There are pictures in Scottish Newspapers today of Alex Salmond on his trip to China, greeting Chinese Ministers in a tartan tie carrying a brochure of Scottish Golf Courses and a bottle of our finest malt whisky. It’s cringeworthy.
Would a Chinese Minister turn up at the Scottish Parliament with a gift of some electrical goods and a bowl of dim sum?
Yes, tartan is the fabric of our national brand, and yes our golf courses and whisky are symbols of the Scotland we sell overseas. Hugely important industries worth millions to the Scottish Economy, but should that be the image of Scottish identity that we project to the world?
The SNP use these symbols of Scotland to evoke pride in our nation and there’s much to be proud of. But the question of identity at home is a much more serious one.
Modern Scotland looks very different to the one we project abroad. The vast majority of us don’t speak Gaelic, wear kilts and eat haggis on a daily basis. We are, however, an enterprising nation. We have more than our fair share of the World’s best universities. We’re leading the way in life sciences, in modern manufacturing and energy, computer gaming technologies and finance. But arguably, some of the most common attributes we share together are negative ones.
In his book ‘The Illusion of Freedom’ Professor Tom Gallagher, brings together a shocking collection of stats:
“We [Scotland] are the fourth worst country in Europe for stillbirths and have more than double the number of drug-related deaths per head than any other European country. Scotland is the second fattest nation in the developed world, with only the United States having higher obesity levels.”
“The proportion of Scotland’s working population reporting ‘depression, bad nerves or anxiety’ is a third higher than in the UK as a whole.”
“According to the World Health Organisation, Scotland’s murder rates for teenagers and young adults are five times that of England and Wales. Estimates vary regarding the number of street gangs in Glasgow. Some place it as high a 170 – more than London, with a population six times as large.”
“Estimates suggest between 40,800 and 58,700 children in Scotland have a parent who is a problem drug user. In 2008, official data from the World Health Organization shows that by the age of 15, girls in Scotland are consuming alcohol at a greater rate than anywhere else in the world. They are also the youngest in the world to get drunk for the first time.”
Some could argue that if Scotland has an identity, it is this. The ‘sick man’ of Europe. To highlight these facts is not to talk Scotland down. In Iain Gray’s words:
“it is a case of looking Scotland squarely in the eye and asking, how well are we serving the country we love?”
So when I see Alex Salmond at the other side of the world, I see a man obsessed with a selective view of Scotland’s heritage, its assets and potential. A man in denial of the problems our country faces and the powers he already has, but ignores, to do something about it.
I have little interest in his vision of a Scottish identity built on tangible things and locations; whisky and golf course, tartan and haggis, Burns and Bannockburn. I want my First Minister to define Scottish identity by the values we share as a modern nation.
A belief in the power of education. That hard work pays. In the equality of opportunity. In community and co-operation. That only together, can we better each others lot.
These values should do more than just define who we are, they should define what we do to improve the health of our nation. Surely the number one priority for any patriotic Scot?