New Scotland, old fears

The new Scots, like Renton in `Trainspotting', chose life. But not the kind Labour has in mind

I'VE JUST spent a weekend in the new Scotland, where everyone is hip. I left the old Scotland 15 years ago because nobody was hip - or, more precisely, because nobody, especially me, could get a hip job. I have marvelled for the last decade and a half that all Scotland needed to become a creative, vibrant and forward-looking nation was for me to give up and head south.

In the old Scotland, people were obsessed with lists, and in pubs up and down the country people could be heard compiling them each evening. Items that the Scots had invented, medical breakthroughs the Scots had made, world leaders with Scottish ancestors, and so on and on and on. These lists were notable particularly because they were entirely backward- looking, and checkable only by reference to the history books.

In the new Scotland, people are still obsessed with lists, and in bars up and down the country they can be heard discussing them each evening. Scots who are internationally successful actors, Scots whose new novels have sold more than a million copies, Scots who are massive pop stars, artists, designers, and so on. These lists are notable because they are out of date the day after they are created as another young Braveheart splatters on to the world stage. They are, therefore, supplemented by other lists, of people who are about to make the breakthrough any minute now. They are entirely forward-looking, and checkable only by awaiting the judgement of history.

In the old Scotland, you only ever saw the kilt being worn by small girls and during the Edinburgh International Tattoo. Though the participants were members of Scottish regiments and could be forgiven for wearing the kilt, you could tell which of the audience members were American tourists by the fact that you could see their hairy knees. These tourists would find the stir they created rather gratifying.

In the new Scotland, no wedding is complete without a phalanx of men in full-dress tartan and at least one piper; up-and-coming young Scotsmen go dashing off to London Fashion Week with polka-dot and silver kilts for sale; and everyone carries a camera and a handy hooked implement in case Ewan McGregor happens to wander by with no pants on. He appears to find the stir that he has created rather gratifying.

In the old Scotland, people railed against the English, who had beaten and colonised the nation. Although it had to be admitted that the Campbells were a clan of traitors responsible for the Glencoe Massacre, no one was really willing to face the fact that at Culloden, the "English" army of destruction had been largely made up of Scottish mercenaries.

In the new Scotland, documentary makers have to cancel their programmes because they cannot find anyone who is willing to discuss the nation's putative hatred of English people. When Scotland is warned about the folly of independence by representatives of southern government - Gordon Brown threatening huge television licence fees in an independent Scotland, or Robin Cook warning that an independent Scotland will have to reapply to join Europe - the Scots just laugh about how history has taught us that there's no enemy as implacable as a fellow Scot.

In the old Scotland, the people had flirted with the Scottish Nationalist Party, yet had said no to devolution when they got the chance. Instead Scots complained bitterly about the yoke of Thatcherism, and mused on what democracy could mean when a country was governed by a political party it had rejected utterly in the polling-booth.

But the new Scotland is governed by a party that is only too aware of the Scottish contribution to its vast parliamentary majority. New Labour, indeed, has so much in common with new Scotland that it has added the same prefix to its old name to signal its dynamic change. New Labour, New Scotland. This time, though, the people have taken their chance and said yes to devolution. With characteristic contrariness, Scotland, governed for the first time in 20 years by a political party it voted for, is flirting with the idea of voting Nationalist in the May elections.

But only flirting. I see no real appetite for independence in the new Scotland. Instead I see old fear, and a country that is turning to the Nationalists only to issue a warning. Which seems to me to be the point at which old Scotland and new Scotland become the same place - a place dogged by job losses, poverty and social deprivation, where young people fall prey to drugs, prostitution, crime, welfare dependence and homelessness.

Back home in Scotland, all this is easy to see. A walk down the High Street in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, where I used to shop as a schoolgirl, is a testament to waste. About two-thirds of the shops are boarded up. Some were small businesses which couldn't survive anyway. Others - including James Barr, the butcher shop at the centre of Britain's biggest E coli outbreak - have had to close because of subsidence, for parts of the town are now collapsing down into the abandoned mines that once brought the town prosperity.

A glance at the local paper, The Wishaw Press, brings news of a transatlantic squabble. The New York Times has just published a feature on Hamilton, the nearest big town, graced by the presence of no less than the local Marks & Spencer. The article is not complimentary, telling of slums, criminal youth, substance abuse and fearful pensioners. The new Scots aren't taking this lying down, and counter on the letters pages with tales of crack and crime in the Bronx.

Talk in the pub is of the fabulously vocal booing that Donald Dewar, the man who, if all goes well with Labour, will become the first minister of Scotland in May, was greeted with on a trip to Ibrox, the Rangers' football ground, as a protest against job losses.

For the new Scotland has found itself in an industrial slump that is 10 times worse than that of the rest of the UK, in which companies face their toughest trading conditions for 20 years. This slump has cost the nation 2,000 jobs in the last few weeks alone, on top of the 14,000 that were lost last year. The new Scotland provides the real answer as to why the Bank of England made that "surprise" 0.5 per cent cut last week. And the new Scotland needs interest rates to be cut again within weeks, if it is to avoid a full-blown recession.

The threat of SNP votes in the May elections is a warning to New Labour not to claim responsibility for Scotland's admirable, even miraculous optimism, just as Unison's support of Rhodri Morgan as Labour's candidate for the Welsh Assembly is a warning that, despite its formal acceptance, Fairness at Work is more tolerated in the union than admired, and London's sympathy to "Red Ken" and his mayoral challenge is a warning that London wants to make some symbolic amends for, and not further colonise, the policies of Thatcherism.

The Scots know that the new Scotland, like the Cool Britannia of which it is a part, is made up of the trappings of counter-culture. It represents the flower of resistance to the years of Tory rule and the triumph of people over politics. New Labour does not do itself a service by attempting to burnish itself in the light of Cool Britannia, for the people who made it happen know that their triumph came in spite of the government policies that New Labour continues to deploy. The new Scots, just like the rest of the cool Britons, took drugs, signed on the dole then fiddled it, and refused to take jobs they didn't really want. The new Scots, like Renton, the anti-hero of Trainspotting, chose life. But not the kind of life New Labour seems to have in mind for them. And that's the warning in a vote for Alex Salmond.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions