Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Tartan - a blot on Scotland's conscience?

The BBC is running an online poll/debate just now on the question "Walter Scott's re-branding of all Scots as tartan-wearing Highlanders has been a hindrance to Scotland's cultural development". Agree or disagree?

I couldn't agree more, and have always refused to wear a kilt or tartan as peddled by the modern tartan industry. I see the whole thing as an affront to the true memory of the Highlanders (including some of my lot), whose culture was brutally ripped from them after Culloden, with aspects later revived and appropriated by Lowland Scotland (and sadly Highland 'aristocracy') for the simple sake of impressing a German king who once deigned to visit us in the 1820s, and whose very ancestor was one of those responsible for the carnage. Don't worry, I also think Bonnie Prince Charlie was a muppet! I'm not a great royalist really...

I see the use (abuse) of tartan today as a blot on Scotland's conscience. If we all dress up like peacocks, everything will be fine and it will somehow make us more Scottish. Hmmm, not really. Scottishness comes with the blood and the culture, and not some cheap form of what is now just fancy dress. That's why when people ask me which tartan they are 'entitled' to wear, I tell them to wear what they like, it's all bubblegum. Your identity comes from what is within, not what you look like on the outside. Hence the power of family history to cut through all the crap and to tell you who you actually are. I also find it extraordinary that within the diaspora so many people want to pledge some form of allegiance to a 'clan' - in many cases the clan chiefs were responsible for the fact that the diaspora exists! A point I blogged on a few months back at http://walkingineternity.blogspot.com/2010/11/nonsense-of-clan-system.html.

I did make that point briefly on the BBC poll, but to be fair, I did also stick up for the shortbread industry. Despite the dodgy tins it comes in, Scottish shortbread cannot be beaten! lol

But enough of my rants - have a say yourself at www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/history/debates/identity/ !


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Caroline Gurney said...

Well said, Chris.

bert hetherington said...

well i suppose chris everyone has there own viewand we could argue the pros and cons forever but the tartan kilts and so on is an identity of who we are and wereit has been around since at least roman times if my memory serves me right was there not at bit of tartan found in a vase or something in antonines wall as for culloden scots and english fought on both sides bonnie prince charlie had no interest in the scot but to use them for his own gain as for the german he just wanted to dominate us yes what happened after culloden was brutal but we have only ourselves to blame that is why let us wear our tartan with pride and dignity my full name albert sutherland hetherington half border reiver half highlander and proud

Chris Paton said...

I'm not against the wearing of a tartan as a piece of designed cloth - tartan was never just Scottish, it is found in varying forms across Europe, as are bagpipes and other apparently uniquely Scottish trappings. It's the nonsense about each clan having its own tartan to define it. That was what Scott, and people like the Sobieskis who made up their fraudulent tartan book 'Vestiarium Scoticum’, created and which causes such distortions in Scottish identity. Plenty on this at http://www.tartansauthority.com/

Apparently there were border clans with tartans - but there were never any Highland clans in the Borders. And apparently individual tartans defined individual clans - except the clans designed the colour of their tartan cloth from the local plants available, which were very similar in many parts of the country, hence producing similar cloths. And as for the wearing of a kilt - historically we would never have survived as a nation if that was true, we'd have all died of hypothermia many centuries ago! But as you say, we could argue the pros and cons forever!

The obsession with what clan am I from, and what tartan am I entitled to wear, what cup should I buy with a coat of arms image on it etc, to me clouds the perception of a person's true identity. We are the sum of all our parts - each is as fascinating as the other, and as such I pledge allegiance to all my ancestors - wonderful bunch, I couldn't have done it without them! Today the rapid advances in providing access to people to be able to at long last work out their true historic identity on a cost effective basis increasingly negates the need to wear a kilt with pride - as I see it, knowing who you actually are and what your forebears did provides a much more tangible and personal source of pride - not least of which because every one of our stories is completely different.

BDM said...

Chris, have you heard this news? http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Maple+Leaf+Tartan+made+official+symbol+Canada/4411460/story.html

I can see you cringing from here.
- Brenda

Chris Paton said...

Sigh...! lol :)


bert hetherington said...

i know what you mean chris about the rest of the world think we all dress up like the picture on a shortbread box i wouldnt have imagined john logie baird and co sitting inventing things in a tartan plaid but we have always tried to let people know who we are wether it be the picts painting themselves or some wee woman dyeing her mans clothes so he was different yes dna is a good thing but when im abroad am i going to stick my dna profile on my head to let people know im scottish the easiest way is to wear the kilt and that in itself passes many lanuage barriers instead of people asking me if im english all the best bert

Chris Paton said...

Ah well, anything to stop people asking people if they are English! I actually have an Ulster accent, so the equivalent I get when abroad is am I Canadian?! lol :)


bert hetherington said...

hi chris thought i would mention my mums mum was a paton from ayrshire, my grans brother ally paton moved to armagh i think in 1950sand as far as i know his son william is still there

Chris Paton said...

Hi Bert,

My Patons were from Perthshire, but I live in Ayrshire now and actually researched one of the prominent Paton families recently for a client here in Largs - he actually placed an early draft of my research report on his website, which may be of interest!

All Patons in Ayrshire seem to claim some kind of descent from Captain John Paton, the Covenanter, from the Fenwick/Kilmaurs area - I could not confirm that, despite the family tradition, but you may find a connection somewhere along the line to his lot! His tree is at http://www.patonbutchersayrshire.co.uk/history.pdf