Scotland not only defies description, it gets positively irritated by it. Clichéd images of the place abound postcards of hairy Highland cows, tartan tins of shortbread, ranks of diamond-patterned golf jerseys and they dINTRODUCTION
Scotland not only defies description, it gets positively irritated by it. Clichéd images of the place abound postcards of hairy Highland cows, tartan tins of shortbread, ranks of diamond-patterned golf jerseys and they drive many Scots to apoplexy. And yet Scotland has a habit of delivering on its classic images: ruined castles really do perch on just about every hilltop, in summer the glens inevitably turn purple with heather and, if youre lucky, you just might bump into a formation of bagpipers marching down the village street on gala day.
Scotland is a difficult country, where Celtic hedonism intertwines, somehow, with stern Calvinism, where the losers of battles (and football games) are more romanticized than the winners. Its often defined by its scenery known to make poets weep, but half the time hidden under a pall of drizzly mist. The countrys major contribution to medieval warfare was the chaotic, blood-curdling charge of the half-naked Highlander, yet its civilized enough to have given the world steam power, the television and penicillin. Chefs from Paris to Prague rhapsodize over Scottish wild salmon and Aberdeen Angus steaks, even while the locals are tucking happily into another deep-fried supper of haggis and chips.
Naturally, the tourist industry tends to play up the heritage and play down the contemporary, but beyond the tartan lies a modern, dynamic nation. Oil and microprocessors now matter more to the Scottish economy than Harris tweed. Edinburgh still has its genteel Royal Mile, but just as many folk are drawn by its clubs and cappuccino culture, while out in the Hebrides, the locals are more likely to be teleworking via the internet than shearing sheep. The Highland huntin shootin fishin set are these days outnumbered by mountain bikers and wide-eyed whale-watchers. Much as folk bands are knocking out old tunes on electronic fiddles, reinvention of tradition has become a Scottish artform.
Stuck in the far northwest corner of Europe, Scotland is remote, but its not isolated. The inspiring emptiness of the wild northwest coast lies barely a couple of hours from Edinburgh and Glasgow, two of Britains most dense and intriguing urban centres. Ancient ties to Ireland, Scandinavia, France and the Netherlands mean that compared with the English at least Scots are pretty enthusiastic about the European Union. EU money has been poured into the infrastructure, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, funding numerous arts projects and sustaining the national identity. By contrast, Scotlands relationship with the "auld enemy", England, remains as problematic as ever. Despite the new Scottish parliament established in Edinburgh in 1999, with its new-found power to shape Scottish life, many Scots still tend to view matters south of the border with a mixture of exaggerated disdain and well-hidden envy. Ask for a "full English breakfast" and youll quickly find yourself put right. Old prejudices die hard....Continua