Cowboys in kilts and going the whole hogmanay

Scotland - The Brand
July 21, 1995

Brigadoonery has returned. Mist, tartan, bagpipes - action. Rob Roy, Braveheart, and a forthcoming biopic of Robert the Bruce. Another round of cringe-making kitsch, another reminder that Scottish identity, denied political expression, has sunk into a cultural backwater.

Or, to take a different view, the spaghetti western is dead; long live its haggis counterpart. The eternal theme of good guys versus bad guys, played by guys in kilts.

David McCrone, reader in sociology at Edinburgh University, Angela Morris, rural sociologist at the Scottish Agricultural College, and Richard Kiely, research fellow at Edinburgh's research centre for the social sciences, authors of Scotland - the Brand, would incline more towards the universalist viewpoint.

It is conventional wisdom in Scotland that we are unusually odd in our obsession with heritage, that we suffer a psychological deformity because of the gulf between national politics and culture.

McCrone and his colleagues have little truck with this. They would argue that while heritage has its uniquely Scottish trappings, fascination with heritage is not uniquely Scottish, but a widespread attempt to cope with rapid political, cultural and social change: at such a time, people naturally begin to ask who they are and where they came from. While the Scots undoubtedly have highly ambivalent attitudes towards tartanry, their neighbours may have a more profound identity crisis. The authors highlight John Major's back-to-basics vision that "50 years from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and, as George Orwell said, old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist". Britain? England, surely, and they are not interchangeable, as Ian Lang, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, could tell him.

The authors teasingly quote Mr Lang's apparently startling desire to have been a fly on the wall at Bannockburn, Scotland's most decisive victory over the English, before revealing ten pages later that Mr Lang venerates Bannockburn because it meant the subsequent union was one of equal nations.

Conventional wisdom sees no reconciliation between unionism and nationalism, but again the book disputes this. In an investigation of the three key agencies responsible for manufacturing Scottish heritage, the Scottish Tourist Board (unashamedly commercial), Historic Scotland (solidly academic but attempting populism) and the National Trust for Scotland (reverent and paternalistic), it includes an intriguing survey of National Trust life-members. This confounds the assumption that there is a close link between political and cultural nationalism. The life-members have a strong sense of Scottishness and contrast the heritage of Scotland (close-knit communities, resilience, struggle, democracy) with that of England (stately homes, inward looking). But the largest group, more than 40 per cent, are Tories, followed by Liberal Democrats at 26 per cent, Labour at 10 per cent and the Scottish National Party trailing at 4 per cent.

But the book ends by lamenting Scotland's status as "a stateless nation in which there is very little direct democratic control over the means of its own cultural reproduction". This might sound more convincing if we had witnessed a heritage success story south of the border.

Olga Wojtas is Scottish editor of The THES.

Scotland - The Brand: The Making of Scottish Heritage

Author - David McCrone, Angela Morris and Richard Kiely
ISBN - 0 7486 0615 7
Publisher - Edinburgh University Press
Price - £12.95
Pages - 230

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