Siol nan Gaidheal


Cultural Imperialism and a Sense of Identity

The Scottish education system has for too long been somewhat akin to a cultural Trojan Horse, inculcating English/pan-British culture and values so much so that Scottish teachers have too often played a part in the denigration of their own culture and heritage. Today’s pupils in Scottish schools can complete their formal education knowing little or nothing of their own country’s history, languages, literature, music, dance or art. This situation is, of course, a national disgrace and something which would not be tolorated in any other European country. Some years ago, a secondary school teacher was moved to write to the education press in the following terms...


John Lloyd, Times Educational
Supplement, Scotland, 1/2/91

The Scottish Education Department and the Scottish Examination authorities are responsible for setting the policies and syllabus in Scottish schools and monitor these through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate. All of these bodies are answerable to their political masters in the Scottish Office and ultimately to the English-dominated Government in Westminster. Today, they continue to follow a course of Anglicisation which has been gathering pace for centuries.

With the new semi-autonomous parliament calling the shots educationally or at least so we are told, it will be interesting to guage the extent of government efforts to reverse this nefarious tendency which, in truth, says a great deal about the much-vaunted superiority of our education system.

As far back as the sixteenth century and certainly before the Union of Crowns in 1603, English interference in Scottish affairs was already prevalent. Although the Reformation, with its Book of Dicipline and stimulus afforded to the parish school system, came in with popular backing, it should be noted that it was a revolt not only against the Catholic Church, but also against French influence in Scotland at the time of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Scottish Reformation was, significantly, supported by the English. It can be seen as a tragedy for Scottish culture that the English Bible was introduced to Scotland and used evangelistically without the slightest effort to adapt its language to Scottish practice, whether in lowland "Scots" or Gaelic. This certainly had a damaging effect on the Scottish psyche.

The parish school system emphasised literacy and Biblical fundamentalism and it became essential for English to be taught as it was written in the Bible and spoken by the minister in the kirk. God, it would appear, was an Englishman and Scottish children were taught explicitly and implicitly that English was the language of educated/ religious people (i.e. their "betters") and certainly not "Scots" or Gaelic as spoken by the vast majority of the people.

Following the Union of Parliaments in 1707 and the drain of top jobs from Scotland, Scottish education became increasingly subservient to the needs of the British/English system, especially in the supply of quality recruits for the civil service and in all aspects of the expanding British Empire. The way to the top was open only to those who rejected their Scottishness and instead adopted "standard" English linguistic and social values and attempted to serve the requirements of their English public school educated masters. The Scots were even encouraged by their own Scottish "betters" to sell out their cultural heritage and become good "North Britons". Scots who wished to get on in the world, including teachers, became involved in the process of cultural imperialism by which the inculcation of English values became the norm. Anything distinctly Scottish was devalued as of little importance, or second rate, and discouraged by the "morally superior" elite, the narrowly "educated" middle managers of the Scottish colonial system; with a few exceptions, the dominies, ministers, civil servants and managers... of sycophantic, lickspittle infamy.

Scottish children were imbued with the notion that to become "British" or "English" (the two are largely synonymous) was the way forward, to "improve" themselves. This process, it must be said, was actively promoted by Scots on Scots. In effect, this meant the destruction of Scottish history, language customs and way of life and their substitution with those of the English colonial overlords. Scottish history, for example, became unimportant unless it related to English history. James VI was only important because he became James I of England and the United Kingdom. Lowland "Scots", and Gaelic were thrashed out of Scottish children in Scottish schools, reduced to the language of the playground, of "common", i.e. "uneducated" people. In the case of Gaelic, every measure was taken to extirpate a language synonymous with rebellion, Catholicism and "barbarity". Scottish literature was of minor interest and could be taken as an option in certificate courses or at university, but was not essential. Educated Scots were therefore ignorant of their own culture and indeed taught to despise it as inferior, sentimentally "Kailyard" or primitively "native", as the peoples of the overseas colonies of Empire were told to believe. Scottish schoolteachers were therefore acting as the brainwashed agents of a foreign government, the virtuous, nay saintly British state.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in today’s Scottish school system a pupil can leave at the age of sixteen or older not having heard of, let alone studied, any Robert Burns, Allan Ramsay, James Hogg, R.L. Stevenson, Walter Scott, Hugh MacDiarmid or Sorley MacLean. To say nothing of Duns Scotus, Adam Smith, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair or David Hume. The most academic pupils will probably study some Chaucer and Shakespeare, but not Barbour or any of the Scottish Makars nor, needless to say, any Gaelic literature at all. Nearer to us, W. H. Auden or Philip Larkin will always get the nod over Iain Crichton Smith or William Neill. If pupils are very lucky, they might be exposed to some readings of Grassic Gibbon, possibly Neil Gunn, McIlvanney or Alasdair Gray. Even the trendy iconoclasm of Irvine Welsh and all such "gritty urban realism" will have its Scottishness downplayed when it isn't expurgated.

Many Scottish pupils will have heard of Angles, Saxons and Vikings, the Battle of Hastings, Richard the Lionheart, Robin Hood, Henry VIII, Sir Francis Drake and so on, if not in school then certainly on television programmes such as "Blue Peter" and in films. They can leave school never having heard of the arrival of the Scots from Ireland, the Picts, Celtic civilisation in general, St. Ninian, St. Columba, Kenneth MacAlpine, the unification of Scotland, David I, William the lion, William Wallace, Robert Bruce, the Battle of Bannockburn, the Scottish Renaissance, the Battle of Flodden, the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Scottish Reformation, Scottish Burghs, the Marquis of Montrose, the Covenanters, Killiecrankie, the Massacre of Glencoe, how the Union of Parliaments came about, the Jacobites, the Scottish Enlightenment, Thomas Muir, the 1820 Martyrs, the Highland Clearances, the Home Rule Movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They will almost certainly also be ignorant of Scottish music, art, vernacular architechture, material traditions and cuisine and be lucky if they are acquainted with popular Scottish dances.

The result of this is cultural deprivation at the very least and ethnocide in its most systematic instances. Ignorance leads to the perpetuation of otherwise laughable misconceptions, such as "Scotland was never independent and has no right to independence", " the Scots and the English are the same people", "there is no such thing as Scottish culture", "the Scots were civilised by the English", "Scottish history is all about clan battles and was more violent than English or any other country’s history", "the Highland/Lowland divide", "Scotland is too small to be independent", "we need the English to stop Scots fighting each other over sectarianism". It is through such misapprehension that we remain in cultural thralldom to and divided by the imperial motherland. All in the best traditions of partnership and mutual enrichment of course.

Obviously, it is not only the Scottish school system which perpetuates the anglicisation process. Our universities have seemingly become a mere adjunct of the English system. In recent times, the number of English lecturers and students has risen to a quite alarming degree and hence the demonstrable and proportionate exclusion of Scots from their own institutions. This English influx has had the greatest effect on St. Andrews, Edinburgh and Stirling Universities. It would appear that the selection process discriminates against holders of Scottish Highers in favour of those with English "A" Levels. The proportion of Scottish-domiciled students at Edinburgh University has fallen from 79% in 1980 to below 50% today and the trend continues. The above mentioned universities are very popular with Oxbridge "rejects", especially Edinburgh and St. Andrews. This situation does Scotland no good at all and alienates the university system from its native grass roots. It breaks the academic continuity with the school system and is beginning to seriously jeopardize our four-year honours degree which far from being "parochial" is the norm in the rest of Europe. Scottish universities have always welcomed foreign students, of this there is no doubt nor indeed reason for concern. What is unacceptable however, is the increasing domination of the English and the cultural assumptions and worldview they bring to bear on our still distinctive academic and societal culture. Distinctiveness in this world of consumerist levelling has no price and we must therefore stand firm against the creeping anglicisation of Scottish academia. What then has to be done? A damage limitation excercise is essential in the short term. The starting point is acceptance of Scotland’s distinct heritage, languages, culture and history. All of these must be given a place in the curriculum of Scottish schools, Further and Higher educational institutions. In Primary schools, children must be introduced to Scottish story material, poetry, songs, music, history and geography at an appropriate level.

The availability of material in "Scots" and Gaelic should be treated with urgency. This is not to say that all children must be taught through the medium of "Scots" or Gaelic. Compulsion of this kind, which in pracice often leads to resentment, should not be part of the system, but if parents wish their child to be taught these languages or indeed through their medium, then this indigenous educational option must be made available. The study of Scottish literature, history, geography and civic life including politics must be part of every child’s Secondary education, with viable and attractive options available in Scottish languages, music and art. In Further and Higher education, all institutions must give preference to Scottish candidates, while reserving a reasonable proportion of places for foreign students. A Scottish element must be part of all Arts and Social Science courses, as due recognition of the general cultural environment, and optional for others, with specialised study available as appropriate. None of this need jeopardize equality of opportunity and pan-European principles relating to freedom of movement. It is simply our contention that autochtonous Scots also have rights.`

If an understanding of our own society, its past, its culture, its values and institutions is the birthright of all Scottish children, then our education system has failed abysmally. Without such an understanding, we can have no sense of identity or self-respect. If we do not know what is "Scottish" as distinct from anything else, we will be unable to make judgements on our own terms according to our own values and in the context of our own society. If we allow our children to be taught that "Scottish" is inferior or without value, we ourselves become inferior and without value. A self-fulfilling prophecy of quite monumental proportions. Our children would then be right to despise us. If we allow this to continue, we will be manipulated by those who do have the self-belief and confidence to rule over us and divide us.

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