Thursday, 29 November 2007

Quo Vadis Scotland?

Following on from the previous post I thought I'd illustrate our bleak national character with Alistair Reid's much-vaunted poem 'Scotland'.

The interesting thing about this poem is not just its merciless critique of the Scots but the author's merciless attitude towards it now.

The 100 Poets Gathering in 2007 was brought to an extraordinary close when he stood, read it one final time, and burnt it.

Why? Not only because he felt he was being overly-defined by this one piece of poetry, but because Scotland in 2007, he felt, was very different from Scotland in 1971 when it was composed.

'Scotland', he said, was obsolete because Scotland has changed, moved on, abandoned its Reformation misery for a more cosmopolitan, international, less guilt-ridden existence.
I'm inclined to disagree and say rather that it has only just started to change.
Compared with the rest of Europe it is really rather isolated and inward looking, with fewer immigrants and cultural influences from outside (not counting the Poles who have come in such large numbers that we now have roadsigns and newspapers in Polish).
Furthermore, after devolution and the advent of the Scottish Parliament, it has actually become more parochial in recent years, with a press corps firmly fixated on affairs in Holyrood at the expense of the rest of the world.
This tendency may or may not be exacerbated by an SNP administration which, to give it credit, is at least Euro-friendly (cod wars aside) and has a strong record on strengthening relations with small EU member states on which it often models itself.
But back to our national charaacter. Does a nationalist election victory point towards the need to distinguish a Scottish spirit different from that of our confreres in the south? And if so does that mean turning back the clock and embracing Knoxian puritanical ways as the soul of Scotland? Only time will tell. I wonder what the rest of you think?

SCOTLAND - Alastair Reid

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,

when larks rose on long thin strings of singing

and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.

Greenness entered the body.

The grassesshivered with presences, and sunlight

stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.

Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,

the woman from the fish-shop. 'What a day it is!'

cried I, like a sunstruck madman.

And what did she have to say for it?

Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves

as she spoke with their ancient misery:

'We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!'

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