Daily Archives: February 23, 2013

The Cultural Argument for Scottish Independence

It is too easy to get bogged down in heavy and complicated arguments about the assumed economic consequences of Scottish independence. Arguments of that type tend to be quite flimsy when thrashed out and in reality probably won’t get us very far anyway.

The problem is that nobody really knows or understands what the economic consequences would look like. Many people will claim to be an authority on the matter, but we will really only get a clear picture as we live through it.

So I think it is useful to take a break from that and think about the independence debate from the starting point of the cultural argument instead. It helps because it put things back into perspective. In an interesting article in The Herald earlier this week, Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University, wrote that the only real argument for Scottish independence is the cultural one:


Not looking to dismiss the importance of economics, Professor Riach’s focus is on the way in which the Arts and Literature contribute to Scotland’s distinct cultural identity. His central point is that independence is the only means of ensuring the continuation of the latter as that which truly differentiates us as Scots.

He goes on to suggest that three hundred years of institutional neglect in the Scottish education system has brought about a situation in which ignorance of the true value of our body of Literature, in comparison to our better knowledge and understanding of English Literature, for example, has led to negativity towards it, and in some cases, fear of having to teach it.

This is an important point. I think it taps into a much wider concern about the manner in which the Scottish cultural identity has tended to be institutionally marginalised in favour of the British (English) cultural identity, which has had the unforgiveable effect of suppressing our true sense of who we are as Scots, and our positive sense of place in the world.

As an example of this, you only need to think about the scorn and contempt once shown towards speakers of Scots dialects to get a feeling for what has been lost. Language is a living repository of the traditions and practices that shape who we are. To suppress it is to suppress our belief in ourselves as people and as a nation.

Although it may be lost in the mess of economic arguments as the referendum approaches, I completely agree that the cultural argument for Scottish independence should be given greater prominence. But for me, the most important argument for independence is always going to be that it is about your country reclaiming its right to make all of its decisions autonomously. It is about reclaiming the right to self determination.

However in saying that, I believe that there is an important sense in which Professor Riach’s cultural argument could throw some light on why not everyone agrees with the autonomy argument – the generational suppression of our true sense of worth in the world has had the effect of building up a deep hostility in some quarters, and a feeling of utter dread in others, towards the idea of reclaiming this fundamental right.

Perhaps this has always been part of the three hundred year old plan. But it is always possible that some of those who believe they are doing themselves justice by regurgitating politically biased economic arguments as a means of expressing these otherwise barely articulable emotions, will eventually reject the media influenced interpretation of their emotions as feelings of fear of going it alone, and finally learn to identify them as feelings produced by generations of cultural marginalisation.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen.


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