Scotland’s over-abundance of right wing commentators have reacted predictably to suggestions from Nicola Sturgeon that the BBC should be federalised and Scotland gain its own dedicated English language TV channel. Some have stated proud-Scotly that they don’t want the BBC to become any more Scottish, wearing their cultural cringe and ignorance on their sleeves like a badge of pride. Scottish culture is after all only fit for pithy insults and invitations to get tae. Putting more of it on the telly might actually encourage people to take it seriously, and that would never do. Allow people to explore their own culture and they might just decide that there’s more to life than the Great British Bake Off and poverty porn on Channel 5. They might realise that Scotland isn’t the marginal and unimportant little province which it is reduced to by an unequal Union.
One of the strangest things about the Scottish media is that it is full of people who openly despise the populace they write for. Scottish culture, insofar as they recognise its existence, is to be belittled and joked about. At best it is to be patronised and treated like a small but not too well behaved child. Gaelic is a dead language, they say as they fight against any attempts to keep the language alive. And Scots isn’t a language at all, they claim with a confidence which is inversely proportional to their knowledge and understanding of linguistic issues. A wee hint – having a degree in English literature doesn’t qualify you to state that Scots is not a language, and most certainly not while you labour under the misapprehension that Ausbau and Abstand are 1980s German electropop bands.
Worse than any of this however, they regard their own ignorance, lack of knowledge, and elephant hide sensitivity as positive attributes to be admired and aspired to. We live in a country where the dominant voices, the elite voices, have traduced and warped our view of ourselves and our country to such an extent that not once in over 70 years has the directorship of Scotland’s most important and prestigious arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival, been held by a Scot. Yet this singular fact, which would be unthinkable in any other European country, is regarded as perfectly normal and acceptable. What is unacceptable to the dominant voices in the Scottish media is to point out how remarkable it is and to suggest that it may not be a desirable state of affairs. Liz Lochhead found herself subject to oppobrium and insults for daring to suggest that the best person to direct a Scottish arts festival might be someone who was familiar with Scottish culture and arts.
What this boils down to is that in the eyes of the modern exponents of the Cringe, Scottish people are only to be valued when they cease to be Scottish. Call them out on this however, and they will react with howls of outrage. How very dare you accuse them of cringery. All of them are proud Scots, and all of them love Scotland. But the truth is that they are like religious fundamentalists who say that they have no problems with gay people, they love gay people. It’s just gay sex that’s wrong. Gay people can be loved as long as they don’t do anything gay. The Scottish Unionist fundamentalists have no problems with Scottish people, it’s just expressing Scottishness that’s wrong.
The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt, and Scottish culture is the everyday, the lived experience. As such it must be of lesser value than the imagined British culture to which the fundamentalist Unionist aspires. Only this imagined British culture is just that – an imagining. The irony is that the claims of Unionists to a less parochial cultural aspiration rest upon a deep rooted parochialism. There’s nothing much to distinguish Scotland from England, they cry. And they are correct. But the problem for their argument is that it can also be applied in equal measure to Ireland. And more, since so many British Unionists suffer from the same propensity to monolingualism that besets the rest of the English speaking world, they do not realise that what they say about the commonalities between Scottish people and English people also apply to the rest of the human race.
I lived in Spain for many years, am fluent in Spanish, have many close Spanish friends – many of whom don’t speak English. Yet most of the “very British problems” which were aired in a humorous Twitter hashtag and a TV show recently also apply to them. They are problems of the human condition, not distinctive features of a pan-British culture. Britishness corrals and confines, it’s no more a platform to a wider world than Scottishness is. In fact, it’s less so, as it’s an unlived experience, an imagining not a daily life.
Of course, the real reason that the right wing Scottish commentariat don’t want more Scottish content on our national broadcaster, and don’t want our national broadcaster actually to be a national broadcaster, is quite simple and self-serving. The more Scottish our telly becomes, the less of a place there will be on it for right wing media persons who are dismissive, denigrating and deprecating of Scottish culture and politics. Whereas just now our media revolves around their opinions, in a Scottish media they’d become the marginal figures that they truly are. This is not a country which votes for the right in any huge numbers, yet spokespersons of the right are represented in our media in numbers which are vastly out of proportion to the society which they claim to speak for. Or more accurately, the society they speak down to from their lofty position on the Great British soapbox.
That’s why they are so viscerally opposed to our public funded broadcasting service becoming more representative of the public it serves. A publicly funded Scottish media that was controlled and regulated within Scotland would not be the platform for unchallenged right wing Unionism that the Scottish media currently allows itself to be. You don’t need a column in a right wing newspaper to work that out. They need to get tae.
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