Friday, 4 December 2009

It's time to put a positive slant on Scottish history

PROMOTING pride in Scots at home and abroad was one of four key aims of the Year of Homecoming, which was enthusiastically celebrated in Caithness and across the land.

Many have commented on its general success among a Scots tourist industry facing the depths of world recession. Alas this has not silenced politically motivated critics who see conspiracy and mismanagement in every SNP Government action.

The successful Homecoming campaign culminated in the final fling around St Andrew's Day. There were well-attended events all over, making this the best celebrated patron saint's day so far. Simultaneously, Your Scotland, Your Vote was published to offer analysis and a road map to increased powers for the Scottish Parliament allied to a referendum late next year on the choices.

It would be remiss of an SNP Government to ignore the route to independence. Also it is inevitable that unionist parties seek to kill the bill. However, 2010 will see the fallout from the British General Election by June. Then Scotland's unmet need to build a sustainable future will be centre stage.

My job in the Scottish Parliament is to seek the most practical ways to promote a lead role for the Far North in this new Scotland. To succeed we need tax-raising powers, borrowing powers and a tax office based in Scotland to collect these. Otherwise Scotland will remain a puppet on the London Treasury strings.

What's best in your mind - Treasury diktat or to cut the strings of remote Treasury manipulation to take normal national decisions like normal nations?


BEING comfortable with your history is about as important as teaching it.

As I discovered in a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament on Scottish history in schools, some are more comfortable and aware of it than others. Emotions ran high; some perceptive and eloquent things were said along with some reactionary statements and downright misinformation.

I won't re-run the whole debate but a couple of crackers stick in my mind. Labour's Des McNulty said that he didn't like referring to Scottish history as "our" history. One wonder's whose history it is then? He also said of the Enlightenment that it was the European Enlightenment and not the Scottish. If you follow Mr McNulty's rationale then the Italians should actively down play their role in the Renaissance.

The French philosopher Voltaire declared (in the 18th century), "we look to Scotland for all our ideas on civilization". Is that not something that should be known, investigated, understood (and yes celebrated)? Only a curmudgeon with a chip on their shoulder would want to down play that!

Lib Dem Margaret Smith made the cardinal sin of calling the battle of Culloden a Scotland versus England affair (although to be fair she did correct herself later); but said that funded visits to Culloden would give the perception that the Government was funding visits to a battlefield where the English fought the Scots. All the more reason, I would say, to get children to Culloden so that they learn that it wasn't.

One concern constantly raised by members was that Scottish history shouldn't be an exercise in painting England in a bad light. I couldn't agree more! But it got me thinking about the how other countries are portrayed through history in their schools.

Here the only times in history that we learn of other countries, especially in Europe, is in terms of opposition - Norman invasion, Napoleon, World Wars, for example.

Yet we co-operated with bodies like the Hanseatic League, and France in the Auld Alliance, had treaties with Norway and took part in the Scots/European Enlightenment (and Renaissance for that matter). The Scots that built St Petersburg and the Scots diasporas which inhabited Warsaw in the 17th century get little airing.

Scottish history surely should show the good and bad of our past, our glories and disasters. We are not perfect, but which country is? The trick is to know the story, and to move on from it to learn and be relaxed with it.

I am glad that the Scottish Government has decided that our history is something worthy of retention in the curriculum. I doubt there are many countries where a debate on these lines would be needed.

A TV debate last Monday explored the adequacy and presentation of the BBC TV Scotland's History series that culminates this coming Sunday evening. Heavyweight academics have been involved in unseemly spats over Neil Oliver, the presenter, his style and the script.

I was so pleased to watch the balanced panel discussion led by Sally Magnusson on St Andrew's Night. The studio audience joined in a reasoned and hopeful debate, echoing the need for more history in our schools. Why not watch it on the BBC iPlayer if your broadband can support it.


I ATTENDED two of the bigger events in the Final Fling - last Friday Ceol nam Feis in Eden Court and last Saturday Hands Up for Trad in Dumfries. The supportive atmosphere in traditional music was showcased at its best. Scots, Gaelic and English languages blend and mix the versions of old music now played by cool young players and singers.

BBC Alba broadcast the event for the second year of a contract. Who will do it in Perth next time? Ceol nam Feis is not seen on the TV screen. If either were at peak time like the X Factor, a whole new audience would demand more.

Over half the prizes came to the Highlands and Islands, over half the performance slots were from North musicians. Yet these parts of Scotland only make up around 10 per cent of her population.

Over 900 people packed into the DG1 centre in Dumfries. Next year Perth has been chosen. Should Caithness now be considering a bid soon afterwards?

Let's make a legacy of the Mod another musical extravaganza based, naturally, on the talent playing our native traditions in a new century in this carrying stream.

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