Into The Light

I was driving south tonight after a highly enjoyable couple of days in Aberdeenshire at the Christmas Classic at Thainstone Mart. Understandably, given the carnage wreaked by storm Arwen, the conversation has been dominated not just by the price of cattle (pretty good) but by the continuing lack of heating and electricity in the area. It’s clearly been picked up by the London based radio stations, who have been running the story as the second item (behind the new Covid variant) pretty much all the way from Inverurie to the Lochans.

I was struck by the way they reported the story. “Some of the worst damage and power outages are in Aberdeenshire – in the north of Scotland”.

That sentence was intriguing. Immediately before the news, they did the traffic report. They said there was a twenty minute delay on the M25. They didn’t say: “there’s a twenty minute delay on the M25 which goes goes round London, which is in the south of England”. And when they reported a traffic accident in Oxfordshire they didn’t add “which is also in the south of England but nae quite as south as London, which is really south”.

Technically of course it would be more correct to describe Aberdeenshire as being in the North-East of Scotland, rather than in the north. And maybe our own geographical knowledge wouldn’t look good under scrutiny – I’m often described as living in “the borders” when I’m actually as far away from that area as I am from Perthshire. But I was genuinely interested that a London media station felt that its listeners needed to be told / mansplained (if slightly inaccurately) where Aberdeenshire actually was. I mean, without labouring the point, if I hear a story about an event in, say, Cornwall, I’d know exactly where the event was happening and wouldn’t need to be told that it was in the southwest corner of England. Or maybe it’s a case of people seeing Scotland as a homogenous region (“I’m going to Scotland for New Year”) in which case it probably makes sense to double underline where exactly the power failures were most prevalent, even if I’m pretty sure that most folk in England I know would be able to identify Aberdeenshire on a map no bother.

It may be that years of thinking about Scotland’s relationship with its nearest neighbour means that my antennae are more keenly attuned to these perceived slights and unconscious biases than others, but perhaps it’s also true that the common conflation of “England” as “Britain” rather consigns Scotland in the media mindset as a region of the UK rather than an equal, sovereign country within it, which in turn informs the lack of understanding and sympathy for a Scotland that increasingly sees its future as a normal, modern, self-determining democracy. Maybe that post-Act of Union rebrand of us as North Britain was actually quite successful. I mean, what right has a region got to secede?

Or it may just be that six hours driving in the pishing rain from Aberdeenshire (which is in the north of Scotland apparently) to the Lochans (which is in the south west of Scotland, but not in the borders. Don’t even think about starting with that) is way too much thinking time.

Great trip, though. Hope you all get your lights back on soon folks!

Ed’s Note:

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5 replies »

  1. That reminds me of folk we know who were planning to visit Edinburgh saying they’d call up to see us – in Orkney. I advised looking at a map.

    And…… the tale – a true tale – of a lady getting off one of the cruise liners in Kirkwall asking how she could get to Edinburgh. The reply was “ You can go to the airport and catch a ’plane.”

    Slightly at an angle to that – re. Barbados – remember that song………”You’re not the boss of me now, and you’re NOT THAT BIG!”

  2. To paraphrase WB Yates, “Being a Scottish independence activist, he had an abiding sense of grievance which sustained him through temporary periods of contentment”

  3. Pointed article, Alec. It reminds me of just how much, and how often, the “England’s outer shires” are marginalised (maybe not so much Wales, but definitely Scotland, and most assuredly Northern Ireland). A few examples of marginalising, or ignorance perhaps, south of the border: Britain and Great Britain are repeatedly referred to in the mainstream media, where UK is meant. NI’s and Scotland’s bank notes are regularly refused south of the border; I’ve seen a travel guide stating that Orkney lies off the north coast of England; I was once asked to pay international postage for a package to NI; etc. The list is endless.

    • Hmmm – thing is….I use the word ‘Britain’ because I refuse to refer to the UK – because it isn’t a UK – it’s a Divided Kingdom, in which three of the nations involved, don’t want to be part of it!
      Maybe nit-picking, but I use ‘Britain’ to refer to ….when all those countries are lumped together. It’s a useful word and I won’t use the term UK.
      If you ever read anything by me where I refer to Britain, you’ll know why. If I’m referring to England, that’s the word I use.
      Great Britain? A joke.

      Something which gets me fuming, every time, is when there’s a television programme about, for example, British Castles, and they go to a castle in the Republic of Ireland! Never mind the politics – it shows a lack of basic research and knowledge.
      It’s a long time since The Republic was part of Britain.
      I’m getting angry now, so I’ll stop.

  4. When meeting English folk who enthuse about the holidays they’d enjoyed in Scotland I always return the compliment and say how much, as a child, I enjoyed family holidays in England and give blank looks if they expect further details such as the Cotswolds etc.

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