Over on Bella Caledonia, David Tobin writes on Post-Colonial Scotland, examining the “national identity politics” which are shaping us on our course to independence. This is indeed a key question for us as a nation as we forge an identity of ourselves in the world – what narratives and images represent Scotland in this modern era?
Tobin situates this discussion within the discourse of identity politics, suggesting that artificial barriers are being drawn on the basis of geography while the differential is (or should be) class. This argument is certainly not a new one to anyone familiar with the debates that have gone on within feminism, Black politics or LGBT liberation in the past 50 years. There is a constant tension between the call of class politics and acknowledgement that class differentials use subtle strategies of power to divide the class.
Identity politics seeks to undermine these differentials by isolating and addressing them. By demanding that those situated within oppressed groups forge their own identities – reflecting the realities, rather than imposed viewpoints. Female, Black and gay activists seek to undermine the ways in which that power imbalances are supported through narratives of sexism, racism and homophobia which tell the stories of the weak from the position of the powerful.
In that vein it is worth looking at the visions of a Scottish Identity presented to the Scottish populace and in wider realms
The traditional narrative of the Scots is that of “Tartan and Shortbread”. A conservative vision, it plays on the romanticism of the untamed Scottish Highlands, presenting Scotland as exotic, yet homely. Beloved of rich tourists, and consequently of much of the hospitality industry it represents Scotland through the eyes of the visitor, the coloniser and the purchaser of Scottish culture. It is a vision which bears no resemblance to real lives of Scots, benign yet patronising, its is us and our homeland as seen from the outside, by those who can afford to dip in.
An alternative narrative, growing in popularity, is that of “Booze and Benefits”. It presents the Scots as subsidy junkies, living off the benevolence and indulgence of the English Working Class. It portrays Scotland as a remote colonial outback, one incapable of managing its own affairs where to even to raise such a question as control over our own resources is stupid. Heavily promoted by Unionist politicians and journalists fearing an independent progressive nation on their doorstep and the unfavourable comparisons that may be made, it seeks to raise English ire at Scottish health and education provision.
Tobin notes the “Burns and Bannockburn” narrative being promoted by the SNP – coupled with the support for indigenous minority languages and the introduction of Scottish Studies in schools, it suggests strong support for culture and history from a Scottish perspective. This is Scotland seen through the eyes of Scots, but still a distanced and formal vision – time has sanitised the 14th Century Wars of Independence and the insurrectionary power of Burns is muted by his adoption into the Cannon. The romanticism may be less overt and the vision originating from within Scotland but as Tobin points out, it is a vision situated in an oppositional struggle to the English and one which reifies Scottish culture, preserving it as a static monument to which we should give worship.
The left has its own narrative of “Red Clydeside and Ravenscraig”, drawing on Scotland’s tradition of heavy industry, engineering prowess and the working men which made Glasgow the workshop of the world. Heavily urban, male dominated and white, this vision encapsulates the oppositional spirit forged in the ironworks and shipyards, and also the references may be more modern than Feudal clans or Bannockburn, it is still dated and bears little resemblance to the post-industrial landscape of modern Scotland. The vision here may come from within the Scottish working class, but celebrates the white male heterosexual in a macho and aggressive fashion
It is critical that the vision of Scotland presented to the world is one which comes from within Scotland, one which is rooted in our communities and workplaces and which celebrates the diversity that comprises modern Scotland. Scotland has enormous potential to be a beacon for the world – leading the way in renewable energy, critiquing the macho culture and taking advantage of the inclusive Scottish narrative that many of our new citizens have created in opposition to the racist British state. To create that narrative however we must fashion it in reality and root it in modern Scotland, embrace modern clean energy generation, work towards abolishing the macho culture which dominates much of Central Scotland and ensuring that the culture of new citizens are valued and respected as it is fused into our cultural landscape.
Our national culture and identity is not something own, it is something that we make and continually refashion, each generation holds it in trust for the next. We must take care not to squander the gifts passed down to us from previous generations by dwelling on the lies of past glory that they use to keep us all in line.
First published on Bella Caledonia on 2nd October 2011