Modern Scottish Culture

Michael Gardiner

Read November 2006

Gardiner is a feisty cultural commentator concerned with the identity of Scotland. At the heart of his analysis is the distinction between nation and state, and how this applies to the Scottish identity within Great Britain: how what he terms the notion of Unionist Nationalism has played out in recent years.

The unionist modifier is, however, a bit misleading. While I don't think he says so directly, Gardiner gives all the impression of being in favor of independence—or of at least being sufficiently dissatisfied with the present identity of Scotland. As a result, the book takes a while to settle: the early chapters are too opinionated, too populated with strident italics, as if a jackhammer trumps subtlety. It gives the book a spoken, rather than written, feel, but the speaking is sometimes closer to shouting.

Once he does find his voice Gardiner's book settles down, and he makes various interesting comments that suggest a very intelligent observer of life and of language (as when he discusses “regional accents”). His view of Scotland as a kind of liberal utopia is, however, closer to wishful thinking. Scotland is, after all, a rather homogenous land; his views of the role, acceptance and Scottishness of immigrants seems optimistic, while pretending national traditions do not exist smacks of a kind of anarchist socialism. (Indeed, the very phrase “national tradition” would upset Gardiner, though he is a sharp enough writer that his critique is worth understanding.) Not to mention, he does not address how such a utopia is sustainable.

The last part of the book somewhat falls apart. Having covered sports, Gardiner discusses movies and music, but here his touch is not so sure. The book devolves (ha!) into a mere enumeration, and it is possible in the haze to miss the reference (perhaps obvious to Scots) to the cover art, which is an excerpt from Frank Quitely's comic, The Greens.