Cultural bill paid for Scottish autonomy

January 6, 1995

I have often wondered why the Scots have preferred to be ruled by the Parliament in London rather than by a parliament of their own. In a stimulating article ("Hanging out with the big boys", THES, December 9) Lindsay Paterson explains why: the Scots, until recently, retained significant control over institutions such as law, education, the church, and local government, and hence got what they wanted without their own parliament. They had autonomy without a parliament.

Paterson may be right, but if so, the price the Scots have prayed for their supposed autonomy is extensive anglicisation of their culture. The majority of Scots seem not to be bothered by this. Again, Paterson explains why.

Unlike other small countries, such as 19th-century Ireland, that had an alien culture forced upon them by colonial rule, the Scots, being autonomous, were extremely fortunate in being able to chose how to accommodate to that culture.

Of course, Scotland has been fortunate in not being colonised by force, but the really interesting question, which Paterson does not consider, is whether the Scots have been extremely fortunate in comparison with other small countries that have their own parliament. The answer to that question, I am convinced, is "No".

There is a striking difference between Scotland and the other two small countries in which I have lived, New Zealand and Sweden, which have parliaments of their own. The majority of the people of these countries embrace and confidently identify with their own authentic culture. The Swedes have had that confidence for generations, while non-Maori New Zealanders have gradually been acquiring it.

The Scots in general, by contrast, have a big inferiority complex about their own rich and distinctive culture, and the fact that Scotland has no parliament of its own is, I am convinced, the main reason for this. In being content with Paterson's "autonomy'', the Scots do not know what they are missing.

DUGALD MURDOCH Department of Philosophy University of Stockholm

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