Flying Scots?

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival is mainly for comedy and theatre, however there are plenty of other attractions too, such as discussion and talk events. I attended one of them, namely Claudia Zeiske’s discussion event on a ‘Scottish cultural representation in Europe’. I had participated in a meeting between artists and public sector representatives earlier this year, and this public talk was intended to continue the conversation.

The Mound in Edinburgh during the Fringe.
The talk took place at the Royal Scottish Academy near The Mound.

The underlying idea is that, in light of the Brexit referendum where Scotland clearly voted to stay in the EU, Scotland is regarded as a bit different from the rest of the UK. Progressive values and political awareness are something I certainly also associate with Scotland, and my experience from discussions with people from across Europe confirm the finding that surprisingly many people know Scotland’s story. Oftentimes when I talk about to Finnish people who aren’t in the EU bubble, I hear something like “but Scotland voted to stay, didn’t it”. The question, then, is how to best benefit from this positive image.

The idea of a cultural representation would be to share that story, and strengthen the idea that Scotland is cool. At a UK level, cultural diplomacy is handled by the British Council, but given that Scottish culture is slightly different, a separate institution or institute could be sensible. In a sense this sounds like a cultural extension of the proto-diplomacy that Scotland is exercising otherwise, too.

To me it sounds a bit like Finland in the interwar period: you’ve got a national story, but you want to make yourself better known to the world. Finland, a hard-working, down-to-earth and honest country, had its long-distance runners like Hannes Kolehmainen and Paavo Nurmi. What could better embody those values than long-distance running? Canada is increasingly seen as ‘different from the USA’ by a charismatic Prime Minister strongly associated with progressivism. Who or what could be Scotland’s ambassadors to the world?

The event info sheet said that “Scotland is the kind of a country that can contribute to shaping a federal Europe”. It was a joy to hear someone bring up federalism, and I agree with the message, too. Would it be too far-fetched to think that this could be a part of how Scotland brands itself as a country? The people that, having been through it all, knows the true value of the European project and wants to lead Europe out of its crises. I’d take that!

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