Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Scotland; the Scots' Country

What does Scotland mean to you?

The stereotypyes; Burns, shortbread, whisky, tartan ... a wee hoose on the hillside that my Granny's no seen for years?

I ask because I believe those of us who support independence have a more unified view of what Scotland means than seperates us.

I have put off writing this essay because I was concerned that I would be out Hassaning Gerry Hassan in extreme navel gazing, yet as we approach, potentially, the most important council elections in Scotland in the last 50+ plus years I feel there is a requirement to go beyond the 'anybody but Labour' discussion and in doing so establish more clearly what an independent Scotland means to us at many different levels.

Given the many threads of what Scotland means to us I intend to look at what I see as the core belief that informs the Scottish social society and its actions, the concept that we are 'All Jock Tamson's Bairns'. Yet what proof is there that this ephemeral concept has a telling hold on how Scots view themselves and the world around them - containing, as it does, this strong sense of inclusiveness and fairness?

I would suggest this idea is buried deep in the impact and aftermath of the Scottish reformation during which many of the core ideas of looking after others were enshrined in Scots Law, placing clear responsibility for the welfare of the poor, the sick, the elderly and core education of children on church parishes. This legal responsibility was enforced and there are a number of cases where parishes, such as Tranent in the 17th Century, were indicted and fined for failing to meet these statutory requirements.

At some point during the 17th Century the legal obligation to provide welfare becomes an accepted social norm which by the begining of the 18th Century has Scotland with amongst the highest rates of literacy and numeracy per head of population in Europe. Scots were attractive to employers because of these skills and so educated Scots become a sought after commodity in cities such as London to run what is now called the 'middle management and administration' of businesses such as the burgeoning English stock market and in the Low Countries to run trading houses as international trade grew.

There was also the tradition in Scottish cities of folk of 'aa the airts' sharing the same close or vennel with the shop keepers on the street level, lairds, lawyers and the growing Scottish middle class in the big flats on levels two and three with the housing becoming more and more cramped as you moved up higher in the tenament building. A situation which was the norm in cities like Edinburgh until the arrival of the 'new town' concept in the late 18th Century. The shared close and the infamous Edinburgh mob ensured there was no avoiding the mood of the public. In turn this informs the Scottish aversion to class, privilege and folk with a fine conceit of themselves. The Union would never have happened if the Edinburgh mob had succeeded in finding and lynching the Scottish Parliamentary Union commissioners hiding in the Cannongate. The power of Scottish Socialists of the early part of the 20th Century, men like John MacLean, has little to do with Marxist/ Leninist theory and everything to do with our innate sense of fairness, equal opportunity and an equal chance in life which is part and parcel of us all being 'Jock Tamson's Bairns'. Scottish people are routinely pleased and have pride for folk from their communities 'who hae done well fir thirsel, an thir fowk' it is only when these people turn their back on the communities they came from that the communities then do the same, with an added sense of betrayal.

So for Scot's success such as Tom Farmer in business, Paul Lawrie in golf or Ewan MacGregor in Holywood films there is an acceptance because they all still put back into Scotland and their communities where as Billy Connelly is no longer viewed in the same light as his seperation from his community grows ever wider and in the case of many Scottish Westminster politicians it has become terminal because they have forgotten what it is to be an integral part of 'Jock Tamson's Bairns'.

What about immigrants and does this social concept of 'Jock Tamson's Bairns' work for them?

Recent UK research suggests that incomers of all stripes find they quickly feel included and at home. Studies of SE Asian and African immigrants indicates they call themselves 'Scottish' full stop, rather than British Asian or British Afro-carribean as is the norm in the major English conurbations.

At the heart of this idea of 'Jock Tamson's Bairns' are conservative social politics which reverberate up through the centuries since the Scottish Reformation. In modern paralance they are left of centre social democratic politics which seek to have a balance between state provision for core services such as health, welfare and education while encouraging an entrepreneurial business sector to utilise Scotland's finest minds and in turn create job opportunities for others in Scotland across the board because in the end Scotland can not afford the former without the latter. It is about subsidiarity and the giving up of power for power's sake by the centre to better enable local decision making to be made that meets people's local needs and expectations.

This whole social concept is not about being dependent on hand outs but being of independent means ready to support others who need a hand up back on to their feet again. It is about ensuring we care for our children and our elderly to ensure our future, their future safety and our common weal of Scotland. It is about having respect for ourselves and our fellow citizens, no matter their situation or our views. It is a very different country to the one the neo-liberal policies of Westminster would like to turn Scotland into - a country riven by schism and inequality.

This is the country I know as Scotland, one that does not need any Cameronesque PR 'Big Society' Stunt to paper over the cracks in Westminster's decaying facade of care for the people because we do not need the Conservative UK Government to tell us how to be a 'Big Society'- we have been one for 500 years.

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