Thursday, 27 January 2011

Are the Scots different?

Being in another country makes you wonder how and why they're different to you. Especially when it's a different country that occupies a semi-detached marriage to your own - England - within a single state, namely the United Kingdom.

I've just got back from a whistlestop tour of central Scotland - Edinburgh, via Glasgow and Stirling. Most of it I'd seen before. Some of it I hadn't. Long train journeys also make you wonder what you're looking at...

So is Scotland different? It'd be easy to come up with some typical 'Tartan' answers to this question, musing about nationalism and the like. And certainly the history on display at the Wallace Monument in Stirling (above) was markedly different from what you'd find in an English display about the same period. The whole late thirteenth and early fourteenth century was portrayed as a 'War of Independence', rather than the internecine lordly strife that English writers perceived (and perceive).

But I don't think Scots are particularly nationalistic. They're much less likely to be found smashing up European cities while on a beered-up football cruise. And they seem unlikely to vote for independence any time soon. Quite the opposite - it appears quite likely that a unionist Labour Party will return to power in Edinburgh this year.

No - I think what the archives and the monuments (and the art trails) revealed was a smaller European nation more at ease with itself than its multifarious, but restless, southern neighbour. Scotland's elite is tiny, so many politicians, academics and policymakers know one another - for good or ill. State spending is relatively high by European standards, so public services are both efficient and popular. The cost of living is lower. There's altogether a greater sense of social democratic citizenship and participation. Public bodies are closer to the citizenry, and appear more accountable.

The country has its problems - poor health and poverty being the main two. But it's the Scandinavian sense of belonging that strikes the visitor. Long may that continue.

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