SCOTTISH taxpayers will be delighted to learn that yesterday a government website called Icons - A Portrait of England went online. The [GBP]1m venture aims to celebrate our most loved and familiar objects.
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The list includes a cup of tea, the Routemaster bus, Punch and Judy, the Spitfire, the Angel of the North, Stonehenge, Alice In Wonderland, the FA Cup, the King James Bible and the anthem Jerusalem.
Funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the project wants to define English identity: to capture a snapshot of a real place, inhabited by real people.
David Lammy, the culture minister - unintentionally providing the best justification yet for devolution - said at the launch: "Who hasn't ached for a proper cup of tea when they've been on an overseas holiday or yearned for their team to pick up the FA Cup?"
Er, well, lots of us, actually. The project's intentions, nevertheless, are interesting and in a way faintly noble; and it will be fun to see what the public come up with. Anyone can nominate anything except actual people (for example, Diana's funeral is an icon, but not the princess herself).
Thus far, Icons Online has no plans to cover Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, an omission which I propose to remedy. Here, in order to help the government to kick off the identity debate north of the border, is my own idiosyncratic list of Scottish icons.
1. See You Jimmy hats. Perhaps the most potent symbol of national self mockery in the world. These hats portray the Scots as ginger-haired clowns and may be the real reason for Charles Kennedy's popularity with the electorate. In every joke there is a germ of truth.
2. Bagpipes. Not the picture-postcard image of competition bands, but the new vision of piping: youngsters, in jeans and Oakley sunglasses, giving the magnificent instrument new meaning and rocking it into the next century.
3. Glencoe. The place to go to remember just how insignificant humans are, and how short our span on earth.
4. A drunk. Preferably a Glasgow drunk. Because wherever you go - London, Paris, New York, Milton Keynes - there is always a small plastered Scotsman giving somebody lip.
5. Edinburgh. Not just the castle, but the whole amazing city, place of dark and light, good and evil, seen and unseen. There, in the dark wynds, are Jekyll and Hyde and the splinters of John Knox that inhabit our souls.
6. The Forth bridge. Quite simply the most gorgeously ugly structure in the world. Short, sturdy, thick-ankled, unapologetic and functional. A bit like the Scots themselves.
7. Kidnapped. RL Stevenson's magnificent adventure story, which inspired a genre and infected the Scots with a taste of travel and romance.
8. Square sausage. Only those nurtured here could possibly understand the love of scraped beef residue flavoured with cheap perfume. Vile, but deeply iconic.
9. Mel Gibson. Well he doesn't really count as human, does he? He's Braveheart alias Wallace alias a great shout of FREEEEEE-DOM! , the Scots' best-loved fictionalised image of themselves - the roguish, maverick, good-looking underdog who kills the English, gets the girl and dies a hero.
10. The Clearances. For the dreadful folk memory of loss and resentment which burned into the Scottish soul. Here was born the passion for the underdog.
11. Irn-Bru. The most politically correct of my choices, because everyone drinks it: whatever one's skin colour or religion; whether indigenous, immigrant or asylum-seeker. It is the most cross-cultural, nondiscriminatory, multi-cultural poison known to man.
12. A football team that always lets you down. (Except if they are called Clyde, of course). The Scots' identification with football, and with winning and losing in sport, is a metaphor for our lack of self esteem and our masochistic love of failure. When we lose, we secretly believe we deserve it.
13. The cone atop the Duke of Wellington, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow. Former provost Alex Mosson once refused to be photographed by the statue unless the duke had a cone on his head. "I love it. the duke is all pomp and circumstance but with a cone on his heid. It sums up Glasgow for me."And the Scots for everyone else.
14. Gregory's Girl. Bill Forsyth's 1980 movie captured forever the essence of being young, Scottish, innocent and gawky.
15. Katie Morag. Mairi Hedderwick's delightful Katie Morag books, also about innocence and escape and the most traditional of values. Designed for the three years of childhood between leaving nursery and starting to read Trainspotting.
16. The scheme. Scotland's tradition of widespread public-sector housing has left a mid-twentieth century legacy unfamiliar anywhere outside the former eastern bloc. Those row upon row of neglected front gardens, vandalised closes, dreary harling and boarded up windows. A uniquely Scottish symbol of mass deprivation.
17. Tennent's lager. And Tennent's adverts. And probably T in the Park. Because we're world leaders in drinking and Tennent's is pretty good at marketing.
18. Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. The equivalent of the Routemaster London bus, only a million times better. There are few better sights in the world than one of CalMac's great white, black and red ships butting into an island harbour on a sunny, breezy day.
19. The Free Church. Deeply symbolic. Only a nation as uneasy in its soul as Scotland could possess a free church in which no-one is free.
20. The Scottish Enlightenment. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a new intelligentsia dazzled the world with genius. An astonishing array of accomplishments, in engineering, philosophy, literature, industry and medicine, spread across the globe from these shores. Men such as David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Carlyle, Allan Ramsay, Robert Burns, SirWalter Scott, Tobias Smollett, James Boswell and James Watt, he of the steam engine, changed the planet. The population of the country then was around two million, which, apart from anything else, rather exposes the failings in our present education system.
21. The Broons. Familiarity with DC Thomson's famous cartoons of Maw, Paw, Maggie, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Horace, the twins and the Bairn are the closest the majority of adult Scots come to belonging to a national club. The Broons convey a warm glow of couthiness, happiness and simplicity. They are, quite simply, a Scottish National Treasure.
Now, my list is, inevitably, deeply personal. Scotland offers a different sense of place to everyone. What we do share is a ferocious sense of identity which far overrides anything the English may possess. We may not have a government-funded website on which to display them, but please feel to contribute your suggestions of iconic things in Scottish life.