A Lesson in Self-Hatred
Hot on the heels of Lord Robertson’s claim that we are a cultural void-space comes Allan Massie claiming that we are bereft of language too. Massie, who campaigned unsuccessfully against devolution, seems to be joining the growing meme for denying your own culture as part of some sort of spasm of unionist backlash.
I suspect that even today, despite the pro-Gaelic propaganda to which we are subjected, and despite, or perhaps because of, the proliferation of signs in Gaelic, a majority of Lowland Scots would agree with him, believing that public money spent on Gaelic might be better spent elsewhere – or, of course, not spent at all.
I’m not sure what, exactly, he means about ‘gaelic propaganda’ but he is of course quite wrong about ‘Lowland Scots’. In fact only two years ago a poll by TMS-BMRB showed 81% of Scots believe that it is important that Scotland does not lose its Gaelic language traditions, and 78% stated that the language was an important part of Scottish culture. 70% of respondents said that there ought to be more opportunities to learn the language. See “Attitudes Towards the Gaelic Language” here.
For a writer of ‘historical novels’ his history is poor. He writes “The decline has been inexorable. By 1755, 23 per cent of Scots were Gaelic speakers, in 1901 4.5 per cent” – facts which, without context of social history, are indecipherable and meaningless.
Clearly a man who nurses a grudge, Massie is pissed off about people rating a gaelic poet: “The hypocrisy goes a long way back. Thirty or forty years ago I used to be irritated by friends who assured me that Sorley MacLean was the greatest living Scottish poet.”
Yes indeed, having read the recently departed Seamus Heaney on MacLean who’d have thought that we could produce a poet. Massie will of course no better than Heaney on such matters. But of course it’s the ‘we’ that he really hates.
But he is now in full flow, writing: “…the hypocrisy is officially encouraged. Successive Scottish governments, eager to emphasise our distinct national identity, have made Gaelic a key feature of our difference from England, and have fostered the pretence that we are a bilingual nation.”
I’m not sure I can think of anyone who pretends for an instant that we are a bilingual nation. He knows it too. What he is expressing is the barely contained rage at any form of distinct expression or investment in Scottish culture. But he is right I think that successive governments have had the temerity to begin to explore a distinct national identity.
Culture and language are indistinguishable. We have a rich and diverse past and a rich and diverse future. You could in response to this cant and dishonesty support the Tobar an Dualchais (‘Well of Heritage’) – also known as Kist o Riches here.
Or celebrate the Mod in Paisley reconnecting with the diaspora here.
He ends this dreary diatribe of sustained ignorance with a familiar heckle against those treacherous road signs:
You may put up road signs in Gaelic all over the country, but if you have a warning to deliver about road conditions, the word you will use is “Danger”, because it‘s a word that every Scot can understand, whereas only a tiny number will know the Gaelic for it.
That knowing something (anything) about an aspect of your own culture is such a threat to the establishment Scotland is very telling. Where is the danger? What is it that threatens them? I could safely use the word gloic to describe Massie, because presumably, as a Lowlander he wouldn’t know what it meant.