The Uncle Tam is the Scot who tries to ingratiate himself with the English upper and middle classes by pandering to all the worst racist stereotypes which are current about Scottish people amongst sections of the English population. There’s a long list of them, the drunken Scot, the begging Scot, the ungrateful Scot, the chippy Scot, the nostalgic Scot, the violent Scot, the incomprehensible Scot, the self-pitying Scot, the grievance-mongering Scot, the tight-fisted Scot, the dour Scot, the sullen Scot, the vegetable-phobic Scot, the English-hating Scot, and the humourless Scot who points out that these tropes are indeed racist stereotypes and nor merely harmless banter.
Some Scots who have moved to England feel the need to effect to despise their fellow country men and women in order to make their new English colleagues and acquaintances feel more at ease with the quasi-foreigner in their midst. They torture their accents, they come down with bad cases of irritable vowel syndrome, they distance themselves from any manifestations of overt Scottishness in order to highlight that they are not like those benighted Caledonians back in the Auld Country.
It’s interesting to note that the reverse never happens. English people who move to Scotland retain their English accents even after many decades of living here. That doesn’t mean they’re not accepted, not at all. But what it does tell us is that those Scots who move to England and effect Anglicised accents are doing so on purpose. They’re doing it because they’re ashamed, because they seek to ingratiate themselves, because they wish to downplay their Scottishness in the face of the anti-Scottish stereotypes which are rampant. And yet it’s supposed to be Scotland which has a problem with anti-English racism. Anti-Scottish racism in England isn’t a thing, we’re frequently told, it’s just a spot of banter. Yet it’s Scots who move to England who demonstrably alter their behaviour, not English people who move to Scotland. What does that tell you?
Michael Gove never got that accent in a fishmongers in Aiberdeen. Every time he opens his mooth he is trying to persuade the social circles amongst which he now moves that he’s better than the rump lumpen mass of Caledonianry that he left behind, because he and his like have adopted the mannerisms, vocal inflexions, and attitudes of the English upper class, wholesale. By doing so they confirm the beliefs of the British ruling classes that Scots require British rule in order to save us from ourselves. We can only progress within the UK by ceasing to be Scottish.
But people like Michael go beyond that, they also feel the need to denigrate the rest of us in order to aggrandise themselves. That’s what was responsible for Michael Gove’s extraordinary exercise in self-loathing broadcast on Channel 4 in 1992 which has recently been unearthed. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on The National, here. https://www.thenational.scot/news/17667151.gove-says-scots-are-seen-as-unattractive-creatures-in-unearthed-tv-clip/
And because someone has kindly uploaded it to Youtube, I am able to embed it here in all its self-loathing horror.
The wannabe Prime Minister tells us that we are unattractive creatures, inarticulate drunks on the Embankment, given to begging on the London Underground and wheedling spare cash from our English betters. Even in Parliament, he loftily informs us, a Scottish accent is invariably accompanied by an outstretched palm.
Mikey trotted through the racist stereotypes held by some in England about the Scots, and by apparently espousing them reassured those who held them that they can’t be racist because the same views were being aired by a Scot. By so doing he validated and reinforced them. A black person, an Asian person, a member of any other ethnicity or national group, would have had far greater self-awareness. No one does self-loathing like the North Briton in full flight from their Scottishness, those tartan bedecked court jesters at the court of union, reducing a nation to jimmy wigs and buckie bottles.
They are the uncle and auntie Tams and what they prove, unwittingly and unconsciously, is that this so-called precious union, this supposed family of nations, demands that those of us who are not English accommodate to English culture and identity, because the converse is unthinkable. The problem has to be our accent, because it can never be their ears.
Back in 1997, when the campaign for the devolution referendum was in full swing, Newsnight on BBC presented a debate from the ancient Scottish Parliament. Assorted Scottish worthies gathered to discuss whether Scotland required a new parliament. One of the questions that they were asked was whether Scotland had influenced England to the extant that England has influenced Scotland. The North British worthies who dominated the room agreed that it had. They they all were, discussing Scotland in the English language for the benefit of an English audience. None of them paused to consider that had Scotland really been as great a cultural influence on England as England has upon Scotland, that English ears might be quite comfortable hearing Scots, and would put any failure to comprehend down to their own poverty of listening skills and not to the supposed incomprehensibility of a Scots tongue. The truth is that the cultural accommodations demanded by the UK’s supposed family of nations are all in one direction.
What is true of culture and language is just as true of politics. Scottish politics are expected to accommodate to the political requirements of England, the converse is unthinkable. Scotland is expected to surrender to whatever form of Brexit the rulers of England impose, but it is inconscionable that the Brexiters of England might be asked to forgo their demands because Scotland doesn’t wish to leave the EU. Scotland is to be bent out of shape to accomodate England’s political will, and if Scotland complains it can only be because the Scots are ungrateful and chippy beggars. All that is on offer to Scotland within the UK is the politics of jimmy wigs.
Michael Gove’s childish pandering to anti-Scottish tropes tells us plenty about him as an individual. But it also tells us that Scotland as a whole can only exist within the UK by virtue of being deformed, denigrated, and despised. As long as Scotland remains a part of the UK, our politics, culture, identity, and future will always be subordinated to the demands of a British establishment which holds us in contempt. It makes Uncle and Auntie Tams of all of us. As long as Scotland remains a part of the UK, we’ll be the jimmy wig on the top of the island. Michael Gove might think that Scotland is a joke, but it’s only with independence that we can prove that he’s the fool.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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