Before I proceed, I want to make entirely clear that the following is not a collective statement from everyone involved with Seen Your Video. I’m speaking entirely as myself, not on behalf of Graham or Josh. I know we’ve steered clear of any posts even remotely like this in the past, and I don’t plan on it being the first of a series or anything, but it is, strictly speaking, related to the kind of cultural analysis we strive for, and besides, I don’t have anywhere else to post it, except Facebook, which eugh.
I don’t think anyone who knows me needs to be told that The Simpsons is the foundation upon which my adult life was built. I also don’t think anyone needs to be told that I’ve been a Yes voter from the get go. And I know it seems like fun, easy point-scoring for Yes voters to share the Groundskeeper Willie video that’s doing the rounds, and I know the video itself was probably made with the best intentions, but it was made by people thousands of miles away who have come blundering in at the tail-end of a long, complex, multi-faceted debate and ultimately I don’t think it does anyone any favours.
The desire for independence is not the same thing as nationalism. It just isn’t. I’m not a nationalist. I have never and would never describe myself as a patriot. I’d estimate 90% of people I know who now live in Scotland but weren’t born here are voting Yes. I’d estimate a similar proportion of Scots I know who have emigrated, even just to England, would vote No if they could. It’s not about where you were born or the provenance of your bloodline. It’s not about how much Burns you can recite by heart. It’s not about how you spell whisky. It’s about adequate democratic representation for the people who live here, which is a different thing altogether.
The majority of time I’ve spent explaining my desire for independence to No voters, undecided voters and outside observers without a vote has been spent assuring them that it’s not about what national anthem we sing or which flag we wave, all of which sort of behaviour gives me the boak regardless of the specifics. It’s about the opportunities presented by the chance to build a new way of doing things from the ground up, with a re-energised electorate who are engaged and informed in politics in ways that have never been seen in this country before.
So when Groundskeeper Willie – a mostly harmless burlesque of Scottish stereotypes, particularly in the context of the show, but a burlesque nonetheless, written and voiced by Americans whose view of Scotland is informed by its largely caricatured depiction on the international stage – stands in front of a saltire, dressed head to toe in tartan, and rails against ‘those who enjoy crawling like worms beneath British boots’ whilst invoking William Wallace, you’ll forgive me if I don’t have much of a sense of humour about it, because it undermines everything I’ve been trying to put across for the past two years, and in a wider sense, everything I’ve worked for for my entire adult life, from the moment I enrolled to study Scottish Literature at university almost ten years ago to the day. (The number one question from people discovering that I studied Scottish Literature remains, by the way, ‘why Scottish Literature?’, which doesn’t seem like a question that would be asked of anyone anywhere else in the world studying their own culture.)
It perpetuates a myth of Scots vs. English. It perpetuates a myth of couthiness, parochialism, belligerence. It perpetuates a myth of nationalism that I don’t recognise in modern-day Scotland, a vibrant, cosmopolitan, multi-cultural society whose authors, musicians and artists engage with global contexts from local roots. One of them is James Kelman, who is much more eloquent and a far smarter man than I am, and whose own thoughts on the difference between self-determination and nationalism I’d encourage you to read.
I’m not looking to argue with anyone over this. I’m not looking to convert anyone. Equally, I’m not looking to be converted. I’m just getting sick of being smeared as something I abhor.