In what is not only disappointing but damaging to the cause of Scottish independence which he passionately espouses, Scotland’s senior writer, Alasdair Gray, has delivered himself of a bilious judgment on ‘colonists’ and ‘settlers’. The only thing missing from what was in essence, a racist outburst, was the extension of the phrase to the ‘white settlers’ variation, also in the currency of nationalism.
Gray’s excursion accompanies the departure from her leadership of the Scottish National Theatre of Vicky Featherstone who, today [17th December], has talked to The Herald of substantial experiences of bullying during her term of office.
Ms Featherstone said that she became aware that those who did not like her programming for the company chose to assign their problems to her being English, rather than engage in reasoned argument on the detail of the programmes.
The pressure of this dismissal of her work on the basis of her nationality led her, she says, to question her ability to do her job.
The behaviour the theatre director encountered is not acceptable in any enlightened society.
We have absolutely no doubt that this attitude and this conduct are repellent to many Scottish nationalists.
However, the problem is one that the SNP has encouraged, both in the culture it has established and in silly stunts in the Scottish Parliament, as when the immature Joan McAlpine MSP, the First Minister’s muse, copied shortly afterwards by Argyll’s MSP, Michael Russell, applied the description ‘anti-Scottish’ to arguments and positions they did not like.
This was clearly a scripted propagandist exercise but one which was swiftly abandoned in the wake of the weight of an angry and sure-footed public response.
Anyway, in discussing English immigration to Scotland, Mr Gray focused on some senior figures in the world of Scottish arts organisations, remarking that such ‘colonists’ came north to further their careers, with no intention of staying.
He is quoted as having said: ‘I think Scottish folk in other professions will know settlers and colonists with similar attitudes’.
It does not seem to have occurred to Mr Gray that the English could say the same about the Scots.
In recent times, the UK governments and political parties have been led and heavily staffed by Scots – Tony Blair [God help us, but born in Edinburgh], Gordon Brown; Helen Liddell, John Reid, Brian Wilson, Gavin Strang, George Robertson, Alistair Darling, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar, Derry Irvine, Charles Kennedy, Malcolm Bruce, Douglas Alexander, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Malcolm Rifkind, Ming Campbell, David Steel, Michael Forsyth, Jo Grimond… not to mention the Lord of Misrule, Alastair Campbell. They were everywhere.
And there will be a myriad of unsung Scots, as mediocre as anyone else, who have gone south – and east, west and north – for work and for betterment; and who did so thinking only of their eventual return.
Like all nations, Scotland celebrates its hot Scot emigrants who have made their mark outside Scotland, in all fields; and it sings the songs of those who longed to come home and could not.
Why should the English be any different, have a lesser right to make their way in the world or feel any lesser a sense of ultimate belonging in their homeland? ‘There is some corner of a foreign field…’?
Alasdair Gray’s position is philosophically, politically and morally indefensible. Were it to run the rule, any race would become genetically, intellectually and creatively enfeebled.
In his flurry against those he targeted, Mr Gray allowed for the fact that they had been invited here and appointed by Scots ‘without confidence in their own land and people’.
He is not open to the difficult possibility that, in some cases at least, these he sees as inadequates may still have been better than any homebred with availability.
Just as Scots leave Scotland to seek experience, authority and fortune elsewhere, others come here for the same reason.
Emigrants make strategic choices, Many then choose to settle in the countries they have selected as the place of their personal challenge. There is very real value in such conscious choices. They indicate awareness of the enduring value of the place; and they testify to active informed choice in a massive cultural compliment rather than an accident of birth.
History shows that many who have chosen to live and work in Scotland have been of great benefit to this country – as have Scots who chose to live and work elsewhere have been to their adopted nations. You have only to think of the Scots Indians who emigrated only to work in the fur trade. Colonists or what – but who could not celebrate what they went on to do and the depth of commitment they displayed to the people they chose to stay with.
We are prepared to dismiss Mr Gray’s outburst as the product of a bad day, possibly provoked by some specific irritation. But let us have no more of this chauvinist nastiness and let no one who comes across it let it pass without overt dismissal.
We do not believe for one moment that Scotland, in the union or alone, wants to be this kind of place.