• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

A happier place than at any time in my life

Eighty years ago the eminent writer Edwin Muir toured Scotland and then wrote a book called Scottish Journey.

It was not a happy journey; Muir did not like much of what he saw. He recorded his dark impressions carefully and well. His book, while graciously written, was a terrible indictment of his country. There were very few positives; surprisingly, the most upbeat and serene passage was his extended account of his visit to Carfin Grotto.

Forty-five years later, the newly-founded publishing house of Mainstream decided to reprint the book. The introduction was by the eminent historian Professor T C Smout. His bleak conclusion was that Scotland remained lethargic and divided, incapable of action to remedy its plight. He was particularly scathing about Scotland's politicians. The nationalists, he reckoned, were devoid of any noble social purpose; Labour was only concerned with retaining power. And so on.

Well, I think it's safe to say that much has improved since 1979 and, of course, since 1934. Scotland still has many serious social problems, but I have no doubt that it is an infinitely more vibrant and confident country than it was for most of the previous century.

The imminent Commonwealth Games will be hosted by an impressive and assured city that is not just Scotland's largest. It's a city that has slowly but surely reinvented itself, very much for the better. In this it mirrors the wider Scotland.

I'd never claim that Scotland is at ease with itself (the Scottish national character is too complex and contrary for that) but I'm in no doubt that this is a happier and more optimistic country than it has been at any other point in my lifetime.

Much, although by no means all, of the credit for this must go to the Parliament at Holyrood. After New Labour came to power in 1997 things moved with remarkable speed. First the enabling referendum, and then the first elections for our new Parliament, which still did not have a home.

Since then we have seen what some (including Donald Dewar, the father of our devolution settlement) thought would never happen: a Scottish National Party majority over all the other parties. While I believe that Scotland's success is about far more than the SNP's rise from being a fringe party of protest to a mainstream party of power, it would be idle to claim that this process has not played its part in the revival of Scotland as a progressive country with a much more positive sense of national identity.

As evidence of this I'd point to the ongoing independence debate. Before it got going, various doomsters and naysayers were opining that it would be mired in vituperation, back-biting and sheer nastiness. Some predicted violence.

While the actual content of the debate has at times been disappointing, it has, apart from some excess in cyberspace, been conducted well and responsibly. The exciting idea of an extended national conversation has been revived, with some extraordinary results. In recent weeks I've heard from some Tory-voting Unionists about what an utterly compelling public speaker George Galloway is.

This points to something special about the debate; there has been a lot of good, old- fashioned oratory. There have been many packed public meetings and some folk have been very surprised about the people they have found themselves agreeing (and disagreeing) with.

Far from being poisonous, the overall atmosphere has been open and ameliorative.

I don't wish to be Panglossian, but there has been remarkably little rancour or spite.

We have had an extended debate as a mature nation of growing and developing self- confidence, and we shall, I'm sure, continue to be one regardless of the outcome in September.

Of course, if you write positively like this, you are inviting trouble. I'm aware that Scotland remains scarred and divided and, for too many Scots, every day is still a difficult and sometimes demeaning struggle. But for all that, much progress has been made and long may this happy process continue.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

249193