George Bernard Shaw once described patriotism as “fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it” – not so much love of one’s country, more an extreme form of self-love.
Patriotism and its sibling, nationalism, can be everything from entirely benign, like the supporters at the Winter Olympics, to deadly on a global scale as in two world wars. There are also mildly sinister ideas like American exceptionalism, which comes in different forms but is essentially the suggestion that the US is unique among nations and has a duty to “help” the others be more like them. It’s the sort of nonsense the British Empire used to tell itself.
However, in Scotland, a concept has emerged that is an antidote to the myths of greatness many nations seek to foster. “Scotland’s Shame” may have been first used about the apparently uncompleted National Monument of Scotland on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill in the 19th century, but in 1999 the composer James MacMillan used the term in a reportedly “electrifying” speech to describe the scourge of sectarianism. And it stuck. Three years later, the then first minister Jack McConnell launched a major effort to rid Scotland of this idiotic hatred.
But there is no reason to stop there. Like any country, Scotland has more reasons to be ashamed of itself. So, here I suggest nominations to be considered as “Scotland’s shame”, not in competition for a title but rather inclusion in a grim category.
1 Sectarianism. This year, 20 years after MacMillan’s intervention, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf described it as a “vile cancer” afflicting football and warned clubs they needed to “step up”. Talking about Scottish sectarianism without mentioning Rangers and Celtic, for all their protestations, is delusional and cowardly. Both clubs could choose to do something significant, to make a wave half as big as MacMillan’s, but they do not. Irvine Welsh was right to say Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke spoke out after suffering sectarian abuse because he’d been away from the Scottish game for so long. It’s been normalised in Scotland and that is shameful.
2 Anti-English sentiment. Some years ago, I was repeatedly punched in the face because someone thought I was English (born in England, Scottish parents, grew up mostly near Glasgow). Happily it didn’t hurt due to my prior consumption of an effective analgesic, but it was meant to. Hating the English is based on the “Scottish cultural cringe”; we should have more pride in ourselves and embrace our neighbours as friends.
3 Not being an independent country. I don’t really know if this is something to be ashamed about. But the idea that Scotland couldn’t possibly survive as an independent nation, one of the worst unionist arguments – seems designed to shame. I’m attracted to the idea that Scotland could become a Scandinavian-style country. There’s a chance Scotland might be able to do this and I don’t think it would ever happen in the UK. Am I and others like me too feart to take the plunge? I think being a nation within a nation, an odd situation, is probably for the best in the short term, but Brexit could change that.
4 Dead at 63. Being poor in Scotland doesn’t just take years off your life, it takes decades. Last year an NHS Lothian study found that people living in the wealthiest parts of Edinburgh could expect to live 21 years longer than those in the poorest ones. While the life expectancy of men from the New Town was an impressive 85, their counterparts in Greendykes and Niddrie Mains could expect a life of 63.6 years.
5 North Sea oil. A misplaced nomination? Think of all the jobs, the boost to the economy. Certainly in the 1970s we were proud of our good fortune. But we may not remain quite so pleased as this century unfolds. Being an oil-producing nation might not seem quite so cool as the countries of the world struggle with the ravages of global warming and the need to turn their economies into a zero-carbon ones. But plastic pollution, not carbon emissions, may actually prove the more lasting source of shame, given this stuff is everywhere from the deepest ocean trench to the high Arctic, incredibly difficult to get rid of and likely to persist for hundreds of years.
6 Alcohol and drug abuse. My name is Scotland and I’m an alcoholic. Too strong? A report by NHS Health Scotland found that average alcohol consumption for adults in 2017 was 19.6 units a week. The recommended limit is 14. So the average Scot is drinking more than is good for them, week in, week out. The drinkaware website lists “continuing to drink despite clear evidence of harmful consequences” among the diagnostic signs of alcoholism.
Scotland had 934 registered drug-related deaths in 2017 and the highest rate per head of population of anywhere in the EU. Substance abuse is often a cry for help. It’s shameful not to listen.
7 Thousands of unconvicted rapists walk the streets of Scotland. Is that acceptable? In 2017/18, 2,255 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to the police, resulting in 107 convictions. And this has been going on for years. Is the balance between the rights of the victim and the accused correct? How long before we take effective action?
8 Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The former took off after the 9/11 attacks as misguided people did exactly what the terrorists wanted and started blaming ordinary Muslims. Nearly two-thirds of Muslim women in Scotland have witnessed or experienced a hate incident or crime, according to a recent survey by Amina. That the latter has returned – and not via the far-right but the left – is depressing. Not something I ever thought I’d live to see given the Holocaust is still in living memory.
9 Racism. Of 6,738 hate crimes in 2017/18, two-thirds were race-related. That means that every day in Scotland, there are about 12 cases of racist hate crime that prompt a complaint to the police. How many others go unreported?
10 Scottish football. Scotland’s women are off to the World Cup soon and, having just beaten Brazil, may well restore considerable pride in our national game. If our finest players can inspire the rest of us, me included, to be more active, it could have a transformative affect on our health and happiness.