Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Civic Vacuum

The Blether Region finds itself curiously detached from the current debate on Scottish independence — and not because of geography.

Rather it is because there has been so little acknowledgment of what makes Scotland unique — the remaining elements of its distinctive culture, and in particular its battered but still just-about-with-us languages. Of course, the Green Party and Margo McDonald have also recently voiced misgivings about the independence campaign, although in their case, one must unfortunately conclude, because of their wish, unbolstered by any but the most modest of democratic mandates, to pre-empt important decisions that the post-independence Scottish people will have to take about the head of state and economic policy.

Yet the cultural issue is surely the elephant in the room — albeit an invisible one. Indeed, one commentator, who confidently predicts that Scotland will be "functionally independent in 10 years" (i.e. either officially independent or enjoying a "devo-max" settlement), has even suggested that cultural nationalism is a non-existent element in current political debates — speciously, and apparently without seeing any need for justification, equating it with ethnic chauvinism. Yet it is possible to accept the obvious truth that Scots are not one whit better than their counterparts and relations in other parts of the world while recognising the value of cultural diversity, and Scots' specific role in maintaining it. Just as it would be silly to expect people in London, Paris or Capetown to save the osprey, it is silly to expect anyone but us to save Scottish Gaelic or — as a distinct, autonomous idiom spoken across geographical and class divides — Lowland Scots.

That Scotland has — or, until very recently, had — cultural wealth equal to its resources of oil and wind is, one hopes, obvious. Yet with depressing frequency any mention of cultural nationalism is loudly and reflexively decried as bigotry. A classic example of such weird self-hatred came last week, when the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the main teaching union, overwhelmingly passed a resolution criticising the very reasonable stipulation that pupils study and answer a question on a Scottish text as part of the English syllabus.

Indeed, the Blether Region would have gone further and stipulated a vernacular text.

Leaving creoles to one side, there is nowhere in the English-speaking world where the residual regional variety differs more from the standard. The EIS thinks it can teach English without teaching Scots. Well, if that be so, let's reduce the hours spent on English and deal with Scots separately.

Like many debates on Scotland, it is surely obvious that if something isn't catered for inside the system, it will sooner or later be catered for outside it.

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