More Heat than Light - response to Ian Hamilton, The Scottish Review, February 2013

More Heat than Light – response to Ian Hamilton
By Dr. Michael Gregson, Teacher of English, Nairn Academy

The Scottish Review, February 2013

For the context of this article, here is a link to the original Ian Hamilton piece which prompted my reply:

So, we equate ‘England’ with ‘The Daily Telegraph’; we traduce that heterodox and rich nation for the worst Xenophobe excesses of UKIP; we are unforgiving of nostalgists’ fondness for Second World War totems, at the very time the kilts are being put away and haggi digested after our own nostalgic Burnsfests. Why – other than for ‘narrow political advantage’ – conflate the Old Etonians in the current coalition Government with the other 50-something million in that populous southern land?

Ian Hamilton’s essay ‘English nationalism could destroy the rest of us’ is, sadly, mere calumny masquerading as analysis. If I, as a teacher sharing the Curriculum for Excellence with a class of children in Scotland (I do not say ‘Scots children’, for the UK is nothing if not pluralist), were to foist such writing upon them, the essay’s offensive nature would be felt by many. My Higher English pupils are frequently beneficiaries of the gems and aperçus which festoon The Scottish Review Online – my plundering will not extend to Hamilton’s bilious brew.

Does it not demean Scotland, and Scottishness, thus to seek self-definition? In constructing a straw man, in conjuring up a distorted image of our neighbours? In moving that small step, from saying ‘My country is different from yours’ to saying ‘My country is better than yours’?
We need a sense of the commonweal. Ironically, this principle pervades many of our greatest creative figures, whom Hamilton doubtless respects – sometimes reductive, wry or satirical, sometimes laser-insightful. Scott expresses it: “The race of mankind would perish did they cease to aid each other. We cannot exist without mutual help. All therefore that need aid have a right to ask it from their fellow-men; and no one who has the power of granting can refuse it without guilt.

Perhaps we need to ‘Only connect’ – see others generously, not as if they’ve fleeced us. Surely the debate needs light, not heat. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Translating the British’ in celebration of the 2012 Olympics, expressed well our plurality:

“We speak Shakespeare here,
a hundred tongues, one-voiced; the moon bronze or silver,
sun gold, from Cardiff to Edinburgh
 by way of
London Town,
on the Giant's Causeway;
we say we want to be who we truly are,
now, we roar it. Welcome to us.”

Above all, she fastened onto the deep sense of grievance all of us feel in modern Britain:

“We've had our pockets picked,
 the soft, white hands of
bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;
we want it back.”

In hard times, it is, of course, difficult to feel commonalty. And questions like international budget agreements and trading arrangements have always been thorny, or thistly, even in William Wallace’s day. The Hanseatic League collapsed because of internal divisions as well as the growth of competitor alliances across Europe at times of international economic downturn. I am sure mean-spirited perspectives on neighbour nations flourished then also. 


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