I'm not at all a patriot. I see patriotism as primitive and base where people cleave to their own. They do so in the belief that their own are somehow better by virtue of the fact that they are theirs. “Wha's like us” say the Scots who I especially dislike. I dislike Scottish-ness for all its psychological deficits, its inferiority complex, its excessive pride and its bad relationship with failure and risk.
Of the rare opportunities I get to feel remotely patriotic, one is a British phenomenon. It comes from the country's stellar contribution to popular music in the second half of the 20th century. It was quite an astonishing and certainly unexpected outpouring of creativity that this little end-of-empire country presented to the world. Its heyday had passed and its power was diminishing in areas where it had once been dominant. It was still run by a relatively small number civil servants and military types and yet within this atmosphere of decline as if from nowhere in the 1960s Britain emerged to be at the cutting edge of music and fashion. There seemed to be a huge cauldron of imaginative energy bubbling under. Looking at 1950s Britain that would have been difficult to discern. Given that popular music has been such a central pillar of my life I am proud of that.
Although the sources are few I can just about muster a little pride in being a Scot too. Firstly, the accent. A slightly refined Scottish accent is indeed a cool thing to have. Secondly, there is Robert Burns, my favourite Scot by a mile, whose life and work have forever intrigued me. And thirdly, the jewel in the Scottish crown is old Edinburgh with its grand history, its fabulous architecture and dramatic setting. The most significant thing about Edinburgh for me is its contribution to the 18th century Enlightenment. Again something quite staggering happened there as similarly unexpected as was Britain's pop culture phenomenon of the 1960s. A few decades previous to this great intellectual flowering Scotland had been a backward place. It was steeped in dreadful poverty with an arcane political structure dominated by clan values and religious fundamentalism. The Glencoe massacre, the Darien failure, the hanging of a young student for blasphemous remarks in the 1690s were all indicators of its failings, all stark examples of Scottish depravity and paucity of advancement. Within a few decades a remarkable transformation had taken place. Glasgow and Edinburgh had become great intellectual flash-points whose influence would seep out into the wider world. Much of what was conceived in these two relatively small communities then would provide corner-stones for the modern age. Walking down the Royal Mile it's not the Stuart dynasty that I sense or anything to do with Wallace or Bruce or the Jacobites. It is the ghosts of Adam Smith and David Hume and Robert Burns I feel, knowing this was their stamping ground. Here were the rooms and taverns where they exchanged ideas and talked up their literary works and philosophies that would make such sterling contributions to global culture.
This is what makes me proud of Scotland, not its “wha's like us” or its celebration of warrior kings and their occasional victory over the English. Or for that matter its atrocious football team! I believe Enlightenment values provide true emancipation for the human race. Religion by comparison is only a balm at best providing temporary respite - that is when it is not serving to create divisions. Enlightenment values provide knowledge that is useful and can be put to the task and bring very direct benefits to people here and now. With this the small country of Scotland has made a huge bequest and for that I am truly proud and glad.
walking down Edinburgh's Royal Mile it is
the ghosts of Smith and Hume and Burns I feel
THINGS I’M PATRIOTIC ABOUT
personal • 29.09.06