“The Best Wee Country in the World,” is a phrase I’m particularly fond of. It’s chippy, pithy and good fun. It’s also almost certainly not true of Scotland.
Writing today on Twitter, Trevor Chaplin (@trevorchaplin, helpfully enough) stated, “I’m not a “proud Scot”; I find that a ridiculous concept. I’m voting Yes to get things done, nothing to do with identity.”
That’s fair enough. As I’ve previously said myself, patriotism is essentially pretty daft. Why on earth should I be proud of where I or my parents were born? I didn’t do anything to gain this ‘achievement’, I didn’t work for it, I didn’t earn it, and there are some who apart from my lack of effort, might cynically note I’m not all that lucky because of it either. In Mr Chapman’s blog which he directed me to, he writes at more length on the subject and amid many salient points he makes, an early one is that to be proud of your culture suggests you count yourself lucky not to have been born into another. Put simply, I am.
I make no serious claims to Scotland being the ‘best’ country, nor do I wish to put others down. Furthermore when we talk of ‘countries’ in this respect what we really mean are cultures and yes, there are many around the world, I’m glad I wasn’t born into. I’m glad I don’t consider women, gay or black people (to name but three groups) second class citizens. I’m glad I was able to go to schools with up-to-date textbooks, inspiring teachers and a sandpit. I like that being exposed to multiculturalism has made me a more knowledgeable and worldly person. This is all due to the culture I grew up in. It feels natural to be proud of that, even if I did nothing myself to create it.
The same thing happens every February though. When the Six Nations is on, I’m often vocally proud of ‘my boys’, or ashamed by their performances. This despite the fact I don’t know, indeed have never met any of the current group of Scotland players.
As a Brit, I was proud of Danny Boyle for his magnificent opening ceremony at the Olympics. I didn’t contribute anything to it, but he made me proud. I was proud for him. Pride was something of a theme that month. I was proud of Jess Ennis, Chris Hoy and all the other British Olympians I watched. As with the Scotland rugby team, I still haven’t met any of them. The best I can do is point out that Jess and I share the same birthday (so clearly we should be together – still waiting for that tweet, Jess).
Why is this? Well since there are amateur rugby players, amateur filmmakers and amateur diarists, it shouldn’t sound that odd when I tell you I’m an amateur anthropologist. I’m also a dab hand at driving games, but that’s less pertinent today. So what follows is not educated in the traditional sense; it’s my best guess. I don’t think I’ll readily be contradicted however.
We’re tribal by nature. Not quite as aggressively as we once were and let’s be grateful for that, but we like to belong. Of course you can pick examples out of a crowd who like to be different and stand apart, but by definition they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Furthermore it’s worth noting that in social circles, even the goths who spend the most effort trying to be different are in fact simply joining another social group, rather than truly trying to be individual. They gain new friends who like the same music, wear the same clothes and go to the same clubs. Very few people actually walk alone.
So we join clubs. They can be evening classes where we meet like-minded people, political parties where we do the same, sports teams where our primitive need for conflict is safely channelled into a (largely) positive pursuit, or we can stick with the biggest one we were born with. Our nationality.
Of course this same habit gives rise to our less attractive tribal qualities as well. Even as we discover new wonders in the 21st century, every one of us knows a bigot. Very often, even though we won’t admit it to ourselves, there’s some of that negativity left in us too. If you’ve got the time, take the Harvard Implicit Association test. Odds are it will say you have at least a slight preference for white or black people, even if, like me, you consider yourself to be a fairly accepting type of person. This is just an example of our tribal mentality. Different is bad; same is good.
This quite obviously gives things like nationalism a bad name in accepting society. Historically we associate the word with bad men doing bad things (and women, naturally enough, focus on the gender of these figures more than men) which is why nowadays, liberal Yes supporters such as myself aren’t particularly wild about having the term associated with them.
Nationalism is not however, a bad thing by default any more than supporting your local football team over another is. It’s only when you take it too far, as with almost everything in life that it becomes a problem. Where the line is, becomes the question.
By now we’ve likely all seen the Kev Milne film; a young man shouting abuse at ‘Nazi’ Yes campaigners isn’t easy to forget. What’s more readily dismissed is that Kev was shouting up against what he saw as anti-English bigotry. Call me charitable if you will but I like to think his heart was in the right place, and my ire is directed more toward those who stirred up this resentment and hatred in him. That’s another post though. What’s admirable about the film is the calm and considered way the pictured Yes supporters tried to reason with Kev, providing proof if any were looking for it that a self-identifying nationalist is no more threatening to society than a toothpaste advert. Less in fact, since the dubbing on them frequently makes me want to self harm.
To move into more frightful waters, the same logic can be applied to anything which divides us. Is a Rangers fan better or worse than a Celtic fan? Certainly it depends entirely upon their actions rather than their affiliation, one which has likely been nurtured since birth. It would be possible however, to look at the two groups of football fans and after analysing police reports, nature and volume of songs sung at grounds, level of education amongst the groups and various other factors, to make an objective statement on which was ‘best’. This would of course be open to interpretation but the mere consideration of the answer isn’t wrong. It’s mathematical and no more complex in concept than comparing a PlayStation with an XBOX.
Similarly (and if I didn’t lose half my audience in that paragraph, some are definitely going now), we can compare men and women and make a judgment based on which sex is ‘better’. Again the inverted commas are there for a reason. It’s not that such a judgment can’t be made, and it’s certainly not that we’re the same. We know that physically, men are generally more capable being stronger and faster. We know that girls do better in academia. Most CEOs are men, most nurses are women. Does this automatically mean that men are better businessmen and nurses are more empathetic with the infirm? Does post hoc ergo proctor hoc ever truly apply? Let anyone drawn to such simplistic conclusions beware. There is no doubt however, that at least theoretically, we can work out another objective answer on which is best and there is nothing wrong with seeking that answer unless it is then used to discriminate.
So back we come to nationalism and Scottish pride. We know objectively that we do not come from the best country in the world. We are not the richest, the smartest, the largest, the most admired, the healthiest, the happiest; the list goes on. We also know however, that objectively we do not come from the worst. There are countries where it is impossible to read this because there is no internet connection. There are others where that connection is filtered and this blog does not appear. There are those without the facilities to teach their citizens how to read. For all Scotland’s faults, we have far from the worst starting point when we’re born here. Do we have any right to take pride in it though?
Certainly no more than we do to take pride in our sports teams, our race, sex or our sexuality. We still travel to Parkhead, Ibrox and Murrayfield however. We enjoy Black History Month as a time when we can be proud of the contributions black people have made to our international culture. We eat Mother’s Pride, embrace Women’s Pride and go on Gay Pride marches. All of this is ridiculous, especially when you consider the larger picture (and superior bread brands out there).
I’ve never understood people who aren’t interested in the cosmos, but for some I know it’s because the immensity scares them. It fascinates me however and here it proves a point. In the grand scheme of things, our identity as Scottish, British, male, female, black, white, even human or chimp, means very little. We are not just unimportant to the universe; on a galactic scale every life form on this planet is practically identical as a carbon-based organism.
Of course in our daily lives, it does matter, to varying degrees. So am I a proud white male? Well I’ve never been called demure. Am I proud because I am a white male however? Of course not. So why do I call myself a proud Scot?
Because we all choose our clubs, and this is the one I like best. Not all the players are people I would drink with and not all the supporters are people I want around me. Nor am I automatically negatively disposed towards those who hail from others. As a group of people to belong to though, I could do far worse. This is a club that makes me laugh, cry and think that bit harder. It’s a club that understands my funny regionalisations of language, my apparently dour outlook on life hiding a wee boy still marvelling at the big wide world, and my belief that together we could do some pretty amazing things in the future that benefit not just those like us, but ancient allies and friends yet to be made all around the world.
This is my club and I’m nailing my colours to the mast. I’m a proud Scotsman, and I come from the best wee country in the world.