Scotification pros and cons

Local SNP MSP, Michael Russell, has just written to every one of the secondary schools in Argyll and  Bute, pressing them to use in their schools a new compilation CD of famous Scottish songs he enclosed.

He was advocating its use to ‘spread knowledge of great traditional Scottish music’.

The MSP says: ‘I was immensely impressed when I heard this CD for the first time.  I have known the record label for many years and Greentrax is very keen to ensure that knowledge of Scottish songs is gained by every pupil in every school.

‘I wanted to do a little bit to assist in that aim and therefore I have bought a number of copies to give to local secondary schools.

‘I think this CD is a valuable educational tool and I hope that these CDs will assist in the teaching of Scots language and culture, particularly for those pupils who are either studying or thinking of studying for the new Scottish Studies qualification.’

The compilation CD includes classic Scottish songs like:  Both Sides the Tweed, Ae Fond Kiss, ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and Sic a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation. The album also contains the Burns classic A Man’s A Man, as sung by Sheena Wellington at the historic opening of the Scottish Parliament on 1st July 1999.

Mr Russell’s move comes as the Scottish Government is set to act on the new access to the running of the BBC which the Smith Commission’s recommendations on enhanced devolution will bring. Scottish Ministers have made it known they they will press for two changes:

  • the making of more programmes in Scotland;
  • and the making of more programmes ‘for Scottish audiences’.

The first change to be pursued is unarguably necessary for the even development of high level expertise and production experience; and for the sharing out of contracts. Addressing these factors should have the welcome result of driving up standards in programme concept and production in Scotland – through a greater volume of experience and perhaps through a usefully UK-wide competitive environment.

The second change is more problematic. A country with a relatively small population has finely balanced and conflicting strengths and weaknesses. It can move faster to make changes  – largely a positive enabling capacity. It is, by its nature largely unable to avoid parochialism and cronyism, both of which kill off important sources of the new.

The heart of the matter of inculcating ‘Scottishness’ by constant exposure to everything Scottish raises the almost impossible to answer question of what is enough and what is too much? A sense of place and of one’s own place in that place can found a life. But too deep a command immersion for political ends can be triumphalist, chauvinist and exclusive.

Where to draw the line cannot be formulaic and generally has to be left to good judgment – but where there is a political agenda, that will inevitably act against the possibility of balanced judgment. For example, here we have a very recent cabinet Secretary for Education writing personally to every head teacher of every secondary school in Argyll, sending them a CD to use in the curriculum.

If Joe Public were to do the same, the request would be binned after a polite reply and the CD, at best, put in the music department collection. But where you have a recent high level government minister doing this, it takes on an advisory character and comes with a weight of authority which may be unintentional but is nonetheless potent.

Mr Russell however, is to be commended for his enthusiasm and for putting his hand in his own pocket to buy the CDs he has sent to the schools for their consideration and for not putting the purchases on his parliamentary expenses.

Scotification versus fusion

The process of the Scotification of Scotland can be damaging, in its conscious creation and conferring of primary status upon a monoculture.

This practice can often be little other than the creation of a badge of identity to convey privilege in the wearing of it and, dangerously, engendering a felt supremacy over those excluded from its membership. It nourishes chauvinism.

The risk is death by narrow tedium – for the culture itself in continued inbreeding, through lack of variety and inevitably, through overkill.

The experience of the recent independence referendum was, horribly, to make the very name of ‘Scotland’ an agent of recoil through the hammerblows of its repeated imperialist application to everything. The thumping recurrence of the name was unrelenting, tedious beyond belief and choking.

Nothing could be more unhelpful to everyone.

In the end it’s not the Englishness, the Irishness, the Welshness or the Scottishness of anything that matters. It’s the calibre, the potency of the ‘thing’ in question.

  • Scottish ceilidh dancing is a specific delight all children should  have the chance to do for the rhythms, patterns, controlled energy and sociability of it.
  • The Irish traditional song, Danny Boy, captures the essential melancholy of the Celt like nothing else.
  • The Lincolnshire Poacher conjures a buccaneering free spirit that may be English in source but is universal.
  • Welsh male voice choirs, like the legendary Treorchy, don’t just make music. They make men free.
  • Nkosi SikeleliAfrika transmits almost subliminally the experience of black Africans – not by the meaning of the words, which were a missionary hymn – but by the tonality, the resonance and the haunting resilience of the sound when it is sung.

Please don’t let’s go for heavy handed Scotification and lose the pik’n’mix eclecticism of a healthy confident culture.

Mongrel cultures are the most fun and are arguably the best of the lot – because they cherry pick from anywhere and everywhere. They invert  – subvert – colonialism.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Quite frankly, I’d rather settle for the BBC being devolved completely.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8

    Crazy She-Bat March 22, 2015 9:15 pm Reply
  • There was no Scotification in my school, only Englification. None of the songs that you say are on the CD were ever sung in our classes. I knew the Lincolnshire Poacher off by heart, and Danny Boy as well as all the other Irish and English songs.
    I had to wait until I left school to hear all these wonderful Scots tunes. Any Burns songs, I learned them from a book my father had. If it is still the same, I salute Mr Russell for his efforts.
    I came across Sheena Wellington’s performance at the opening of the Scottish parliament on YouTube. I’m off to play it again. Classic.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

    Murdoch MacKenzie March 22, 2015 9:45 pm Reply
  • Do you know,in the forties and fifties ,they used to give children the belt if they spoke their native tongue,in the west highlands!
    Your article is an insult to their memory.
    Get a spine!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 10

    Machmaolain March 22, 2015 9:47 pm Reply
  • Would any other nation be having this conversation about its musical tradition?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 6

    Graeme McCormick March 22, 2015 9:55 pm Reply
    • Newsie’s point about the distributor of the CD is a valid one if a bit nit-picky, but she’s right. The CD’s shouldn’t be of any more importance or significance than if you or I trooped into A&B’s secondary schools with music we thought educational.
      Maybe what’s more important is why he felt the requirement to do this and was there a necessity to do so and if so why.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

      JnrTick March 22, 2015 10:14 pm Reply
  • During my entire six years at Dunoon Grammar School I do not recall the teachings of Burns (too parochial, not the queens English?), Robert Louis Stephenson, Hume, Grassic Gibbon and so on in our English studies. Nor Bannockburn, Jacobite rebellion, Highland clearances etc. in our History classes. Instead, period after period of Russia’s revolution with Rasputin the Bolsheviks & Menshevics indelibly etched into our minds, World wars I&II, which of course should be taught at good length to todays & tomorrow’s youth, but Scottish history, the teachings of the works of our national bard? Barely even acknowledged as existing.
    It’s not until I look back that this deficit has become apparent, I thought little of it at the time having taken history as a subject, it still interested me though.
    Reading today’s Sunday Herald, my wife read me from the letters page a contribution quoting the great George Orwell relating to this piece of Newsrooms.
    Speaking of more autonomy for Scotland, Wales & England and tying in with the issue of identity, Orwell suggests,”Above all, local pride should be stimulated by teaching in the elementary schools. Every child ought as a matter of course to learn something of it’s own country”.
    “People ought to be proud of their own locality, they ought to feel that it’s scenery, it’s architecture and even it’s cookery are the best in the world. And such feelings which do exist in some areas of the north but have lapsed throughout the greater part of England, would strengthen national unity rather than weaken it”
    Orwell’s sentiments are imo hugely important. Without a knowledge of one’s culture, one’s history, be that family, and/or more generally social economic or political, the absence of these factors leave us undervaluing not just our country of birth but our surroundings and those we share them with.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8

    JnrTick March 22, 2015 9:59 pm Reply
  • Just for clarification,on my last post I stated that the education system in Scotland,in the forties and fifties,belted children that spoke their native tongue or sang it!
    This was a deliberate attempt to stamp on an ancient culture.
    Now,what Mr.russell has done is to try and revigorate our culture.Note,without resorting to gratuitous violence that was perpetrated on some of my family members.

    He is to be commended by all to reverse the loss of our beautiful music and poetry.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 11

    Machmaolain March 22, 2015 10:15 pm Reply
  • Newsies from a province with the ingrained mind set to look to her betters in London otherwise she would have recognised the nonesense over Scottification!

    Mon dieu! Scottish issue in Scotland .
    Don’t we know our place?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

    No Cheese Here March 23, 2015 8:15 am Reply
  • Dear oh dear Newsie. Your antagonism to things Scottish has no bounds.

    Traditional Scottish music in Scottish schools – what an outrage.

    And what would your preference be – the Sash, Rule Britannia, God Save the Queen or No Surrender.

    And I take it from the tenor of your response about encouraging mono culturism that Gaidhlig, traditional highland dress, and Scottish poets and writers will be evils too.

    You are indeed the John Bull and Alf Garnet of the keyboards with guff as you have just posted.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

    Willie March 23, 2015 8:21 am Reply
  • Russell was a useless education secretary so why is he bothering now. The word in Holyrood is of his plans to step down as an MSP at the 2016 Scottish elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

    Oban4me March 23, 2015 10:39 am Reply
    • The usual nonsense from Oban4me.
      The word from Argyll is Mike Russell is re-energised and raring to go go go.
      Brendan O’Hara and Michael Russell will make a good SNP team for Argyll and Bute.
      Onwards towards independence.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

      keitho March 23, 2015 10:59 am Reply
      • Sturgeon on radio 4’s women’s hour last friday categorically ruled out another Indy vote for a generation.

        So who’s lying!

        Russell never wanted O’Hara to run as the SNP candidate….he wasn’t his man!!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

        Oban4me March 23, 2015 11:46 am Reply
        • Oban4me


          You know you are.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

          keitho March 23, 2015 1:11 pm Reply
          • KeithO
            It occurred to me I might have heard of you.
            I hope you don’t mind me asking but were you a former head of church sort of guy,who recently got his jotters from Pope Francis?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

            Machmaolain March 23, 2015 4:09 pm
          • Bless you my son.
            I don’t think The Archbishop ever posted on Forargyll.
            If he did which pseudonym did he go under.
            Speculate…….Richard………Malcolm Kirk …???
            Any other suggestions?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

            keitho March 23, 2015 4:27 pm
        • Sorry to burst your over inflated balloon here but the people of Scotland will decide when the Next Referendum will Be!! Not Politicians.

          You and I know there will be another one.When,well that’s in the lap of the gods!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

          Machmaolain March 23, 2015 4:44 pm Reply
        • Nicola would never tell lies.I really like her style,good shoes and a beautiful hair style.
          I go down to Glasgow this weekend for the conference thingy.I hope to get a selfie with her and Alex.That would make my day.
          Anyway,I’m visiting a hairdresser in the west end on Friday afternoon and I’ve booked a Nicola Style as I think it’s great and cool.
          Ps I hope you don’t call me a liar.If you do I’ll tell my very large dad!!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

          Janice of the glen March 23, 2015 4:56 pm Reply
  • I think it is worth cutting to the core of this issue so as not to be side-tracked by emotional rhetoric about how we got to where we are and certainly a cheap and unpleasant suggestion that if you are from Northern Ireland and don’t support this idea then this means you a sectarian bigot.

    The Scottish education system has been in the hands of Scottish people for an awful long time now. I went through it from primary 5 through to the end of secondary school (in an A&BC run school) and I did learn something about Bannockburn and Culloden, I did hear some Scottish folk music and we did do some Scottish country dancing. My children are currently in an A&BC run primary school and they have learned a bit about Burns and some Scottish tunes. So let’s not go down the route of claiming that there is none of this in the current system. There may not have been in some schools but if you want to blame anyone for that blame the school, not some trumped up claim of Englification.

    The main point here is that the Scottish Government, regardless of its political make up at any particular time, can influence the curriculum. If they want to provide for enhanced education of Scottish history and culture then they should go about it in the right way. Sending a few CDs to a few schools and asking them to play it is not the way to do it.

    Equally lets not over egg the issue of teaching the specific history of Scotland over and above other history. Teaching history does provide a degree of identity, I accept that unreservedly, however it also serves to improved future decision making, understand and nurture societal development and provide the context within which we live today. Given the global political landscape we live in today, with the overhanging threats of conflict and segregation, I see greater value in teaching the World Wars, Russian Revolution, German Unification, and more modern conflicts such as Vietnam . Furthermore not just conflict, but also other major societal movement such as the suffragettes, slavery, civil rights, apartheid etc.

    I have no idea what is on the modern history curriculum but I was lead to believe that Scottish History does form part of it. In fact my colleague at work (who is sickeningly much younger than I am) just confirmed that in first and second year their history classes did cover William Wallace, Bannockburn and that was a particular focus on Scottish history.

    As for Burns – well I have to admit I am pretty glad I didn’t have to do that in my English classes however I accept that is personal choice!!! In my 3rd and 4th year I focused on Shakespeare, Larkin and Orwell – I guess that is very ‘Englified’ however there were my choice – what I can’t remember is what other choices were available. Whatever they were I couldn’t possibly imagine at the age of 13/14 being all that enthused about reading Burns or Lewis Grassic Gibbon however I would entirely support those options being available to students.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    Integrity? March 23, 2015 12:26 pm Reply
  • In reply to 10.
    The article is headlined Scotification pros and cons. I introduced the word Englification in response, and to reflect my own time at school, but you seem to find that to be a trumped up claim. It seems to me that Englification worked on you.
    There were many Gaelic speakers in my class and I remember an English teacher, who was not our regular teacher, thank God, asking us if those of us who spoke in Gaelic did our thinking in Gaelic as this could be holding us back in our English language comprehension. I was only fourteen or fifteen at the time but I could tell her that I did not think in a language, my brain did all my thinking and only used a language to communicate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

    Murdoch MacKenzie March 23, 2015 3:00 pm Reply
    • Or maybe, and more realistically, it just didn’t happen to me – as I have spelt out in my post.

      There were also times where people writing left handed had their knuckles wrapped until they wrote with their right hand. A clear case of righthandification if ever I saw it!

      My point is that ‘Englification’ (or your interpretation of it) may have happened in some schools but it didn’t happen in all and isn’t happening now. Your complaint is with the school(s) that did it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

      Integrity? March 23, 2015 3:04 pm Reply
      • Might Englification be intentionally or unintentionally confused with Britification when referring to what we were fed educationally?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

        JnrTick March 23, 2015 9:07 pm Reply
        • Possibly but for me all three made up terms, Scotification, Englification and Britification are nonsense. Murdoch had a crap temporary English teacher at one point who didn’t like kids speaking Gaelic, this gets twisted into being evidence of Englification. Not getting traditional Scottish folk songs is seen as Englification. Do you think English schools piped their class rooms with 17th century English broadside ballads or, more likely, that traditional folk music wasn’t really considered a necessary part of the curriculum across the UK?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

          Integrity? March 23, 2015 9:16 pm Reply
  • “Class, we are now going to listen to a CD of Scottish music”
    “Excuse me Miss, what’s a CD?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

    John M March 23, 2015 4:06 pm Reply
    • John, it’s what we are going to play to you with a subliminal message hidden in it!
      When the music ends you will ______________?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      richard March 23, 2015 9:11 pm Reply
      • Paranoia,stupidity…you’ve got it all!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        Machmaolain March 23, 2015 9:28 pm Reply

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