If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a little local difficulty about Glasgow entrepreneur Michelle Mone. More accurately, a little local difficulty about the abuse she’s been subjected to as a result of saying she was a ‘No’ in the independence referendum and then deciding she’d had enough and was moving away from Scotland.
In one of the mean-spirited online exchanges about her decision a Yes supporter (I knew he was from the many yes-sified saltires on his Twitter page) asked, rhetorically,
how many 80yr old No supporters were assaulted by Yes supporters?
He was referring to an incident in Edinburgh in which an elderly man supporting independence was indeed assaulted by a woman. I wrote about it during the referendum campaign. If you read that you’ll understand why I tweeted a link to my post for the rhetorical questioner with the comment
You’re perpetrating another myth.
What myths [sic] that?
I explained, and since then, silence from him.
The incident was small enough but it got me thinking about the nature of myths.
Reviewing this blog I see I’ve referred to myths a number of times, for example, Six myths and a truth about the SNP. But I’ve never written about the deeper aspects of the idea.
As always, the Oxford online dictionary web site is instructive. It offers four related definitions of a myth:
- an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing
- a fictitious or imaginary person or thing
- a widely held but false belief or idea
- a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.
One thing that myths don’t necessarily reflect is the truth, being ‘in accordance with fact or reality’ (the Oxford dictionary again). My elderly man existed but the belief that he was assaulted by a No supporter did not accord with the facts.
My case is small enough, but there are others.
Kevin Hague’s excellent Chokkablog, for example, has subjected the implications of the ‘full fiscal autonomy’ (FFA) that the SNP argued for in the wake of their referendum defeat to a systematic forensic examination. If you want to follow the detail you could do worse than start with his post on Full fiscal autonomy for dummies and work forward from there. In order to ensure his analysis is as authoritative as possible he uses the Scottish government’s own Government expenditure and revenue (GERS) figures. I emphasise the source deliberately. Hague proves that under FFA there would be a large ‘hole’ in Scottish government revenues that would have to be filled by either radically increasing taxes or radically decreasing expenditure. Time and again he has been attacked by nationalists online for omitting potential revenues omitted from the GERS figures that, it is claimed, would accrue to the government under FFA. In particular it is claimed that revenue from whisky exports has been omitted from the GERS figures. (a claim promoted by the Wings over Scotland web site). Hague demonstrates conclusively that there is no such omission.
Never mind. Just as in the lesser case of the assaulted pensioner the misbelief (or lie) becomes accepted by many as true through its repetition.
The largest and often most pervasive myths are those ‘traditional stories’ that the Oxford dictionary particularly associates with the early history of a people or with supernatural beings or events. I don’t know where you’d rank the idea that Scotland is a colony of England on a scale of myths. But for some it seems to be a fundamental belief. For example, I spotted ex-SNP leader Gordon Wilson purveying it in the run up to the independence referendum, although I was blunt enough to call it a lie rather than a myth.
There are plenty of other, more distant, myths that Scotland’s nationalists find comfort in, whether it’s the pervasive national stereotype of Jock Tamson’s bairns (sub-text – ‘We’re better’), the belief that the Declaration of Arbroath was anything to do with the common people (it was a tussle between kings and aristocrats), and the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider (the way ahead to nation-building revealed).
The myths of nationalism span the spectrum from exaggerated conceptions, through fictitious people and things and widely held but false beliefs to traditional stories. They have in common that they are difficult to demolish, not because evidence is unavailable but because the true believer does not want to hear the evidence. Nevertheless, it is important to keep fighting myth with fact and rational argument. The true believer may not be convinced but others will.
I try to think of the myths about Britain that make me believe that, despite everything, we’re still ‘better together.’ I can’t, although I’m willing to be enlightened. It’s a sprawling, messy, contradictory place. I like it and as I travel around it (Scotland, England and Wales this last weekend) I see more, much more, that we have in common than divides us. That, I think, is not a myth.