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 Sikelel‘ iAfrika 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.