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After The Revolution and The Two C Words

 

 

A long time ago (1995), in a faintly-remembered country now far, far away, Ludovic Kennedy (look him up, Young ‘Uns) wrote a book called In Bed with An Elephant, which considered the one-sided historical relationship between Scotland and England. In recent years, I have often wished to put the word “incontinent” between the last two words of that title, because the overpowering damage done to Scotland, its culture and its languages since 1707 has been so severe, pervasive and unhealthy that it seems a pretty accurate image to me.

So, when “the hands have shaken and the kisses flowed” in George Square, The Meadows and all our public spaces after we win Indyref2, what next for our ancient, reborn country? Our politicians will go to work with England on negotiations to disentangle the resources of the fUK equitably, while steps will be taken to found a Scottish Central Bank and a Diplomatic Service and re-establish our historic relationships with continental Europe, and a myriad of other progressive foundations for our Scottish renaissance, no doubt. This will mainly be work for our children and our grand-children but it will be of little use if we don’t confront the main cultural problem which is the result of our asymmetric relationship with England. Just as important, in my view, will be the necessary decolonisation of the Scottish Psyche from the baleful effects of the Union Project, where all things Scottish were to be diminished, belittled or ignored and all our Caledonian wrinkles gradually smoothed out into bland Britishness, when eventually even Gaelic-speaking old maids in Achiltibuie would learn to love The Archers, and cycle down to church for Evensong (eh?) before having a warm half pint of mild and some pork scratchings in the local Crown and Anchor.

Oh, dear, but that word colonisation can get you into awfie trouble! Look what happened to Alasdair Gray in 2012 when he noted that many appointees to Scottish public bodies (particularly in The Arts) were from England. Instead of just winning the No Shit, Sherlock? Award for Stating the Bleeding Obvious, he suffered a tidal wave of outrage, with commentators queuing up to deplore his narrow-minded, anti-English comments. Few folk put their heads above the parapets to support him at the time and Scotland’s Greatest Living Artist in Two Media was put firmly onto the back foot, if you’ll forgive the English cricketing metaphor.

Of course, the strength of this reaction simply suggested to many that maybe, on reflection, he was on to something after all. Perhaps the successful applicants were simply the best people for the job but it was rather strange that so few Scots weren’t considered good enough to run Scottish institutions. Conspiracy to do Scotland down or simply the right kind of chap giving another with equally sharp elbows a well-deserved punty-up in North Britain? Your choice, Poindexters.

Yet that controversy seems minor compared to the real hephalump in the room, and one which seems to have got bigger and even more obvious since 2014, namely the role of BBC Scotland in The Establishment’s attempts to maintain control of our hearts and minds, such as they are. Those of us of a certain vintage (or even bargain bin-end) will remember a time when quite a lot of its output was unashamedly Scottish and intelligent,  when Pharic Maclaren produced work of the quality of The Master of Ballantrae, The Scobie Man, Sunset Song, The Slab Boys, Weir of Hermiston and even Scotch on The Rocks (about an attempted Scottish  revolution and penned by a certain Douglas Hurd, no less). However, it seems that Blair-Birtian Cool Britannia control-freakery and the steady and dangerous rise of the SNP after it came to power in Holyrood meant that such positive Scottish material was off the agenda for good, not even a Scottish Six News being permitted to replace the pitifully and deliberately parochial Reporting Scotland coverage.

Instead we got stuff like Rab C Nesbitt and later, Still Game. Many people enjoyed these series, perhaps recognizing amusing Scottish worthies from their own experience but, more and more, others felt they were simply perpetuating negative stereotypes of a very limited sense of Scottishness (and mostly confined to the Central Belt, of course). It was if a deformed fairground mirror were being presented to us all, while The Beeb whispered insistently in our ears, “Listen, you stupid, foul-mouthed, drunken tenement dwellers, this is all you are and all you  will ever be. Scotland is crapola on stilts. Look on my works and despair!” as a contrasting and never-ending stream of “real”, British cultural icons was revealed from behind a rich, velvety curtain: sumptuous Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, The Tudors, proper historical stuff from deep-thinkers like Starkey or Oliver who either constantly disparaged the notion of a separate Scottish historiography or, in the case of Silvrikin Boy, managed to make a programme about Orkney without mentioning Scotland at all.

Now all this leads rather inevitably to my second “C” word, The Cringe. Of course, this has been around for a long time but  James Boswell was certainly an early example as he grovelled to Dr Johnson, “I do indeed come from Scotland but I cannot help it.” This strange, extreme self-loathing is perhaps unparalleled in the national psyche of any other European nation and will surely be studied intensively by bemused psychologists (or even, perhaps, psychiatrists) once Scotland achieves its Second Enlightenment. We have all experienced it in some way, perhaps from seeing Orange Order Rangers fans wearing England jerseys and exulting in our national team’s defeats or the orgasmatronic delight of Scottish No voters at the counts on the nineteenth of September 2014. Not a pretty sight, and difficult to forget, like yon radge Emeritus Professor History Wummin from Embra who (allegedly) likes a small G&T occasionally.

Even our foremost 18th century intellectuals, Adam Smith and David Hume, were affected, rigorously abandoning the use of the Scots they spoke naturally for English. Books were even produced to help Scots avoid polluting their writing with repellent Scots expressions, hence the appearance of works like Scotticisms Arranged and Corrected by Alexander Mackie (I have a copy but, being a thrawn type, use it to back-engineer my prose at times to give a gamey Scottish flavour as a simple act of defiance against the English juggernaut).

Thus everything was to be measured against supposedly superior English norms, with incalculable damage to our sense of identity and self-esteem. Gaelic was an unintelligible, barbarous peasant tongue and Scots to be avoided at all costs if you wished to be taken seriously, at anything. Even Burns suffered to some extent. His excellent but Anglocentric private tutor taught him Milton, Pope and Addison but little or nothing from his native land. It was, then, a marvellous mark of the bard’s intellectual backbone and self-worth that he survived this cultural steam-rollering to produce his masterpieces in Scots, and writers like Galt, Hogg and Scott (hopelessly and notoriously conflicted Tory as the latter was) also deserve praise for not selling out completely.

So what are we, and our children and our children’s children to do as we confront this cultural conundrum? It seems to me that for three hundred years we have been taught to look the wrong way down a telescope, seeing everything English as being large and impressive, while not valuing or being even aware of our own rich and complex heritage as we squinted back in vain for something that belonged to us. The fact that schools are now beginning to teach Scottish literature, culture and history more rigorously, comprehensively and positively is a great source of hope but what are we going to do with that large building on Pacific Quay post-independence, the source of that deafening British bullhorn which tends to drown out much else as it reaches into so many of our homes ?

Presumably the Scottish Government will have a plan (?) but a simple rebadging to SBC will not produce the desired effect in my opinion, even after those who choose not to stay in the building post Freedom Day have departed or, otherwise, have been asked to leave. We are often told by blogging former BBC employees that PQ is simply full of Yes voters somehow kept hostage there and just bursting to think and work differently for Scotland, so that should be most of the staff sorted, surely? We could even appoint a knowledgeable, no messin’ former insider like Grouse Beater just to see the sparks fly (an idea which is a personal favourite of mine) but without a plan to reflect and sustain Scotland’s complex culture and heritage properly, it will be for nothing: where there is no vision, the people perish, and all that, innit?

And so there will have to be consultations, committees, councils of the Scottish Wise and Great, maybe even a dreaded Think Tank or two, and of course a broadcasting charter to replace the one which has so obviously failed to do anything for Scotland’s cultural wellbeing. It could be fun: let’s hope we’re all around to see it.

 

 

*Suggested corrective reading for Instant Independence of Mind or Five Mental Steps to a New Scotland*

A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable, Ian Crofton

Bannockburns, Robert Crawford

Burns The Radical, Liam McIlvanney

Scotland’s Future History, Stuart McHardy

The Lore of Scotland, Westwood and Kingshill

 

I’m sure readers will be able to supply other titles which hit their Scottish Spot (ooh, matron!)……

 

 

 

 

OOH Matron, Tinto takes a Tincture. As always, erudite and witty. Wee Ginger Dug look out!

Thanks for your very  kind words (once I've looked up erudite, obvs), hacka but"Tinto takes a Tincture"? My lawyers, Dewey, Cheetham and Howe will be in touch. Sorry, but it's the litigious world we live in......

To think WGD knocks this stuff out every day: took me a week with a dictionary and a long pencil!

Take him for all he's worth Tinto, I know he's loaded and I know where he keeps it. But I warn you now, you'll have to get past me first, cos I have the combination 🐉

Our people should meet: let's talk.

I have no idea what the above means, Nana, but believe it is customary in the circumstances.

Really enjoyed reading this Tinto, didn't know you knew how tae join so many wurdz taegether a' at wance. Have you done this before? 🙂

Seriously you make some very valid observations regarding the cringe, I find myself often talking to others about this aspect and how profoundly it has affected us all in terms of our self confidence and value/self worth, many don't realise that Scots is a separate (from English) and protected language and that much of our everyday speech is us just speaking Scots. We've been edumacated to believe that we are speaking in slang, I oft cite the abiding memory of being told to 'speak properly' from when I was very young to others and am frequently struck by a subtle look in the eyes of a recognition of this from their childhood, though they may not have been told explicitly so, they carry a 'feeling' about they way they speak, which has and does affect self worth.

 

I'm hopeful for the future, as you mention our history and culture now being taught in our schools is a real sign of change for the better, though I do sometimes indulge a secret fear that if the Scots so far over the last 300 hunner years, who have shown themselves to be a creative and daring and resilient nation in spite of the Cringe, god knows what we'll be like unleashed from the Collar of  the Cringe...poor world...an' what it's in fur. 🙂

 

Neatly done TC. 🙂

Great to see you posting again K1, or even K1ffs! I consulted Smallaxe before pure composing the big wurdz, obvs. I still keep in touch with my old Banter Boys China for some inspiration and eternal resistance to the Forces of Darkness.

Regarding The Cringe, nothing was sadder for me as a teacher in so-called "Darkest" Lanarkshire than to hear kids use the words "gowp", "airt" and "syver" quite naturally but who would  then complain to me that Burns wrote "slang", as you mentioned. Learned behaviour but very frustrating and quite difficult to reverse.

Your notion of the Great Unleashing is what I live for: my daughters don't give a flying fruit bat for the BBC or MSM, like most of our young folk and neither will their children. Time and demographics are on our side, but I don't want to wait too long, for obvious reasons. The kids are all right, believe me, he Whowed.

Thanks, Macart: time for one of your Big Statements on here, if you don't mind. A touch of class and humanity are always welcome.

Excellent stuff.     A real tonic. 

D. R. Cunningham.

Absolutely brilliant Tinto Chiel. One of the best pieces of work that I've read in a long time. It should in fact be submitted to the National (long letter) and published in full on sites like Wings.  So yes, ''In Bed with An Incontinent Elephant that's been p*ssing all over Scotland for centuries now'',  just about sums it up.

Great article! Thanks! Although the cringe will hopefully disappear after independence, we need to be fighting it now, whenever we encounter it, as at is a barrier to a yes vote.

Very kind, Petra. There are plenty of talented types on here who have lots to say and know how to say it. Scots Renewables, Nana and hacka have given us this shiny new space to play in so we all have a chance to find our voice and get things off our chest. It's use it or lose it so the quills need to come out, hee, hee.

I’m hoping some of our lady readers will put pen to paper for us. What say you ladies? We can’t allow the boys to have all the fun!

 

Contact Hacka, he's my helpdesk 🙂

Fantastic article. I intend to archive all really great articles in one spot at some point, but in the meantime I see Hacka has stickied it -  excellent.

I have used Tinto's reading list to start a Bookstore.

The links are all Amazon affiliate links and any modest income will be used to offset the running costs of this site, which are small at the moment but may need to run to an extra server if traffic increases substantially.

(If you have an objection to Amazon (and let's face it, there are plenty to have) then why not have a look for any titles you may fancy on (eg) Watersone's website.)

I am going to start a thread simply entitled 'Bookstore' for people to add suggestions. If everyone added half a dozen of their favourite Scottish titles it could turn into a great resource.

 

@Tinto Chiel

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I don't understand the "cringe" and I can honestly say that I have never felt that Scots were inferior in any way to our Southern neighbours or any other nation. If anything I have always believed the opposite LOL, I could now be accused of being a blood and soil nationalist I suppose but I'm nothing like that either. The cringe just doesn't exist within my psyche and I don't see much evidence of it in the people I associate with either. 

I've always felt pride in the achievement of Scots particularly in the fields of engineering and science. There's no doubting that Scotland has punched well above her weight in the contributions Scots have made in the progress of the modern world. I know the cringe is real, it exists though only in the minds of the  "proud Scot but" and they're an endangered specious. The cringe free are now in the majority I believe, and about time too 🙂

 

"The cringe free are now in the majority I believe, and about time too 🙂"

I certainly hope so, Thepnr, although my wife and I have acquaintances (can't really call them friends) who still parrot the "too wee/poor/stupid" lines. Only last month one said that Scotland couldn't exist "without the  money England gives us" (!) and she could never be a "separatist". She believes oil is running out and will soon be gone. Two others sitting beside her were of the same mentality and I myself have lost friends after heated arguments along these lines. One of the reasons I have found canvassing  stressful and frustrating is that that attitude still comes across quite often at the doors and it is largely immune to rational rebuttal.

And so I became a headbanger.....🙂

 

Thanks for writing this article Tinto Chiel. One of the great misfortunes that has befallen Scotland is to be without a broadcasting service capable of reflecting back our lived experience and cultural heritage. It's a form of sensory deprivation. If it isn't a human right then it should be.

We would be more familiar with the Scots language if we heard it every day on the media. Instead, we are subjected to Estuary English, which is a regional dialect, as if it was the normal UK dialect. Imagine if we were accustomed to hearing Scots literature; short stories, plays, poetry and novels, spoken in our own dialect and accent. We would become familiar with how people normally talk, but also with the rich cultural heritage which is a closed book to so many Scots.

I was going to list all he great Scottish writers whose works could be serialised for radio and T V but it would take up to much space. So I will only mention one of my favourites, Willam Dunbar. A long time ago I worked in an Edinburgh publisher, Oliver and Boyd. I wrote blurbs for book jackets. One day a copy of "A Midsummer Eve's Dream, variations on a theme by William Dunbar", by A.D. Hope appeared. It looks into the background of Dunbar's poem "The Tretis of the Twa Marrit Wemen and the Wedo". It gives a fascinating insight into Scotland in the 15th Century. If anyone is looking for a wide ranging canter through the customs of Medieval Scotland and more ancient times, this is it.

I will add it to the Bookstore thread.

 

 

 

 

Amen to all that, Capella. People would have the confidence to use Scots more if there were an SBC to give it proper status. Ironically, the politically-conservative farming community is one of the few  where good Scots is spoken naturally and without affectation now.

I always remember your comments on Wings regarding the advice to writers given by the BBC, where historical topics were not to be submitted because The Beeb had plenty of such material (except they never seemed to use it). I'm sure Grouse Beater has talked about this also and the self-censoring/excluding it encouraged.

Yes, "Back to Dunbar" indeed, as Hugh MacDiarmid used to say: a wonderfully sprightly and vivid poet who deserves to be read widely in our modern age. I also have a soft spot for the much more recent  Robert Garioch: Sisyphus is one of my favourites.

Looking forward to seeing your Bookstore titles.

 

Found a recording of Sisyphus read by Robert Garioch. Illustrated by an animation.  This is the "voice" we so rarely hear.

https://scotlandonscreen.org.uk/browse-films/007-000-000-317-c

Yes, what a marvellous voice and his choice and arrangement  of wonderful Scots words is quite magical. Notice the worker/wage slave is complicit in his own enslavement. Haven't heard that in ages: thanks for posting, Capella.

Sorry I was late in replying: had problems with logging in and had to pick Hacka's brains.

Thank you Capella for that wee video. For some reason this popped nto my head. 

 

Watch to the end

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd9zAMdkiZo

Great wee surprise at the end Nana, thanks.

BTW I found a link to a pdf version of the Midsummer Eve's Dream complete with original dust covers and illustrations. So it can be downloaded free. It was published in 1967 so it is out of print though it would be good if a publisher would reprint it. The link is over on the Bookstore thread.

 

 

 

Forum for discussion of Scottish independence and a second independence referendum.