This country’s love of books and authors likely has its origins in its early efforts to institute universal public education. In 1560, during the Protestant reformation, the First Book of Discipline at least set out a plan for a school in every parish, although it proved financially impossible. Nevertheless, Scotland took an early lead in Europe in terms of providing schools, education and literacy skills for all, rather than only for the privileged classes.
With the advent of the Scottish Enlightenment of the later 18th century, Scottish writers as a body wrote in effect the constitution in all of its branches of the modern world we’re living in today (for good and for ill). As Voltaire remarked at the the time, ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’.
In 2015 I enjoyed a splendid Burns night supper staged by the Dunblane branch of the SNP. Lesley Riddoch was the keynote speaker, and I am indebted to her speech for this really staggering insight: that Scotland is the only country on the planet to dedicate its national day, Robert Burns Day, to a working class poet rather than to some form of national chauvinism (July 4th and Bastille Day, as examples). This is really something!
Add to that this unique feature of Edinburgh: that its skyline is dominated by a monument to another writer, Walter Scott; and is it any wonder that Scotland has recently been ranked the best educated country in Europe? It’s also interesting to note that Robert Burns has had more statues erected to him worldwide than any non religious figure except Queen Victoria (which rather nicely sets out the terms of the coming indyref 2 contest: British ex imperial chauvinism versus Scottish civic nationalism).
Given all of the above, where on earth did the Scottish ‘cringe’ originate? (for non Scottish readers, a pervasive sense of inferiority). How can this even exist in a nation such as Scotland, of trail blazers and over achievers for centuries past?
I can myself only put it down to Scotland’s present condition as the last outstanding colony of a shattered empire.
Finally this, about Alasdair: he was once offered a knighthood but turned it down, quipping that ‘there was no money attached to the offer’.
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