Scotland has a lot to do to woo me back ‘home’
Hoots mon. What’s the story here? It seems the Scots want me back. Och Aye it’s a braw brach moonlicht nacht the ... Maybe I won’t be buying a ticket just yet.
To be honest, they haven’t invited me personally. But Scotland’s chief minister, wee Jock McConnell, is coming soon to persuade Canadians of Scottish descent to return to the auld country. One newspaper said Paul Martin was a prospective candidate, so maybe he’ll take the low road ... but enough about question period. I’m intrigued to know why I shouldn’t go.
It’s not entirely clear why I should. The head of the Americas branch of Scottish Development International says, “Scotland is an ideal place to live, learn and work.” Yet it suffers a mysterious, debilitating brain drain. Maybe stop voting Labour. But dinna tell tales o’ cold and damp and sheep guts and flying telephone polls. A British newspaper says part of McConnell’s pitch is that Scotland is modern and dynamic and “no longer a land of tartan, haggis and Braveheart.”
So apparently we’re meant to reconnect with our heritage so as to return to a land that just tossed all those silly old kilts into Loch Ness. Multiculturalism is complicated. The pitch of “come back to Scotland, it’s nae Scotland any more” doesn’t sound that great to me. Especially after years polishing my biscuit-tin accent and learning to hack out Loch Lomond on the electric organ.
Still, why should I stay here? Again I admit Paul Martin hasn’t called to beg me not to return to bonny Tynedale to scrounge for loose coos. But in principle, if the Scots come a-callin’ with tales o’ jobs and lack o’ heritage, what’s the Canadian reply? In the resulting silence lie the roots of a national tragedy.
Here let me plug Robert Fulford’s wonderful little book The Triumph of Narrative (and my interview with him on Let’s talk on iChannel this Sunday at 7 p.m.). Mr. Fulford argues that stories are vital to our ability to think at all, and that, “To discover we have no story is to acknowledge that our existence is meaningless...” (I once knew a guy who complained that his life had become a soap opera... with a bad script. He wasn’t happy about it.) The tragedy of mental illness is that people lose their stories, or the very possibility of stories. It’s not good for a nation, either.
I can think of a Canadian story that ends with me staying. It’s about emigrants finding opportunity in the New World, and marrying across ancient hatreds (highland and lowland, Scots and English, British and French). I am the offspring of peasants and labourers who became professors and cottage owners and I AM CANADIAN. It’s a heck of a story. And it’s true. But it’s not a Canadian story, at least not today. Today, Canada is a nation that interned the Japanese, interned the Ukrainians, was mean as heck to aboriginals and the French, interned the Japanese -- oh, and fought Hitler a bit but everything was dark and awful until Trudeau gave us the Charter and then we had abortion and gay marriage and ethnic festivals and it was wonderful.
Postmodernism, including multiculturalism, supposedly denies the possibility of a “master narrative.” But as so often, they are being disingenuous. The modern nation-destroyers, the tartan-burners in Scotland and the flag-changing, Royal Mail-abolishing, no-more-Dominion-Day scrubbers here, have a story. It is the pseudo-traditionalists who don’t. The Liberals and NDP peddle tales of dark ages of racismsexismhomophobia until Trudeau said let there be light, and the Conservatives reply yes but we’ll subsidize your bus pass.
As I could have told a certain newspaper running an exhaustive series on the future of conservatism, there’s its real problem. It has no story it is willing to tell. John Diefenbaker may have been barking mad, but he had a high Tory narrative about why we weren’t the United States. Today’s Conservatives have no story about Canada whose logical happy ending is their victory in the next election. Or rather, they lack the necessary combination of wit and courage to tell it, retell it and defend it.
It’s the story of bold pioneers who settled a wilderness but did not destroy it, rose up from their factories and farms to repel aggression and destroy tyranny, and built a free and wealthy society on the basis of Judeo-Christianity and capitalism. Yes, they made mistakes that need fixing. But they will be fixed, because it’s a story of carrying the flame of freedom from Rome to Magna Carta to Elizabeth I to William III to Victoria to you.
I don’t see why they don’t tell this story. Even at the risk of persuading me to stay. For in it, the auld country is something we leave behind, with some regret and bringing, we hope, many of its virtue in our steamer trunks, but decisively. It’s not that I dislike Scotland. But it’s too cramped, including physically. It’s smaller than Lake Superior.
Plus you can get perfectly good haggis here. Mon.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]