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by Chris Brookmyre
30 January 2023
Scotland feels like a country hungry for its future and renewing the idea of itself

Protesters in Kenmure Street, Glasgow attempt to block a Home Office immigration raid in 2021

Scotland feels like a country hungry for its future and renewing the idea of itself

I once saw a remarkable video animating the evolution of international borders across Europe over the last thousand years. It was a vivid demonstration that no nation is defined by geography or population, and that all states are temporary.

You might say that all countries are therefore political entities, but more simply, I would say that a country is essentially a shared idea of itself. The more unifying the idea, the stronger that country will become. That idea therefore has to be palatable to the largest number of people. It has to be an idea that they feel reflects themselves.

I’m always wary of how seductive exceptionalism can be: how people of any nationality can delude themselves into thinking that certain values or behaviours are somehow unique to them; or that they embrace or embody those concepts more essentially than anywhere else. This is usually born of ignorance of how things are done elsewhere.

Equally, the notion of pride in one’s roots feels uncomfortable to me as I had no say in the matter.

So what do I think of when I am asked what I love about Scotland?

I think of a community in Govanhill resisting Priti Patel’s Home Office thugs as they tried to deport two asylum seekers who had settled there.

I think of Helmi’s Syrian patisserie in Rothesay, of refugees fleeing unimaginable loss and building something new and beautiful in what must have seemed a dark, cold and very alien place. I think of teenagers arriving from Syria and within a year serving their customers in Glasgow accents. That particular detail makes me proud because there in the language and pronunciation is evidence of these new Scots being shaped in some small part by our country, as our country will be shaped in some small part by their settling here.

I think of the American Proud Boys founder, the pompous bore Gavin McInnes, disparaging Scotland as “the most woke country in the world”. That delighted me because he was so offended by a country comfortable with itself, outward looking, forward thinking, anathema to someone so laughably insecure in his own cultural identity that he can only express it in terms of hatred and violence.

What I love about Scotland right now is that it feels like a country hungry for its future, engaged with renewing the idea of itself. Brexit’s self-destructive psychodrama is a symptom of Britain being crushed under the weight of its imperial past, because a nation whose idea of itself is entirely bound up with former glories is a nation that sees nothing to inspire itself in its future.

It always betrays a paucity of understanding when someone references Braveheart as somehow totemic or inspirational to Scottish independence, because ancient conflicts would be the last thing to inspire the majority of millennials and Gen Z-ers who are advocating for it. What inspires them is the possibility that they might create a new idea of a country, and that they don’t need to accept a version of it handed down to them by previous generations.

For that reason most of all, I love that these days Scotland feels like a young country, and that makes it an exciting place to live.

The Cliff House by Chris Brookmyre is out in hardback now (Abacus, £18.99)

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