Posts Tagged ‘scotland’
|Ĉi tiu estas la dua parto de enkonduko al skota sendependeco kaj la estonta referendumo, por Esperanto-parolantoj. Parto 1, pri la historio, estas ĉi tie. Parto 2, jene, temas pri la argumentoj de la du flankoj de la debato. Viaj komentoj kaj demandoj estos tre bonvenaj sube. Mi tre interesiĝus en la vidpunktoj de homoj en aliaj landoj trans la mondo.|
Hodiaŭ, Skotlando estas tre malsama ol en la pasinteco. Ĝi estas moderna, riĉa lando kiu famas por sia kulturo, kamparo, historio, kaj certe sia estonta referendumo. Kial kelkaj homoj volas eliri ion kiun iu priskribas kiel “la plej sukcesa unio en monda historio”? En la lastaj dekjaroj, kreskis du ĉefaj kialoj por sendependeco – kaj du respondaj kialoj por diri “ne”.
La demokrata debato
Homoj en la jesa kampo diras ke sendependeco estas pri demokratio. Skotlando ne ofte havas la registaron en Londono kiun ĝi elektas. La aliaj tri partoj de la Unuiĝinta Reĝlando estas Anglio, Kimrio kaj Nordirlando. Kune, ili estas super naŭdek procento de la loĝantaro, kaj Skotlando estas nur iomete super ok procento. Tute kompreneble, Skotlando ne ĉiam ricevis la registaron de sia elekto. Dum lastaj dekjaroj, Skotlando îgis pli politike liva ol Anglio, la plej granda nacio en la unio. Sed dum multaj jaroj, ni akiris nevolatan registaron. Ekzemple, la Konservativa Partio havis sub ĉirkaŭ kvartalo de la voĉdonaro de Skotlando dum la naŭdek-dekok-jaroj, sed iĝis la registaro. Kaj nun, la koalicio de Konservativaj kaj Liberala-Democrataj partioj ne estas voĉdone populara, sed kreis registaron.
Certe, aŭtonomio, ekita en 1999, solvis multaj el tiuj demokrataj problemoj. Sed kelkaj aferoj, kiel sociala sekureco, impostoj aŭ fremdaj aferoj restas en Londono – do Skotlando spertas la militojn kaj nukleajn armilojn de la Londona registaro kaj drakonajn ŝangojn en la sociala sekureco; kiuj estas tre malpopularaj en Skotlando, sed la homoj kaj politikistoj ne povas fari ion ajn ĉar la regpovo estas en Londono. Do la problemo daŭras malgraŭ aŭtonomio.
Neuloj ne vidas demokratan problemon. Se la tuta unio volas novan registaron, ni povas elekti tion. Pli bone, ili diras, ke ni kunlaboras por plibonigi niaj landoj.
La ekonomia debato
La dua plej granda loko de debato estas pri la ekonomio. Jesuloj, kaj la SNPa skota registaro, diras ke Skotlando estas riĉa lando kaj pagas pli ol ĝia proporcio al Londono. Ĉi tiu estas grava vidpunkto ekde la sepdeka dekjaro, kiam oleo kaj gaso malkovriĝis en la Norda Maro, en skotaj teritorioj. Miliardoj post miliardoj da pundoj ekstraktiĝis, kreante multa da laboro en Skotlando sed ne finigante problemojn kiel malriĉeco dum la lando. Ankaŭ, la mono simple eniris la monujon de la Londona registaro, sen kreante ion kiel la oleo-fonduso de Norvegio, kiu igis nia najboro unu el la plej riĉaj landoj en la mondo.
Neuloj diras, tamen, ke la oleo kaj gaso ne estas senlima. Ĝi finos baldaŭ, kaj la malstabilaj prezoj de oleo estas pli bone administrataj en la pli granda ekonomio de la Unuiĝinta Reĝlando. Sed jesuloj demandas kial oleo estas gajno por en la UR sed risko por sendependa Skotlando…
La hodiaŭa debato
La referenduma debato intensiĝas. La movadoj kreskas en la du flankoj, kaj eblas vidi la diversajn filozofiojn.
Mi generale vidas kvar klarajn movadojn por sendependenco. La unua diras ke sendependeco estas memstara boneco; la aliaj vidas ĝin kiel veturilo por pliboniĝeco de Skotlando.
- La naciista movado. Moderna naciismo en Skotlando ĉiam estis civita kaj ne etna. La ideo estas ke la plej bonaj homoj por elekti la estontecon por iu ajn lando estas la homoj kiuj loĝas tie, sendistinge iliaj originlokoj. Sen la debatoj pri ekonomio, la naciista ideo diras estas memkomprenebla kialo por ke landoj kaj nacioj memregas.
- La verda movado. La kvina plej granda partio en Skotlando, kaj dua en la jes-movado, estas la Skota Verda Partio. Ĝia centrala ideo estas ke lokaj komunumoj devas havi la regpovojn por krei iliajn estontecojn. Skota sendependeco konformas al tiu filozofio kaj pli facile ebligos tiujn lokajn ŝangojn.
- La socialista movado. La du malgrandaj egaj livaj partioj en Skotlando subtenas sendependecon. Historie, la kerna ideo de socialismo estas kuneco de laborantoj, kaj ofte socialistoj malŝatas sendependeco ĉar ĝi dividus ilin. Sed hodiaŭ, pli kaj pli skotaj socialistoj volas sendependecon pro la liv-politikaj deziroj en Skotlando kaj lademokrataj ideoj mi skribis supere.
- La komerca movado. Estas notinda parto de la skota komerca komunumo kiu volas sendependecon. Ĝi vidas la liberecon en aliaj malgrandaj landoj, speciale en Eŭropo, kiu povas favori komercon per malaltaj impostoj kaj forta, lerta laborantaro.
Mi ne estas la plej bona ulo por skribi pri la movadoj kontraŭ sendependeco, ĉar mi ne estas neulo. Eble vi sentis tion en mia skribado! Sed mi supozus ke ekzistas kelkajn klarajn movadojn en la ne-aro.
- La naciista movado. Ili neus ke ili estas naciistoj, sed multaj homoj proponas ideojn por konservi la union kiu estas tute naciista. Ili parolas pri nia kuna historio kaj kulturo, kaj demandi kial ni devas ĉesi esti brita. Tamen, ili ignoras la fakto ke onia identeco venas ne el registaro aŭ pasporto, sed el onia homa sperto. Se oni povas esti skota sen skota ŝtato, tial oni povos esti brita sen brita ŝtato. Simile, oni povas senti sin kiel skandinavia aŭ nordamerika sen tia ŝtato.
- La solidara movado. Multaj homoj speciale en la livo de brita politiko, diras ke homoj devas esti kune por solvi problemojn kune. Laborantoj, ili diras, estas fortaj kiam ili kunlaboras. Ili diras ke la homoj de Anglio, Kimrio kaj Nordirlando estos fremdaj kaj senligaj post sendependeco. Ili parolas pri amikeco kaj fortaj familiaj ligoj inter la homoj de la kvar URa nacioj. Kvazaŭ landlimoj prezentas problemojn por tio inter la nuna du cent landoj en la mondoj! Ilia ideo falas pro la fakto ke solidareco venas ne el politika unio, sed el komunaj ideoj pri vivo kaj la mondo; landlimoj neniam ĉesas ilin.
Mi esperas ke ĉi tiu afiŝo, kaj la antaŭa, montras klaran bildon de la debato en Skotlando pri sendependeco. Se vi havas komentojn aŭ demandojn, ĉu akordantaj ĉu ne, mi ege ŝatus legi ilin, ĉar la vidpunktoj de samideanoj tra la mondo interesas min.
Kiam mi ekpartoprenis en la skota Esperanto-komunumo, kaj unue renkontis aliajn parolantojn, mi ete surpriziĝis pro la granda numero de parolantoj kiu ŝajnis sendependecema. Sed estis senkaŭza. Skota sendependeco kaj Esperanto havas la samajn internaciistajn ideojn – ke ni faru bonecon kaj kunigas la naciojn kaj homojn de la mondo, ne per politikaj unioj sed per mondemaj ideoj kaj internacia komunado.
Tiu plaĉas al mi. Eble pli da skotuloj akordos en la venonta jaro.
|Mi ofte skribas pri skota politiko kaj la sendependeco-debato en Google+, kaj kutime en la angla. Mi konscias ke la plej granda parto de mia kontaktuloj en Google+ ne estas skotaj, sciias malmulton pri skota politiko, kaj ofte ne parolas la anglan bone, do mi miras ĉu tiaj afiŝoj estas kompreneble al ili. Antaŭ iutempe, mi demandis en Google+ ĉu Esperanto-parolantoj interesiĝus en tia artikolo pri skota sendependeco, kaj kelkaj homoj jesis. Mi forgesis la ideon dum longatempo, sed finfine, hodiaŭ, mi prezentas al vi ĉi tiu blogafiŝo pri skota sendependeco por komencantoj. Parto 2 sekvontos.|
En Septembro 2014, Skotlando havos referendumon en kie ni respondos la demandon:
Should Scotland be an independent country?
(Ĉu Skotlando devus esti sendependa lando?)
Do kompreneble la balotilo ne enhavos ĝin sube en Esperanto…
Estas grava demando, kaj pligrandiĝanta numero de homoj en Skotlando volas demandi kaj respondi, eĉ tiuj, kiuj volas diri “ne”. La afero speciale pligraviĝis post 2007, kiam la Skota Nacia Partio (SNP) gajnis la elekton al la Skota Parlamento, kiu havas iom da regpovo trans kelkaj interna aferoj, kiel edukado kaj sano. Tamen, la partio ne eblis prezenti sia referendumon pro manko de parlamenta subteno, do kiam en 2011 ili gajnis denove kaj ankaŭ atingis tutan majoritaton en la parliamento, la referendumo ebliĝis.
La mallonga historio
Sed tiu ebleco por elekti sendependecon ne estis ĉiam grava aŭ volata. Dum tri jarcentoj, Skotlando estis forta kaj ofte volonta parto de la Unuiĝinta Reĝlando – aŭ uzante la plennomo de la lando, la Unuiĝinta Reĝlando de Granda Britio kaj Nord-Irlando.
La moderna ideo de Skotlando ekestis en la naŭa jarcento, kaj ĝi transvivas multajn militojn kontraŭ Anglio, kiu volis okupi ĝin kiel ĝi atingis kun sia alia tera najborlando, Kimrio. Tiuj Skotaj Militoj de Sendependeco estis tiam, kiam William Wallace vivis – sed ne spektu la filmon Braveheart por precisa kaj senerara rakonto de tiu historio!
Skotlando spertis malfacilajn ekonomiajn problemojn en la deksepa jarcento, kiam ĝi alfrontis izolecon pro Anglio, kiu baris facilan kontakton kun la aliancanoj de Skotlando (kaj malamikoj de Anglio) – ekzemple Francio. Post katastrofa eksperimento en kolonigeco en Panamo, kien Skotlando perdis vastan parton de sia riĉeco, ĝi unuiĝis kun Anglio, kreitante la Reĝlando de Granda Britio (kiu poste unuiĝis kun Irlando).
Per la Akto de Unuiĝeco de 1707, Skotlando kontinuis siajn proprajn metodojn kaj instituciojn en kvar gravaj aferoj – la nacia eklezio, la bankoj, edukado, kaj juro. Kaj la reĝo de la unuiĝinta lando estis skota ankaŭ, kaj estis antaŭ ĉirkaŭ cent jaroj, kiam la reĝino de Anglio mortis senide, kaj James VI de Skotlando moviĝis al Londono kaj iĝis ankaŭ James I de Anglio. Sed post la unuiĝeco de parlamentoj, la regpovo tute moviĝis al Londono kaj la Skota Parlamento finiĝis.
La unuiĝeco verŝajne ne estis populara (krom por la skotaj parlamentanoj, kies monujoj profitis pro kuraĝigo voĉdoni ilin mem al malekzisto. Kaj Skotlando ne estis ĉiam stabila parto de la Unuiĝinta Reĝlando. Sed multaj homoj postulus ke Skotlando profitis el la unuiĝeco, plejparte pro la grandega Brita Imperio, kiu prezentis grandajn eblecojn por skota komerco.
Dum la imperio, Skotlando disputeble estis volonta kaj profitanta aganto, kaj multaj skotaj homoj estis inter la plej famaj kaj sukcesaj estruloj, soldatoj, politikistoj, komcerculoj kaj misiistoj en la imperio. Multaj lokoj en Skotlando profitis el la komerco de la imperio dum la industria revolucio. Glasgovo, ekzemple, la plej granda urbego en Skotlando, nomiĝis kiel “la dua urbo de la imperio”; kaj Edinburgo, la ĉefurbo, estis tre grava centro por la Klerismo.
Tiuj jaroj ne estis sole bonaj novaĵoj por Skotlando. La dekoka kaj deknaŭa jarcentoj ankaŭ alportis tragedion al multaj partoj de Skotlando. La Jakobaj Ribeloj okazis en la frua dekoka jarcento, kiam katolikaj reĝintoj provis repretendi la brita trono el la novaj protestantaj reĝdomo, kaj havis grandan subtenon el multaj altlandaj partoj de Skotlando. Post la malvenko de la ribeloj, la brita registaro punis la Altlandojn. Multaj aspektoj de altlanda kaj skota vivo detruiĝis aŭ preskaŭ pereis – ekzemple la klansistemo, la gaela lingvo, kaj hubado (la tradicia, malgranda farmado de Skotlando). La Altlanda Klariĝeco estis agado de riĉaj bienuloj, elprenante hubistojn el la tero. Tiam, multaj homoj foriris el Skotlando al novaj landoj, kiel Kanado, Usono, Aŭstralio, aŭ Novzelando.
Ĉu tiaj gajnoj en Skotlando el la imperio aŭ la industria revolucio estus okazataj sen la unuiĝeco? Kaj ĉu la malgajnoj estis nur la rezultato de la unuiĝeco? Historiistoj, mi supozas, povus debati tiajn demandojn senakorde.
Sed kiel ajn vi vidas skotan historion, ĝi estas pastinta. Tiuj ne estas la demandoj de hodiaŭ, kaj certe ili ne estas pria por la estonteco.
La referendumo de 2014 prezentas tre malsamajn demandojn.
Mi esploros ĝin en mia sekvonta afiŝo.
The problem with agreeing to go hillwalking on a certain date is that you can’t wimp out when the weather forecast is rubbish. Our plan was to do the Coulags circuit, which runs northwest from near Achnashellach. According to MWIS the prognosis was not good, though: below zero temperatures at summits, and as low as minus 22 Celsius with the aid of the wind. Admittedly the circuit wouldn’t be take us above 600m, but with all the snow and cold weather of late, it still wouldn’t be a day for shorts and t-shirts.
With extra layers of clothes we managed to lock out the cold, thankfully, and we were rewarded with a magnificent walk. It is a stunningly beautiful part of the word, and very desolate, with not another walker to be seen. The only company came in the form of two deer we spotted early on, and the evidence of past walkers at a bothy.
The path providing some great views of Munros and at one point a view northwest towards what we assumed was Loch Torridon or thereabouts. There was plenty snow around on the ground, and some lochs were partly frozen, providing some great photo opportunities. But if you hung around too long in one spot with gloves off and camera in hand, the icy wind was bitter and uncompromising.
But sometimes you have to battle hard for the rewards, and I was moderately pleased with my photo haul. Check out the results here on Flickr.
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has gone on the offensive today about armed forces capabilities in an independent Scotland.
Expressing, as many others have done, a variety of concerns about how defence would work under independence, he is quoted as asking a number of questions:
“It is not whether an independent Scotland could go it alone and develop its own defence forces – of course it could – but what sort of forces would they be? What would they look like? What level of security would they deliver? Who would join them? And would they in any way even begin to match the level of security from which Scotland benefits as part of the United Kingdom today?”
It’s rather an astonishing tirade. Not because these are not valid questions to ask – on the contrary, they are very good ones. But they are strange questions to ask specifically of an independent Scotland because they’re the sorts of questions any government and people of any independent country anywhere in the world should be asking themselves.
Indeed, such questions are being asked of the United Kingdom itself at the moment, given the issues facing the Ministry of Defence at present on everything from what planes to have, where bases will be located, and whether and how to replace the nuclear deterrent. These debates and questions do not undermine the case for a United Kingdom nor its ability to defend itself. Instead, such military and political choices are quite simply par for the course, business as usual: precisely what governments are elected to actually deal with.
And we can guess a lot of the likely answers to Philip Hammond’s questions: Scotland’s defences forces would be based in various places throughout Scotland, they would be non-nuclear and peace-orientated, they would consist (like armed forces all over the world) of citizens who have volunteered to join, and they would provide security to Scotland’s domestic territorial integrity, its economic infrastructure, its overseas interests, its allies, and above all its people.
As for the details? Well, just like in the UK, that depends on the governments we elect and the choices they make. But it’s safe to assume that a Scottish armed forces, like that of most European countries, would be one that is professional, attractive to the right kind of person, and would offer a range of domestic and overseas opportunities. Just like now. After all, if Denmark can commit troops to overseas action, so can Scotland.
Of course, some would argue that an independent Scotland would not be able to sustain levels of expenditure on defence: a standpoint people are perfectly entitled to adopt.
However, there have already been many years of cuts to the UK’s defence capability, with reductions in expenditure and troop numbers leading to concerning damage to resources, a threat to the so-called “special relationship” with the USA, and accusations of “serious holes” in the UK’s future defence capabilities.
So an independent Scotland is hardly unique in being accused of unsustainable defence cost reductions – nor, as an aside, unique in saving millions on defence expenditure by not having nuclear weapons.
And this idea of criticising independence for potential risks that are already being realised in the Union is a recurring theme of the referendum debate across a range of issues. Unionists have made a number of warnings about spending in an independent Scotland, when exactly the same problems are already happening in the UK.
For instance, on pensions, people have asked how on earth we would be able to manage a pensions system in an independent Scotland – when others have warned that the UK itself is in danger of not managing.
On the management of the economy, some have argued that an independent Scotland would not be able to maintain a AAA credit rating… when the UK itself is not capable of holding on to it.
There’s also welfare. An independent Scotland would not be able to pay for its welfare bill, argues the UK Work and Pensions Secretary. Meanwhile, the UK’s welfare system, currently being overhauled by the UK Government, is not working and is “promoting destructive behaviour”, argues… er… the UK Work and Pensions Secretary.
The national debt is an example, too. Scotland’s share of the UK’s national debt is described as “terrifying”. Meanwhile, the UK’s national debt last year was just over a trillion pounds and described by the UK Government as “unsustainable”.
And we hear that Scotland might not be a member of various international organisations. Yet we also hear that the political choices of the current UK Government could see the UK’s membership of both the UN and EU cast into doubt.
How about embassies? Well, an independent Scotland would face “enormous” costs paying for its embassy network. Mind you, so does the UK, which has had to cut costs by £100 million to make its own network sustainable (and let’s not forget the UK’s embassy sharing deal with Canada that I blogged about a while back).
I could go on. But you get the point – it’s a poor show to be criticising the idea of an independent Scotland as an economically unviable prospect that cannot meet its public spending obligations, when the UK itself is currently demonstrating precisely those failures.
For every story of doom and gloom about how something wouldn’t be manageable in an independent Scotland, you can find a corresponding argument about how that same thing is not manageable right now in the United Kingdom. And indeed, there will also be evidence to show that countries around the world, often smaller and poorer than Scotland, somehow manage quite fine with managing these challenges.
Therefore, these questions about how Scotland would cope as an independent country are not concerns that are unique to Scotland: they are shared by all governments around the world. Every government has difficult questions to face about how to deal with the problems of the day – be that an ageing population, public sector cuts, or poor infrastructure.
Such challenges don’t make those countries unsustainable in themselves – they are nothing more and nothing less than the bread and butter, everyday political issues that governments wrestle with.
So let’s accept that an independent Scotland would face precisely the same range of problems the UK faces at the moment.
It would be nice (though probably, sadly, unrealistic) to imagine that the “No” camp in the independence referendum could ask itself the following question before raising concerns about costs in an independent Scotland: “do those same equivalent concerns also exist right now in the UK?”
To put it another way, rather than inviting us to fear a possible future, why not dwell for a moment on the same fears being realised right now, in the present?
The real question is whether we want Scotland’s problems tackled by a UK Government that we might not have voted for, or by the fully accountable government of an independent Scotland that would be £824 a head richer than now?
As I mentioned on my blog a few weeks ago, I did a recent spell as the tweeter on the ScotVoices account. That is, of course, one of many “national” Twitter accounts where someone from the country tweets about their life, their country, and indeed anything (within reason) they fancy.
I’ve now had a couple of weeks or so to mull over my experience, and feel I should blog a wee report on how it went.
Before I do, though, I had every intention – thanks to a suggestion from my opposite number on the Pakistan account – to “storify” my week’s conversations. Storify is a handy little tool that searches, records and presents tweets (or indeed emanations on other social media platforms) in the form of a conversation that you can later easily read through and present to others. To do a whole week of tweets was admittedly a little vain, but I felt it would be a nice way to remember the week as well as pick out highlights when it came to writing it up.
It was also, however, an enormously fiddly process to transfer several thousand tweets at once, and – long story short – she couldn’t handle it, Captain. I emailed Storify and – to my enormous surprise – a friendly, fluent English-speaking human being wrote back to apologise. Basically, he explained, the system is not designed for the capturing of many hundreds of tweets at once, but saw that there was great potential in it being used by “national” accounts like ScotVoices, and he said he would pass the idea on to colleagues.
So that aside, you’ll have to cope with my memory.
And in a nutshell, being ScotVoices was a blast.
The first thing I noticed was that the experience was very different from my own Twitter account. I was tweeting more often than I would for my personal account, and there was a huge level of interaction, with anything I tweeted rendering a number of replies or retweets and indeed often generating long conversations between various users.
That was nothing to do with the quality or nature of anything I said, but simply to do with the numbers of people following the account. I think my personal account had, at the start of my ScotVoices week, around 400 followers (though its grown since as a result). ScotVoices, however, had something like 2,500, and I was totally unused to this level of interest and interaction. Trying to be polite and engaged as possible, I replied to as much as I could. While it was all fascinating, it was at times exhausting in a way to keep up with everything.
It was fun, though, and that was because I tried as much as possible to ask questions and generate discussion. The account after all is about reflecting the country, and life is as much about questions as pronouncements. In any case, asking a question then sitting back is sometimes easier than trying to spout forth on something in a balanced way.
So I posed a number of questions over the week: about the nature of Scotland, the relationship between the cities and the rest of the country, or (and this was a popular one) people’s best photos of Scotland.
My favourite discussion, though, was when I turned the independence referendum debate on its head. Rather than asking people’s views (which had been done by previous custodians of the account), I instead asked people who subscribed strongly to either yes or no to share what they thought the opposite side’s strongest argument was. There’s too much polarisation in politics, not least these days in Scotland, and so it was fun to get everyone thinking as objectively as they could about the views of the “other side”.
I wasn’t passive in all the discussions, however, and did “lead” at other points. I went on an admittedly predictable evangelical rant about the merits of Esperanto, and to be fair did get a lot of positive interest from it. I also, on a day off, went on a couple of hours’ “photo walk” around Inverness, tweeting photographs of various parts of the city, going into bits of local history where I knew it, and generally sharing a flavour the city I live in. Judging by the responses, this was probably one of the best received parts of my week on the account, and was certainly one of my favourites to do.
When I visited Edinburgh for work at the start of my week, I even attempted to convene a face to face gathering in a pub for whoever was in the area. After 30 minutes of waiting, nobody had turned up so I headed to my hotel… only to receive a tweet a wee while later asking where I was. It was from none other than an MSP who was an old comrade in arms from our days in the SNP Students at Aberdeen University. I set followers on a fun guessing game as to which MSP it was that I’d inadvertently stood up, and the first correct guess won a copy of my book (as did the MSP himself for his trouble).
I learned a lot, too, over the course of the week. I learned, for instance, that there’s a huge amount of international interest in Scotland. Many of the account’s followers, judging by those who interacted with me, are from European and North American countries. While awareness of the independence referendum was surprisingly low (it was a question I specifically asked), there was a huge general interest in and love of Scottish people, culture, scenery and history.
I also learned a lot from other countries – not only those people who replied who were following the account, but also the the many other foreign accounts that ScotVoices was already following. I had good chats with my equivalent tweeters on the Pakistan, Egypt, Sweden and Netherlands accounts, and it was nice to have a brief crossing of paths with people from so many different countries – like a sort of “citizen’s United Nations”.
Finally, from a discussion I sparked about Scottish food, I learned that porridge made with banana-flavoured Yazoo is something I really must try some time.
My experience on ScotVoices convinced me that social media really does have a place. It doesn’t have to be all about trolls, abuse, mudslinging and endless pictures of cats. It can be a place where windows are opened to other parts of the world, jokes and ideas can cross cultural boundaries, and we can give real voices to real people.
It was an exciting week. Though I’m rather glad to be back to just the one Twitter account.
One of the most curious mantras of those campaigning for a “no” vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum is the idea that we should resist “breaking up Britain”. As if two hundred thousand square kilometres of rock that have lain off the northwest of Europe for several millennia can be in any way “broken up”!
Such people appear to forget that Britain is a collection of islands made up of three nations – Scotland, England and Wales (so surely in one sense it is already “broken up”?). These three nations have shared languages, history, heritage, culture and much, much more for many centuries prior to being finally united under one government in 1707.
Along with Northern Ireland, Britain makes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Now, while Scottish independence would have to lead to some sort of name change for the remnant UK (which would still consist of England, Wales and Northern Ireland), it would in no way “break up Britain”.
Yes it would mean that there would be two sovereign states within the territory of Britain, but that in no way stops it being Britain, any more than “Ireland” stops being Ireland despite there being two sovereign states over there too.
Indeed, as I’ve argued elsewhere, there’s great scope for Britain and Britishness to be freed up by Scottish independence to become a truly regional, multinational identity in much the same way that Nordic, Iberian, Baltic or Balkan identities exist on top of the individual sovereign states within each of those regions.
Yet for some reason, opponents of independence persist under the bizarre, paranoid delusion that “Britain” will be no more.
But after thinking and blogging about the idea of Britishness and independence for a long time now, I’d like to jump in ahead of that question by asking it in a slightly different way:
Can you think of a single way in which Scottish independence would detract from British identity?
Please post your suggestions in the comments, and let the (respectful!) debate begin.
And as a way of kickstarting that debate, I’ve thought of – and responded to – some likely suggestions.
The British passport?
That essential icon of British identity, the British passport, inevitably springs to mind.
But technically, it’s the passport for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland rather than just Britain, and despite what passports claim, they are a certification of citizenship rather than nationality.
And the fact that people feel Scottish despite being holders of a UK passport demonstrates that citizenship need not impact upon nationality. Nationality comes, after all, from the multiple layers of identity we as individuals, communities and nations have and not from a government telling people what to feel.
So if people hold a passport for an independent Scotland or a remnant UK, their citizenship might be written down as something different from now but they’ll always feel what they felt before – be that British, English, Scottish or a combination thereof.
The British government?
Another suggestion might be that upon independence there would be no single British government.
True. But there would be two British governments instead – that of the remnant UK and that of the newly independent Scotland. And just like with passports, it is not from the affairs of state and the instruments of public administration that we derive our nationality – people feel Scottish, Welsh, English or British regardless of the name of the entity that governs them.
In any case, many areas of public life are conducted in entirely different ways throughout the UK. Scotland has a different legal system, churches, education system and languages from England. Does that make us any less British? Would we be any more British if the Church of England and Church of Scotland merged, if the Scottish and English legal systems were united, or if devolution was abolished and the NHS or schools systems in Scotland and England were run by the same government departments?
Of course not. Institutions alone do not make an identity. Let’s face it, nobody’s Britishness is derived from a fondness for the Student Loans Company or DVLA.
As supporters of the Union quite rightly point out, devolution in Scotland allows us to make certain decisions in our own way while still being a part of a whole. But if people can get by with separate legal systems, health services and university sectors and still feel British, then we can similarly do so with separate post offices, welfare services and taxation systems.
There are further clues as to the sorts of aspects of Britishness that Better Together expect people to say they miss, in a speech delivered last month by Better Together leader Alistair Darling.
It was an odd speech – so odd, in fact, that the very pro-independence website Newsnet Scotland printed it in its entirety without any accompanying analysis or commentary, confident that the oddness would speak for itself.
It was odd firstly in that it contained the contradictory assertions that:
If we vote for independence it’s irrevocable, there’s no going back
and then later, with reference to the SNP’s policy of remaining within a Sterling zone:
…the most obvious problem with the common currency is that sooner or later it takes you to economic and then political union.
…So Scotland would leave the UK only to end up in the same place as it began…
Leaving us unclear as to whether he believes independence would really be irrevocable or not.
But that’s by the by. The second reason for the speech’s oddness, and the more relevant reason in terms of this blog post, is that Darling claims that independence
signals the loss of things that we so readily identify with and cherish.
British music will no longer be our music. British art, dance and drama will no longer be ours.
So, Alistair Darling expects Scotland after independence to somehow be disenfranchised from British culture. As if culture needs a passport, or requires government permission to have a certain identity! What an insult to art and culture everywhere! In any case, Scotland has separate cultural and arts bodies already, and many people still feel British. Does Alistair Darling want them all to be subsumed into UK bodies in order to shore up British identity?
Granted, Britain over the centuries has created some of the world’s most famous and prolific musical traditions in the world, from pop to classical. But let’s take one of British music’s biggest names, The Beatles. To the extent that Scottish people can arrogantly claim the music of four young men from Liverpool as in any way “ours” before independence, we still could do so afterwards because The Beatles – like Scotland – would remain British. British music is British music in the same way that Scandinavian music will always be Scandinavian, and individual bands are enjoyed and celebrated between and beyond the different independent Scandinavian nations.
After all, if U2 can be widely loved in the UK despite being from the Irish republic and not the UK, then so The Beatles or Blur can be still loved and identified with in an independent Scotland. The idea that we cannot share in or celebrate music that comes from beyond our borders smacks of a cultural insularity that is contrary to the togetherness that the “no” campaign is trying to demonstrate.
British art, culture and music will exist for as long as the people of Britain keep making it.
The British Olympic team?
The British Olympic team, so much to the fore this year after a great London 2012 games, is another suggestion we can predict. The British Olympic team, it might be argued, would end with independence and we would no longer be able to share in each others’ sporting successes.
What rubbish! Of course we would! After all, we in Britain can be inspired and awed by the terrific achievements of great international athletes from the USA or Australia, and we can cheer on the plucky amateurs from micro-nations we never hear about except when the Olympics come round.
Similarly, or in fact more strongly, independence will still allow us to celebrate the successes of our friends and neighbours from across the Scotland-UK border, just as we do at the Commonwealth Games or in football where the British nations compete individually. (And if you think we don’t cheer each other on just now, then that’s a case in point: nothing would change upon independence.)
Indeed, independence wouldn’t end the British team at the Olympics – there would instead be two British teams, those of the remnant UK and Scotland. We could talk not just about the two countries’ individual successes but the collective British successes, just as we might refer not just to individual countries’ successes but also to the collective Caribbean or East African successes or the Scandinavian teams, or the Pacific Island teams.
Another great British institution that might be suggested is the BBC.
Well, of course the BBC would change upon independence, with its assets being moved into two bodies: a UK state broadcaster (which might quite justifiably retain the “BBC” name) and an equivalent in Scotland. Both would be broadcasters within Britain, and would produce output we could collectively describe as “British” as well as Scottish, English or whatever. We would, like with the Republic of Ireland, be able to see each others’ programmes on a daily basis so the cultural exchange would be unaffected. Indeed, given the increased output that two broadcasters would be able to create, the British television and radio heritage could actually be strengthened and enriched.
The Union flag?
When I voiced some of the thoughts behind this blog post on Twitter the other day, someone suggested the British flag as an aspect of Britishness that would end upon independence.
Not so, I would argue.
The Union Flag was actually created in 1606 following the union of the Scottish and English crowns, so it was conceived not as a national flag but as a royal flag, long before the political union in 1707. Then in 1801 it was modified to reflect Great Britain’s union with Ireland and to incorporate the cross of St Patrick.
These are important details, because it shows that the Union flag has only existed in its current format for two-thirds of the time that Scotland and England have been one state. So it is not in any way synonymous with, or exclusive to, or owned by, Scotland and England’s political unification.
Therefore, upon independence it would be quite conceivable that the Union flag could continue, modified or not, as the flag of the remnant UK or as a symbol of British identity. And if you think about it, to abolish or modify the flag could create hassle across the world, because it would raise questions among Commonwealth members such as Australia or New Zealand, who incorporate the flag in a corner of their own flag. And even if the Union flag was abolished, those who felt British enough to want to maintain it and proudly fly it would continue to so, much as many people around the world fly flags of stateless nations or long obsolete states because that is how their identity rolls.
Those are my ideas for starters, and as you can see, I don’t believe that any of them represent or would cause a loss of Britishness upon independence. It will be genuinely interesting to see what suggestions the Better Together campaign come up with in 2013, and perhaps I’ll blog again on the subject as their answers emerge.
But if the loss of Britishness is such an important factor in this debate, then let’s not wait – I’m keen for you to post your comments. I’ll be respectful of all contributions and will censor those that aren’t.
So again, the question: can you think of a single way in which Scottish independence would detract from British identity?
I bet you can’t, but I’m open to your attempts to prove me wrong!
It’s widely argued (by people like me) that being in the United Kingdom is harmful to Scotland’s interests. However, it’s a lesser-voiced, though no less valid, argument that Scotland being in the UK is actually harmful to the other nations of the UK as well.
One of the more obvious examples of this is how England (outside London) is often neglected in the political and economic decisions at UK level, with the lack of significant autonomy within England allowing the economic and political might of the private sector-obsessed London to dictate the show. Of course, the first moves towards regional assemblies in England were defeated, but I am sure that many in England would argue that the issue is worth revisiting these years later; if not in the same form then some other, perhaps involving stronger local government.
Another argument – perhaps less well-founded factually, but still often heard – is that of the UK’s supposed subsidy of Scotland. Why, some in England argue, should we continue to subsidise Scotland’s high public spending? Surely, they continue, Scotland cannot keep going down the road of having its cake and eating it? Now, this argument is flawed because of course Scotland more than pays its way in the UK and therefore instead the subsidy flows the other direction. But the assumption is clear for many who do not accept that fact. And so they ask why England should suffer because of Scotland’s place within the UK.
Two further examples of how Scotland harms the other parts of the UK emerged in recent weeks, and politically they are more real and more damaging than the ones I cited above.
Corporation tax in Northern Ireland
The first is the reluctance of the UK Government to give Northern Ireland the corporation tax powers it has long demanded. This issue strikes me as remarkable because it is one of the few areas that has widespread endorsement across Northern Ireland’s fractured political landscape, and is an example of how devolution can be a success in creating “normal” political discourse.
Neighbouring the Republic of Ireland as they do, Northern Irish politicians and businessmen see the effect of lower corporation tax across the border, with business being more attracted to the Republic than to the North. If only we could have corporation tax powers devolved to the Northern Irish administration, advocates argue, we could level the playing field and start taking more responsibility for attracting business.
No, says the UK Government. Not for any cogent economic arguments, but for reasons of brazen political desperation. Read this recent article in the Belfast Telegraph. It describes a debate about the Northern Irish economy at the recent Conservative Party conference, and contains an interview with Mike Penning, a UK Government minister in the Northern Ireland Office. He says:
“This is not just about Northern Ireland, it’s about the Union, and the tax system inside the UK.”
“Scotland is going for a referendum on the break-up of the Union.
“As a unionist, I will do everything in my power to make sure we do not just win the referendum, we smash it for the next generation of people.
“I fully accept that corporation tax is of massive importance to the people of Northern Ireland, but it’s not a silver bullet. There are myriad ways in which Alex Salmond would be able to utilise the argument. What we do not want to do is to help give momentum.”
It’s a surprisingly honest and frank appraisal of the role that cynical politics is playing in the work of the UK Government. In effect, the minister is saying “you can’t have this power, because it could fuel the independence lobby in Scotland.”
To put it even more simply, Northern Ireland’s economic development should be sacrificed in the fight to beat Scotland’s independence movement.
The second example of Scotland harming the other nations is on the issue of defence cuts. Scotland has had more than its fair share of defence cuts under the UK Government, with wave after wave of cuts to its regiments, air bases and so on. There has been widespread condemnation of these moves, and there is a perception that such cuts are seriously undermining the argument that an independent Scotland could not defend itself, or that Scotland benefits from UK defence expenditure.
However, there are cuts in England too, and according to this BBC News article it is causing resentment. The article refers to plans to abolish the Second Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF) – an English regiment. The article says that 57 MPs backed a motion (fruitlessly) to stop it happening. The article reports:
MPs accused the government of cutting 2RRF, an English battalion, as a “political fix” to avoid scrapping Scottish battalions ahead of the Scottish referendum.
Conservative MP John Baron, who served in the regiment and who proposed the motion, is quoted as saying
“The government is wrong. Military logic and not political calculation should determine Army cuts.
“I’m a firm believer in the Union but this is not the way to achieve it. In my view, the government’s culpability is demonstrated by its reluctance to justify its decision.”
And he had apparently earlier said
“Government interference to save poorly recruited Scottish battalions smacks of a political fix in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum.”
Now, I’ve no idea about the facts of this, and whether this English regiment really is better recruited than Scottish ones, or whether it is better militarily to cut a Scottish or an English regiment.
Either way, though, John Baron is right in principle to say that “military logic and not political calculation should determine Army cuts”. The problem is, however, that Scotland being a part of the UK makes the political calculation unavoidable for the UK Government. Why cut a Scottish regiment if it fuels the argument that Scotland’s defence needs are poorly served by being in the UK? Surely it’s better to upset England, which is securely within the Union, than another part which is considering leaving?
The UK Government’s view, then, is clear. English army regiments and Northern Irish business growth are both to be sacrificed in an attempt to stop Scotland becoming independent.
Are English soldiers and Northern Irish businesses really more important than Scotland’s place in the Union?
Well, that’s probably an unfair question to have to answer, and that’s precisely my point. Scotland being in the Union is creating unfair and impossible dilemmas, where the risk of staying in is not just felt by Scotland but also extends to other parts of the UK.
Why shouldn’t English regiments be kept if there is military logic behind it, and why shouldn’t Northern Irish businesses be given a competitive edge if that’s what they and their politicians want?
Why should the aggrieved parties in both examples be forced to be pawns in wider political considerations that are not their concern?
It’s a potentially ugly scenario that the nations of the UK could be set against each other like ferrets in a sack. So why, in short, can’t Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and of course Wales not each make reasonable decisions locally without being held back by the others?
This is the difference between a claustrophobic and imbalanced United Kingdom, and a community of independent nations cooperating with each other as equals. With the former, each administration within the UK is constrained politically or constitutionally by external factors that are none of its business. With the latter, Northern Ireland could raise or lower its corporation taxes to its heart’s content, facing up to the consequences of that power and responsibility, while England could cut or create army regiments according to its own military needs and make judgements on this without recourse to other powers.
These are just the normal powers of normal independent countries. This is not to say, of course, that independence means a blatant disregard for the well-being of neighbouring countries, and that defence or tax levels should not be changed without an awareness of regional and global repercussions. But that’s precisely where friendly partnership and cooperation comes in. Why can’t the independent nations of the former UK work together where they choose to rather than where a unifying authority dictates they must?
The longer Scotland stays in the UK, the more often these problems will arise. The UK’s claustrophobic constitutional arrangements has created constraints. These constraints in turn lead to competition, resentment and hostility.
If it’s a choice between the nations of the UK being in competition or partnership, and between them resenting each other or respecting each other, then the answer should be clear for all four nations.
A common argument against Scottish independence is that Scotland would be swapping the United Kingdom’s extensive diplomatic presence, through its network of embassies around the world, for something much smaller. How could Scotland, critics argue, sustain a diplomatic network as a much smaller country? Surely Scotland’s voice in the world would be weaker without the powerful togetherness that the UK’s diplomatic representation commands?
Such questions presuppose two things.
1. That the current arrangement serves us well and is geared to Scotland’s interests. Yes the UK passport is one of the most valuable things global travellers can have, and yes there are few parts of the world where British diplomatic representation won’t be a reasonable distance away. But what does this diplomatic network represent? What’s the foreign policy behind it? Well, it’s one driven by interests that are often contrary to Scottish public and political will, as many of the UK’s foreign activities, such as Iraq, would demonstrate, and which make the UK an unpopular country in many parts of the world. What’s the point of this supposedly vast array of embassies representing the UK’s interests, when they’re (quite rightly) not working primarily for Scotland?
2. That there is some magic bar of size, population or wealth above which a country becomes good at representing its own interests, and below which a voice in the international community becomes unsustainable. Just ask the countries that have become independent of the UK over the last couple of centuries or so – most of whom are smaller than the UK and many of whom are even smaller than Scotland. They manage just fine representing their own interests diplomatically. I wonder whether New Zealand or Ireland feel they’re managing to represent themselves on the world stage, or if they’d prefer London to do it for them. Yes there’d be some economies of scale, but at what price?
Well, if you follow the fascinating and enlightening Asset Scotland on Twitter, you’d realise that, actually, Scotland could quite easily sustain a good level of international diplomatic representation. Asset Scotland is a project that, by drawing on official documents about the UK’s resources, highlights Scotland’s proportional share by population of various state assets – including embassies. You can read the stream for yourself, but there are surprisingly large shares of assets in some surprisingly obscure parts of the world. It’s quite a network, and Scotland’s share should be more than enough to ensure adequate diplomatic representation around the world.
Although, if you believe the news, the UK itself is in danger of not being able to afford its own embassy network. The other day there was a story (here it is on the BBC and Guardian websites) about the UK and Canada proposing joint embassy facilities where each country might not be able to sustain separate premises.
The UK! Supposedly one of the great world powers, this behemoth of international influence… resorting to one of its former colonies as a means of sustaining a diplomatic presence! Ah, the irony.
Actually, let’s not mock the UK. It’s quite a reasonable move, and quite common too. The European Union, for instance, undertakes a number of diplomatic representations. The Visegrad Four (Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics) often share embassy facilities to save money. I’m sure I’ve heard of Australia and Canada doing the same in the past. And note that this is not a shared foreign policy or pooled political power – it’s just sharing facilities. Each country’s own rules on how they engage with the host country and support their own citizens in trouble remain, presumably, quite separate.
And so if the UK is using this perfectly acceptable model, then how dare unionists complain that Scotland couldn’t survive on its own on the world stage? If you regard absolute independence on the world stage as impossible – and the UK requiring to share embassy space in certain cases demonstrates this – then no country, strictly speaking, is sustainable.
That’s not a problem though. It’s an opportunity for cooperation, and you can well imagine Scotland reaching similar deals with close allies and neighbours like, say, the remnant UK, Ireland, or perhaps Scandinavian countries.
To illustrate this point, read what UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said as he announced the joint UK-Canada plans:
“As David Cameron said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: ‘We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values’.”
“We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring Nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins.
“So it is natural that we look to link up our embassies with Canada’s in places where that suits both countries. It will give us a bigger reach abroad for our businesses and people for less cost.”
Now I don’t often agree with William Hague, or David Cameron who he quotes, but he’s quite right. Leaving aside the fact that action in Afghanistan and Libya might have been of debatable merit, it’s certainly the case that the two governments have had many a common cause and have fought alongside each other over the centuries.
Take out any references to controversial policies, though, and the general principles behind Hague’s words are marvellous: common values, common heritage, common aims. I particularly like the phrase “first cousins”. But this does not necessitate political union, but rather cooperation.
Add the UK and Scotland into the speech, and you’ve almost defined what the relationship between the two countries as independent equals could be: and I’m surprised none of his advisers saw the political consequences for the Scottish independence debate when the idea was first batted around in the Foreign Office.
In fact, Hague’s words are a good blueprint for any two friendly countries, not just Scotland and the remnant UK. As a result of what he says, many of the foreign policy arguments against Scottish independence are seriously damaged, and the diplomatic viability of an independent Scotland is made all the clearer.
Brave the Scotland
I went to see Brave at the cinema the other night. You’ll perhaps have heard the fuss – it’s a Disney/Pixar film set in a mythical Scotland about a young princess who tries to get out of being married off. With a cast packed full of well-kent Scottish actors, it promised to be a fresh and entertaining film about (if not technically from) Scotland. The Scottish Government, sensing an opportunity to sell the country as a brand, jumped on the bandwagon, and lo, the hype began.
Given the huge publicity, I felt it would be interesting to go and watch it. Not that this blog post is a mere review. Though if I can indulge you for a paragraph, I’d say that the characters were fun and splendidly voiced, the animation was gorgeous, the script was funny in places and generally avoided stomach-churning cliche, and the story a little thin, plodding and uninteresting.
No, instead, my thoughts drifted – and this may be an indictment of the film – towards the marketing hype. Given the lush portrayals of dramatic Scottish scenery (apparently heavily researched by the film-makers), there was a clear opportunity to push the brand of Scotland to a world of potential tourists.
But the problem is, the Scotland of Brave simply doesn’t exist. The setting is entirely fantasy, and is portrayed via animation. While apparently real places, such as castles, informed the shapes and texture of what we saw in Brave, there is nowhere you can visit to say “this is Brave country”. Not only is this a non-starter, it’s actually a potentially dangerous line of thinking – attracting and receiving tourists should be about exceeding expectations, and not about building up unrealistic expectations that will only be dashed by the eventual truth.
It makes me think about the misused opportunity of Tobermory, dressed up to be the setting for the popular childrens’ TV show Balamory. There was a huge tourism boom from the show, but I’ve heard more than a few stories of people whose children were sorely disappointed by the reality. Their favourite characters, it turned out, didn’t actually live there, the weather was miserable, and there’s frankly not a lot to do in Tobermory unless you fancy visiting a pub, the distillery, the arts centre or the chocolate shop, or engaging in hikes and other outdoor activities. That’s not to say that Tobermory is a disappointing destination – far from it, it’s beautiful and there’s lots to do. The problem is that it is Tobermory, not Balamory. Of course it will be a disappointing place when you present misleading or inaccurate images of it.
The problem extends to the big screen, too. Think of the most famous films that aren’t just about or from Scotland but heavily feature its scenery, culture and very essence. They mostly fall in to one of two camps: horror, and cheese.
The horror and cheese camps
In this first category of films, I would argue, are ones like The Wicker Man or Trainspotting. Now by “horror” I don’t mean the horror film genre, though The Wicker Man clearly belongs there. I mean horror in the general sense, in that this category of film presents a horrific view of Scotland. Trainspotting, for instance, is a magnificent film – grim, gritty, funny, poignant, and a brutal potrayal of drug abuse and addiction in Edinburgh. What it doesn’t do, however, is make you want to visit the city or the country. Meanwhile The Wicker Man boasts some lovely scenery, but it’s hardly an advert for warm Scottish hospitality.
I’d even add Gregory’s Girl into this category. It’s a heartwarming story of adolescence, though by the way I found it an underwhelming, boring and incredibly dated film. It’s “horror” for my purposes because it shows a dreadful side of Scotland: the ugly and soulless world of post-war new towns. Nobody will watch Gregory’s Girl and say “that’s beautiful, let’s go there”.
In the cheese camp are those films which misrepresent Scotland visually, culturally or otherwise to an over-the-top degree. Brave, of course, fits in here, as does the historical void that is Braveheart. Brave I have already commented on; and Braveheart gives only a Hollywood picture of Scottish early medieval history; and even the scenery is mostly Ireland.
By misleading people about the scenery, and by overdosing on the tartan and “hoots, mon” cliches, you will either put people off or disappoint them. Though perhaps anyone who wants to visit Scotland on the back of the scenery portrayed in Brave is probably stupid enough to deserve being disappointed.
Striking the balance
Now my point is not to deconstruct the artistic and creative merits of these films, but to put them in the context of Scotland’s tourist industry and the government’s commendable desire to “back a winner” that can turn cinema seats into hotel beds. Whether or not they are good films or not is irrelevant to my argument that they are counter-productive to the idea of selling Scotland to potential visitors.
Sell them horror, and they’ll not want to come. Sell them cheese, and at best they’ll see through it; and at worst they will visit then be hugely disappointed.
What films, then, exist in the middle ground between horror and cheese? What cinematic portrayals of Scotland have the right balance of beauty and realism, painting an attractive picture of Scotland without being way off the mark? And which ones, more importantly, back up that balance with good quality film-making that is likely to sell cinema tickets, stick in people’s minds, and be attractive to Scottish marketing budgets?
There are very few films in this middle ground that I can think of, that are or would have been attractive “riders” for the Scottish Government and tourist authorities to back. So I asked on Twitter, summarising much of the above in a few tweets and seeking suggestions for titles.
Examples of middle ground films
One response I got was Local Hero. With a mix of beautiful scenery and a classic tale of the oligarch versus the everyman, it’s a positive sort of message to get behind. Though I must confess to being less than wowed by the film, and the sad decline of the village of Pennan is testament to the lack of significant impact the film had in terms of tourism to Scotland.
Another suggestion was a marvellous film I had until then forgotten about: Restless Natives. I watched it once years ago, and while this 1980s film will I am sure it feel dated today, I really enjoyed it and ought to track it down to watch again. It tells the story of two young men in Edinburgh who, seeking a thrill, don ridiculous disguises and begin holding up tour buses on Scottish roads and extorting money. Far from terrifying and deterring visitors, their cheery, non-violent demeanour turns them into cult heroes and major tourist attractions, with visitors flocking to the country in the hope that they might meet them. I don’t remember everything about the film, but remember laughing a lot and seeing a lot of beautiful countryside. Maybe this, with a balance of good Scottish humour and good Scottish scenery, is the key. The film was not successful abroad, but maybe it was the sort of thing that should have been jumped on by the tourist industry and government.
Wracking my brains, only two other “middle ground” films come to mind.
One is Doomsday, which I reviewed here, a science fiction thriller. Admittedly there are elements of both horror and cheese in this film, and while both are done firmly tongue-in-cheek it’s probably not politically correct enough to be the sort of film that would sell Scotland to the masses. Also, although there is a lot of great scenery, key elements of it are filmed in South Africa, which is a disappointment.
The second is Seachd, the first feature film to be made in Gaelic. It made some headlines upon its release, not least because of its pioneering move to bring Gaelic to the big screen. I’ve not seen it, but from the little I’ve heard and read, I understand that it has some fantasy elements but is nevertheless rooted in real ideas, real culture and – importantly – real scenery. And not just any scenery, but some of Skye’s and Scotland’s most stunning. Was this a rider that the Scottish tourism moneymen failed to back?
So with only two films in that middle ground that I can think of, I’m left wondering whether the Scottish Government has been backing the wrong horses simply because there aren’t enough of the right kinds of horse. In which case, that’s a separate debate about the support of film-making in Scotland. Of course, I’m far from a cinema buff, so perhaps I’m missing some titles that would be fine examples of how to sell Scotland.
And please don’t mistake this post as resting on the premise that cinema exists only as a hook for tourism. It doesn’t, and it should never exist as a creative industry purely for economic or political ends. However, occasionally there will be big hits that unintentionally or otherwise have the potential to sell Scotland abroad, and in those instances it’s only right that the government and tourist authorities look at how they can get involved in supporting the film and encouraging people to visit on the back of watching them.
The problem is, of course, and the point I’m hopefully making in this post, is that there is a lack of films that might work as a magnet for tourists that portray neither an ultra-realistic image nor a cliche-ridden schmaltzy image. Brave, I’d argue, fails to do this no matter how good it is as a film.
What, then, would work? What films fit that difficult middle ground?
If you can think of any films that are neither horror nor cheese, and which portray the very best of Scotland in a way that could sell the country better than Brave, Braveheart or any others, then let’s hear them.
“So… what is happening with Glasgow Rangers?”
I laughed. Partly it was out of surprise that this Bucharest taxi driver was aware of the collapse of one half of the Old Firm. Partly, though, what I also found amusing was the tone of resigned bewilderment, making it sound like the sort of small-talk opening gambit you’d easily get from a taxi driver back home too.
His English really was patchy and I couldn’t keep up with the full facts of the Rangers story myself, so the simplest way of explaining it was by saying that the club had spent money it did not have.
But he was not the only person with a good basic knowledge of Scottish football.
“I’m from Inverness,” I told another taxi driver that week, when he found out I was Scottish and asked the obvious supplementary.
“Yes, Marius Niculae played there,” he said. Of course, I had forgotten that. Not long after their promotion to the SPL, some considerable money had been spent on the Romanian internationalist. His time at Inverness Caledonian Thistle was, however, notable for the wrong reasons. His mediocre performances on the field were overshadowed by the huge legal dispute off it, as a disagreement about payments ended up in the courts and, if I remember rightly, was resolved in favour of the club. I didn’t raise this fact, though, in case it reopened any lingering hurts that Romanian football fans may have against Inverness.
It was impressive, though, that on these couple of occasions Romanians had showed they knew more than a little about Scottish football. I rather let my ignorance show, however, when I told a Romanian I knew a few of his country’s footballers’ names and, when asked to name them, my mind went blank and I could only think of Hagi. I hadn’t even remembered Niculae at that moment.
I was further impressed by awareness of Scotland on a couple more occasions, with people asking me about the forthcoming referendum on independence. Whatever your preferred outcome, it is interesting to note that the world will be watching us over the next couple of years.
“Are you British?”
“Scottish,” I replied. The man who had spoken to me seemed in late middle age with a smiling face, swarthy complexion and slightly unkempt clothes. Knowing this was the tourist heart of the city, I was instantly suspicious. But he seemed friendly enough, so I allowed him to engage me in conversation, all the while remaining vigilant about my surroundings and valuables.
“Ah, a great country,” said the man in very fluent but heavily accented English. ”I love Scotland. Glasgow? Edinburgh?”
“Inverness,” I replied.
“Marius Niculae used to play there!” he responded.
The man talked more about his love for Scotland, which far from being a bit of mere tourist banter seemed quite genuine. He’d read all the great Scottish writers. He loved Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which I shamefully confessed to never having read.
“Romania suffered a great deal under Communism, you see,” the man explained, all the while leaning against the wall behind him. ”People could not travel, so they had to travel in the mind. I did, at least, and read a great deal of British writers. I have read a lot in French and Italian too.”
Conversation moved on to other aspects of Scotland, such as the Gaelic language, and of course he knew about the independence referendum. He asked for my view on it.
“I’m all in favour. Europe is full of many small countries, and Scotland is a very rich nation that could easily prosper.”
Mention of wealth was clearly the trigger for the line I had been half-expecting all along.
“And would a rich Scotsman have a few lei for a poor Romanian?” Strangely his tone or manner didn’t change. This wasn’t banter that had now moved on to the main business; this was just another natural line in his conversation.
“I’m afraid not,” I said. ”I fly home tomorrow and I have spent all my lei”. I was indeed flying home tomorrow, and though while I did still have some lei in my wallet, there was not too much left and I needed it for the rest of the day. He seemed unoffended and relaxed by my response, and I in turn remained convinced I was in no danger despite his request for money. He was, after all, a pleasant and educated man.
I decided, then, to test him. I kept him talking about various things – Scotland, Romania, the books he’d read, the languages he spoke – because I wanted to see how long he would hang around now that he knew I was not a source of money for him.
It was barely a minute longer. He shook my hand, wished me well, and ambled off down the street. I wondered whether he would bump into any other tourists, and he if would be an expert in their countries too.