Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Niall Ferguson is right. Sort of.

Both Kirk Elder and my colleague, The G-Gnome, have come down hard on Niall Ferguson and, to be sure, he is a glib, arrogant sort; after all, you'd have to be to recommend putting Scotland into liquidation.
Yes, that was me, practically from the moment I got on the train from Glasgow to Oxford in 1980-something. For two decades I consistently and tiresomely corrected any Englishman or woman, my wife included, who dared to confuse the terms "English" and "British".

I banged on incessantly and tediously about the superiority of Scottish education, Scottish law, Scottish rugby, Scottish water, Scottish tweed, Scottish holidays - you name it. I quoted Burns. I quoted Carlyle. I quoted the statistics that showed that Scottish regiments were the ones that did the real fighting in the First World War.

As others have pointed out, he was evidently something of a bore. Believe me, however, when I say that he hardly unique in being utterly tedious on this subject; many Scots barely realise that they are doing it. The sententiousness of Scots when correcting the England / Britain thing is something to see, especially when one comes from the Home Counties, where traditionally no one gives a shit. And that rankles with many Scots.

Most Scots realise that, to those down south, Scotland is a total irrelevance; were Scotland to become detached and float away in the middle of the night, the majority of Home Counties Englishmen would, frankly, neither notice nor care beyond the sudden shortage of Scotch whisky. This enrages the wee chappies, and leads to this irritating desire to point out how different they are all of the time.

Regulars at The Kitchen will know that I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to my adopted country, so let's be clear here: there is no Scottish race, any more than there is an English race. Both are mongrels, and all the better for it; however, genetically the two are not separated. There is no real Scottish culture, either; the whole thing is an artful construct, built specifically by the Scots in a rather desperate attempt to distinguish themselves from the English.
Now, this wasn't behaviour attributable to an inferiority complex.

Yes it was.
That would have been forgivable. But the Scottish problem is the opposite. As a nation we are cursed with a superiority complex. We really do believe that we are better - not just better than the English; better than everyone.

Yup, you keep telling yourself that. Because that's what the Scots do. Scots don't think that they are better than everyone else, they just like to build themselves up (much as the English often do). Actually, the two nations share a love of the "plucky underdog" because they both are underdogs. In the case of Scotland, especially the intelligent ones, that is because they are aware that Scotland is an irrelevance. It's why so many leave.

Still, let's move onto the professor's 8 points, shall we?
  1. Scotland is a small, sparsely populated appendage of England. Those who called it 'North Britain' in the 18th century had it right. Yup, true enough.

  2. The weather is impossibly wet. I'd dispute that: I'd say that Kent's wetter than Edinburgh, for instance.

  3. Most of the land north of Loch Lomond is barren rock. Again, not entirely true but if, like Niall, you are painting a mildly ludicrous idea of Scotland, it'll pass muster, just about, as satire.

  4. Scotland lost its political independence 300 years ago and the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a glorified county council housed in a risible and over-priced folly of a building, has not restored it. Not one word of that sentence is a lie. I think that several things could, however, be added to it.
    • Scotland lost its independence because it was bankrupt. Those Scots who have heard of the Darien scheme always complain that the English never came to the aid of the colonists, ignoring the fact that—whilst we had treaties with Spain and Portugal, who were totally against the Scots muscling in on their patch—we had no treaty with the Scots.

      The Darien scheme was a last ditch attempt by the Scots to try to get on the trade routes to the Far East; instead, it was a disaster, swallowing nearly a third of Scotland's entire wealth. Bankruptcy beckoned and the Act of Union was signed not long afterwards (from Wikipedia (linked above)):
      The failure of the Darién scheme has been cited as one of the motivations for the 1707 Act of Union. The English agreed to cover the Scottish Government's debt to its people, and this was likely one of the main reasons the Act of Union was not as heavily resisted by the people of Scotland as they had with other English attempts to amalgamate the two countries.

    • The Scottish Executive was simply a good method of getting the Scots to shut up and continue voting Labour. And, since the MSPs were, essentially, drawn from county councils, that is what the SE is. The Executive was given limited powers, and now they seem to think that they have to exercise them. Bastards, the lot of them.

    • The building was trailed as a "look what the Scots can do!" project. Well, we all saw what the Scots can do. They hired a Spanish architect to design a building that was built by a French/German combine using illegal East European workers. Even the £80,000 desk in the entrance hall was made by an English scultor, for fuck's sake. That project, apart from the disastrous monetary mismanagement and the equally disastrous location, had stuff-all to do with Scotland. All that the Scottish Parliament, both building and people, has done is to graphically, and expensively, demonstrate to the Scots and the rest of the world, just what an irrelevence Scotland is.

  5. Educational standards in Scotland, once the highest in Europe, have - with a few exceptions - collapsed.
  6. Highest in Europe? It rather depends on your measure. The Scots took the European route of favouring breadth of subject as opposed to depth. This is why Scottish Universities need to have a four-year course; the extra year is basically second year A-Level stuff. Yeah, Scotland's education system may well have been superior once; as it is, these days Scottish schools basically churn out the same proportion of functionally illiterate people as English ones.
  7. When it comes to sport - and I do not count the one decent tennis player - Scotland is the Belarus of the West.
  8. I assume he is implying that they are a bit crap. Well, one can't argue there, although there are mitigating circumstances, i.e. there's only 5 million people here. Given that, and their uncanny ability to occasionally pull a great play out of their hats, Scotland aren't all that bad. Just... well... irrelevent.
  9. In fact, when it comes to just about everything, it is the Belarus of the West. Irrelevent?

  10. That is why so many Scots emigrate. As I did. Yup. True.

But, then you get repopulated by English people, like me, who—despite their bitching and moaning about Scotland—actually love it here. Hang on...
My modest proposal for 2006 is quite simple. The country hitherto known as Scotland should go into liquidation. The assets, such as they are, should be broken up, sold off and the proceeds (which won't fetch much) distributed to the creditors and, if anything remains, to the shareholders.

Scotland has no assets, and all of this was done in 1707.
But the idea that Scotland might one day "be a nation again" should simply be dropped. We had our chance, when everyone else in Europe had it, in the 19th and 20th centuries. But we calculated that the Union and the Empire were a better bet than independence. Well, live with it.

Calculated, and were proved correct. Scotland's attempt at Empire-building (Darien) failed. Britain's achievements were considerably heightened by the Union. Everybody won. If the Scots could just realise this and dump the chips from their shoulders, they would be a happier people. I think that the Scots should see themselves as part of one of the great nations of the world, rather than seeing themselves as a conquered nation; they should see themselves as part of Great Britain, rather than pining after Scotched Scotland.

But, having said all this, if anyone sits me next to that bore, Niall Ferguson, at a dinner party, I shall be deeply unhappy...

Filed under: baiting the Scots


Robert said...

Well I've always thought that the problem with Edinburgh is that there are so many Australians, we English are becoming a minority in our own city.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Well, that is a problem, obviously... ;-D


Anonymous said...

Scotland lost its independence not just because it was bankrupt, but through - and it pains me to say this - English greed just as much as. Of course English trade sanctions as well as the control of shipping - the "Navigation Acts" were meant to weaken the economy of Scotland, and make it more likely to accept English rule.

BUT All that is in the past.

As for being an irrelevance, well, Scotland is no more of an irrelevance than any other smaller nation like Denmark or Norway or even New Zealand. The fact is most educated Scots couldn't give a fig, what most people think about Scotland in England - I know I couldn't, and if Scotland did decide to leave this union, it would be Scotland's decision alone - what others think - well, now that really is irrelevant :-)

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