Professor Joe Goldblatt
My giant Saltire flag was neatly folded and concealed inside my sporran as I stood quietly and observed the extravagant pageantry of the Coronation procession. My plan was simply to historically record this event as including the beloved nation that welcomed me and my family over fifteen years ago.
However, when I began to read about the strict new laws that were being enforced by the Met Police regarding demonstrations and disturbances I had second thoughts. I did not wish to embarrass myself or my nation by standing in front of thousands of people and unfurling my Saltire and risk possibly being jeered or booed. I also did not wish to replicate Alex Salmond’s stunt at Wimbledon when he displayed his much smaller Saltire. Therefore, my flag was not raised during the Coronation.
However, in my heart, soul, and spirit I continued to wonder how two nations so closely geographically linked and whose one thousand years of history is so dramatically intertwined could be so very different at times of national celebration. The recent coronation of King Charles III provided a wee window or lens for me to view these not so subtle differences as well as commonalities.
From the moment we arrived at King’s Cross and stepped onto the extremely fast moving escalator I realised that just as I had experienced in New York city last Spring, London lives at a faster pace than any of our Scottish destinations. Rather than step upon an escalator one must actually leap onto the nearest step and then hold on for dear life as you are sped uncontrollably to your next destination.
Although Scotland has hosted many notable events, perhaps best exemplified in 2014 when we welcomed the world to our Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Burn’s birthday celebrations with over 1000 local events, and lest we never forget, a referendum on Scottish independence. However, despite our magnificent accomplishment in safely and successfully delivering all of these events within a six month period, they do not compare with the seemingly boundless resources deployed for the King’s coronation.
From the moment I entered London’s Green Park I was greeted by thousands of stewards in reflective vests who welcomed me to the Coronation and offered their help. When one steward officiously told me to keep moving, I turned to her and asked “What happened to saying good morning and I love you?” To my delightful surprise she immediately smiled and said “Good morning. I love you. Keep moving!”
This feeling of constant movement and a sense of anticipation of reaching the next destination is part of the aspirational and ambitious culture of our neighbours to the south. They seem to always be on the move even if they do not always know exactly where they are going.
Another major difference between the gentility of Scotland and the forcefulness of our English neighbours is the focus upon military might. With the notable exception of the annual pageantry of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Scotland has avoided parading cannons and other artillery through our streets as a show of force. Whilst we do fire our cannon each day at 1pm from Edinburgh Castle it is only as a reminder of time and communication rather than an offensive declaration to potential intruders. Our cannon fire unites us rather than divides us into different tribes.
I noted that the working folk throughout London have also suffered from the recent pandemic economic losses with the loss of nearly twenty – five percent of their taxi drivers and the closure of hundreds of small businesses. However, in contrast to Scotland, the English appear to shrug and then square their shoulders and look to the horizon for the next major event to deliver. Whilst Scotland has similar aspirations, we also suffer from our famed Scottish cringe that sometimes slows our ability to show our national pride and inspire hopefulness for the future.
In many ways, similar to those on the other side of the border, we both are a divided people with those who wish to hold fast to past traditions and those who are desperate for future change. Scotland has yet to benefit from a major enduring unifying event such as the 2012 London Olympic Games or the recent Coronation. Perhaps, this is an opportunity for our national leaders to explore finding ways to bring our nation together through shared celebration to provide the investment to support these aspirations.
One example of this opportunity is our annual national day celebration of St Andrew’s Day which this past year was finally celebrated at the Scottish Parliament following nearly 20 years occupancy of this building. Perhaps in the future this national day could, similar to the Coronation portfolio of events, include a national day of service to encourage all citizens to follow in the footsteps of St Andrews and help their neighbours in some meaningful way.
Upon my return train from the Coronation weekend I met a woman from New Zealand who in the first few seconds of our conversation stated that she unashamedly loved the Royal family and was extremely knowledgeable about their comings, even the short ones, and goings. I asked her how her fellow Kiwis felt about the monarchy and she said that their views are extremely mixed and range from abolishment to blind faith. She then said that in her view, the monarchy represents in the best sense and opportunity to bring a human dimension to the concept of pride of country especially at times such as national celebrations marking historic change such as the one we have just experienced.
As she enthused about the Coronation weekend events she had attended I wondered why with Scotland’s long history of Kingship and our revered heroes such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce whose sculptured images frame Edinburgh Castle’s entrance doors, we do not regularly and publicly celebrate and cherish these uniquely remarkable values?
As the Royal family waved farewell to their subjects below the balcony I placed my mobile phone, now filled with hundreds of historic photos, inside my sporran and noted that my Saltire flag was still quietly sleeping due to my own fear of the Scottish cringe rising if I was to unfurl our national symbol. Perhaps one day soon, I shall along with my fellow country men and women, be able to confidently stand in front of my neighbours and admire their national culture whilst they welcome my own as we explore ways to celebrate our own individual and collective history and future ambitions for a more just and fair society for all upon these islands.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot