Opinion by Alex Robertson
There was a time in my life when I spent a lot of time travelling in and around Finland, Norway and Sweden, with occasional dips into Denmark and Estonia for good measure. And one of things that struck me about that part of the world was the very distinctive ‘look’ of the place. Wooden houses in bright colours, red, blue, yellow and a galaxy of others. The use of pine in their furniture, the use of candlelight everywhere to dispel the darkness in the short winter days, all of that was very distinctive. You knew you were in Scandinavia just by the sight and smell of the place. But each country had its own ‘look’, its own style
And elsewhere on the continent, each country had its own ‘look’ too, each one different and distinctive, just as indicative as the cuisine of where you were. I was talking about this with friends on the mainland over supper one evening, and then, of course, they thought for a moment or two, looked puzzled, and then asked me what the Scottish ‘look’ was. After the tartan, the whisky, and the bagpipes, what about the furniture, the architecture, the ‘style’ of the place? And I had to admit I was stumped to come up with an answer.
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Now I am retired and come home to put down some roots, the same question pops up again. What is the Scottish ‘Style’? It is rather important because it reflects what we Scots perceive as our identity? Or rather, it says a lot about whether we perceive ourselves as having a separate Scottish identity, something that characterises or encapsulates what it means to be Scottish.
Perhaps the fact that there isn’t a Scottish ‘Style’ indicates that we have lost our perception of ourselves as a nation, one of the many which makes up the rich tapestry of peoples of Europe. And I think it is high time we put our minds to finding one, a ‘Style’ which says – this is Scotland.
Charles Rennie Macintosh had a go a hundred years ago, but after that? Where is our style of music, the way we furnish our homes, the way we light where we work and live. It makes a difference because our temperatures are more Scandinavian than England’s, our winter days shorter, and our cuisine simpler and more homely. And it matters because we ought to have the confidence in ourselves to be ready to make a statement that this is us in the way we dress our living and working spaces, and how we dress ourselves.
And before the Union, Scotland did have a distinctive style. So much so that it was recognised in mainland Europe, particularly in France and the Low Countries. Its last real appearance was at the time of the Scottish Enlightenment, which prompted Voltaire to say “We get all our ideas of civilization from Scotland.” Somehow we have lost touch with the way we felt about ourselves and that shows in the lack of confidence in ourselves and our nation, which, aided and abetted by the dependency culture inured in us over the 300 years since, may well have led to an inherent anger and frustration, all too obvious in our problems with alcohol and violent behaviour.
Scots are an inventive people, and there is no shortage of talent in our midst. So where is the model for Scottish ‘Style’ Don’t you think we should have one and what are we going to do about getting ourselves one?
Alex Robertson is a retired entrepreneur and is now a writer and columnist. Alex is Director of the pro-independence Think Tank, Scottish Centre for Constitutional Studies
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