Tartan Nation

Tartan is synonymous with Scotland. Whether or not we invented it, we have appropriated it as a symbol of our nation and it is one of the elements which all foreigners recognise as “Scottish”.

However it is an appropriate metaphor for our nation too. When in 1320 the people of Scotland proclaimed themselves a nation in the Declaration of Arbroath, they were already a web of Celts, Picts, Norse, Saxons, Jutes and Normans among others. Gaelic speaking Highlanders, Germanic speaking Lowlanders, some of the aristocracy speaking Norman French, and the learned speaking the Latin of educated Europe, all declared themselves as one nation.

Over time the nation continued to weave more peoples into its fabric. We have had Scandanavians and Netherlanders joined with ties of trade and many ties of politics with France. Our Irish cousins continued to braid skeins with us to the point we often cannot tell whose folk songs are whose – sadly the same has sometime applied to historical feuds too. Likewise the threads move back and forth between England and Scotland.

We have welcomed Heugenots and Jews fleeing persecution. We have gone out into the world as soldiers, settlers and administrators; some have stayed and helped form new nations, others have returned tied to the lands they visited by the families they formed.

Our grandparents bought fried “suppers” from “Cafés” founded by Italians, and our parents went on dinner dates at new Indian Curryhouses and Chinese restaurants then bought their groceries together at the local Pakistani shop.

The process continues to the present. We have had Poles, some of whom like their grandparents came over to do the job to be done then returned home; but for some Scotland became home, adding yet another thread to our culture.

All the different peoples who have become Scots have brought their own colour to our land. Some have been so similar that the weave just forms a subtle hue of traditions, others a distinct line that stands clear across the ages. In every case once they have joined and taken their place, any attempt to remove them would at best leave us duller and at worst would rip a hole in our fabric.

We have not been a melting pot: the ability of Scots to find sub-atomic particles is nothing compared with the ability for us to distinguish the most miniscule differences of our compatriots religious beliefs. We have various different traditions, which we can often track back along our own ancestral lines, but to outsiders the nation is distinct and easily recognisable as a whole.

Long before it became a symbol of the whole nation, the Highlanders use of tartan was associated with the clans – groups of people claiming common kinship and community based on some long ago ancestor. There’s a saying “it’s a wise child kens its faither”; one wonders what that may say of the sagacity of knowing ones 10 or 20 times great grand-ancestor. However if one might wonder about the precise DNA connection with the clansman who claims the same name, gives the same battlecry, works to the same goals side by side, well the blood may be strong but it’s not the only tie that binds.

Another old saying is “We’re all Jock Tamsons bairns.” Perhaps it has sometimes been said more than acted on, but it is a worthy view. If incomers want to join the Scots clan they can always include Jock as their shared ancestor. Being Scottish is not about where one is born or ones ancestors were born, it is about choosing to be part of the warp and woof of the nation, claiming the name, giving the same battlecry, working to the same goals and travelling in the same direction side by side with ones fellow Scots. The fabric of our nation has been woven from thousands of different threads: while the old ones will continue on, we will no doubt continue our tradition of accepting new ones, strengthening our tartan nation.


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