Rebuilding the Scottish Imagination

Over the last few centuries Scotland has often been portrayed in media and in politics as an illiterate, poor, unintellectual, peripheral space that cannae talk properly. It’s the ‘subsidy junkie’ phenomenon. The reality, of course, is quite different. Scotland has been one of the most innovative nations in human history, inventing much of the modern world, contributing immensely to medicine, architecture, philosophy, economics, literature, and the arts. We were the pioneers of European university systems and the great standard bearers of free education, for rich and for poor.

We can boast, but there is a terrible paradox in Scottish education where we emphasise the importance of learning but devalue the importance of learning our own story. My own education started and ended by being told “Braveheart didn’t happen” – and that was the end of it. What about the Picts? What about the Act of Union and the Jacobites and the Scottish Enlightenment and the Highland Clearances? What about Robert Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid? What about devolution? What about our story, our sense of self and our cultural well-being? But none of that was important. “You need to focus on your exams.”

The greatest thing that comes with learning about yourself and your surroundings is that it enhances your imagination. If you can imagine a better society you can fight for one. To believe in an independent Scotland first requires imagination. It’s a leap of faith. The campaign in its very essence is an exercise in imagination; endeavouring to build a new country from thoughts and ideas.

Contrast this with the campaign against self-government, driving imagination out of us by insisting the status quo, (where we are ruled by a government we didn’t vote for, and one in four children live in poverty), is satisfactory – or ‘UK OK’, as they put it in their slogan. In its essence it is a campaign against imagination. It’s the ‘Don’t know? Vote No’ philosophy, in which they benefit from a lack of social vision. It’s a campaign for nothing to happen; to accept our meagre lot and be glad with it. But Scotland deserves better. Scotland needs to imagine better.

If recent polls are to be believed, the youth movement for independence is on the rise, with as much as 58% in favour. In some ways it isn’t surprising. How do you sell the idea of dependency to young people? How do you control their political persuasions if they prefer the internet to the printed press? We are a generation of free-thinkers, and that can only be positive news for the Scottish cause.

Non-violent, intellectual independence movements were first pioneered by young students in the colonies of the British Empire, who educated themselves and taught themselves to fight with words and ideas instead of guns. These were the native intelligentsia. Education, and the passionate research and promotion of their culture, was their form of peaceful resistance. If we could build a Scottish intelligentsia, not as an elite academic class, but as a mass collective movement of all people and all classes, to research Scotland, to imagine Scotland and to create the new Scotland, our potential to build a better nation and promote a better world would surely meet no limits. All you have to do is imagine.

Andrew Redmond Barr
National Collective

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There are 10 comments

  1. Stewart Bremner

    To this day I am still both angry and sad that the date 1066 so easily rolls off the tongue, yet 1314 is just a number. My schooling in Lothian in the ’80s involved no mention of anything that happened in Scotland. A new start with a new imagination sounds like a great way to ensure future generations grow up knowing themselves better.

  2. Scott Forster

    I was educated in the 90s and my entire scottish education consisted of Bannock Burn,Robert The Bruce, William Wallace and the Scottish wars of Independence.

    In terms of scottish arts we only got scottish literature and that was reduced to Edwin Muir ( a writer famously opposed to scots) a single verse of Burns and No Scots or Gaelic whatsoever,

  3. David Myers

    I grew up in Clydebank in the 1980s and was taught quite a lot of Scottish history in both primary and secondary school. I don’t know how this compares to contemporary teaching, however; but the internet generation have the tools to fill in any gaps.

    Now, if support for independence in the 18-24 age group has actually doubled in the last three months, that can surely only increase past the current level, in line with increasing awareness of the hopelessness of Westminster’s tawdry policies. They then have to make sure to get out there and vote, since this age group is apparently the least likely to vote in the first place.

  4. Darren Swanson

    My Scottish education was quite different. I was taught nothing but Scottish history. So much so that I know very little about England apart from its historical context in relation to Scotland. If things have changed since the 80s and 90s then they need to change them back.

  5. Laura

    We were taught a lot about the Russian, French and American revolutions and of course, the world wars, but the only time we did anything more than a passing glance at Scottish history was when we looked at Scottish failures. The Darien scheme, important yes, but the same guy who thought that up also started up banking – only a brief mention of that though! The rest of it was a period of time known as the poor years (or similar) and we went over at great length how poor Scotland was and how people were lucky if they had one bed. It was so dreary and…so unimportant I forgot most of it.

    Maybe they were trying to give me an incentive to start a revolution though? Haha. And this was the 2000s in an exam factory.

  6. richardgibbons

    Formally educated in the 1980s and never received any Scottish history. I got to study many revolutions though, all foreign and their heroes. My ‘Scottish’ education was given to me by my parents at home, they learned from their parents and so on. Any Scottish history that was deemed to be worthy of public mention was usually framed within ‘the cringe’. First Year at High School (1981/82) I distinctly remember the Romans and 1066 being the given subjects for us young Scots. After that it was the events leading to the First World War, American War of independence, Russo-Japanese War, Russian Revolution, French Revolution and a smattering of 18th Century British Empire in North America adventures. English class was exactly that, no Scottish literature at all. No Scottish art or songs. No wonder nobody knew the words to Scotland the Brave. While it maybe internationalist looking, it was at the expense of our own culture. Oh and at that time anybody who wore a kilt (for any reason) was seen as an odd eccentric.

  7. Stewart Hendry

    Here’s an old comment on Scots lacking in imagination, It’s as valid today as when first spoken.
    enemies of Scottish nationalism are not the English, for they were ever
    a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our
    real enemies are among us, born without imagination.” (Robert Bontine
    Cunninghame Graham 1852 -1936.

  8. Con

    I grew up in Clydebank and went to school there in the 70s and early 80s Scottish history was just a passing thought in those days it was still all about the UK and the empire with the war of the roses first and second world war there was hardly a mention of the highland clearenses or anything else of great relevance about Scotland it was left up to yourslef to find out what you could if you could be botherd im glad i was because there was so much more than the line we had been fed

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