The Patron Saint of Cringe

St Andrew is crucified on a saltire. A Roman legionary says "He said a crucifix was too good for him", to which another replies "Christ Almighty!". An evil cherubic Britannia hovers over Andrew with a trident and Union-flag shield. Caption reads "The Patron Saint of Cringe."
The Patron Saint of Cringe. Cartoon for the November 2018 edition of iScot magazine. Pen, ink & gouache.

Andrew: the patron saint of Scottish Cringe

This cartoon was created to accompany the Orkney News article in the November 2018 edition of iScot magazine. The article is about St Andrew’s Fair Saturday 2018, which is a day of events promoting positive social change throughout the world. It is a response to the unsustainable consumerism embodied by Black Friday.

According to Biblical legend, Roman senator Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus sentenced Andrew the Apostle to death by crucifixion in Achaea (Greece). Andrew supposedly didn’t feel himself worthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus Christ, and the fair-minded Lucius had him bound to an X-shaped cross (crux decussata) instead.

Centuries later, Óengus mac Fergusa, King of the Picts, is said to have selected the saltire as the emblem of Scotland following a successful battle against the Angles (and a vision of the crux decussata in the sky).

Having its roots in a story about St. Andrew’s feelings of unworthiness, the saltire seems an appropriate symbol for a people afflicted by the ‘Scottish cringe‘. Many a self-proclaimed Proud Scot resists the idea the people of Scotland have the wit or resources to govern themselves

Peedie Schools, or do Orcadians suffer from the Scottish cringe?

peedie schools Scottish cringe cartoon by martin scott laird 2017
‘Do Orcadians suffer from the “Scottish cringe”?’ Pen and ink, 2017.

 

Do Orcadians suffer from the ‘Scottish cringe’? This cartoon was produced to accompany an article called “Peedie Schools for Creative Learning” by Fiona Grahame, about schooling in Orkney. It appears in the October 2017 edition of iScot magazine.

Being from Kirkwall, it is not easy to imagine what the experience of growing up on one of the less-populated islands in Orkney must be like. It must be even harder for people from non-island communities to understand. Fiona’s article addresses some of the challenges of educating people in such an environment.

The question of cultural identity is complicated for islanders. Island heritage can be more important than national identity. Edinburgh is so remote it might as well be London. On the other hand, being born in Orkney does not necessarily make one an Orcadian in the eyes of some – even if your parents are from Scotland.

Do Orcadians suffer from the Scottish cringe? They may not call it that.

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A lurid screen print of Scottish literary figure James Boswell. Bright yellow, red, pink and green. Behind him is an African woman with dark bars infront of her. Text says "I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it", with the words "Proud Scot" at the bottom.

Proud Scot James Boswell

A lurid screen print of Scottish literary figure James Boswell. Bright yellow, red, pink and green. Behind him is an African woman with dark bars infront of her. Text says "I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it", with the words "Proud Scot" at the bottom.
Scottish Cringe: James Boswell. Screen print, 30x42cm, 2017.

Proud Scot James Boswell is a historical figure who apparently suffered from a little Scottish cultural cringe himself, and who evokes a cringe of a different kind today.

Bowsell was a writer, best known for his biography “Life of Samuel Johnson,” published in 1791. Johnson hated the Scots. Amongst other things he is reputed to have said

‘The impudence of an Irishman is the impudence of a fly, that buzzes about you, and you put it away, but it returns again, and flutters and teazes you. The impudence of a Scotsman is the impudence of a leech, that fixes and sucks your blood.”

and

“The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!”

Despite this, Boswell was a fan of Johnson’s work, and very keen to meet him. He recounted their eventual meeting as follows

Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introduced me to him. I was much agitated; and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to Davies, ‘Don’t tell him where I come from.’

‘From Scotland,’ cried Davies, roguishly. `

Mr. Johnson,’ said I, `I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.”

He then goes on to “flatter himself” that this was not “an humiliating abasement at the expense of my country.”

Boswell was born in 1740, 33 years after the Act of Union of 1707. Scotland’s own colonial ambitions had been halted by the failed Darien Scheme at the turn of the century – a trade war which England and the East India Company had won. As a result of bribes paid to Scottish nobles, the country was in debt to England. The Act of Union was hugely unpopular in Scotland, but most of those responsible for negotiating it had a financial stake in it. Even Sir John Clerk, a pro-Union negotiator, said that the treaty was “contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom”.

In Boswell’s time, Scotland was coming to terms with the consequences of failure and betrayal at a National level, and was reliant on its neighbour for access to trade routes. Little wonder a cultural cringe might manifest itself. Boswell was born into the Union, and embraced British colonialism even to the point of endorsing slavery (which Johnson opposed).

As part of the British Empire, Scots have much to be ashamed of. Perhaps the same would be true if Scotland had remained an independent country and succeeded in its own colonial ambitions. Perhaps instead of a cultural inferiority complex it would have developed a superiority complex. But as the United Kingdom slides into post-colonial xenophobia following a Brexit campaign which demonised immigrants, it is time for Scotland to chart its own course.