Professor Joe Goldblatt
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon once strongly and unequivocally stated during a period when new immigrants were being characterised by online trolls as not being Scottish, “What makes a person living in Scotland, Scottish? If they are in Scotland, in my mind they are Scottish!”
Over and over again during our past fifteen years of becoming and being Scottish we have felt the same warm welcome as ‘newish’ Scots. As a one time stranger to a strange new land, time and time again we have been welcomed with kindness, gentle humour, and friendship to these shores. Here are some recent examples of how being Scottish has positively enriched my life.
First, prior to the Pandemic I was invited to give the Immortal Memory at the fund raising dinner hosted by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. This was a great thrill and it was somewhat intimidating for a laddie from Texas to stand before 300 distinguished native Scots and praise our national bard. Perhaps, because I was so excited, I made a ridiculous mistake during the silent auction portion of the evening. As a guest I wanted to support the fund raiser for the One City programme and I noticed that the only item I could afford was a private visit with a Hippo at the Zoo. We used electronic tablets to bid and instead of bidding £50, I accidentally bid £5000! Soon, total strangers were wandering over to my seat and patting me on the back and saying “Thanks for your generosity! You must really love hippos!” When I noticed the error of my ways I was able to correct the bid amount, however, my blushing with embarrassment continued for some time as I enjoyed good hearted teasing from my Scottish friends.
The second experience involved my being invited to preach the sermon at St Giles Cathedral for the start of the academic year service. I had actually been invited to deliver the sermon one year earlier, however, I was unavailable due to my attending a family wedding in the United States. The gracious minister said “No problem. Please do this the following year.”
When I ascended the mighty steps to the preacher’s podium in the massive cathedral I silently prayed that the roof would not fall upon my head as a Jewish lad was about to deliver a message of humour and hope to the great and the good worshippers below. When I told my first funny story a roar of laughter erupted from the pews and I suddenly realised that during the dozens of times I had worshipped here I had never heard raucous laughter. Then I realised, my friends seated below were actually laughing with me as I opened my address to them. The warmth and acceptance of their laughter in such an austere and grand room gave me the confidence I needed to proceed with my stories about how proud I was to be associated with education in Scotland. I also wondered if John Knox might have felt similar confidence when he preached in this cathedral, although, I am fairly certain his confidence did not come from laughter following one of his humouros stories!
The third experience of kindness and welcome I have experienced was when I was recovering from spinal surgery. The respected sixth generation owner of Scotland’s largest highland dress firm rang me and offered to design our family tartan. When I explained that I had no Scottish ancestry she said “Tartan is Scotland’s gift to the world. Therefore, you are entitled and most welcome to receive this gift.”
She then instructed me to dream about the soon to be designed MacGoldblatt tartan and that we would then meet in person to commence the design. I agreed and as my back healed my mind swirled with images of tartan. In order for an affinity Scot (someone without Scottish anestry who loves Scotland) to create a tartan I was asked three questions. The first question was what brought me to Scotland and the answer was fairly simple as I was recruited by Queen Margaret University whose primary colour is blue. The next question was what do I most love about Scotland. This answer was also very easy because I am a great admirer of Robert Burns. Burns, an Ayrshire lad, would have known and admired the purple thistle of his homeland and that was the second colour for my emerging tartan design. The third and final colourful strand was related to my surname, Goldblatt. Then, with the magic of computer assisted design our family tartan was born and through the strands of blue, purple and gold for Goldblatt were now being expertly woven into the historical fabric of our nation.
Therefore, when I recently read about the plans for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to refocus their programme I was somewhat dismayed. According to their leaders they wish to remove the ‘contrived construct of Scottishness’ and that insure the event doesn’t have to be all ‘Scotland the Brave.’ As a new Scot, I am disappointed in this new view. Perhaps it is because I am as passionate as a convert to a religious order. Every day, I feel a deep love for the historic, traditional symbols and even myths and legends and I am certain that my fellow countrymen and women from the USA as well as many of us who are new and old Scots feel the same way.
Historically, the Tattoo audience has been comprised of a large percentage of foreign visitors who have relished the sometimes over the top silliness as well as strong emotion of being Scottish as exemplified through tartan, kilts, bagpipes and many other traditional Scottish images. I hope that rather than these symbols being entirely refocused that they will instead be renewed with even greater historical context to showcase what being Scottish truly means and has meant to so many for so long.
Becoming and being Scottish for me and millions of others throughout the world is both an honour and a privilege. Let us not diminish this experience. Rather, let us find new creative ways to celebrate our uniqueness and embrace through kindness, compassion and even humour, what it means to be both an old as well as a new Scot.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and is a proud new Scot. His officially registered tartan may be viewed at https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/tartanDetails?ref=11231