What does Scotland mean to you? The Herald posed this question to media students at City of Glasgow College. The answers were strong and inspiring. Today, we hear from winner Donald Erskine.

Herald editor Catherine Salmond said: "I was struck by Donald’s beautiful personal reflection and his clarity of thought. He writes with an enviable confidence and ease, making for a bold read which will undoubtedly resonate with a wide range of Scots, many of whom would, without doubt, enjoy debating the wider political issues he raises."

Donald Erskine

I’m proud to say that I’m Scottish, are you?

Scotland means everything to me. I love the people, the landscape, the weather (good and bad) and the sense of humour we all have. 

We’ve got some of the best beaches this far north of Spain, then laugh with sand in our eyes as we paddle about, freezing, in torrential rain. Our cities have shaped the world, attracting people from across the globe with our sights, culture and history. From inventors to bards and everything in between, our small population has always punched above its weight. We’re always the underdog in every competition we enter, then proceed to have an ill-fated good go and a great time doing so. 

We have a great wee nation. But all my life, I’ve been plagued with thoughts that we could be so much more. Lately those thoughts have gotten a bit louder, beckoning a need for change. 

Scotland epitomises unrealised potential. And I think it’s our fault too.

As much as our cynical, self-deprecating sense of humour helps us ride the ups and downs of life, it may also be the root of our problems. Our ability to poke fun at ourselves and approach everything with a predisposition for disappointment has become engrained in our Scottish souls. We have unwittingly created our own national glass ceiling.

Once world-leaders. Pioneers of culture, medicine, technology, industry and positive change in the world. Now we are too humble, too disheartened – too distracted. Entangled in the possibility of being good enough to achieve acclaim, we often miss the mark. Enveloped in self-doubt, we rarely realise that we might emerge all the better if we had a healthy dose of optimism.

Scotland has been in turmoil for years, it’s no secret. Divided on our sense of national identity, confused as to what direction to move forward in – therefore always standing still, a stagnant speck in the big blue sea. It’s as if we’ve been so busy pondering and debating independence that we’ve forgotten that we can still be Scotland, without needing to know which flag to fly. 

We’re a long way off addressing the independence elephant in the room – and that isn’t my point. Our obsession with the independence debate has overshadowed the fact that we can still be Scotland, and be proud to be Scottish, without a definitive answer.

To be a proud Scot pins a ‘Yes’ badge to your left lapel in some eyes. That causes around half of us to baulk so hard they denounce all notion of having pride in our Alba - it’s as if the two can’t be independent. The Saltire and Lion Rampant should be able to fly proudly on any flagpole, no matter your political, or footballing, affiliations. 


It runs deeper than politics, though. 

Other nations within the UK have a pride and drive in their national spirit that we lack. The Welsh are proud to be Welsh; they revel in having their language and teach it in every school. Our Gaelic or Scots equivalents are dirty little secrets for those who keep them alive, often the butt of a joke and never so proudly used in public. I always wanted to be fluent in more than just English, and our native tongue is so beautiful in poems and songs that I adore, but I have never been able to fully enjoy them without need for translation. If the same emphasis had been given to Gaelic teaching and that option been as accessible as French or Spanish in school, I might have had the chance. Tha e brònach sin.

It's not all bleak though; that optimism I mentioned earlier is starting to take shape. We welcome Hollywood to our cities and inimitable landscapes to show us off on the largest of screens. We host major global events such as COP26, marking significant points in history once again. We might have missed out on hosting Eurovision, but at least we’ve got the World Cycling Championships on the way – let’s hope the potholes aren’t filled with sand for it.

Our culture continues to be world leading, with significant musicians, artists, authors and more topping the charts around the globe. We also pioneer new forms of technology and gaming, have a spaceport coming to our shores to take us into the stratosphere and our weather and climate suit greener renewable energy alternatives. We are on an upward trajectory; it just maybe isn’t as in your face as it should be.  

If we focused on what we give to the world – our culture, our kindness, our people, our pioneers – the world might sit up and retake notice of Scotland.

Times may be challenging, but Scottish people have always weathered the storm and emerged stronger. Perhaps we weren’t as bothered by the change in the past, but rather than fixating on which flag to fly or whose version of Scotland is correct; we need to focus on improving our nation.

With around 175 days of rain per year in Scotland (about 48% of the time!) let’s learn to dance in it. I won’t quote Trainspotting, and will omit the profanity, because it is great to be Scottish. It’s high time that we all realised it. I may be projecting my own sense of disappointment, but I can’t be the only one in a nation so divided. We have so much to offer the world, yet we often sell ourselves short. It is time for Scotland to embrace its true potential, and I’m sure we will. I look forward to Scotland being proud of itself again.

I’m proud to say that I’m Scottish, are you?

The photography winners were Samuel Joseph Mitchell and the runner-up was Robbie Murrie. For the broadcasting section, the winner was Levi Phillips.