Friday, November 30, 2007


Celebrated every 30th of November, St Andrew's Day is the "official" national day for Scotland. Reflecting the spirit and pride of the national day, it was recently announced that Scotland's slogan at airports will change from, "The Best Small Country in the World" to the boring "Welcome to Scotland". I mean, talk about fucking uncreative shit! Personally, I would have suggested: "Scotland: GET IT UP YAE!"

In The Guardian today is a fantastic article called Scotland Awakes, and is definitely worth a read but because it's rather long and because most blog readers suffer from borderline ADD, here are some highlights:

"Consider some numbers. Thirty years ago, 65% of people in Scotland identified themselves as 'Scottish', but by 2005, the figure was 76%. In England, 41% of people currently claim to be 'very proud of being British', whereas the Scottish number is a mere 23%. Even if most Scots remain sceptical about breaking away from the UK, around 55% now agree that their parliament should have much greater powers.

The next day, having made the 50-minute train journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I make my way to Cranhill, an enclave of the west-coast city's East End that sits at the blunt end of a lot of what Alexander is talking about. A clump of new terraced houses, and modernised tenement blocks and high-rise towers, its social statistics speak volumes about a side of Scotland that can easily make the notion of a new national mood seem crassly misplaced. More than 50% of Cranhill's children live in workless households, and it is apparently not uncommon to meet families in which three generations have little or no experience of paid employment. Forty per cent of local people claim income support; 70% do not own a car. The area's numbers for heart disease are 94% above the Scottish average; figures for drug-related deaths widen the gap to 158%. The average house sells for just under £23,000.

In an upscale cafe down the road, I meet Elaine C Smith, the comedian, actor, columnist in the Scottish Sunday Mail, and celebrity politico. She left the Labour party at the time of the miners' strike, embraced the cause of independence, and actively campaigned for the SNP at this year's elections and has just been appointed to the new Scottish Broadcasting Commission. Some people will still know her best as Mary Doll, the wife of the legendary Rab C Nesbitt, Gregor Fisher's equally comic and heart-wrenching portrait of a man caught in Scotland's long post-industrial decline. It was perhaps some token of Scotland's old insecurity, she tells me, that when word got back to Glasgow of the show's popularity south of the border, things suddenly changed. "The Scots loved it until they realised the English were laughing at it too," she recalls. "Now, I don't think they'd care as much.
"There's a thing about Scotland - we were always stuck in a permanent adolescence, constantly blaming the parents for what was going wrong," she says. "It was so easy: 'Och, blame everything on the English', which is an argument I've never had any truck with. There was something the songwriter Dick Gaughan said: 'Until we stop looking at ourselves through the eyes of another nation, we will never properly grow up.'

Two hours later, I am sitting in a plush corporate meeting room with Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4's director of nations and regions, and the co-host of the weekly football-related phone-in Off the Ball, BBC Scotland's most listened-to radio show. As evidenced by its love of national in-jokes and - on the programme I catch, anyway - Cosgrove's periodic shouts of "Hoots mon!", at least part of its stock-in trade is an endlessly irreverent take on the cliched stuff of Scottish nationhood. Though he winces when he says it, Cosgrove says that Off the Ball is bound up with "that postmodern thing of trying to mix up different cultural reference points", "celebrating specificity", and catering to an audience partly split between people who buy into its emphasis on kitsch, and others - like the expats who listen online - who are "in awe of all those references to the world they imagine they've left behind".

When I mention the argument over independence, Cosgrove affects a happy kind of indifference, once again suggesting something that my time in Scotland has brought up time and again. When it comes to the country's current collective mindset, focusing on frenetic debates about secession from the union, shrill voices in the Edinburgh parliament and the endless tussling between the SNP and Labour perhaps misses a crucial point: that if independence is at least partly a state of mind, a large number of Scots have got there already.
"A lot of that debate feels so arcane," he says. "The truth of the matter is, apart from some key institutions, maybe it's already happened. That's the thing: Scotland already is independent, isn't it?"

And what's a national day without some inward gazing, debating nationality, and offending locals? Even more worthy of your attention is this morning's programme of BBC Scotland's "Good Morning Scotland" - wherein English journalists condescend and mock Scottish people (all in good nature though...I think).

Personally, I'm going to celebrate with a whiskey sour and gaze at a picture of Gerard Butler in a kilt:


Jason said...

That's like the most generic slogan ever.

Jennifer said...

I know! Brutal!

STAG said...

Well, you coming from Canada, you have a good handle on the sloganeering and politics associated with separatism.

Has there been anything similar to the FLQ crisis in Scotland?

SharClark said...

Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for agreeing to help me out! Just a couple of stupid questions...

Do men still wear kilts for general business wear or for everyday stuff? I ran across a traditional clothing store and I wasn't sure. Could be useful knowledge...

Do a lot of people drink coffee or is it mostly tea? I know they have cafes but I wondered if regular, black coffee is abundant.

Love the Gerard picture...nice!

Thanks for your help!

Jennifer said...

Sharclark - No, men do not wear kilts unless they are attending a wedding or funeral or some sort of ceremony (i.e. university graduation). That's about the only time that a Scotsman might wear one.

Oh, man, do not get me started on coffee over here. In America, if you ask for a coffee, folks understand that you want that percolated crap diner coffee (which I LOVE and MISS) BUT if you ask for a coffee over here, people ask you what you mean - i.e. latte? "white coffee"? americano? Coffee seems to be the generic name for ANYTHING with coffee beans in it and you must specify if you want a latte or americano. Also, percolated coffee isn't really big over here - unless you go to starbucks. A lot of places substitute percolated coffee with instant coffee. *shiver*

So, I would say that most people still drink tea.

And.....end rant!

SharClark said...

Poor Jennifer! I really wish I could send you some good old fashioned dark Folgers or something! I think I would cry if I couldn't have my coffee! I also couldn't stomach the instant coffee - ick! That's simply a travesty...Thank God for Starbuck's, eh?