Blog by Pippa Goldschmidt
Nine years ago Carol Craig’s book The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence claimed that Scottish people suffer from a collective lack of self-belief, and that this has a massive effect on our society. Since then – and partly as a result of the maturation of the Scottish Parliament and the SNP’s political success, she’s updated the book and a new edition has been published.
In discussion with Sheena McDonald, Carol Craig used a variety of anecdotes to support her claim, identifying events such as the Reformation triggering a certain type of dour egalitarianism which seeks to bring people down to a common level and stop them ‘getting above themselves’. She’s had conversations with both indigenous Scots and immigrants who lack confidence due to the prevalent feeling that they shouldn’t speak out, or try and effect change.
As she said herself, more academic studies don’t really bear this out, and Scottish people don’t seem to do any worse than other people in the UK and elsewhere when their self-confidence is formally measured. And as people in the audience commented, Scottish people are also noted for their entrepreneurialism and intellectual achievements, citing the Glasgow School of Art and the Glasgow trade union movement as two examples from a city commonly assumed to suffer more than its fair share of social problems.
A weakness in the argument surely lies in its reduction of the plurality of Scottish culture(s) to serve a single issue which, according to Carol Craig, explains everything from poor educational results to the shocking life expectancy in parts of the country. But if this effect is so important, it can’t be beyond the wit of a social scientist to measure it.
And yet, the collective sigh of recognition by today’s audience when Carol Craig used the phrase ‘I kent his faither’ (Scots for ‘I knew his father’; a general put-down for someone who’s perceived to be getting above their station in life) as a summing up of the attitude she was referring to, indicates that this argument does resonate. Just how uniquely Scottish this resonance is, is another matter.