The stretch of central Edinburgh between the castle and Holyrood palace, known as the Royal Mile, at times looks like a Disney set, complete with a William Wallace impersonator for tourists to have their photographs with in front of the Cathedral. A quick walk around reveals hundreds of shops specialising in cheap tartan clothes, Loch Ness Monster slippers and novelty mugs. As far as Scottish identity goes this is hardly serious and yet this year Scotland has come the closest to independence from England since it got added to the United Kingdom in 1707. Now nearly half the members of the Scottish parliament are part of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). What was once seen as impossible has become the dream of many, with the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond leading the way.
As the only country to border Scotland, England has had a long and at times difficult relationship with those north of the border. We may be in the 21st century and no longer drawing swords at one another, but there are still problems. High figure Scottish celebrities such as former James Bond Sean Connery have spoken of their support for Scottish Independence. Connery in particular has vowed he won’t return to live in Scotland until it is separate from the UK.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently said of the Scottish First Minister, "he lives in a perpetual episode of Braveheart”, a reference to the Hollywood film starring the American actor Mel Gibson. The film follows the struggles of the medieval hero of the Scots, William Wallace, as he fights the English. Cameron’s point is that Scotland culture is a Hollywood fantasy.
All very childish, and of course wrong. Scottish independence may or may not happen but beyond the control of grumbling politicians Scottish culture is very much alive and kicking. Edinburgh, renowned across the world for the Fringe which takes place every August seems to have one festival or other going on throughout the year. Unsurprisingly the (English) Guardian newspaper has frequently voted the Scottish capital the best city in Britain. Elsewhere many born and bred Scottish bands have surfaced in recent years to gain international success, with Glasgow emerging as the center of music Scotland. Bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, Texas and Travis have their roots in this one city, now playing across the world. This is without even mentioning the thriving art, literary and film scenes throughout Scotland.
Edinburgh, a mixture of the old and new.
This may not be the stuff of Hollywood films in the future, but it makes sure Scotland keeps its strong identity, whatever happens in politics. Most of all, though, Scotland is here to be appreciated.
Five ways to celebrate Scotland in Scotland
- Celebrate Hogmanay. The Scottish know how to celebrate New Year with this festival, sometimes starting a few days before the 31st and lasting until January 2nd. Any city will do, although Edinburgh makes a special effort each year with a massive street party and famous bands playing. In the past these have included Primal Scream, Madness and Biffy Clyro.
- Attend a ceilidh. Country dancing enjoyed throughout Scotland, but don’t be put off by this as it is fun for all ages. Often the live band will teach the moves as they play each song so it’s enjoyable even for beginners.
- Up Helly Aa. Taking place around the last Tuesday of January in Lerwick, Shetland. This is Europe’s biggest fire festival and involves a thousand men dressed in costumes making a torch-lit procession ending in the burning of a Viking Long boat.
- Visit the Isle of Skye. The largest island of the Inner Hebrides is renowned for the rugged and beautiful scenery. Such sights as the Old Man of Storr, a magnificent rock eroded by the sea, are unique.
- Go to the Wickerman festival. This alternative music festival takes place near Dundrennan in Dumfries and Galloway, which is where a lot of the cult film The Wickerman was shot and where the name is from … and they burn a giant wicker man at the end of the festival.
Have you ever been to Scotland? Would you like to?