The fiddler brought his slow lament to a close as the church sat silent and expectant. The minister announced, “God Save the Queen” and the church rose as one. Rigidly to attention. A vision of socially distanced tweed and tartan, dark ties, medals and facemasks; stock still and solemn as the organ blasted out the national anthem.
As the church slowly emptied into chill of an early spring dusk on Deeside, the gathered assembly, although quick to disperse due to the current Covid regulations, took a few moments to exchange words of comfort and warmth to each other- many sharing personal reminiscences of the man we had just paid tribute to, His Late Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and his legacy in the North East of Scotland.
Two days earlier, on BBC Radio 4s News Quiz, Glasgow comedian Susie McCabe quipped that the coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh for the “whole of Scotland,” being like, “the world cup when we don’t qualify.” Her meaning being, it wasn’t anything to do with us.
I don’t for one minute doubt that many people in Scotland, as well as many in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, had concerns at the level of coverage of the death of His Royal Highness- whatever their views on monarchy. But Susie McCabe’s sweeping generalisation, that the “whole of Scotland” felt the same way, is, I fear, endemic of a central belt dominance of Scotland that has always existed, but that has gotten more far noticeable in the last twenty years.
As I saw with my own eyes on Sunday night, many in Scotland did feel deeply at the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. And on so many other issues, the views and priorities, the way of life of people in the North East, the Highlands, our islands, the Borders, are ignored or, worse, disparaged and sniggered at because they don’t fit with the vision of ‘modern Scotland’ by the urban liberal left for whom Scotland starts at Wishaw and ends at Perth.
Never was this more evident than in the debate over ‘jabs -v- jags’ when we were lectured by Glasgow based politicians and commentators that “In Scotland it is Jags”. Well, in the North East, that’s not strictly true- but that’s a topic for another column.
There is more than one Scotland. Those people that stood to attention at Crathie Kirk on Sunday evening to respect a man they saw as embodying the values they hold dear are just as Scottish as those who shrugged at the death, not through disrespect or callousness, but through a perception of his life being irrelevant to them and their day to day lives.
I am no position to pass judgement on anyone’s position on monarchy nor on any other issue for that matter. But the point is, Scotland is a country like any other, with a wide variety of backgrounds views, political affiliations, life experiences, relationships. “Scotland” does not feel, think or act as one. And neither it should.
But it is a sad reflection of politics in Scotland in the 21st Century that unless you subscribe to particular view- political or social, that you are somehow ‘less Scottish’ than those that do. This is unhealthy in any country. One’s nationality should not be questioned simply because of one’s outlook.
Whatever your view on the constitutional settlement, on Brexit, on the Royal Family, on country sports, on levels of taxation, on education, on the NHS, it makes you no less Scottish
There is more than one Scotland. And until we recognise that Scotland is not a homogenous blob and stop equating political allegiance with nationality, our politics will never move on.
Let’s recognise the diverse, exciting, dynamic country we are. Let’s empower our regions. Let’s see real devolution out of our central belt cities to the parts of the country that feel ignored or dismissed and respect the opinions of all Scots.
And let’s put to bed the idea that Scotland speaks and thinks as one. It doesn’t. We are a gloriously diverse melting point of lifestyles and ideals. And that should be recognised and celebrated.
Article first appeared in The Herald, 26th April 2021.