Monday, January 02, 2006

Niall Ferguson: time to liquidate Scotland

From the Scotsman:
"AN EXPATRIATE Scottish historian provoked fury yesterday by calling for the land of his birth to be put into "liquidation" because it had become "the Belarus of the West".

Professor Niall Ferguson said Scotland's glory days were long over, leaving it a "small, sparsely-populated appendage of England".

The Glasgow-born academic, who is now based at Harvard University in Massachusetts, said that Scotland's assets should be broken up, with the Scottish Parliament closed and the Scottish Football Association taken over by its English counterpart.

However, a leading fellow historian condemned his views as "tripe", while the Scottish National Party said they would be "unrecognisable and unsupported by the vast majority of Scots"."
The usual suspects - the historian Tom Devine, and the SNP - made the mistake of taking him seriously. Ex-pats, I found, tend either to get overly-sentimental and unrealistically nostalgic for a country that never was or like Ferguson, show their degree of alienation from a place they never liked much in the first place.

One is inclined to agree with Professor Devine in thinking Niall Ferguson had been following the ancient Scottish tradition of having a few too many when he penned this. I mean, only a former Glasgow Academy boy could bemoan the state of Scottish sport by pointing out we've never had a decent tennis player. And while he isn't far off in describing the country as 'impossibly wet' or in pointing out the relatively barren nature of the land north of Loch Lomond, no sensible person would use this as an argument against independence.

Still, assuming he was a bit sloshed when he wrote this, Ferguson does have a couple of valid points: he described educational standards as having 'mostly collapsed' - an exaggeration of course but there's far too much garbage talked about our system being amongst the best in the world. No one with any contact with the present system would fail to recognise that as a historical assessment. And while turning the Scottish Parliament into a cinema is obviously fairly silly, I find myself warming to one of his other ideas:
"Rangers and Celtic should "go where they belong": to "pretty near the bottom of the [English] Premiership".
Amen to that. Ferguson argues that rather than a 'Scottish cringe', we suffer from a 'Scottish swagger' - an unfounded assumption that we do things better up here than down south. Ach, doesn't he see these are twin sides of a coin that has Scots constantly comparing themselves to others? The 'swagger' and the cringe' both flow from this, can often be found within the same person, and are both - I would argue - the fruits of insecurity.

I never do either; apart from anything else, it seems like too much like hard work, all this angst about identity. If more people would go for my version of Scottishness, they'd have an easier time of it, I reckon. I wake up in the morning, I'm Scottish, and when I hit the sack, I'm still Scottish - I don't have to do anything: I don't have to work towards anything that will make me more Scottish, like independence; don't have to learn Gaelic, or wear tartan, or convince myself all our problems are because of them, or learn lots of folk songs, or pretend we've got a great literary and artistic tradition, or any of that nonsense. I don't say this is the best "small country in the world" - just that this, for better or worse, is my country. It's not a comparison because there is no other country in the world of which one can say this. 'Tis not a source of great pride - just an affection for what is familiar. Try it this way: you get to just be. It's much more relaxing, I've found.

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