Like a fish that doesn’t notice the water, for generations Scots either didn’t notice or silently tolerated the continual slights, disdain and patronising contempt in which Scottish distinctiveness was held by the Unionist establishment and its apologists. But we do notice now, and we voice our disapproval, and this is dismissed as grievance hunting by a Unionist establishment and its apologists who see no reason to change. Grievance hunting means that for many lifetimes they’ve acted like dickheads and their dickheadedness was tolerated, but now all of a sudden they’re being called out on it. So in their eyes it’s not their fault for being dickheads, it’s our fault for pointing it out – that’s grievance hunting. Their being dickheads is a part of the natural order of things.
Ill will hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel. The truth is we don’t need to go hunting for grievances, grievance surrounds us like the water fish swim in. Grievance is the water as long as Scotland remains a part of the British state, because the British state was founded in contempt for the lower orders, whether they be Scottish, Welsh, Irish, or English. The difference in 2015 is that Scotland has found a means of articulating its dissatisfaction and in doing something about it that’s far more productive and positive than the inchoate rage of a riotous rampage in London.
This week we got a new grievance to hunt. Or more accurately, a new grievance was dumped in our lap by dickheads who’ve been dickheads for so long that they’ve lost the ability to realise that they’re being dickheads. A new UK passport design was unveiled this week, the new design’s biggest – indeed only – success was the skill with which it managed to piss off several different sections of society. It was that rarest of beasts, a celebration of creativity which was entirely lacking in imagination. It looked like the end product of a meeting of BBC executives to discuss ideas for programmes with Great British in the title. Take a random assortment of Great British icons that you’ve found by typing “Great British icon” into Google image search, apply a few photoshop filters, then spew them across the pages of a passport. It looked like the beginning of a creative process, not the end result of one.
Dubbed the Creative Britain passport, the design pissed off creative types for its lack of creativity. It pissed off feminists for its insistance that men are way more creative than women are. There are only two women deemed important enough to figure in the passport, and one of them is someone no one has heard of. With one token exception, everyone is featured is white. And the Great British creative passport pissed off Scottish people for its failure to recognise any Scottish creativity at all. On the other hand, if you’re a white, middle class, English male, then this is definitely the passport that recognises you. But then apparently the creativeness of white, middle class, English males can represent everyone – the creativeness of women or Scots can only represent women or Scots.
There are only two women featured in the passport, and no Scottish, Welsh, or Irish people at all. Scotland does get a mention of sorts in the shape of a representation of Edinburgh Castle and a couple of bagpipers alongside an Asian dancer. We’re nothing more than a part of the exotic multicultural seasoning on the British blandness. The role of Scotland in this great Union is to disguise English nationalism as British nationalism and so magically transform it into non-nationalism. This is what makes being British better than being foreign, because being British magically innoculates you from nationalism – a disease found solely amongst the lower orders like colonials and Celts.
It’s not like there’s any shortage of Scottish creativity. Arguably Scots created the modern civic nationalism that this passport purports to celebrate. The Declaration of Arbroath was a decidedly mediaeval document in many ways, but what is most certainly wasn’t was a declaration of ethnic nationalism, and even from those very eary beginnings the Scottish sense of identity recognised that you could be a Gaelic, a Welsh, a Norse, or an English speaker and still be Scottish. But the very last thing a British passport might want to recognise is that there’s such a thing as a distinctive Scottish civic national identity that’s far older and deeper rooted than Britishness.
There are plenty of other examples of Scottish creativity which shouldn’t upset a British nationalist passport designer. The list of inventions and innovations in art, culture and science given to the world by Scots is long and distinguished : Television, the telephone, penicillin, tubular steel, tarmacadam, wire rope, teleprinters, the pneumatic tyre wheel. Encyclopaedia Britannica, logarithms, steam engine, central banks, the hot blast oven, steam hammers, adhesive postage stamps. The portrait gallery, light bulbs, the oil refinery, geology, anaesthesia, kaleidoscopes, and a cloned sheep called Dolly. Economics, radiotherapy, flush toilets, refrigerators, hypodermics, insulin, screw propellors, and wave power generators. There’s so much more but it doesn’t do to bore except to add that the master of doggerel is Scotland’s own William Topaz McGonagall.
Instead of choosing absolutely anything from the embarrassingly long list of Scottish cultural and scientific achievements, the people who designed the new UK passport were so bereft of knowledge about Scotland that all they could think of to represent us was a tourist postcard image of pipers outside Edinburgh Castle. That right there is exactly what the British establishment thinks of when it thinks of Scotland. A wee piper outside the castle with his cap on the pavement at his feet to collect the pennies from the passing tourists up from the South for the Festival.
What makes the new passport design typically British is that it’s condescending and patronising. Those are Great British values we can do without. It’s grievance hunting to point any of this out of course, because middle class white southern English members of the British establishment – and those who’ve swallowed their values and outlook wholesale – have been treating Scotland with the same hauf airsed ignorance for centuries. The Scottish fish has noticed the water, and it smells bad. We’re fed up swimming in Great British sewage, and we won’t accept their passport to patronisation.
My new book is due to be published on 23 November. Barking Up the Right Tree is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper and is being published by Vagabond Voices press, who also publish Jim Sillars. The dug is in exhalted company. None of the articles collected in this book have appeared on this blog.
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