That was Then and This is Now: Imagining new stories about a northern nation
Scotland has changed in the last 20 years. It has been transformed economically, socially, culturally and politically. It has a degree of self-government and a new set of political institutions. However, the way we think of and describe Scotland has not undergone a similar change; instead it is still rooted in a romanticised rose-tinted view of a past Scotland that is now long since gone.
This chapter looks at the extent of change in Scotland over this period and the kind of changes which may occur in the future. It argues that the idea of story and storytelling is a rich and illuminating way to understand Scotland. The stories we Scots tell each other, that we choose to believe and not to believe, help to create our collective mindset. And crucial to far-reaching change in Scotland is the need for a new story.
Scotland 1981 and the ‘Quiet Revolution’
The Scotland of over 20 years ago was a nation already shaped by its past: a male manufacturing sector (even then, at only 24 per cent of the workforce), a trade union culture (at over 50 per cent of the workforce) and council housing (52 per cent of households). This was also an age of mass unemployment, significant economic and social dislocation and political disempowerment associated with a Tory government most Scots did not vote for. In short, these were not happy times, but an age filled with anger, hurt and bruised lives.
What was even more marked was the geographic distribution of this Scotland, particularly in relation to housing. In 1981, 40 of Scotland’s 71 constituencies had over 50 per cent council housing, with a whole swathe of parliamentary seats in the west of Scotland having 70 per cent or plus council housing and very little owner occupation. The top two seats, Glasgow Provan and Garscadden, had 96 per cent and 90 per cent council housing, respectively, and these Stalinist proportions of public housing defined many of the cities and communities, and aided a kind of social apartheid across large parts of Scotland.
Ten years later, after a decade of Thatcherism and council house sales, a dramatic change had occurred, with only 14 of 72 seats having over 50 per cent council housing, with the top ten even more concentrated in Glasgow. The top two, Airdrie and Shotts, and Motherwell and Wishaw, both had 62.5 per cent council housing. Fast-forwarding another decade to 2001, and not one of the 72 seats had over 50 per cent council housing. With the top two seats remaining the same as ten years previously – Motherwell and Wishaw, and Airdrie and Shotts – their proportions fell dramatically to 37.2 per cent and 36.2 per cent, respectively (1).
This transformation of how Scots live has had profound consequences for society at many of levels: from the social layout and feel of cities, to the way young people think about their aspirations, future prospects and saving patterns, to newspaper supplements and TV programmes on this related domestic revolution, and the number of DIY and garden centres.
Across a range of other areas Scotland has undergone similar change – trade unionism has become a minority pastime of tenured public sector professionals, manufacturing has fallen from 24 per cent of the workforce to a mere 12 per cent (the same as financial services), and Scotland has become a service sector economy, if not culture. The economy has changed from one with high levels of official, visible unemployment to one with a significantly lower rate of official unemployment, a relatively high economic activity rate (2), but deepening and embedded degrees of exclusion from the labour market for large sections of the adult population. And 20 years ago the power of social conservatism had a claustrophobic hold on Scottish public and elite opinion. The liberal reforms of the 1960s, and in particular abortion and homosexuality, were not discussed in public, whereas today the secularisation and liberalisation of Scotland is slowly bringing these issues into the open.
These changes are similar to the broad thrust of economic and social change across the Western world, but what has been different in Scotland has been the scale and speed of change. These amount to a profound shift towards:
• a more individualised society shaped in action and behaviour by lifestyle and consumer issues, and conspicuous consumption;
• a society more at ease with issues of equality such as racism, sectarianism and homosexuality, although progress still remains to be made in all of these;
• a society that was shaped in its culture by a deeply masculinised ethos in work, public life and politics, but which has become increasingly feminised with more women in work, public life and politics (with 40 per cent of the Scottish Parliament made up of women MSPs);
• a politics which is increasingly post-labourist – moving beyond the politics of clientism associated with the Labour local state, but which is also distinctly post-nationalist – transcending old-fashioned ideas of sovereignty.
Scotland has changed fundamentally in the last 20 years, but what is revealing is that this change has not been felt across every area of life. One part of Scottish society has remained immune, and that is how we think, describe and understand the country we live in. The mindset, the stories and narratives of Scotland have not changed along with the ways individual citizens lead their daily lives. The dominant public discourses of Scotland still encapsulate a hankering after a world that has long since past, one that was dying and declining even 20 years ago.
There is a romanticised nostalgia for collectivism and the uplifting hand it gave working-class families generations ago, without remembering the suffocating embrace it also had. The attraction of this remembered collectivism can be seen across culture and politics. It can be found in the urban kailyard novels of William McIlvanney and James Kelman which speak to the lost male world of the ‘walking wounded’; and in the media with the McLad phenomenon of commentators such as Tam Cowan and Stuart Cosgrove, where middle-class men parade their working-class credentials. Politically, it is seen in the way Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party (3) is given sympathetic and uncritical coverage in the press because it invokes a collectivist memory that all Scots have grown up with and which feels familiar.
There is illuminating survey evidence to support this sense that how Scots think about their country has not changed over the last 20 years. The Scottish Election Survey of 1979 and the Scottish Social Attitudes survey of 1999 on self-perceived class backs this up. First, overall, Scots think of themselves as slightly more working class in 1999 compared with 1979. Second, even the Scots professional and managerial group, who felt themselves more middle class than working class in 1979, now see themselves by a majority as working class. Scotland now sees itself as such a working-class country, that every socioeconomic group (using Goldthorpe’s six social groups) identifies as such.
It is true that the meaning of class, ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ does not remain static through the years, but is constantly being reshaped, renegotiated and reinterpreted. However, it is surely significant that in a period when Scotland has become more professional, and the overall size of its manual working class has shrunk dramatically, Scots respondents have shifted in the other direction. What seems to have happened is that the identification of a section of the professional classes with opposition to Thatcherism post-1979 has contributed to a section of this group continuing to identify as working class. In a very different experience from England post-1979, upward mobility in Scotland has not become synonymous with middle-class aspirations. Eighty per cent of working-class respondents (on Goldthorpe’s criterion) who were upwardly mobile into the middle class still think of themselves as working class (4).
What Scotland requires is an ethic of living – a set of stories or narratives – that embodies and reflects the ways we live our lives. This cannot be the old social democracy or nationalist sentiments, which no longer explain contemporary realities. It has to capture the more individualist, pluralist and complex society – a society which has experienced similar economic and social change to other Western societies, but at a faster pace – while also embracing and celebrating a sense of distinctiveness which relates to Scottish identities and cultures.
Whatever forces become the champions and advocates of this emergent Scotland have a historic opportunity. In the political realm, they could win a dividend which could shape Scottish society and politics for over a generation – in the way people thought the Tories might have done in the 1950s, Labour did from the 1960s onwards, and the SNP have threatened at points since. Championing the new Scotland would entail:
• being more individualist in some areas – accepting some of the philosophy of the 1980s Thatcherite agenda;
• rethinking some of Scotland’s collectivist traditions without abandoning all of them – renewing some of the best of Labour’s values;
• embracing a politics comfortable with a nationalist dimension – and which a post-nationalist SNP would be part of.
In the last two centuries Scotland has passed through different phases of progressive politics, which have defined a large part of the political consensus of the country:
• Nineteenth-century Scotland was shaped by the values of the Gladstonian Liberal Party – nonconformist, temperance, land reform – and the power and patronage of the Kirk which lasted well into the early twentieth century.
• Twentieth-century Scotland from the 1920s onward has been influenced by a Labour Scotland which inherited some of the Liberal values such as a commitment to home rule, and added a collectivism institutionalised in the public sector, local government and education.
• A third progressive moment is now upon us – one which cannot be produced and socialised in hierarchical institutions, but will have to be made and remade by the consent and active engagement of the Scottish people themselves.
This third age will be more diffuse, fluid and difficult to categorise or control. The old top-down ways of patronage and professional elites which have for so long characterised contemporary Scotland have long outlived their use. They increasingly do not fit the world of complexity and change we live in, and this creates a unique opportunity for the Scots to shape a new kind of progressive settlement based on the language, relationships and interactions of people themselves.
The power of storytelling
One of the most important ways in which we understand the world is through the idea of stories. This has become increasingly recognised across different areas of life: business, politics, media and other avenues which rely on the power of persuasion and communication. Robert McKee, writer, director and lecturer on screenwriting, argues that ‘our appetite for story’ is:
. . . a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience. (5)
The storyteller invents a story, according to McKee, by asking a number of key questions:
First, what does my protagonist want in order to restore balance in his or her life? Desire is the blood of a story. Desire is not a shopping list but a core need . . . . Next, what is keeping my protagonist from achieving his or her desire? Forces within? Doubt? Fear? Confusion? Personal conflicts with friends, family, lovers? Social conflicts arising in the various institutions in society? (6)
The next stage involves asking ‘how would my protagonist decide to act in order to achieve his or her desire in the face of these antagonistic forces?’ And, in the answer to this question we find, in McKee’s words, ‘the truth of their characters because of the choices he or she makes under pressure’. The final storytelling phase involves reflecting on ‘the design of events’ and asking, ‘Do I believe this?’ (7).
McKee believes ‘self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling’, and this has been substantiated by Christopher Booker’s magisterial tour de force on the importance of stories and why they matter so much to us. Booker answers the question of ‘why certain images, symbols and shaping forms recur in stories’ with the observation:
We must first look to those deeper levels of unconscious which we all have in common, as part of our basic genetic inheritance. These work around what Jung called ‘archetypes’: ‘the ancient river beds along which our psychic current naturally flows’. (8)
Howard Gardner, in his ambitious and wide-ranging study of leadership, identifies one of the main characteristics of leaders as the ability to tell stories which define the age or point in history we live in. At any given date – 1940 or 1979 in Britain, 1940–41 and 1980 in the United States – there are a multiplicity of stories and counter-stories in circulation, and the successful stories: Churchill’s ‘finest hour’, Thatcher’s counter-revolution, resonate at the time, and define it for years to come. According to Gardner:
. . . most of the stories that leaders tell are created in response to the pervasive human need to understand better oneself, the groups that exist in and beyond one’s culture, and issues of value and meaning. Indeed, stories in the broadest sense – narratives, visions, dreams, embodiments – are most effective when they provide at the same time nourishment for the mind (or the understanding),on the one hand, and a feeling of belonging and security, on the other. (9)
When screenwriters do not know how to end a story, they resort to one of a number of tried and tested clichés. The same is true of politicians. According to McKee:
As they reach into their minds for material, they come up empty . . . . From the works of other writers they crib scenes we’ve seen before, paraphrase dialogue we’ve heard before, disguise characters we’ve met before, and pass them off as their own. (10)
And this is true of recent examples of British leaders. Thatcher’s story of reversing British economic decline ran into the ground after her enemies had been slayed: trade unions and nationalised industries. Following Thatcherism’s high point, the Tories failed to offer a new story, and descended into infighting, sleaze and being seen as out of touch. Tony Blair’s story of modernising the party and the slogan ‘New Labour, New Britain’ have come unstuck as Labour failed to transform public services and invent a new credo of social democracy. Blair’s support for George W Bush and the Iraq war has come at the worst point for Blair’s story – as it is beginning to unravel and failing to find a new narrative (11).
Scottish Stories: the eleven basic stories of Scottish history
Scotland is a land rich in history, myth, folklore and, of course, stories (12). According to McCrone, Scotland ‘is a landscape of the mind, a place of imagination’ (13). As a ‘nation’ it is both ‘imagined’ and a ‘community’, in Benedict Anderson’s words, giving a sense of place and time (14). A recent fascinating narrative of the nation was provided by Frank Delaney’s Ireland: a novel, where through the use of storytelling he has framed the history of the country:‘this is a country that processes itself through the mills of its imagination’(15).
A number of defining stories can be seen through the last 300 years of Scotland since the Treaty of Union:
• Enterprising Scotland – this is the land of engineers, inventors and imagineers: a nation which built bridges, railways and roads across the world. This is a rich territory which offers some of the most powerful archetypal Scots role models through the generations, such as Scotty, the engineer in the Star Trek TV series.
• Empire Scotland – this is the Victorian and post-Victorian ideal of warrior Scotland, whereby Scottish regiments fought across the world for empire, imperialism and colonialism. This tradition exists to this day – as Scotland continues to play a crucial role in the post-empire imperial tradition – in Iraq and elsewhere.
• Enlightenment Scotland – this is the Scotland of learned debate, intellectual enquiry, rationalism, and a belief in the power of ideas, logic and science. This is a Scotland connected to Unionist and Empire Scotland, inspired to understand the universe, but so nervous about its Scottishness that it tried to eradicate it.
• Educational Scotland – the importance of the democratic intellect, the lad o’pairts, the Kirriemuir career and so on. These add up to a belief that Scots education is part of an Egalitarian Scotland where people from the most humble background get on.
• Calvinist Scotland – the nation as God’s chosen country, shaped by the theocracy of the Reformation which has percolated down through the years, and can still be seen today in the Scots’ sense of unease about sex, the body and emotions.
• Tartan Scotland – the world of kilts, heather and tartan dress and symbols, and the Highlands as romantic, defiant and ultimately defeated. This is a problematic iconic story – used to sell Scotland to the world, but filled with ambiguity and a sense of unease about the history invested in it, and its relation to modern Scotland.
• Kailyard Scotland – an idealised backward rural society set in the nineteenth century based on a longing for the virtues of small town Scotland against urban industrialisation. In the twentieth century this was articulated by among others DC Thomson publishers and the Sunday Post newspaper.
• Divided Scotland – this is the land of the divided self seen in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, R.D. Laing and, more recently, Tom Nairn’s studies of Scots identity. This is a nation split between Highland and Lowland, Catholic and Protestant, heart and mind, euphoria and self-doubt, which pathologises itself into believing it has a schizophrenic dual identity.
• Collectivist Scotland – this is the progressive Scotland which gave birth to Labour’s institutional dominance of Scotland for most of the twentieth century. An alternative version of this story is dependency culture Scotland – the Thatcherite explanation for Scotland’s resistance to its charms, which has more recently been adopted by Blairite New Labour.
• Unionist Scotland – this stresses the benefits of the Union, and in its modern version emphasises the degree to which Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK. It also still draws on an older argument, questioning the capacity of Scots to govern themselves.
• Nationalist Scotland – this rests on the ‘Scotland Why Not?’ argument which is centred on the premise that Scotland is a nation, therefore it follows logically it should be independent. Another more apolitical nationalism can be found across the political spectrum. As Scottish identity has become more pronounced it has celebrated a negative story – of who we are not, i.e.: ‘we’re not English’, and a sense of anti-Englishness.
Over the last 300 years there has been a profound degree of contesting, conflict and contradiction, both between and within stories. None of the above stories are entirely harmonious, clear cut, linear narratives, but contain within them, disparate and sometimes disputatious forces, such as the argument within Unionist Scotland over whether to identify more with the British state, defend Scottish distinctiveness, or support a Scottish Parliament in the UK.
Moving to the experience of Scotland since the establishment of the Parliament in May 1999, the post-devolution environment has been shaped by a series of stories:
• The Holyrood Building Project – the story of how the construction of the Scottish Parliament went from £40 million to £431 million. This is a world where politicians and civil servants are seen as either corrupt, self-serving, incompetent, or all three.
• The Toytown Parliament story – a view held by fundamentalist Nationalists (‘Scotland free or a desert’) which believes that Holyrood is toothless as well as spineless, and not worthy of the word Parliament. Elements of Old Labour hold a similar view because they believe constitutional change is a diversion from class politics.
• The Souped-up Labour Cooncil – this sees the Parliament as the revenge of Lanarkshire Man (and it is Man) and as nothing but a super-remunerated town council, offering jobs for the boys, and run by Labour ‘numpties’(meaning a certain kind of councillor).
• Politically correct Scotland – this is the perception of certain, very vocal, right-wing elements of the press. Section 28,the ban on foxhunting, and the forthcoming ban on smoking in public spaces are all used to give support to the Scots ‘nanny state’ argument.
The Holyrood Building Project in particular became the most potent story of the last few years in Scotland. It has become the ‘taxi driver’ story of contemporary Scotland – a story that has gained power by its repeated telling and retelling allowing it to pass into folklore and myth, and which has gained currency by its simplicity and black and white clarity. What unites all of the above stories is that they are negative accounts of the early years of Scotland’s Parliament; they diminish the degree of change which has come about and undermine the capacity of people to believe they can bring about change.
The missing element in these crucial years has been any positive account: an absence which goes to the heart of the sense of public disillusionment and disconnection which a large number of Scottish citizens feel about devolution. This has fed into a widespread sense that campaigners expended much energy on getting a Parliament, and fine-tuning the institutional arrangements without putting a great deal of thought into what the new institution would actually do, what purpose it would serve, and what kind of Scotland it would advance (16).
If we are to aid, support and encourage change in Scotland, we have to identify and nurture a sense of story. Such stories need to acknowledge, as Gardner does, the crucial role of leadership. In an age of mass media, where there is less deference and respect for tradition and authority, leadership has to reflect this. It is the more old-fashioned forms of authority which are still most prevalent throughout Scotland – institutionally based and shaped by formal notions of mission and mandate. These forms will continue to be important and have their place, but they must be supplemented by new forms which are more flexible and more rooted for legitimacy in communication, consent and creating alliances. Some commentators have talked of the rise of ‘postmodern leadership’ across the Western world, but the problem with this concept is that the leaders who have so far been identified with it – Clinton and Blair – have had decidedly mixed records (17). Politics founded on individual trust and charisma, politics as personality, has all kinds of pitfalls, as the decline of Tony Blair post-Iraq war shows, but politics based exclusively on institutional mandates is just as problematic.
Related to the idea of leadership is the nature of the relationships we can have in public life, and how we can build honest, open and creative forms of dialogue. One crucial factor here is the dominance of institutional opinion, which is well organised, funded and has access to the channels of power. Given the Scots’ historic creation of consensus for a variety of reasons, this contributes to a constraining of debate. Encouraging more constructive and open dialogue involves a range of steps, which can begin with creating and identifying new spaces and forums whereby innovative processes of engagement are used to allow a more honest, reflective form of dialogue. At an ultimate level, the Scots’ propensity to consensus and sitting in the ‘big tent’ facing the same way has to be challenged, and the fear of disagreement removed.
Vital to all of the above is the idea of progress. In the mid-twentieth century the Scottish dream of progress was a socialist one. With the death of the collectivist ideal, Scotland lost a sense of certainty and mission. In the late twentieth century, another utopian ideal came along promising total fulfilment and freedom of a very different kind: one based on individualised, marketised relationships. Contemporary Scotland seems to be caught between these two world views and utopias: on the one hand harking back to its previous era of progress, and being unable to let go of it, while, in the daily acts of individuals, living in this new age of anomie and consumption.
A number of stories are on offer for a future Scotland:
• Labour minimalist devolution – Labour holds on to its position as the leading party of Scottish politics despite the challenge of a more pluralist politics. It manages to restrain the potential of politics and the new institutions, and thus a minimalist devolution is characterised by the politics of continuity, rather than change.
• Post-nationalist Scotland – the SNP explicitly abandons the idea of old-fashioned nationalism, and embraces a politics of shared sovereignty, governing in a devolved Scotland, and challenging Labour’s ossified version of social democracy, as well as its role as the nation’s leading party.
• Black and white Scotland – this is the continuation of contemporary Scotland along the lines we have seen in the early years of devolution. This would continue to question the Scots’ ability to govern themselves, and encourage a blame and betrayal culture where cynicism and disillusionment are the norm. This is a self-perpetuating cycle which will bring about the doom and gloom thesis it is railing against.
• Smart Scotland – a marketised Scotland where the country is driven by the dynamics and logic of ‘the knowledge economy’, upskilling and egovernance. This Smart Scotland is a country fearlessly embracing change and flexibility, opening itself to globalisation and the international market, and aspiring – as everyone does – to be the new Finland.
• Adaptive Scotland – a personalised Scotland of learning and listening, and evolving government, organisations and public agencies. Radical, innovative forms of public service emerge which are flexible, cross-cutting and championed by new practices of working, collaboration and leadership.
• New progressive Scotland – this story embraces thematic ways of understanding Scotland and promotes a confident Scotland and the need for widespread cultural change. It stresses that for too long the Scots have put the emphasis on politics and politicians as the means of how to change the world. Instead of conventional programmatic methods, it emphasises health, well-being, status, self-worth and other subjective indicators.
Any future Scotland will see a multiplicity of stories emerge, interact and influence each other. A number of these stories are about limited or blocking change (Labour minimalist, black and white Scotland), while the rest are about different degrees and types of change (Post-nat, Smart, Adaptive and New Prog). Leaving aside for the moment the overtly political story of change – Post-nationalism – Smart Scotland has attractions in its moves forward from the old social democracy and collectivist past, but it has significant drawbacks, in its technocratic, managerial, top-down and unquestioning assumptions such as ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘globalisation’.
This leaves the potential of Adaptive Scotland – a story about government, leadership and learning, which does not unquestioningly buy into any assumptions, but is based on evolving and adapting as circumstances and challenges arise. It does, however, contain elements of managerialism, and thus to develop transformative change which is not top-down it could collaborate with the New Progressive Scotland story. This view attempts to develop a thematic approach, involve wider currents and opinion in cultural change, and develop institutional and non-institutional alliances.
Four strands of a future Scotland
A culture and society that aims to embrace radical change has to develop a public conversation on a number of levels:
• A sense of story – This means a sense of all-encompassing shared national purpose, cohesion and narrative that goes beyond advertising or branding. Several small countries across the world – Estonia, Finland, Ireland – seem to have this national purpose, and this is related to them having had a wide-ranging debate about the future of the country and the priorities that should be invested in. In an age of interdependence, it is not surprising that small countries might be more adept internally and externally at this, and also no accident that all three of them are formally independent.
• The power and resonance of song – In the 1980s the musical backdrop to opposing Thatcherism was provided by the Proclaimers whose song ‘Why do you let someone rule your land cap in hand’ seemed to give articulation to the anger and sense of victimhood which characterised Scotland at the time. Post-devolution Scotland’s song has, if anything, shifted to Travis, with their bland, middle of the road, inoffensive pop. A new song for a future Scotland might already be on offer, strangely, from the Proclaimers, who have moved from political proselytising to personal reflection as they have grown up. Craig and Charlie Reid, the twin brothers who make up the band, now sing on their latest album, ‘Born Innocent’, songs about growing up, bringing up your children, being a role model to them, and issues of emotional literacy. This seems to cover some of the central themes of any manifesto for a future Scotland, and better than most politicians could.
• Heroes – In the words of the great Brian Wilson (musical genius and ex-leader of the Beach Boys), we need heroes as well as villains. Scotland seems to have plenty of villains – the taxi driver account of the Holyrood Building Project providing an entire political class to some – and a huge number of dead heroes – Wallace, Bruce, Burns et al. The idea of heroes may be devalued somewhat in our celebrity-obsessed culture (18), but what we need are a few live heroes and a public culture which allows us to celebrate and honour people and their achievements.
• Honest public relationships – This is perhaps the most basic and the most fundamental of all the shifts we need to make, and it involves being honest with each other, and having a sense of integrity and self-worth in the relationships and interactions we have. And this is about the kind of public culture, space and conversation we want to encourage.
All of the above involve making a significant shift in the mindset of mainstream Scotland, but the first steps have already been made. A large and growing element of Scotland, within and without institutional opinion, knows we need to do things differently and the old ways no longer suffice. This emerging force is not organised at the moment, but even within the heart of the institutions and interest groups of the country, there is a gathering sense by many that we need to change direction. Beginning this process of change can start on numerous different levels from the serious to the subtle, from the sublime to the ridiculous. It has already begun in debates in Scottish culture and history, where the Scots’ propensity to look back and try and undo the past has undergone extensive scrutiny and examination.
A recent example is the debate on Scotland’s role in empire and colonialism (19). Another positive sign of change is the emerging movement of opinion which believes that programmatic change in the form of legislation and formal political processes is not the best way of aiding change. Instead, across a range of areas – education, health, the wider public sector – a number of people are now advocating that we look at more diffuse issues such as culture, attitudes and values.
It is also about the kind of men and women we want to be, the kind of relationships we want to have with each other, and how we choose to bring up and love our children, and encourage them to be questioning, confident, caring individuals. And if we want to grow and learn from each other, developing conversations which are informed by emotional literacy, then we need to throw off the negative legacy of Calvinism. Scots men have to stop using football as an emotional substitute and displacement from connecting with one other. They have to realise, which should not be too difficult given the state of the game in Scotland, that it is, after all, only a sport.
Scotland then is on the verge of a new story. The example of small nations across the European Union such as Estonia, Finland and Ireland gives room for confidence, but also raises the difficult issue of independence. To some unionist politicians independence has played no part in the Irish Celtic Tiger. However, it is also true that independence on its own – the traditional Nationalist argument – does not automatically bring about national renewal. The Irish example is salutary here – formally independent since 1921, the Celtic Tiger success story took until the 1980s. Therefore, we can conclude that a nationalist narrative and independence may be important, but other factors – and the emergence of other, supportive stories – are equally vital.
Another factor in Scotland’s future is its role in the multi-national, multi-identity, hybrid entity that is the United Kingdom. The moment of hope, post-1997, of Blairite New Labour, has long extinguished itself, and we are faced with the grim reality of a government which has embarked on an unprecedented degree of constitutional reform, without changing the relationships which make up the UK, or the mindset of the central state, where the political class, civil service and media still cling to the idea of the unitary state. As Scots brought up on the Treaty of Union (‘two equals’) know well, the UK was never a unitary state, but a union state, which allowed for Scottish distinctive arrangements. However, the centre has always misunderstood the UK as a unitary state, and still does.
This sense of the unreformed centre is crucial because of what the UK is. We live in a state which, despite being post-empire, is still shaped by post-imperial ideals of grandeur, the warrior state tradition, and the dependency of the British political classes on the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US (20). This, of course, has all come to a crucial juncture with Blairite New Labour’s grotesque metamorphosis into a gunboat diplomacy version of liberal imperialism – sailing along side by side George W Bush’s neo-con view of the world. This all matters to Scotland, because part of its tradition and society has happily embraced empire, and to this day plays a crucial role in the British warrior state, while also finding itself constrained by the culture, codes and practice of the ancien regime. And it is always the case with the Scottish situation that any new movement of change and story which upsets the conventional order carries with it the potential of effecting much wider change across the British polity, which will benefit progressive opinion across the rest of the United Kingdom.
A new Scottish story carries with it the potential of carrying its ripples and waves far beyond the boundaries and shores of this small northern nation. It could articulate a new narrative which brings change to Scotland, aid a far-reaching British transformation, and have wider lessons and implications across the world, not least for comparable small nations and territories.
1. G. Hassan and D. Fraser, The Political Guide to Modern Scotland: people, places and power (London: Politico Publishing, 2004).
2. The Scottish rate at the end of2004 – 75.1 per cent compared with a UK rate of 74.7 per cent – for the first time higher than the UK rate.
3. Tommy Sheridan stood down as the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party in November 2004,but to all practical intents and purposes no matter who the leader of the SSP is it will for the foreseeable future remain Tommy Sheridan’s party.
4. L. Paterson, F. Bechhofer and D. McCrone, Living in Scotland: social and economic change since 1980 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004),p 99.
5. R. McKee, Story: substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting (London: Harper Collins,1997),p 12.
6. R. McKee, ‘Storytelling that moves people’, Harvard Business Review, June (2003), p 8.
7. Ibid, p 8.
8. C. Booker, The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories (London: Continuum, 2004), p 12.
9. H. Gardner, Leading Minds: an anatomy of leadership (London: Harper Collins, 1996), p 50.
10. McKee, Story, pp 67–8.
11. D. Finkelstein, ‘Blair’s story is coming to an end’, The Times, 18 May 2004, p 3.
12. D. Smith, Storytelling Scotland: a nation in narrative (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2001).
13. D. McCrone,Understanding Scotland: the sociology of a stateless nation (London: Routledge,1992), p 17.
14. B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (London: Verso,1983).
15. See author’s note in F. Delaney, Ireland: a novel (London: Time Warner,2004).
16. G. Hassan and C. Warhurst, ‘Future Scotland: the making of the New Social Democracy’ in G. Hassan and C. Warhurst (eds), Tomorrow’s Scotland (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2002), pp 5–25.
17. S. Schier (ed.), The Postmodern Presidency: Bill Clinton’s legacy in US politics (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press,2000).
18. L. Hughes-Hallett, Heroes: saviours, traitors and supermen (London: Fourth Estate,2004).
19. T. Devine, Scotland’s Empire 1600–1815 (London: Allen Lane, 2004).
20. M. Gardiner, The Cultural Roots of British Devolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004).