by Kevin Williamson
What do the English really think of us Scots? It’s the question that dare not ask itself. Generally speaking, it’s never a good idea to generalise, especially in a country where the phrase “the English” has become outlawed from everyday usage. (Scotland is the only place on earth where an entire nation can’t use the collective noun when describing another nation without being frowned upon. Perhaps this is not a bad thing. But the reasons behind it are highly selective and less enlightened).
My own experience is that among working class northerners for instance there is great affinity towards Scotland. And vice versa. But among a section of the middle classes of the south of England there seems to be a growing churlish resentment. Not just against our unfathomable desire to hold a referendum on Independence – how could they after all we’ve done for them? – but there is also a less remarked upon cultural prejudice which seeks to actively diminish, marginalise, ignore, block or even mock our cultural output.
Last week on Twitter Greg Hemphill (Still Game, etc) stated that his new comedy series had been approved for production by BBC Scotland bosses after they viewed a pilot episode. But the BBC national network then chose to cancel it. I was a bit shocked by this and when myself (and comic book writer Mark Millar) expressed surprise Greg stated that this is standard practice at the BBC: “every show BBC Scotland make has to have “network transferability”. So it has to be supported down there.” So there you have it from one of Scotland’s most successful comedy writers/actors of recent years. BBC Scotland’s output has to come with a stamp which says: Approved By London
A couple of days ago the Fort William-based children’s writer Barry Hutchison, author of the popular Invisible Fiends series for the over 9s, tweeted: “Chilled by the number of English booksellers I met last week who hadn’t bought in my books because they thought they’d be “Scottish stuff”.” He added that he was surprised since it was northern bookshops where this occured rather than London ones.
From anecdotal and personal experience I’ve found this to be a long-standing problem for Scottish writers. Publishers and bookshops regularly discriminate against Scots especially when a work is set in Scotland or uses a Scots language. I recognise this situation from my time in the publishing industry in the 1990s with Rebel Inc. Apparently the situation has gotten worse. If a writer is from Kenya, Canada, Italy, Belarus or Mexico City there is more chance of them getting a book deal, effective distribution, nomination for major awards, or national media reviews in England than there is for a new emerging voice from Scotland. Of course there are exceptions but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall trend.
Recently our own columnist George Gunn has written to me privately about an unhappy experience he had when submitting a play – written in the Caithness tongue – to an English-based theatre company. They suggested submitting it to a theatre company in Scotland where the language might be understood.
Scots have never displayed such antipathy to cultural output from England. The exact opposite has been the case. Whether its TV soaps in Cockney or Mancunian; or the films of Loach, Leigh, Meadows; or the plays of Shakespeare, we love them all and enjoy them for what they are. Scots have always looked outwards culturally, without prejudice. So what the hell is wrong with the English middle classes – the people who control the important gateways in publishing, TV and bookshops – that they can’t do likewise?
(As an aside I’d love to see a breakdown of the takings for Pixar’s film Brave between various countries, in comparison to England, just to see how far the anti-Scottish prejudices go, or dont go.)
Perhaps I’ve called this wrong. Perhaps these narrow-minded prejudices are not predominant south of Hadrians Wall. Perhaps cultural works from or about Scotland are widely consumed, adored and championed in middle England. I would appreciate if writers and others involved in cultural output could set the record straight, either way. Write to us at Bella and let us know, either in the Comments box below, or privately via email.
(To help understand the current mindset of Little Englanders here is an article printed in Der Daily Mail yesterday. See what you think. A chill pill before reading is strongly advised!)
A reaction to Scottish resentment: Why English support for Andy Murray was not all it might have been
By NIGEL JONES (Daily Mail, 9th July 2011)
Though no tennis fan, Andy Murray’s gallant attempt to oust Wimbledon’s king Roger Federer from his throne has prompted me to ponder weighty matters that go far beyond sport into history, patriotism, and the ancient ethnic loves and hatreds uniting – but more often dividing – England and Scotland.
In the wake of Murray’s defeat, some Scots have voiced well-grounded dark suspicions that the loyalty of many English tennis enthusiasts to Andy, the first Briton to reach the Men’s final since ‘Bunny’ Austin in 1938, was at best lukewarm. Indeed a good few English fans – judging by their Twitter and Facebook remarks – went so far as supporting his triumphant Swiss opponent. So why should this be so?
It is clearly not Murray’s less bankable personal characteristics that are at the root of the problem. He is – or was until yesterday – the personification of the Scottish stereotype of dourness that caused PG Wodehouse to famously remark that ‘It is never difficult to distinguish between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance’.
Many – perhaps most – other male tennis stars of various nationalities display the same traits of moodiness, irascibility, dullness and general all-round ill humour without it adversely affecting their popularity. And Murray’s tear-choked post-match speech on court showed that even this stony-faced maestro of misery is capable of raw human emotion when the occasion demands it.
No, Murray’s problem with the public is not personal – it is political. Or to put it even more rawly, it is ethnic. He is a proud and patriotic Scot, and as such is, ipso facto, an enemy of England, the dominant nation within the increasingly fractious family that make up the British Isles. Leave aside Murray’s reported support for the bitterly anti-English SNP (not the least enjoyable aspect of Sunday’s final was to see the usual smug smile wiped off Alex Salmond’s fat features) and you are still left with a man who, to many English, is simply not one of us. Despite the plethora of Union Flags at Wimbledon, when we think of Andy Murray it is not that symbol of Britishness that first springs to mind – but the separatist saltire of St Andrew.
Human beings are tribal by nature, and despite the artificial Union foisted on England and Scotland by their ruling elites under Scotland’s Stuart dynasty in 1603 ( when James I and VI succeeded Queen Elizabeth I); and a century later in 1707 when the reluctant nations were forced up the aisle in the shotgun wedding that was the Act of Union, the English and Scots remain two divided tribes.
Common – largely commercial – interests, kept the Union show on the road for three centuries as the British Empire rose, ruled, and finally fell. Scottish imperialists were among the most enthusiastic empire builders, provided several Prime Ministers to preside over the Imperial project, and Scottish soldiers and sailors fought alongside their English counterparts in two world wars and countless lesser conflicts.
For their part, the English evinced a sentimental adoration for all things Scottish, from whisky to Scottish shortbread biscuits, and from bagpipe music to Andy Murray’s beloved porridge, culminating with our current ruling House and their enthusiasm for holidaying in the rainy, midge-infested Highlands.
This was always, however, a one way street. There was never a corresponding cult of Englishness in Scotland. The default position of most Scots towards their southern neighbours was one of sullen resentment, interspersed with increasingly frequent spasms of active loathing.
And after the Empire faded into the mists of history, there seemed less and less reason to keep a union, which had always been a marriage of convenience rather than one founded on love, out of the divorce courts.
Despite or because of the manifest advantages to the Scots of having their limping economy subsidised by the hated Sassenachs; despite or because of the one-sided gift of devolution – allowing Scots at Westminster to determine the destiny of England while denying the same say in Scotland’s affairs to the English – Scottish demands for separation under the skilled direction of Alex Salmond have grown and grown.
Now, unsurprisingly, they have at last encountered an English backlash. This can be seen, not only in the scarcely veiled glee with which many English people greeted the victory of Roger Federer; but also in the fact that support for outright Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum on the subject, is currently stronger south of the border, than it is in Salmond’s native heather, where the pro-Union cause has a 20% lead in the polls as more canny Scots calculate the real cost of abandoning a union that, when all is said and done, has profited them rather well.
As the Scots are belatedly discovering, sullen resentment works both ways, and as they contemplate the increasingly dubious benefits of such a loveless union, it is the English who are discovering the joys of nurturing a sense of righteous grievance.