Thursday, January 24, 2019

Scotland: Overlooked and Underappreciated

It took England 400 years to conquer the Scots, and they still haven't forgotten it. 
From Edinburgh Castle.
From the National Museum of Scotland.
The Scots--as independent as possible post-Acts-of-Union--print their own currency, 
Scottish currency is accepted in England, though I've never seen it.
fly their own flag, sing their own songs, have their own accent, 
From The Royal Dick pub in Edinburgh.
I promise I am not making up the name.
and mock the English every chance they get. One clue the Scots are more rational than their southern neighbor is they voted to remain in the EU, while the English voted to leave, throwing the U.K. into a political morass from which it still hasn't recovered. ("Pulling out doesn't stop people from coming," noted one political cartoonist on the immigration issue.) Interestingly, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, "We all belong to many countries," a marked contrast to English PM Theresa May's 2016 comment, "If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word 'citizenship' means." 
From Dean's I Must Belong Somewhere (2017)
Indeed, the Scots have a long tradition of rationality. They practically invented life insurance through the Scottish Widow's Fund, a pooling of funds for the elderly, 
From Armchair Books in Edinburgh.
and the Scots' list of inventions doesn't stop there. They also invented penicillin, the pedal bicycle, and Europe's first passenger steamboat (Montrose and Dundee's histories are inseparable from ships)--and that's only some of the "p"s. Growing up in California, where numerous parks are named after John Muir, I assumed he was Californian. In fact, he was born and raised near Edinburgh, and after moving to America, was instrumental in preserving Yosemite and other national parks. 
Outside Edinburgh's Writers' Museum.
Adam Smith, David Hume, the creator of Sherlock Holmes... the compilation of "Famous Scots You Didn't Know Were Scots" goes on and on. Even Englishwoman J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter novel in various Edinburgh cafes, where she moved to be close to her sister. (As a single parent, walking to nearby cafes was her preferred method for lulling her baby to sleep.) 
On bathroom wall of The Elephant House cafe.
Bluegrass and folk music in the American Appalachia? Their roots are Scottish, derived from songs Robert Burns collected on his local travels and modified. (One such song was "Auld Lang Syne"--which should not be confused with the delightful Auld Handsel Monday.) 
From Glasgow's Mitchell Library.
Despite their many accomplishments, the Scots harbor an inferiority streak larger than any steamboat they ever built. 

A recent best-selling book in Scotland? Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass--by a Scottish rapper. How does Scotland's pre-eminent historian describe his country? "A History of the Dispossessed." It's easy to forget now, with Scotland's North Sea oil wealth gushing everywhere since 1969, but much of Scotland was once a no-go zone. 

Between November 1930 and May 1935, Glasgow's unemployment rate was around 30%, and the Glasgow Razor Gangs, named for their weapon of choice, were running amok. As recently as 2005, only Finland had a higher murder rate in the developed world than Scotland. North Sea oil wealth still hasn't completely transformed mostly rural Scotland--
around 49% of Edinburgh, the capital, is made up of green space, and the reason some of the world's best strawberry jam comes from Scotland is because its relatively low population leaves plenty of room for farmland.
At the National Museum of Scotland (free admission), I came across a video of a Scottish government official lamenting the number of Scots leaving and taking their talents elsewhere, especially to Canada and Australia. 
From Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City
In the most poignant part of the video, a young couple discussed their thoughts on leaving Scotland. The wife did most of the talking until the very end, when the man chimed in, saying, "We Scots are hard workers." Indeed they are, mate. And from what I could see, mostly good people, too. 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2020)

Bonus IRobert Louis Stevenson, on travel: 

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.

Bonus II: The name Edinburgh may derive from Northumberland; Edwin, the King of Northumbria from 616 to 632, built a town on the River Forth that became known as Edwin's Burgh.

Bonus III: Full disclosure: I attended first grade in Edinburgh, so I may be a wee biased in favor of the Scots. 

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