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p. 1257. Culturelocked

  • Rab Houston


‘Culture’ examines the languages, festivals, art, architecture, literature, poetry, film, sport, and music of Scotland. What was the original language of Britain, when did Gaelic become the dominant tongue, and how many people speak it now? The place of ‘Scots’ language in modern Scotland is discussed. Festivals that are distinctly Scottish are identified. The factors that have influenced Scottish architecture are surveyed. Which artist painted the most important figures of the Enlightenment in Scotland, and Who were the Glasgow boys? How important is Sir Walter Scott to perceptions of Scotland, both within Scotland and abroad? Which Scottish writers are most successful today? Who is Scotland's most famous actor?


A Celtic language called ‘British’ was spoken in Britain at the time of the Roman conquest. From this descended modern Welsh, Cornish, and Breton languages. British became heavily influenced by Latin during the Roman period, but remained essentially a single language until at least 800 and the different daughter languages were probably largely intelligible until at least 1100. The speakers of these languages were generally referred to as Britons by themselves and their neighbours. ‘British’ was understood thus until the Union of 1707 and the appropriation of the term for something quite different led to a decline in the usage. ‘Breton’ as an English word was coined only in the 19th century to replace the by then confusing ‘British’.

Pictish probably started out as a dialect of British, but escaped the impact of Latin and retained important Celtic influences. Place names and personal names suggest that all of Scotland was British-speaking before the Anglo-Saxons, except for the west coast from Kintyre north, which was Gaelic-speaking. The word ‘aber’ (as in Aberdeen) is the British word for a river mouth, as opposed to Gaelic ‘inver’ (as in Inverness). Gaelic-speaking Scots in the west may have spoken a Celtic language intelligible to British-speaking Picts in the east, and early Scotland was probably p. 126a linguistic as well as a political and ethnic melting pot. More distinctively, the Northern and Western Isles were mainly Norse-speaking between the 9th and 14th centuries, and there is a strong legacy of place names, but ‘Norn’ was all but gone from Orkney by 1600 and Shetland by 1800.

The Anglo-Norman nobility were most at home with French, though ordinary Scots became no more French-speaking than did the English, even if both vocabularies were enriched. Widespread English-speaking came to southern Scotland with the Angles (English incomers) from c. 600, but a more important influence was from English-speaking settlers of burghs from David I’s reign onwards.

Thus Gaelic was never the only Scottish tongue, though in the 12th century it was the majority language. It has been in decline ever since: the first language of perhaps half of Scotland in 1400, one-third in 1689, but just one-fifth in 1806 and one-twelfth in 1900. In 1961, there were just 81,000 Gaelic speakers and 59,000 in 2001. Naked hostility explains some of the retreat, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries when Gaelic and a militaristic clan society became associated with a threat to the British political establishment. However, the most rapid contraction came in the 19th century after active proscription of any kind had ceased and when Gaelic was being helped by the first full Gaelic Bible (1801) and by published poetry collections.

The problem was that speaking Gaelic gave access to a rich heritage and culture, but not speaking English was an economic liability. The 1872 Education Act banned school lessons in Gaelic, but Highlanders were already won over to the benefits of English as a result of seasonal migration to the Lowlands for harvest work and imperial service in the British army. In 1904, it became possible to learn Gaelic in school as a subject in its own right rather than as a means of acquiring English, but this reversal of centuries of proscription had little effect.

p. 127In modern Scotland, 1% of the population speak Gaelic, most of them living not in the Highlands and Islands, but in Glasgow, which has since the 1960s been as much the true centre of Gaeldom. Across Europe, the decline of ‘lesser-used’ languages has been halted as part of a new cultural preference for diversity. The London-based BBC is often accused of patronizing Scots. There is truth to this, but also irony, as the BBC’s vision of educating and edifying the masses to create a morally cohesive British society, which still dominates ‘public-service broadcasting’, is that of a Scot, John Reith (1889–1971), the BBC’s first director-general (1927). Yet the BBC is more accommodating to regional diversity than once it was. Through passionate advocates like journalist and broadcaster Lorn MacIntyre, BBC Scotland has helped breathe new life into Gaelic. The success of Gaelic rockers like Runrig and Capercaillie has done no harm either. In 2005, a Gaelic Language Act gave it ‘equal respect’.

A dialect of English (a Germanic language, like Norse) and a tongue always subject to Anglicization, Scots (sometimes known as Doric or ‘broad Scots’) was never an important component of historic identity, though it was the language of government and law by c. 1500. At the time of the Reformation, Protestant leaders adopted English versions of the Geneva Bible and the Psalter and the English ‘Form of Prayers’ as the ‘Book of Common Order’. The first authentically colloquial New Testament in Scots was not completed until two centuries after its Gaelic counterpart (four centuries after the Reformation) and was not published until 1983.

At a time when the ‘enlightened’ took lessons to extinguish Scoticisms, Scots’ greatest exponent was Robert Burns, though he also wrote in English. Long dismissed as archaic, even embarrassing, and gradually eroded by post-Victorian universal education, Scots revived in the late 20th century and now has a vibrant print culture. Yet spoken Scots flourishes most strongly in modern Northern Ireland, where it has been aggressively p. 128marketed as a cultural counterweight in Unionism to the skilfully lobbied role of Gaelic in Irish nationalism.

A more obvious modern linguistic distinction is the way English is pronounced in parts of Scotland. Accents in the fishing communities of the north-east or eastern Fife can mystify visitors and are equally impenetrable to someone schooled in the windy canyons of Edinburgh’s New Town. BBC television’s ‘Rab C. Nesbitt’ (Gregor Fisher) offers an attenuated taste of broad Glaswegian accents (working-class – or rather unemployed – Govan in this case) – and deeper and more painful insights into the multiple deprivations of segments of modern Scottish society than many a po-faced documentary.


Scotland is short on national calendar festivals and most public holidays were until recently localized. The Kirk sidelined Christmas and Easter. Christmas became a public holiday only in 1958, Boxing Day in 1974, and Easter is still less important than in England. However, the Yule festivities so proscribed were extremely popular and became displaced onto Hogmanay (31 December). As in England, modern Christmas is a Victorian reinvention with a new iconography of trees, cards, and crackers. For all its appeal to pope-burning Scots (though James VI/I warned that people should attack disloyalty, not Catholics), the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the London parliament (5 November 1605) was not widely celebrated in Scotland until the 1920s or 1930s, when unemployment and trumped-up scares about Irish immigration promoted renewed sectarian tensions and riots in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The more observant might also have noticed that one aim of the Gunpowder plotters was to get rid of Scottish hangers-on at James VI/I’s new London court.

p. 129St Andrew’s Day (30 November) is officially recognized, but better known is the unofficial celebration of Burns Day (25 January). Neither is a public holiday. The Burns Supper is one of the few invented traditions whose roots were contemporaneous with the event it celebrated. But in its first manifestation there was already the commercialism with which many such traditions have become associated. Even before his death, Burns’ cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire, had been sold to the incorporation of shoemakers of Ayr, one of whose members turned it into an alehouse. It was here, on 29 January 1801 (they got his birthday wrong), that soldiers of the Argyll Fencibles (militia) met to hear their band play – and to use the services of his cottage in its new role. The first recorded Supper took place at Alloway in the same year, but on the anniversary of his death (21 July). It involved a speech and multiple toasts; to eat, there was haggis (which was addressed) and sheep’s head; given the social status of those present, refreshment was probably wine and ale rather than whisky. Among celebrants was a lady, though thereafter the Suppers were mostly (sometimes militantly) all-male affairs until the 20th century. The ‘toast to the lasses’ was traditionally thanks for the cooking and an appreciation of the women in Burns’ life, only later degenerating into a sexist (often misogynistic) rant. Celebrations were held twice yearly until 1809, when participants settled on 25 January, because this fell in a slack period of the agricultural year.

Most other major festivals are local or regional, reflecting the small-scale, devolved, community basis of life for much of Scotland’s past. The major towns still have their own holiday periods, known as ‘the trades’ after the craft and trade organizations on which their prosperity was once built. Other examples include fairs like Lammas, a Celtic autumn festival commemorated on 1 August. It survives in Fife burghs, but as vulgar commercialized funfairs and markets shorn of their traditional functions of hiring (for which Martinmas on p. 13011 November was also significant), hand-fasting (betrothal), and sociability. Border towns have ‘Common Ridings’ (of the marches) in June that look like survivals of historic boundary perambulations, but are in fact complex, living pageants that make powerful ritual statements about modern civic values. The classic academic study of sociologist James Littlejohn – Westrigg (1963), about life in a Borders farming community in the 1950s – charts the changing texture of the rural world’s communal and personal relationships under pressure from modernization.

Most large-scale historic rituals had some political purpose, like the pre-1707 ‘riding’ that opened parliament, a procession from Holyrood to the Parliament House west of St Giles (reproduced in 1999). Many cities’ 19th-century rituals and galas also formed part of a carefully choreographed civic identity that gave substance to civil society.

Complete with Viking costumes and a burning longboat, the Shetland festival of Up-Helly-Aa (last Tuesday in January) looks like a Norse, pagan, Dark-Age relic, but actually started in the 17th century and reached recognizable form in the late 19th century. Thereafter, it was continually remodelled and reinvented to cope with the communal stresses of economic and social change – notably since oil exploration and extraction became major employers in the 1970s. Involving music, dancing, and trials of strength, Highland games or gatherings too were a 19th-century reinvention. The most famous is that now held at Braemar (Aberdeens.), started in 1815 as a mutual assistance society and given the royal imprimatur in 1866. Yet these games are a pale imitation of the feasting and fighting that had been the true sport of pre-modern Highlanders, when martial prowess and conspicuous consumption were important symbols of power and status.

The Edinburgh International Festival was first held in August 1947 to regenerate Scotland and reintegrate with Europe. For decades, p. 131it was a small affair that promoted elite, classical-music-centred tourism and was adored by cultural ‘luvvies’, but was never really accepted by the staid citizenry. Only since Edinburgh shook off its dowdy provincial image in the 1980s has it been embraced and flourished. The core event presently comprises a military pageant or ‘tattoo’, whose popularity is seemingly impervious to political correctness, an official festival of theatre, music, and dance, plus film and book components. Artists or companies have to apply for accreditation and a ‘fringe’ exists for the endless variety of performers (notably comedians in recent years) who do not attempt or who miss the cut. The city ‘hoaches’ or ‘heaves’ (is busy) with visitors and the air buzzes with performance.

Alongside its museums and art galleries, the Festival helped give Edinburgh a name for (high) culture, but Glasgow (which had an art academy from the 18th century) is a more vibrant design centre, notably for architecture, furniture, and textiles. It also has a better modern music scene and it is arguably at least as ‘cultured’.

Art and architecture

Medieval monks produced beautifully illuminated manuscripts, but most of those described as ‘painters’ before the 18th century worked on heraldry or decorating noble ceilings, some churches, or coffins. Those who could afford paintings to hang up bought from the Netherlands, and when Charles II wanted a series of Scottish kings for Holyrood palace in the 1660s he went to Jacob de Witt. Fine native portrait painters flourished thereafter, of whom Allan Ramsay (1713–84) and Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823) are the best known. Concentrating on history, landscape, animals, and Highland sentiment, Scottish painting after David Allan (1744–96) and Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841) was mostly worthy, but romanticized, dull, and derivative.

Only late in the 19th century was it re-animated by ‘the Glasgow boys’ – a term used by the art establishment to disparage the likes p. 132

11. The Wealth of Nations, by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Located at South Gyle Business Park in Edinburgh, the statue borrows the title of Adam Smith’s famous text on economics of 1776, but celebrates people and their imaginations

of Sir James Guthrie (1859–1930) and E. A. Hornel (1864–1933). The Glasgow boys inspired Colourists like Francis Cadell (1883–1937) and Samuel Peploe (1871–1935), who in turn carried Impressionism into the 1920s and 1930s. There was a revival of Scottish culture in this period, most notably poetry and the novels of Neil Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon about the decay of historic communities; the National Trust for Scotland was founded in 1931. However, what was produced is more appreciated now than it was then. A more modern artist who did enjoy celebrity in his lifetime was Leith-born surrealist-turned-pop-artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005), best known for muscular sculptures.

Scotland contains examples of all major European architectural styles from the last millennium. Many have been creatively adapted, others made distinctively new. Because wealth was concentrated in towns and among rural landowners, it is in urban architecture and in castles and country houses that the longest p. 133historical record can be found. With rare exceptions, such as the miraculously well-preserved Neolithic village at Skara Brae on Orkney, little except defensive structures have survived prior to the Middle Ages, though archaeologists are beginning to fill the gaps.

Skara Brae and the hundreds of small huts that once clustered around the British stronghold of Traprain Law (East Lothian) show that communal living was not universal before modern times. Privacy, however, was neither expected nor easy to come by. ‘Crannogs’ or artificial islands were built on lochs for defensive purposes c. 3000 BC to c. AD 1700, some with dwellings on stilts. Distinctively Scottish fortified circular towers called ‘brochs’ were built in numbers, mostly in the Iron Age, along the northern and western coasts, attesting the importance of the sea, the extent of wealth to be amassed, displayed, and protected, and the enduring threat from raiders.

From the 6th century (and probably before), much visual art was religious and churches are among the oldest buildings, though early churches and noble seats were often wooden and the modern return to masonry architecture occurred as late as 1100. Building materials were commonly recycled and little survives pre-1400 except remote ruins. From then on, churches grace town and country alike. There are ornate Renaissance jewels like Roslin Chapel (c. 1450), giving way after the Reformation to austere boxes like the Tron Kirk (1647) and Canongate Kirk (1691) in Edinburgh, the latter by James Smith, who also built ‘Newhailes’ country house near the city (1686). The third main ecclesiastical style is shown in imposing 19th-century Gothic-revival edifices like Barclay Church (Edinburgh, 1864 – though the style is most famous in the city’s Scott Monument) and the wonderful designs of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817–75), notably in St Vincent Street and Caledonia Road, Glasgow.

The last real private castle built from new was Craignethan (Lanarks.) in the 1530s, but the advent of large-calibre gunpowder p. 134weapons rendered such fortifications obsolete. In any case, society slowly became more peaceful and landowners preferred tower houses, some of the later ones with windows towards ground level (Elcho Castle, Perths.) before moving eventually to Palladian mansions of varying levels of grandeur. Fashion went full circle with the Victorian ‘baronial revival’ producing piles like Balmoral and domestic homes too: rambling, fanciful pseudo-castles which, for example, currently house a number of departments of the University of St Andrews on The Scores, these originally built for jute magnates whose factories were in far less salubrious Dundee.

Palladianism is a 16th-century Italian classical-revival style that flowered in 17th-century England before reaching Scotland c. 1680. It is usually called ‘Georgian’ because it flourished during the reigns of the four British kings of that name (1714–1830). Building on the achievements of Sir William Bruce (c. 1630–1710) and others, its finest exponents were William Adam (1684–1748), who designed gems like Duff House (Banffs.) and the House of Dun (Angus), and his son Robert (1728–92), who designed Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square and Register House, home to the National Archives of Scotland. The landed, professional, and mercantile classes wanted Palladian regularity in their townscapes too, exemplified in the New Town of Edinburgh, but also in Perth and to a lesser extent in many other old-established burghs. Vernacular urban architecture of the 15th to 17th centuries featured less imposing, but cosier, small-windowed, and small-roomed houses of rough stone (for example, at Culross, Fife).

For all the prominence of Georgian architecture, Victorian buildings account for the vast bulk of pre-modern erections. Glasgow’s Victorian public buildings are Scotland’s most glorious, notably the palatial City Chambers in George Square (1888) and Kelvingrove Museum (1901), built to celebrate the city’s prosperity and to announce the political and cultural claims of its bourgeoisie. Department stores like Edinburgh’s Jenners (opened p. 135in the 1830s and rebuilt after a fire in 1895) allowed well-heeled ladies to shop in style.

Even when they dropped, citizens could contemplate their success. Glasgow’s Victorian necropolis – an up-market, interdenominational cemetery which, like most Scottish graveyards, was not consecrated ground – was built on a hillside across the road from the cathedral with the graves lined up to afford a view of the city below, rather than lying in the more conventional Christian feet-to-the-east manner. Cremation was introduced in Victorian times and is now the most common means of disposing of the dead.

The substance of the Victorian era was lightened by the recognizable design of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). He got few architectural commissions, but fine examples include Glasgow School of Art (1899) and Hill House, Helensburgh (Dumbartons., 1902). Mackintosh exemplified Art Nouveau’s integration of interior and exterior design, of form and function, yet, while visually stunning, his furniture was neither well made nor terribly comfortable. A more commercially successful arts-and-crafts architect was Sir Robert Lorimer (1864–1929), who owned Kellie Castle in Fife and designed the Thistle Chapel adjoining St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, as well as elegant homes across the Lowlands.

There was extensive building of anonymous suburban bungalows in the 1930s when interest rates were low and labour cheap, but distinctively Art Deco buildings are easy to miss, often falling into neglect. Cinemas, ice rinks, roadhouses, and public buildings like Chirnside School (Berwicks.) and St Andrew’s House (Edinburgh) exemplify the style. One cannot miss the eyesores erected between the 1950s and 1970s. Touted as ‘the gateway to the Highlands’, Fort William’s main street is an horrific testament to ‘planning’ gone wrong. The University of Edinburgh gaily demolished the south and east sides of George Square, one of the jewels of the p. 136southern or ‘first New Town’ (1740s and 1750s, whereas the more famous northern ‘New Town’ of Charlotte and St Andrew Square is 1760s onwards) to build a library and teaching accommodation in the neo-brutalist style.

Scotland’s post-war ‘new towns’ – Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Glenrothes, and Livingston – were better than inner-city slums and seen as the epitome of enlightened planning at the time, but were also largely devoid of character or public facilities. On the east side of Glasgow, battalions of soulless high-rise flats were created (also with the best of intentions) to re-house inner-city dwellers from areas like the Gorbals, where many flats still lacked indoor toilets. Towns are only now clearing the monstrous carbuncles of this period and, while the architecture seldom reaches the quality of some of Glasgow’s recent riverfront developments, it is at least in tune with their historic buildings. Among interesting modern architecture is Dundee Contemporary Arts (1999) and, in Edinburgh, the Museum of Scotland (1999), linked to the adjacent Royal Museum (1888) with its exhilarating main hall. The most controversial modern design is Catalan architect Enric Miralles’ Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, finished embarrassingly behind schedule in 2004 and wildly over-estimate.

Literature, poetry, and film

The first Scottish printing press dates to 1507, and early printing was mainly for the church, but around 1700 secular works began to outnumber religious ones and to diverge from official to more broadly cultural topics. The 18th century saw a flowering of publication on history, travel, philosophy, science, and, from mid-century, of novels, the new fictional but domestically situated genre. Scotland’s most famous novelist is Sir Walter Scott. Scott’s novels belong to an age of romanticism and sentimentalism, but they are firmly based in Scots law and society. The Heart of Midlothian (1818) is an outstandingly realistic historical novel p. 137

12. Sir Walter Scott, 1822, by Sir Henry Raeburn. Scotland’s foremost writer by its finest painter

about illegitimacy and infanticide, society and the law, that still passes muster, and Guy Mannering (1815) has much to say about poor relief and insolvency, the latter close to Scott’s heart. The less well known John Galt (1779–1839) also dealt sensitively with the realities of social change, religious tradition, legal structures, and political aspiration.

p. 138Better known even than Scott is Robert Burns. Famous for his poetry, Burns was also a collector and disseminator of songs. Elegant, accessible, insightful, and profoundly humane, his sometimes earthy verse covers topics as diverse as democracy and drinking, womanizing and work, church and class. He seems to exemplify what Scots are about, and Scott described him as possessing ‘a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity’. His influence on British literary figures of the Romantic revival and beyond was immense and he is the Scottish cultural icon.

Many authors initially published novels by instalments, and most literature of the 18th and 19th centuries was not weighty and worthy tomes, but bite-sized pamphlets of roughly 16–64 pages. Some had a serious religious, moral, or political point, but many such ‘chapbooks’ were entertaining, often humorous accounts of life, love, and death. Indeed, humour has been an important part of Scottish culture throughout the ages. Between 1850 and 1920, many joke books were compiled by men of letters, including clergymen and academics, to amuse, but also to celebrate what they saw as the strengths of a passing national character: self-deprecating, decent, and direct. By the late 1920s, Valentines of Dundee were successfully marketing books of Doric jokes in standard English throughout the empire. Scotland’s most famous modern comedian is Glasgow-born Billy Connolly (1942– ), now happily exiled in the USA. Justly the most famous Scottish film actor, and once tipped as first president of an independent Scotland, is Sean Connery (1930– ), who is Ian Fleming’s ‘James Bond’.

Following on from first-generation Enlightenment periodicals like the generalist Scots Magazine (1739–1803) were more focused critical, moral, and social quarterlies like the Edinburgh Review (1802–1929) and Blackwood’s Magazine (1817–1980). Long-lived regular newspapers started in the early 18th century: Edinburgh Evening Courant (1718– ), Caledonian Mercury (1720– ), Glasgow Journal (1741– ), and Aberdeen Journal (1748– ). All eventually p. 139folded or morphed into other titles as numbers grew, and the current best-selling broadsheets are the Scotsman (Edinburgh, 1860– ), [Glasgow] Herald (Glasgow, 1805– ), and Press and Journal (Aberdeen, 1922/1939– ), all with different regional emphases, political stances, and editorial styles. Successful modern Scottish tabloids include the Daily Record, which trumpets itself as what ‘real Scots’ read, and the Daily Express.

The electronic revolution has added to rather than subtracted from interest in traditional media and demand for hard-copy print remains robust. Scotland’s copyright library, the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, was established in 1925 on the foundation of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates (1682), and the two remain like cousins once-removed. Access to this library, the National Archives, and most public museums is rightly free, but users are charged for accessing a national resource such as historic records of births, deaths, and marriages to research their ancestry.

Scots have made important contributions to crime writing since Scott, notably the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930). Modern popular novelists with international reputations include Ian Rankin (1960– ), whose Inspector John Rebus inhabits Edinburgh’s seamier side, transposing William McIlvanney’s Glaswegian Jack Laidlaw (Glasgow was a lot rougher than Edinburgh in the 1960s and 1970s); Iain Banks (1954– ), whose dark imagination explores different aspects of modern Scottish society and psyche (darker still are his spectacular science fiction works, under Iain M. Banks); Alasdair Gray (1934– ), best known for Lanark (1981), is more original (and eccentric) than either. Irvine Welsh’s 1993 Trainspotting, about the drug culture of multiply deprived north Edinburgh, was made into a successful film in 1996.

These authors reflect a modern interest in gritty realism that can be found even in Scott, Galt, and Hogg in the early 19th century.

p. 140Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself (1824) is, for example, blatantly anti-clerical. George Douglas Brown’s The House with Green Shutters (1901) offered a superb fictional evocation of the vicious smallness of life in an historic village. Brown shattered the homely, sentimental mould of Scottish Victorian ‘kailyard’ (cabbage patch) literature. Published for a mainly English and American audience, it is exemplified by J. M. Barrie (1860–1937) and epitomized in Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (1894) by ‘Ian Maclaren’ (1850–1907). Good Scottish literature of the 19th and 20th centuries has a strong sense of place, and Scotland’s great artists, storytellers, and poets (notably Orcadian Edwin Muir) all derive inspiration from the landscape. For Will Maclean, it is the sea, but many are, like most Scots, urban creatures. Well-known Scottish poets since Burns include Norman MacCaig (1910–96), George Mackay Brown (1917–96), and Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978).

Historical writing that celebrated identity has been around since the mid-15th century when Walter Bower’s multi-volume Scotichronicon extolled the glories of the kingdom of Scotland. This matured into a strong Whig and Protestant historiographical tradition exemplified by flourishing historical clubs of the late 18th and the 19th centuries. One aspect of Scotland’s late 20th-century cultural renaissance has been history publishing, most luminously the Edinburgh firm of John Donald, started in 1972 by John Tuckwell. Other currently successful historical and cultural publishers adding to the rich store of Scottish contemporary literature include Birlinn, Canongate, and the University Presses of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. History Scotland (2001– ) is a popular monthly magazine on the model of History Today (1951– ).

Uniquely in Britain, Scotland has a national historian or ‘Historiographer Royal’, a post dating from 1681. The English originated the idea under Henry VIII, but lost their historiographer in a spat over sleaze early in the 20th century, just when both Edinburgh and Glasgow universities established chairs p. 141in Scottish history to signal a new historical awareness; the Irish never had one. Detractors cast up that the present incumbent is an Englishman (Christopher Smout), but he has served Scottish history well before and since 1993.

Proper history publishing is about scholarship, integrity, and attention to both evidence and context. In contrast, most films about Scotland past and present show a cheerful disregard for fact coupled with cloying sentimentalism. David Niven made us cringe in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), as did the sanitized Jockism of Ealing Studios’ Whisky Galore (1949), and the mystical twaddle of Brigadoon (1954). Scot Bill Forsyth’s otherwise delightful contemporary fairy tales, Gregory’s Girl (1981) and Local Hero (1983), were in the same romantic mould. Even Trainspotting transformed the desperate, lonely, and sometimes vicious world of hard-drug abuse into a chummy romp.

As superstitious professional actors allegedly say ‘the Scottish play’ rather than ‘Macbeth’, professional historians try not to mention ‘the Mel Gibson film’. ‘Hollywood in a kilt’ (but filmed mostly in Ireland, where the tax breaks are better), Braveheart (1995) is an enjoyable Highland fling, but laughably inaccurate, hardly a scene without a travesty. To take just the alleged women in his life, there is no hard evidence that William Wallace had a wife, let alone that she endured ‘droit de seigneur’ on her wedding night (the idea of the ‘first night’ was a Victorian hang-up); she is shown being buried in a ‘long-cist’ grave characteristic of AD 400 not 1300; he cannot have met Isabella, let alone committed adultery with her (she married Edward II in 1308, three years after Wallace was executed).

Peter Watkins’ 1964 anti-war Culloden is a noble exception to everything before and much since. The first ‘docudrama’, its raw realism lifts it far above the glossy sentimentality of most ‘prince of the heather’ offerings. Watkins evoked the carnage of Culloden using embedded reportage (including Gaelic with subtitles) to p. 142create a sense of immediacy and humanity in a brutal battle where the Hanoverians lost perhaps 150 men and the Jacobites ten times as many. More is still being found out about Culloden, often by archaeologists, meaning that understandings change, but Watkins was as true to the historical evidence as he could be.

Watkins stood on the shoulders of Scot John Grierson (1898–1972), who may have ‘invented’ the documentary, but his dreary monologues were a penance for viewers of Scottish television’s This Wonderful World (1957–67). Engaging yet academically rigorous television history is produced now, notably the 2001 BBC series fronted by Fiona Watson of Stirling University, but there are also get-rich-quick archaeology programmes.


Classical music was played in private houses then, with the commercialization of leisure from the late 17th century, at public venues such as St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Church music too was important. Protestantism is the religion of the book and Bible reading was surely important to faith, but the characteristic Calvinist rituals were catechism (verbal responses to questions about religion) and the singing of psalms. Psalm-singing was a powerful political symbol for Covenanters, and those who wanted a job as a schoolmaster and precentor had to have a good voice, carrying on the pre-Reformation tradition of church song schools teaching chanting, which was important to the Mass and divine office. In its diverse expressions, church music was a vital and varied cultural form.

Yet singing psalms and hymns marked the godly off from the world of harvest ballads and other secular songs, some of them as bawdy in their way as modern rap lyrics. Music for the workplace included narrative ‘waulking’ songs about domestic issues like marital problems, sung in the 18th and 19th centuries while p. 143groups of women fulled cloth, and the ‘bothy ballads’ of complaint and celebration, sung by unmarried farm labourers to tell of everything about young adulthood, from good times to bad employers – all with a sense of poignancy that transcends simple modern romanticizing of the genre. Pastoralism characterized Victorian and Edwardian music, as it did much visual art.

Other than in church or when pretending to know more than the first verse of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (or karaoke), participative singing is less usual now than it was before radio and television. Scotland’s national anthem is still officially that of the United Kingdom, ‘God Save the Queen’. More commonly heard now on occasions like sporting internationals is ‘Flower of Scotland’, written to celebrate Bannockburn by successful folk duo The Corries in 1966, which has eclipsed other contenders like ‘Scotland the Brave’ (Cliff Hanley, 1950s). Maudlin expatriates may prefer Dougie MacLean’s ‘Caledonia’, written in the 1970s, but popularized by Frankie Miller for a lager advertisement (1992).

Traditional Scottish music could be played solo or in a band and with or without song to accompany dancing or as a one-sided performance. The harp was the main stringed instrument of Scotland from the 9th century to the 17th. The principal instruments of recent times were fiddle, accordion, or concertina, and chamber pipes as well as bagpipes and possibly a percussion implement. A wind instrument that uses an inflated bag, bagpipes are first depicted in the 14th century and are not uniquely Scottish, but are also found in Ireland, Eastern Europe, north-west Spain, and parts of Italy. Bagpipes were banned as seditious after the 1745 Jacobite rising, but reappeared after 1782 (with drums) in British military bands. Pianos were a rarity in traditional music and guitars a 1960s introduction.

Dynamic, participative, and responsive, so-called ‘traditional music’ is far from fixed. Musical inspiration came from native roots, notably the legendary Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, but also p. 144from Irish folk. Groups like the Battlefield Band and the Boys of the Lough have been enduringly popular leaders of this happy fusion. Folk is now mainstream, though for decades it was classed by some as ‘teuchter’ music (a disparaging term, like yokel). There was a distinct pecking order in traditional music depending on the instrument, who played it, by what rules, and where. Robin Hall and Jimmy MacGregor were successful in the 1960s and 1970s, playing to small audiences at the intimate venues that were normal for all musical performances until the advent of stadium rock.

From the 1960s, Scots began to produce their own versions of pop and rock. In the 1960s, there was Lulu, an invaluable TV antidote to the tartan tedium of Andy Stewart (1933–93), himself in the Jockist tradition of Harry Lauder (1870–1950). Glasgow nurtured the likes of Aztec Camera, the Incredible String Band, and Nazareth. There was, regrettably, Edinburgh’s Bay City Rollers (the 1970s everywhere was the decade taste forgot), but remember too seminal punk bands like the Rezillos and The Skids. Among the most influential since then, if not the best-selling, are The Cocteau Twins, The Waterboys, and Belle and Sebastian. Texas, fronted by Sharlene Spiteri, and Travis are the most commercially successful of the more serious bands, as were Simple Minds and the duo Eurythmics in their day; Franz Ferdinand looks like going the same way. Some have mass appeal, but limited originality, like Deacon Blue and Wet Wet Wet.

The Scottish part of Scotland’s cultural renaissance since the 1980s has been incidental rather than central, but the two best claimants to being distinctively ‘Scottish’ in a music culture increasingly standardized by commercial pressures are the Proclaimers duo (Lowland, from Auchtermuchty in Fife) for their ethical, home-boy lyrics (you can hear the Scottish accents) and the band Runrig (Highland) for their intense, vibrant songs, many in Gaelic. These participants in global musical culture show how lively and distinctive accommodations have been reached between p. 145Scotland’s cultural past and the homogenizing influences of modern media capitalism.


Soccer may not be ‘the beautiful game’ for Scots as it is for English, but it is taken very seriously and the feeling that the national side should do well has an historic foundation. Between 1296 and 1547, the Scots and the English fought 19 battles, of which England won 11 and Scotland 8. Between the middle of Victoria’s reign and the end of Thatcher’s, England won 44 football matches played with Scotland, Scotland 40, and 24 were drawn. Though the top clubs (Rangers and Celtic) are European-class, Scotland’s national football team has in recent years required more giving than taking, and forays into the World Cup have invariably begun in joy and ended in tears. The coach of the failed Scotland squad in Argentina (1978) was described as less a manager than ‘a professional cheer leader’.

The year 1873 saw the founding of the Scottish Football Association (SFA). Established in the same year, the Scottish Football Union (SFU) represented ‘football’ proper – rugby or ‘rugby union’. The SFU became the Scottish Rugby Union in 1924, and Scotland’s national rugby stadium opened at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in 1925 (rebuilt 1983). The SFA legalized payments to players in 1893, but rugby stayed militantly amateur until 1995. It is played mainly by the former pupils of elite schools, at university and after, but is also very popular (and more socially inclusive) in the Borders. While popular in the north of England, rugby league never caught on in Scotland. International matches at Murrayfield and across Britain and Europe display only genteel xenophobia compared with their soccer equivalents (or, for that matter, many inter-club conflicts across Britain).

Scots invented golf in the 15th century, but kings frowned on it for interfering with archery practice. It has swanky, invitation-only p. 146clubs such as the all-male Royal and Ancient of St Andrews (there is a lady’s equivalent and suffragettes had ambushed Cabinet members on-course in the 1900s), but through multiple public courses (including the Old Course at St Andrews) it is cheaper and more accessible, and thus more widely played, than in most places in the world.

Scotland has some outstanding athletes, while lesser-known sports such as curling and shooting spawn world-class competitors and the country produced some decent skiers in the days when there was snow. In 2004 and 2005, a teamled by the Duke of Argyll won the world championship of elephant polo in India. One is pleasantly surprised by the existence and occasionally the showing of the national cricket team. Bizarrely, some of Scotland’s best-known ‘sportsmen’ are darts and snooker players.

Sheep were the first quadruped winners of the Highland clearances, but they were superseded by sport animals in the late 19th century as Australian wool displaced Scottish in cloth-making, turning the Highlands into a massive theme park for the rich. By 1884, ‘deer forests’ covered two million acres or one-tenth of the land. Fox-hunting with hounds was banned in 2002, principally because its social constituency was too small, but angling thrives and the annual slaughter of grouse, pheasants, and deer by well-heeled predators is not only tolerated, but encouraged in the interests of tourism.