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Monday, 19 December 2011

Who are You?–Who?Who? Who,who?

It’s not often I’ll quote a lyric from song from what I think of as the modern songbook, which I define as from about 1955 onwards. I know that covers almost 60 years, but we’re talking history here, the perspective of over a century of popular song. From about 1890-1955 can reasonably be seen as the classic period at least of Western popular song, and in that period, that meant mainly American popular song.

This was the time when the songwriter - the melody man (it usually was a man, with apologies to the great Dorothy Fields) and the lyricist – the wordsmith – were usually different people, with formidable exceptions like Cole Porter.

Anything Goes - Cole Porter

The singer/songwriter was a comparatively rare bird back then, and I have to say I would have been a happier man for the last fifty years or so had it remained a rare species. There was a kind of brief renaissance of quality popular song in the mid-sixties to the seventies, and since then the great musical desert, with the odd oasis and many mirages.

So unashamedly, my tastes lie with BCCA music (Before the Crap Came Along) and with melodies that span more than half a diatonic octave, with harmonies a little more ambitious than four simple chords.

Take time out now to dismiss me as an old man out of synch with popular culture, then we can move on. Get to the point, for ****’s, Peter! I hear you –I hear you …

The Who’s little anthem embedded itself in my mind with the CSI series, and despite my earlier rant, I admire the Who for their longevity and formidable achievements in modern popular music, and there can be no doubt that their music and lyrics, for many, reflect the culture and the times of the last half century.

Their question – Who are you – Who? Who? Who, who? – resonates in Britain and in Scotland at the moment over national identity, and polls on perceptions of that identity, or multiple identities, pop up all over the pace, prompted by the resurgence of Scottish national identity and its questioning of Britishness, a cobbled-together identity designed to support an uneasy union of vigorous and distinctive national identities subsumed within an Empire, one now in terminal decline.

The Guardian has an interesting piece today by David Marquand, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, author of The End of the West, which is not about the last days of Wyatt Earp, but a a rather bigger topic. Entitled England’s identity crisis - England's visceral Europhobia may break up the UK – it is a short, but important piece, and it has two paragraphs that contain fundamental insights and truth that are rare from south of the border -

“… The Scots and Welsh know who they are. For centuries, they have had two identities – their own, and a wider British one. They are unfazed by the discovery of a third European identity as well. They are at home in Europe, where multiple identities are becoming the norm. To them, it seems only right that Europe's once monolithic sovereign states now have to share power, both with a supranational union and with rediscovered nations, principalities and provinces within their borders. Along with Catalans, Basques, Flemings, Walloons, Corsicans, Sardinians and even Bretons, the Scots and Welsh are emerging from a homogenising central state of the recent past.”

“… Above all, the English of the 21st century no longer know who they are. They used to think that "English" and "British" were synonymous. Now they know that they are not. But they don't know how Englishness and Britishness relate to each other, and they can't get used to the notion of multiple identities. Until they do, I don't see how the crisis in Britain's relationship with continental Europe can be resolved. If it isn't, the most likely prospect is of further European political union and the break-up of the UK, with England staying out and Scotland and Wales going in.”

Any Scot who still thinks that Scotland is not now set upon an inevitable path towards independencenot separation - in a new, interdependent relationship with its European – and Scandinavian - neighbours is engaged in nostalgic self-delusion, and is on the wrong side of of an inevitable historical process.

Who are we? Who? Who? Who, who? We are the sovereign Scottish people, ancient and proud Europeans and good neighbours. And that includes our English neighbours, slightly confused about who they are at the moment …


  1. You know what worries me most , everybody seems to think we're going our own way . That the people of our country are finally ready , to take that step to normality and become independent . As much as I would love my kids to grow up in an independent , self sustaining country , I still fear most are not ready . And the unionist parties with their media pals , will throw everything at us , to stop Scotland and its people taking that step . Who am I , an optimistic Scot .

  2. To quote FDR, Trickster - "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself ..."

    We're going to win the referendum, and whatever the unionists throw at us, we'll handle it. They are the ones who are afraid of Scotland's future, not us.


  3. An interesting post and accompanying article Peter. It inspired me to finally pen the following thoughts: Nationality.

  4. Thanks, forfar-loon


    NOTE: The link to forfar-loon's post is


  5. One delicious irony within irony is the case of David Tennat who ;) until recently played Doctor Who.


    It is well known that he is Labour supporting Unionist, yet apparently saw no iniquity in him having to drop his native Scottish accent for an Estuarwhine version even though he followed a Northerner who was allowed to retain his own regional accent (Ecclestone).

    Indeed nothing is more illustrative of the shifting sands of 'British' identity than the new versions of Dr Who when compared to the original. The Dr Who of my childhood was never set in London, now it has to be set there for almost every new story line.

    The impending independence of Scotland is indeed due to the rise of the nastier forms of nationalism, but English Nationalism rather than Scots.

    Well at least with the wonders of Photoshop I can leave you with the answer to that eternal mystery - Who ate all the pies?


  6. chicmac

    A reminder - I don't usually publish comments with links unless they have been converted to html code. (Google comments doesn't allow clickable links without conversion) I let this one through because of the content.

    The links on the email didn't work for me.



  7. Merry Xmas Peter to you and yours.

  8. And the same to you, Stevie - all the best ...