A Mr Ng may take over Rangers and rename it. What price Ng FC?
We are afflicted
by the culture of
the Scottish Cringe
Let me begin by putting my cards on the table. I'm only a recreational poet. I write poetry for my own pleasure and satisfaction. Occasionally, and almost as a kind of afterthought, I'll submit the odd poem to a magazine or journal; and I enter the McCash competition every year because every year, for the past five or six years, my entry has been shortlisted and I'm now obsessed with winning it, in much the same way that I can become obsessed with completing the last few clues of a crossword.
I've no interest in – or illusions about – 'professional development' or 'investment opportunities', since I'm realistic enough to know that I'll never in a million years be able to make a living from being a poet. I'm a purely recreational poet: I write poetry because I enjoy writing poetry and because (and here's the nub) I believe that writing poetry enriches my life and, hopefully, also the lives of people around me.
Now here's a vision. Imagine a republic of Scotland in which its citizens engage with the arts, whether as practitioner or audience, for the simple reason that such engagement is a good in itself, something worth doing for its own sake, a personally enriching experience. Wouldn't that be something?
I'm reminded of a story my old history teacher and mentor, Angus Matheson, told the class one day. A crofter and his son enrolled at Aberdeen University to study divinity. Four year's later, when they graduated, they returned to the croft to pick up their lives from where they'd left them off. They didn't study divinity in pursuit of a careers, or fame, or fortune. They took time out to study because they perceived education to be something worth having simply for its own sake. It enriched their lives. It made them better people.
Let us affirm as a nation in our government's arts and culture policy
that the arts are valuable in and of themselves and worth pursuing for
their own sake.
A republic of Scotland in which its citizens engage with the arts to the primary end of enriching themselves and their communities: isn't that the classical humanist tradition, the tradition that in former times inspired our institutions of law, education, arts and letters? And isn't this what we should aspire to be again in our cultural life as we teeter once more on the edge of redefining our relationship to ourselves and to our neighbours?
This is, of course, a rhetorical question. Of course we should be aspiring to a relationship with the arts that is life-enhancing. And of course we should be expecting our fledgling Scottish government to be cultivating the conditions in which the arts and our engagement with them can be life-enhancing. But instead all we get from our nation-builders are pronouncements about 'creative industries', whose threefold role is: to contribute to sustainable economic development; to improve the health, wellbeing, confidence and quality of life for our communities; and raise the profile of Scotland at home and abroad.
This is an arts and culture policy of the Scottish Cringe; the institutionalisation of the feelings of low self-worth and embarrassment felt by Scottish people in response to overt expressions of their own cultural identity and heritage. Let us stop apologising for our engagement in creative activities. Let us stop feeling the need to justify ourselves by pleading that what we do when we make and enjoy art has economic benefits and is valuable for that and no other reason. Let us affirm as a nation in our government's arts and culture policy that the arts are valuable in and of themselves and worth pursuing for their own sake.
We're Scots, after all. That is what we do.
Andrew McCallum is a poet and currently secretary of the Brownsbank Committee, which curates the last home of the great European modernist poet, Hugh MacDiarmid