Saturday, December 22, 2012
Hate speech against the English in Scotland
Scots do have ancient grievances against the English but you would think they would have managed to grow up by now
When the founding director of the National Theatre of Scotland arrived in Edinburgh she did not realise that her background would cause her problems. Now, after a triumphant six years, Surrey-born Vicky Featherstone has admitted she was almost forced out by anti-English bullying. It was not the audiences, though, who were bothered by an “outsider” running one of Scotland’s major arts institutions. Her successful productions, such as Black Watch and Macbeth, were played to packed houses, and the many fans of the theatre will be sorry to see her go to the Royal Court in London.
The bullies came from a cantankerous old guard within the Scottish arts establishment, a group that should have offered the talented Featherstone their unstinting support. Alasdair Gray, the author and painter, describes English people appointed to top jobs north of the border as “settlers” and “colonists” who come to advance their careers. He singled out Featherstone as someone who took on a role that should have gone to a Scot.
In countries with less democratic traditions than Scotland, the arts often reflect the ugly soul of society, with intolerant regimes seeking to control cultural output. In apartheid South Africa it was commonplace for the Nationalist government to try to silence British “colonists” – my father among them.
Now I find it shocking to hear in Scotland one of the pillars of the arts community speaking the same odious language. Gray is a Scottish nationalist whose views are offensive even to some SNP politicians. But anti-English sentiment in Scotland is not confined to a few grizzled bears of the arts world and the fear that it is being stoked by nationalist extremists is not a fanciful one.
Last week it was reported that racist incidents against English people living in Scotland were up 50 per cent in the last seven years – prompting Unionist politicians to warn against the anti-English rhetoric that is creeping into Scottish society. The SNP, which won an overall majority in last year’s Scottish elections and is campaigning for independence in the 2014 referendum, has challenged the claims.