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By Jason Michael
On “Tartan Day” we get to see the McDonalds Happy Meal version of Scottish culture paraded through the streets of New York. But so long as Haggisism is to be fetishised by the Yanks we should stop the yoons setting the narrative.
“Why is it,” asked Frank – a friend of mine in the Irish civil service, “that unionists always claim ownership of the trappings and history of Scotland?” It was the same on this island before the British were shown the door by twenty-six of the country’s thirty-two counties in 1921. England has always insidiously appropriated the history and culture of its possessions as hostages of empire. The shamrock, the puke green bowler hat, and the Long Way to Tipperary were all innovations of Britain, manufactured and deployed in an attempt to persuade the Irish of their place within the British ordering of things. It was brilliant propaganda. Unionism owns Scotland’s past, I responded, only insofar as it wrote it.
This was yesterday. Two days after the city of New York marked National Tartan Day with a parade to celebrate Scottish heritage – What a joke! Wasn’t this just what we were talking about; the appropriation by Britain of Scotland’s “heritage” in an effort to distort it and influence Scots – both at home and in the diaspora – with a jaundiced British presentation of Scotchland or North Britain.
Representing the Scottish parliament, right up at the front of the super-sized American style jockwackery and under a massive union jack, were Ken Macintosh and Johann Lamont – the Presiding Officer who thinks defending Scotland is beyond the competence of the Edinburgh parliament and the former Labour leader who believes Scots are genetically inferior to their southern masters. When people like this are chosen to represent Scotland to Scots abroad and to other countries what chance do we have? Our inferiority complex is painful and frustrating enough without it being strengthened and marketed for regurgitation around the world.
The choice to mark “Tartan Day” on 6 April was no accident. While we have never been encouraged to celebrate the day at home in Scotland, 6 April is the date that marks the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 – Scotland’s declaration of independence. Yet there was no mention of this in New York. There was certainly no mention of it in the British press. What this was was a faux – British – version of Scottishness escorted by unionists and under the flag of the union; a symbol even in the United States of imperial domination and slavery. It was this past and this heritage that was wrapped up and sold to the Americans as a wee taste of shortbread in a union jack tin.
But this is the Scotland of the unionists. This is Britain’s Scotland. It’s not ours. This parade and its injection of authentic Britain in the form of Macintosh and Lamont was as much a real bite of genuine Killie pie as a Whippet in an embarrassingly tartan rain jacket matching that worn by “LA-based Scotch yeller” KT Tunstall.
Tartan Day, much like Paddy’s Day in the States, isn’t about Scotland. It is a saccharine projection of dim-witted American expectations of Scotland and half remembered traditions of the old country. More than this: It is about whipping up sales in the international centre of the religion of capitalism. Tartan – or “plaid” as our Merican cousins prefer to call it – is about money; it’s about playing on the emotions of Americans who have been convinced their granny came over from Brigadoon or Balamory. Tartan Day is about giving them what they want; giving them the Scotland they want to believe in, and gaining access to their credit card details at the same time.
So long as this is what it’s about I don’t mind. Leave them to it. The problem, however, is when it is being used as a vehicle to sell the North Britain package around the world, and the Scottish government has not done enough to stop this from happening. Allowing the fleg to take centre stage is an utter betrayal of Scotland the Brand. We’re not in the US to sell notions of Britain. Let Britain do its own marketing. As much as we have to accommodate ourselves to the Mickey Mouse Scotland of a New York parade, we should be all over it like a rash to ensure that if it has to be a parody it will at least be a parody of Scotland’s Scotland.
As a nation we must stop allowing another country to tell our story; presenting its vision of us to the world on our behalf. This is cultural appropriation. This is colonisation. And we are letting it happen. We have a rich and authentically Scottish heritage, and we know it well enough to package it and parody it for consumption on the streets of New York. Ireland has always succeeded in doing this, playing up to the sham-rock in the States every year on the 17 March. There is nothing stopping us from doing the same.
England and the union will always own Scotland and the right to represent Scotland so long as we allow them. When we truly waken up to the realisation that we own our history and our heritage we will be able to tap into this and find the strength to build a better – truly Scottish – future. We can sell it abroad as a self-deprecating joke and make some money from that. When the unionists and Britain do this for us we are simply mocked. Until that happens events like Haggis Day will only ever be a joke at Scotland’s expense.
Scottish in New York? I’d be pretending to be Chinese.