IN To A Louse, Robert Burns laments “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!”, which, roughly translated, means that it is a shame that we can’t see ourselves as other people do, faults and all.
Given that, thankfully, in the last 334 years both farming technology and poetry have come a long way, this presents the opportunity for Scotland to update this charming little maxim because it’s needed now more than ever before.
In fact, rather than seeing ourselves as other people do, we should settle for the slightly less lofty goal of seeing ourselves as we actually are because there is a huge gap in our arrogant perception of ourselves versus the uncomfortable, destructive, and harmful reality of modern Scotland.
Scotland is in the grip of a condition I’ve come to call, Scotnitive Dissonance… and it’s hurting us.
You will have heard the claim before, surely? It first came to my attention during the debates, speaking engagements, and other such events I took part in during the 2014 independence referendum. Representing, it will come as no surprise, the NO side, I often heard about how much more “progressive” Scotland is compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and that, my interlocutors would insist, was grounds for Scotland to go it alone.
Those claims have, from what I can tell, gotten louder since 2014. Their 2021 updated versions usually comes accompanied by pointing to the electoral success of the SNP, an essay on whose ‘talk’ versus ‘act’ difference could also be another 1000 words or so, and their new ‘not a coalition’ partners in the Scottish Greens. Proponents of the ‘Scotland’s just more progressive’ line also regularly point out that Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union which, I hasten to point out, is a crass over-simplification given the strength of the left-wing, Tony Benn school, of Euroscepticism. It’s a simple failure of reasoning that takes no notice of things in practice.
I grant that, in general, Scotland has a slightly more progressive voting record than other part of the United Kingdom but does that apply on a societal level, where it arguably counts for more? I, for one, have my doubts.
For instance, what kind of progressive country would have, as the recent shocking video that did the rounds showed, an entire packet of gammon slouching through the streets of a large city singing a song that tells the Irish diaspora to “go home?” Further, in what kind of progressive country would that be normal? Now, it is possible to use any manner of adjective to describe this Terry’s chocolate orange march, “disgraceful”, “awful”, “appalling”, “vile”, “bigoted”, and “nasty” are all worthy contenders, but one thing you cannot possibly describe it as is “uncommon”. Scotland is only country that I am aware of that has both a deep-seated issue with sectarian hatred and violence and a hugely inflated sense of its own progressive nature – these things, I suggest, cannot co-exist.
Well, there might be one other… but I’m not opening that can of worms, especially when I can hear it ticking.
If the soccer (they hate it when I use that word, a piece of information that will help me do everything apart from stop using it) sectarian sing-song sashay doesn’t prove the existence of Scotnitive Dissonance, then perhaps the ‘debate’ (eugh!) over trans rights will.
While Scotland isn’t the first country to have encountered the apparently thorny dilemma between leaving trans people be and allowing them to live the lives they want and being complete dicks to them (read any newspaper from the 90s that covered the ‘gay panic’ and section 28 for some alarmingly easy to convert CliffsNotes on the issue) the levels of vitriol, nastiness, and mean-spiritedness in our version of this discussion are particularly alarming; especially, to return to an earlier thread, when the protestations of how progressive a nation we are, in our own opinion, provide such an unintentionally ironic soundtrack.
There are many examples of this, far too many to include in just one column, but, because I like to make a point as emphatically as possible and because this matters: would the following happen if we were as progressive a country as many in our political class seem to think? Eyes down for a full house… built on shoddy foundations.
Would we have a councillor being subject to a series of attacks, culminating in having his home and cars set on fire just for his political views?
Would there have been a concerted effort of public shaming aimed against the women brave enough to speak out against the man who was Scotland’s most powerful public figure?
Would homophobic violence be on the rise?
Would a mild-mannered, slightly blustery, Highland MSP have a Hitler moustache etched into one of his offices’ campaign posters?
Would there be a worrying thread of Anglophobic rhetoric against anyone in public life with a hint of an English accent?
Would there be crises in education, mental health, and social care?
Would the government be preparing to make Scots hand over their medical information in order to access basic freedoms?
Would we be a world-leader in drug deaths? Would the streets of our biggest city still be festooned with rubbish shortly before a global summit on the environment?
The point of this charge sheet is not, as I’m sure will be pointed out to me, to ‘talk Scotland down’. In fact, my goal is the exact opposite – I want to talk us up. I want us to be the progressive, tolerant, accepting, liberal country that the misty-eyed (which, presumably, is what obscures their vision) holders of the ‘Scotland’s just more progressive’ line think we are. However, in the same way as no number of feathers jammed uncomfortably up our arses will make us chickens, simply proclaiming our progressiveness won’t make it so.
Scotland has many, many endemic and deep-rooted social problems that are far too often, and far too casually, batted away by pointing out that other countries have the same problems, that we, allegedly, don’t have the power to fix them, or by reiterating just how ‘progressive’ we are.
Scotland is a proud and patriotic place and while that can be laudable, it can also be laughable.
While there have been steps taken in the right direction (the baby box and other such progressive policies have my complete support) there is still so much more to do before we can justly call ourselves a progressive country rather than just be a country that calls itself progressive.
Patriotism, in its truest sense, involves being frank, honest, and critical of the condition of your country – just fawning over it is just purple nationalism.
Sadly, while so much of our politics revolves around the constitution, a debate that our two biggest political parties seem suspiciously happy to rerun ad nauseam, we remain in the tight grip of our self-inflicted Scotnitive Dissonancewhich means we will be constantly trying to piss up the progressive rope… which is only the second-most damaging thing we could do with it.
Photo courtesy of The Scotsman