The Standing Invitation

Cultural Engineering

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Should Scotland be independent? It’s a complicated question, and I don’t intend to address it here. What I want to ask is the same question, but with a shift in emphasis: should Scotland be independent?

Let’s say you have a large number of people in the north of the UK who want independence from the south of it. Where should you draw the line on the map? Perhaps you might divide the country into squares, poll each square, and then declare as your new proposed border that line north of which fifty-one percent of the population wants independence. That’s certainly one way of doing it ­– and to me it makes much more sense that simply assuming that the most natural and parsimonious way of carving up the country happens to coincide exactly with the border between Scotland and England that was drawn up in the 13th century.

For me, independence for Scotland makes little sense when compared with, say, independence for that group of people who tend to vote differently from the rest of the country. The area this group occupies might correlate with the region we call Scotland, certainly ­– might even correlate with it because it’s Scotland, because that is a specifically Scottish way of thinking ­– but simply to assume it seems wrong.

Of course what I’m missing is that Scotland is a distinct cultural entity. People in Scotland might feel Scottish, as opposed to British.

The feeling of nationhood is a real phenomenon, and not something to be ignored. The people who would gain from Scottish independence ­– members of a devolved government of a region of a United Kingdom who might see themselves as one day being the all-powerful government of an independent Rebublic of Scotland – know this quite well. They know they have a vested interest in cultural distinctiveness from England.

Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about 60,000 people in Scotland, a tiny percentage of the population. And yet it is the words “Fàilte gu Alba” that greet new arrivals at Edinburgh Airport, and all the signs on the Scottish Parliament have equal priority for English and Gaelic. Is this a generous move to accommodate the few thousand people who feel more comfortable conversing in Gaelic? Hardly. It is an attempt to remind us that Scotland is different from the rest of the UK. It is part of a drive to reintroduce and promote a language for Scotland.

The expressed goal is to ‘preserve’ a uniquely Scottish culture, one that has suffered from centuries of English oppression. And perhaps this is a worthwhile enterprise. But bygone cultures are never revived; they are only ever recreated, with modifications, to suit the present-day needs of those recreating it. Treat with suspicion those who say they are preserving some past golden age while installing computers in their offices. They are picking and choosing from what is available to them, and they are doing it because they plan to profit from it.

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Written by The S I

August 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm

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