....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A citizens, a citizen for a’ that

‘One step forward and two steps’ back is my experience of the National Debate at the moment. I firmly believe that what we need to be discussing, right now, is the route that we want for Scotland ie what kind of society do we want to build for our common future…..ONLY when there is a foundation of debate* should we then be thinking about the governance we need to deliver it (Independence or part of UK). In other words, to my way of thinking things are pretty ‘cart before horse’ at the moment and I cannot bear the idea that we are all condemned to 18 months of factional debate about whether someone is pro or anti (to me - this just seems as useful as an argument about which soap powder you buy).

My ‘One step forward and two steps back’ experience is that whenever there does appear to be a debate beginning on visions for a future society then a spoiler is thrown into the mix…..that spoiler is almost exclusively ‘nationalism’. When that happens, things shift from being inclusive and outward-facing to being exclusive and, frankly, paranoid.
When the nationalism thing comes into play – we are all suddenly talking about  ‘people of a nation’ rather than a ‘nation made up of people’. Suddenly everyone is looking over their shoulder for their own ‘authenticity’ and quickly the whole things reaches a precipice close to racism….then everyone pulls back and starts to talk about something else entirely and there you go... we are two steps back (because this ‘future vision’ stuff is obviously really uncomfortable territory).

Maybe we need to tackle what we mean by Scottishness head on, and try and put some things to bed, so that we can all move on and become the nation that we dare to dream of.

One of the ways that I need to tackle this is in relation to accent – it seems to me that Scotland is a very inclusive and welcoming place – racial issues such as skin colour seem pretty inconsequential here. However, the clear ‘majority vs minority’ issue here is how someone speaks – this seems, to me, the dominant characteristic that determines whether someone is ‘Scottish’ or ‘not’. I would bet that every person who considers themselves a citizen of Scotland but does not have a ‘scottish accent’ would recognise the experience of being part of a group of folk talking about the way of things in the country....they are keen to make a contribution to the craic….then when they do speak noticing that almost imperceptible meeting of eyes amongst the group with the collective recognition that you are not ‘scottish’ and therefore your right to an opinion comes under question. This subtle racism needs to be brought into the open – if we were discussing discrimination by skin colour, religion etc then we would recognise the territory and have an idea of how to respond.

Of course there are layers of culture associated with any discussion of accents in Scotland – principally... the situation of ‘colonisation’ by people from England – the ‘assumption of authority’ that can be inherent in an ‘English’ accent in Scotland is also a grotesque form of racism and it is understandable why people in Scotland might treat an ‘english’ voice with distrust. BUT if, as a nation, we are to embrace a positive and empowering future we need to getting beyond things that hold us back.

NB. not for one second is this article in any way an attack on local accents in Scotland! The sound of an animated chatter between scot’s accents is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me…

All I am saying is that it is maybe time to have sufficient confidence in ourselves and our country such that we can embrace the idea that others want to be part of this place too – that others admire Scotland, its people, its values and its environment and want to consider themselves part of its future.

Imagine a place where cooperation and positivity were the norm – that is the Scotland that I want my daughter to grow up in.

Any group dynamic holds itself back by becoming insular and fearful – such a dynamic is lethal for people coming into it because they can never ‘join’ – this quickly becomes a deadly spiral - inward-looking, disempowerment and consequently lack of opportunity and growth. This is the hardest possible place from which to contemplate change. But change is what we need, we need to turn around hold hands with the person next to us and face the outside.
In order to grow, I believe it would be useful to be able to create a definition of being ‘scottish’ that is inclusive rather than exclusive – here is one wee suggestion about how help that idea forward:

Being ‘scottish’ is something you are through no conscious action of your own – but being a Scottish Citizen is something that you must make a positive choice to become. By choosing to be a Scottish Citizen you are choosing to aligne your own future with that of your fellow citizens – it tells others that you believe in the potential of this country and will do your part in making it the best place it can be. I have added :different accents because I think it is important that we build from a place of equality and to do that we need to honour the commitment of others by celebrating our diversity rather than being afraid of it.

The vision here is:
Scotland as a nation made up of different people
rather than:
Scotland as a nationality

I’m going to try wearing this badge and see what the reaction is – it seems more useful right now than wearing a Saltire, a YES badge or even a Better Together one. I’m thinking that every accent in Scotland is different – so everyone can wear one if they want to.....gimme a shout if you want one too

Scottish Citizen : any Accent

If you have any ideas suggestions whatever - give me a shout.... studio@mattbaker.org.uk

* In case anyone is interested - my top three things for a better future for Scotland would be:
  1. Increased Local Democracy (I don't mean more of the same....rather something akin to the Swiss system with tiers of local citizen panels before you get to Town/regional councils)
  2. A Land Tax to replace Income Tax
  3. A Nordic style welfare system...ie one that is a supportive system for families and child care 


  1. Received from Tom Manley by email - before I re-enabled comments on this blog:

    I've always been a little cautious of the nationalist drive for the very reasons you point out, it risks becoming an inward, protective one...

    a romantic connotation of 'Independent' however  seems more aligned with free thinking and democratic choice. Although in reality  the situation is far more complex

    Both camps on opposing sides of the debate would do well to consider the values that make Scotland progressive, a  positive identity and set of values, breaking preconceived  notions of what Scotland is and opening up to new dialogues, voices, accents, and outlooks.

  2. Received from Henry Mellor by email - before I re-enabled comments on this blog:

    From Henry Mellor

    As an Englishman who has lived in Scotland more than half his life (34 years) I find this article highly intelligent, insightful and heartening...Hurray.  "my (your) top three things for a better future for Scotland" is beyond my vision from back home in England and seems to lack confidence in any of Scotland's fine traditions but hey....up to you Citizens who inhabit Scotland's good earth.  What about those Scottish people who live abroad will they have a say in Scotland's future and.....will they be willing to invest more than 1% of their considerable wealth in the auld country?

  3. That above three things are really inspired by people of Scotland.It would be mainly attracted who want to good socialism in their country.
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