Monday, 8 September 2014

The Language of Political Identity

Wilson McLeod has a thoughtful article over at Bella Caledonia discussing "The non-issue of Gaelic in the indyref debate". Of course, Prof. McLeod — a diaspora Scot whose facility and dedication comprehensively put the rest of us to shame — draws embarrassing attention to our lack of cultural nationalism even before he embarks upon his analysis.

While concentrating on Gaelic, he also reminds us that the low profile of the language, which has traditionally not been linked to party-political or constitutional issues in Scotland, is probably still superior to that of Scots, whose activist circle has been strongly Nationalist since at least the time of MacDiarmid.

The more the Blether Region thinks about it, the clearer the affinities between Scots and Ulster Protestants become. At first glance, of course, they seem very different. The former are nowadays an increasingly secular and moderate group; the second, not so much. And while Scots can have a wide range of constitutional and cultural preferences while remaining Scots, Northern Ireland is very much in the business of cultural and political packages, whether about Highland dancing or Palestine-Israel.

On the other hand, the predominant lack of interest in language among Scots Nationalists would very much find an echo among Ulster Protestants, who generally view Irish as an inward-looking waste of time and have been sceptical about accepting Ulster Scots into their cultural portmanteau — as would the conditional, somewhat picky nature of their loyalty to the state.

Perhaps the chief differences on that front are that in Scotland 1) there is no longer any ethnic antagonism to Gaelic, which is nowadays an uncontroversial, if neglected, source of national symbolism and 2) Northern Ireland, or at least the Protestant half, clearly needs England a great deal more than Scotland does.

Whether attitudes change after independence remains to be seen. But apart from anything else, there is a referendum to win first.

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