No series of events shows a country more divided than the marches that have recently taken place across Scotland. We’ve had Glasgow Pride, the County Grand Orange Order Boyne Parade and the protest against President Trump all in quick succession. And there’s been quite a bit of chin-stroking amongst the commentariat as to what it all means.
My view is that the three marches show Scotland for what it is: a country divided not necessarily along political lines but torn between heritage and modernity. In that way, we’re a teenager of a country, still finding our place in the world.
For those fortunate enough to be unaware, every year Scotland and Northern Ireland are subjected to the prospect of “marching season”, which brings an unwelcome cacophony of ear-splitting flute music, thumping drums, and traffic diversions as people, who think it’s a sensible idea to wear black suits in the summer time, parade through the streets of our major cities for religious reasons.
Marches tend to be Protestant but some Catholic marches do take place and are justified by appeals to tradition and celebrating heritage – in a particularly unedifying way. However, to this observer, the only lesson learned is in irony as men who really need a strict diet make insensitive comments about famine.
On a much more positive note, this past weekend also saw Glasgow Pride. From most accounts, the celebration of all things LGBT+ in Scotland’s second city passed without incident and was a glittery, rainbow-festooned good time.
What has been particularly of note however was the fact that Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, became the first leader of a nation within the United Kingdom to be the Grand Marshall of a pride parade. The FM, decked out in jeans, trainers, and a fabulous “choose love” T-shirt, led the iconic parade through the city and delivered a speech in the boisterous and passionate manner that has become her trademark. It made for very impressive listening, especially when she told 21-year-old Blair Wilson, who defied his homophobic attackers with a grinning selfie, that Scotland stood with him.
I have been critical of Ms Sturgeon before, and I fully expect to be again – a healthy democracy doesn’t exist without criticism of politicians – but I could not help but swell with pride when I saw the leader of our nation speaking so passionately, and putting her political capital where her mouth is, for such an important and worthwhile cause as Glasgow Pride in 2018.
On that day, Nicola Sturgeon was the pride of Scotland.
Thirdly, and most ambiguously, was the anti-Trump protest. Personally, my reaction to this was mixed. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’m a big fan of free speech and as such wouldn’t dream of preventing such a legitimate political protest - even if I had the power to do so - but I also find it a bit dim to agitate the leader of one of the strongest and surest allies that the United Kingdom has. As I drove past the protest, I found myself doing what I considered appropriate. I muttered disapprovingly under my breath but left those hoisting their banners in the air to it – after all, they weren’t exactly going to scare the POTUS away, were they?
When thinking about what the recent spate of protests and marches say about Scotland, the world that keeps popping into my head is “adolescent”. While we are ancient people with a long history, our politics isn’t particularly old or ancient. The Scottish Parliament, as we conceive of it today, was only brought about in 1999 and the party that dominates our politics has only done so for a few short years. As Bill Maher once said of America, we too are a “teenager of a country” and it very much feels like we’re grappling with how we’re going to define ourselves going forward.
We still have the disgraceful spectacle of the sectarian marches alongside the much more inspiring sight of the leader of the Scottish Government leading a pride parade, as well as morally murky anti-Trump protests. We’re still not sure of our constitutional future, and are constantly pulled one way by tradition and another by progress. Much like the teenager facing his exams or UCAS form - there are big decisions to be made which will define us for many years to come and we should take each and every one of them seriously.
While hopefully progress wins and we tend more towards the pride side of things than the marching season side, what is clear is that our foreseeable future, much like each of our own teenage years, will be anything but boring – and that’s got to be a good thing, right?