ club. I can enjoy other cultures without a need to assimilate them into my own. Am I just ‘inflexible?’ And is identity something that benefits from being ‘flexible’? Or are we mixing up 'identifying with' , with 'identity' here?
5 million ways to be Scottish was interesting as I said, but not necessarily for the reasons I expected. It certainly gave me more of an insight into a group (might one say class) of ‘Scots/British’ I’d not encountered before.
For all the post modern ‘diversity’ correctness there was very little input from women. All I remember were one American living in Scotland and one ‘wee girl’ who tattooed Scottish flags on various parts of her anatomy were the sole representatives. And this is really where the programme fell down (for me) Where were the Scottish people I meet and mix with every day? The people on the programme were… how can I describe them? Cultural elite? ‘Important?’ ‘Aspirational?’ ‘Successful?’ Scots. I saw little evidence of the man/woman on the street and it was then the penny really dropped for me. As long as it’s the meeja ‘mediating’ our experience of the Referendum (and our national identity) we (the ordinary Scot) are screwed.
We’re in the same position that the peasants were in Russia under the Tsars and then under Stalin. We’ll get shafted by one elite or the other. I fear that even if we get Independence we’ll still be ‘governed’ by people who have their eye on the main prize. This is not a dig at the current SNP administration. For me, Alec Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon represent the best of Scottish politicians. I think they believe in the ‘ordinary’ Scot and I believe they have a strong love of Scotland which is far beyond the economics they are forced to play the game with at the moment. But I understand why they are doing it.
Appealing to national identity is not going to work if the majority of people in Scotland want to eat their clootie dumpling (or Victoria Sponge) and have it. Those who want to be Scottish +. It’s a shame that the appeal to Indpendence is having to go along the lines of greed rather than a sense of fierce pride in our own ability to ‘be a nation.’ I don’t think Prof Smout was right, but I think there’s a lot of people with a lot of reasons to deny our nationhood. And oh, they seem to be the ones holding all the cards. I can only hope that the ‘ordinary’ Scot, is sitting quietly at home waiting his/her time, ignoring all this meeja and ‘British’ aspriational crap and will just get out there and vote. Basically I just have to hope that my fellow Scots are not accurately represented by Cosgrove’s programme any more than ‘real’ people are represented in any other aspect of TV. Think on.
One thing they didn't mention AT ALL was what I consider to be a core value of Scottishness - a sense of community which is unique to our 'nationality'. But more of that another time.