Councillor blasts culture ‘tied up with tartan bow’

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What kind of cultural identity should the Borders present to the wider world as it competes to attract visitors, businesses, inward investment and new people?

That was the question which drew contrasting contributions from two Borders councillors who were on opposite sides of last year’s Independence debate.

First up at Thursday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council was the SNP’s Joan Campbell, who represents East Berwickshire.

“The Borders is an area rich in Scottish culture and history,” asserted Councillor Campbell. “The [Scottish Government’s] Scottish Studies Working Group has recommended that Scottish culture should be at the heart of the school curriculum, giving our children the same opportunity as those in other countries of studying their national literature, history, art and music.”

She wanted to know if that recommendation was being taken forward in Borders schools and Councillor Sandy Aitchison, executive member for education, replied in the affirmative.

“Learning about Scotland should be a natural and normal part of the learning experience from early years to senior phase,” he said.

“This approach has been taken and all schools are expected to build a curriculum which gives strong attention to the history and culture of the Borders.”

Mrs Campbell returned to the topic of Scottish culture later, expressing the hope it would help shape a new and comprehensive cultural strategy for the region.

That was the cue for Independent Michael Cook, a vocal supporter of the Better Together campaign, to have his say.

Councillor Cook told the meeting: “The inference here is that only culture tied up with a tartan bow is worth bothering about.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: there are some people as determined to shape our cultural landscape as they are to shape the political landscape.

“Ours is a culture of James Hogg, Thomas the Rhymer and Halidon Hill, but it is also a culture of Walter Scott, the arch Tory who invented so much of the Scottish ‘identity’ now so sacrosanct to some.

“It’s a culture of James Thomson, the author of the Four Seasons who penned the words to Rule Britannia, and it’s a culture which embraces John Buchan, the pre-eminent novelist of the Empire, and Berwickshire’s David Hume, Scotland’s greatest philosopher who wrote The History of England.

“As soon as we tramp a path of exclusivity; one which says my culture is better than your culture and one which pettily rejects, God forbid, English influence, then we deserve to go to hell in our own handcart.”