Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Language, Rugby and Nationhood

Last night, on BBC2 Scotland, the first in a series of 4 programmes was broadcast examining Scots as a language. And an excellent programme it was too, conveying to the viewer a sense of the history and development of this language which, over centuries of multifarious influences, has become what we now know as modern Scots. While tending to be a bit overly-excitable in that professional, BBC presenter-type of way, Carl MacDougall delivered an interesting cultural as well as linguistic narrative punctuated by commentary from a variety of academics who have studied the evolution of our language. I was particularly taken by the colleague from Aberdeen University whose love of Country and Western music was evident by his choice of neckwear.

But reflecting later on the programme, I couldn’t but help think about the weekend’s colossal victory of the Scottish rugby XV against our English neighbours and the bizarre ranting that has followed from some quarters in the press to the effect that our exuberant celebrations bore testimony to the extent to which anti-Englishness continues to define and sustain Scottish identity. What utter rot, and example of which is the following:

Must we keep measuring our national self-esteem by sporting achievement, or more usually lack of achievement? Is Scottish identity not about something rather bigger and better than this?”

Yes it most certainly is Mr Reid, the journalist concerned. But the real question is just for whom – other than a coterie of hacks – is Scottish identity coterminous with our sporting achievements? No serious work on Scottish identity makes such claims, no serious politician utilises this argument as a means of securing popularity in a devolved Scotland, and no intelligent observer of Scotland’s evolving politics regards sporting events as the heartbeat of this small nation. It is inevitably true that sporting events in which a team participates as a nation are, by definition, bound to excite a sense of nationhood, of belonging, of pride in its achievements. But that should be a fairly obvious point. But to construct from this an imagined theory of imaginary anti-Englishness (racism) is not only to be wrong, and in the process potentially do considerable harm to Scotland’s good name, it is also to belittle the very real problems confronted by the very real racism that many individuals live in fear of in many European countries. Sadly, Scotland is no exception – but let us remember that we do not in Scotland yet see increasing membership of local political movements founded explicitly on racist policies.

But once having constructed this Scottish straw man, Mr Reid has to buttress it further. Speaking the voice of precisely the small-minded Scot (sic) whose existence he wishes to bemoan, Reid then goes onto describe Scotland’s victory over England as having been “…won with tenacity, resilience and defiance…”. No, Mr Reid. It was a victory secured by a clever tactical change in the Scottish game plan made at half time, a change which testified to the professionalism and knowledge with which our team management approaches international sport.

Throughout, this article reveals a state of mind on the part of its author which has little or nothing to do with the politics or identity of modern Scotland, far less a sporting event! I could go line-by-line through it and expose it for the nonsense it is. But already this blog is over-long…But it is a considerable worry that this is how a modern Scotland is being represented in a so-called quality national newspaper. Let us look instead to the policies enacted by Scotland’s young parliament of which we can take pride, and which are both refracting, refining and defining a political culture of which most Scots can be proud. Sure we have a long way to travel, and I have complaints aplenty about the state of Scotland’s political firmament. But I also have real concerns about the ignorance and – frankly – the intellectual laziness on the part of our journalists.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atta boy - go get 'em

Wednesday, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Kirk Elder said...

Heavens. Reading this gave me a strange stirring sensation in my sporran. Except that I wasn't wearing a sporran.
Fine sentiments!

Thursday, March 02, 2006  

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