Mean, drunk and dour - it's time to Scotch the myths

HAVE YOU heard of the Golden Fleece Award? It was begun in 1975 by a US Senator from Wisconsin called William Proxmire, who gave the accolade each month for the most self-evidently wasteful piece of government-funded spending. For example, in 1978 he gave one to the Office of Education for spending $219,592 to develop a curriculum to teach college students how to watch television. Many went to pointless research projects, such as a Golden Fleece Award to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a $25,000 grant to study why people cheat and act rudely on Virginia tennis courts.

Last week's announcement that the Leverhulme Trust is putting up pounds 1m for some researchers at Edinburgh University to "study the nature of the Scottish identity" could well be a winner, or at least make the long short- list.

We all know the stereotypes of the Scottish character, from the tight- fisted to the gross drunk. One is a 19th-century musical hall creation and the other the TV character Rab C Nesbitt. Both true, but both meaningless, because all countries have such characters.

I'm only a pretend Scot, but I like to think I have often been both, tight in each sense. Sometimes even at the same time.

"Pretend" because although I was born in Scotland, of Scottish parents, we moved to the Deep South, ie Carlisle, when I was four. Then we moved over the border to Dumfries for a few years, then back to Carlisle again, which played hell with my accent. They're only a few miles apart, but each time I arrived I was mocked in the playground for my accent. For sounding Scottish in England; then, even worse, for sounding English in Scotland, and for which I was beaten up. Hold on. If that's true, perhaps there is a Scottish identity - even if its main trait is anti-Englishness.

Two of Scotland's national heroes, whom I learned all about at school in Scotland, displayed totally different characters. David Livingstone, to whose centre at Blantyre I was always being dragged, was indeed parsimonious, dour, puritanical, fairly humourless, though he wrote good letters. In the best known photograph of him, you see him wearing a jaunty naval cap, which could make you think he was a jaunty Jock, but it was purely utilitarian. He looked everywhere for a cap with a peak to keep the sun out of his eyes. If baseball caps had been invented, he would have worn one of those. People didn't like Livingstone much personally. He rarely got on with his fellow men, Scots or English - though the Africans liked him.

Robert Louis Stevenson was totally the opposite - threw his money around, even if in the early days it was his dad's, liked a drink, a smoke, ran off with a woman 10 years older, still married, who had three kids. What a Bohemian, eh?

One of the best known images of RLS shows him wearing his velvet smoking- jacket. No need for it, of course. That was RLS the poseur. As for Stevenson the man, he was one of the most warmly loved people ever, well at least in the history of literature, Scottish division.

The present Cabinet is full of Scots, some of them not talking to each other. But they are all different characters. Robin Cook, we now know, is a raver, while Gordon Brown is the archetypal canny, prudent, dour Scot - or so he seems. Next time I meet my dear friend Sarah Macaulay, I'll ask her if this is true.

One of the modern urban myths about Scots is that they eat deep-fried Mars Bars. Scots maintain they have never seen or eaten such a thing. It's an English myth, used by the English to wind up the Scots. Mention it and you'll get shoals of letters. So worth mentioning, I suppose.

But is it true or not? That's what the pounds 1m Leverhulme money should be spent on. Tracking down the first deep-fried Mars Bar. Be well worth it.

Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

oscars
Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

film
Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'

Books

Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
film
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower