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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 18/01/2007 | 9 Comments

With all the debate and talk about the Union of Scotland and England, I’ve been pondering issues of Scottish confidence yet again. My background is political science. I was a politics tutor at Edinburgh University for a number of years and had a temporary lectureship and then a post-doctoral fellowship. In those days I certainly saw much of the world through a political lens. Like many Scots I saw any Scottish confidence issues as one of the consequences of our relationship with England. But then when I later became involved in training and had constant discussions with people in Scotland about their confidence I became convinced that this had much more to do with how people are brought up. In other words, I believe Scottish confidence issues are much more about what your parents, your pals or your teacher say to you than it is about the constitutional arrangement between Scotland and England.

On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of being part of the audience for a Newsnight debate on the Union. I mainly agreed to go along because it was being filmed in Parliament Hall – the very place where the decision to dissolve the Scottish Parliament and unite with England was taken three hundred years ago. One of the people who had most opportunity to speak in the part of the programme presented by Kirsty Wark on culture, was the Scottish comedian and actor Elaine C. Smith. I have a lot of admiration for Elaine. I like her down to earth style, She manages to be humorous in a way that’s direct yet inoffensive. But in her contribution to the programme I thought she had tunnel vision. Much of what Elaine said related to Scots' confidence – for example, about how marginal we feel as a result of watching another country’s tv. She also said that artists often feel that their work can’t be good or important if they are still living in Scotland or their work goes unrecognised south of the border.

Of course, there is something in what Elaine says. I was struck when I told some people that I was going to be on Newsnight that they were much more interested and impressed because it was the ‘grown up’, real Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman and Kirsty Wark rather than the wee, pretendy Scottish version.

However, while I think there is something in this argument it isn’t necessarily about politics. It has much to do with the relationship of the periphery to the metropolis. I’m sure that much the same dynamic can be found in Brittany vis a vis Paris and also found in countries, like Canada or Portugal who live in the shadow of a much bigger, and successful, neighbour.

A social beings we are influenced by what’s happening in the world round about us. When a country does well at something – war, sport, business orders, hosting a large international exhibition or whatever – its citizens can feel buoyed up, energised by this success. Equally when bad things happen – sporting failure, massive job losses or dare I say the loss of sovereignty – then there can be a collective loss of energy and a drop in morale. We can crudely talk about this as national confidence.

But confidence is also something which operates at the individual level. It is about how we feel about ourselves, and how we evaluate our skills and chances of success, including how optimistic we are about the future. Psychological research suggests that about a third of the variation between individuals in self-esteem, optimism and so forth is genetic – ie some people are born with higher levels than others. But according to experts like Professor Nicholas Emler from the University of Surrey who has undertaken extensive research, the remaining influence on an individual’s self-esteem comes mainly from parents and whether their parenting style encourages children to feel loved and valued.

The Scottish cringe, ‘cannae dae’ attitudes, fear of failure and so forth may have something to do with Scotland’s relationship with England but they’ve got an awful lot more to do with bringing children up in a culture which isn’t very good at appreciation, encouragement or helping them to feel worthwhile and valuable people. If you stand for five minutes in Sauchiehall Street or Argyle Street and listen to how folk talk to their kids you’ll understand what I mean. Or talk to people working in ‘nurture units’ in some of Glasgow’s schools. This isn’t all about social class. There are thousands of children in Scotland who are growing up in affluent homes but who are greatly pressurised and criticised by parents.

There are lots of arguments to be advanced for and against continuing the Union with England. But I simply don’t believe that separation from England will at a stroke turn Scots into confident individuals.
Comment By Comment
Clark Sorley
Joined: 20/01/2007

Comment Posted: 20/01/2007 17:42
Was looking for your book today Carol and came across your blog. Excellent! I look forward to reading it in more depth.

I agree with what you've been saying about the Scottish malady being self-imposed. In my view it's got damn all to do with the English who represent little more than a convenient excuse.

I have to say though I did identify with Elaine Smith the other night on Newsnight when she said that a Scottish artist has to gain legitimacy elsewhere before being fully appreciated here. That has been my experience. I'm in music and I doubt if there is a single Scottish artist in the history of popular music who hasn't found their outlet to the world via an institution from somewhere else. Scotland has enormous untapped potential in music most of which goes to waste due to lack of real support. If the same thing is true in other fields we could be sitting on a cultural gold-mine. There's a thought...
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Cathy Storey
Joined: 28/02/2007

Comment Posted: 28/02/2007 13:27
I think this is a useful debate, but I would argue that the real issues are more broadly to do with what I wold call, if somewhat pretentiously, "psychogeography", rather than "confidence", which is a term requiring perhaps a bit more examination.

I am a Highland Scot brought up in Invernessshire but I live in Edinburgh and also spent some years living in the South of England, and London. One of my parents was English and the other Hebridean. I don't know if this qualifies me to comment, but I hope it does. I passionately feel that it is not possible, or helpful, to make generalisations about differences in "confidence" between the Scots and the English.

I would say the issue is more to do with communication and how people from different areas tend to put themselves across, which is what I mean by "psychogeography". Geography matters, as does psychology. Geographical factors affecting social psychology would, in my opinion, be things like city size, degree of daily exposure to the elements, type of landscape, e.g. the presence /absecne of mountains, and other environmental factors. I believe that these factors , over a long time, affect social communication styles and methods considerably. You only have to spend some time in the Highlands, and then London, to see this. While I am wary of generalising, I would say that many Highland people I know are quietly confident. They are very sure of themselves but they don't say much about themselves. I would ask, is there a corollary South of the border or in Lowland Scotland, and, if so, does this mean there is problem?
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Joined: 10/04/2007

Comment Posted: 10/04/2007 16:29
I live in Ireland now and there is an almost palpable difference in general levels of confidence. There is much more of a "can do" attitude and whilst I agree that there are many factors in the psychology of confidence and well-being, here it does also seem to fit with a national culture in that there is very much a feeling of participating in a wider European stage, having the power to shape and steer the economy locally and not being in the shadow of a bigger nation. It did though take a generation to get here and to overcome the authoritarian and conservative regime that characterised the early decades of the nation. Probably membership of the European union, a young population and the opportunities afforded by new technologies and access to higher education all combined.

Makes it frustrating to compare and contrast with Scotland, perhaps if complete self-government was achieved at least one hurdle would be crossed and then we could focus on the other aspects.
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Uncle Sam
Joined: 04/09/2007

Comment Posted: 04/09/2007 21:07
I am late to this subject but immensely interested in it. I am American and both my parents are Scottish (Paisley and Glasgow). I was raised in a small town heavily populated with Scots, in fact, I spoke with a Scottish accent until I was 6 years old. I tell you this to let you know how proud I am of being Scottish. I have a unique perspective on this subject having experienced the Scottish confidence issue as an American child with Scottish parents.

I have given this subject much thought through the years and here are some insights based on my experience- excuse any generalizations. The Scots seem both enamored and disgusted by confidence. They like to talk about the characters who exhibit confidence but don't seem entirel;y comfortable with displays of confidence in their own home. In my house praise was not freely given. the prevailing thought was that if you did something praiseworthy you knew it and no need to give you a "swelled head." However, if you did something wrong or made a mistake no harm in heaping on the blame or i told you so's because you need to learn from it.

I wonder how much of this comes from a collective unconscious and is partially related to England's dominance? Some ofthese tactics might have been very useful for self p[reservation. By keeping a low profile you stayed off the radar and would not make yourself a problem or even known by those in power- thus not bragging or otherwise displaying confidence kept you safely neutral.

I see other examples in sport. Scotland does very well in football against some big teams (when they are not expected to win) and loses some shockers to teams they should easily beat. All the while the supporters feign indifference and claim they are only out for a laugh- no worries if we lose, as if lowering expectations takes the sting out of the loss. To me it seems like Scotland is very comfortable with the underdog role but not so comfortable if expectations are raised. The bar for success is lowered- for instance in football taking pride in hard tackling and toughness is seen as victory despite the reality of losing the game. Sending the English "homeward tae think again" is a victory although the reality is otherwise. Please note no disrespect intended here- Flower of Scotland is one of the most moving anthems and beautifully captures the Scottish struggle and hope in the third verse!

In America (generally speaking) we really do believe you can make your destiny and our outlook is hopeful. We aren't afraid to want and even expect success. That isn't necessarliy a better view I point it out to juxtapose my experience growing up Scottish with a negative outlook, scarcity mentality and emotional detachment.

Tthere is something about the Scottish psyche and confidence and I hope it will be repaired because the Scots are proud, hard working intelligent people who have contributed some of the world's greatest achievements.

I suppose there are no easy answers. I am interested to hear your thoughts.
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Uncle Sam
Joined: 04/09/2007

Comment Posted: 13/09/2007 20:13
Is the recent football victory against france proof of increased confidence? Scotland are now in the driver's seat in this group- the pressure and dare I say, expectation to win are building, and I believe rightfully so. Can Scotland perform now that it has shed the underdog image? I think they can and hope they will.

SOme may think Sport is not an important or meaningful indicator but I believe it shows the raw passion of the masses and strips bare all pretense. I submit a lot can be learned by evaluating the supporters of national teams because the reactions are heartfelt, emotionally honest and insightful.

What do you think?
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Joined: 25/08/2006

Comment Posted: 24/10/2007 21:39
What a fantastic thread!!! I too am very interested in the psycho social effects of political and economic dependancy on another 'nation'. Politically, economically, artistically (a point already well made) parts of all of us have become 'generationally dependant' on the cultural reliance on "Great Britain". Anyway, what's so great about being part of an empire that plundered and exploited half the worlds natural and human resources? I must admit I find it frustrating listening to English commentators talking up english sports men and women. (England Rugby and Lweis Hamilton in F1 just two recent examples). And even more annoying is how some english commentators talk about Scot's sports men and women as 'British'.

These are not mere incidental slip of the tongue, comments that I am being oversensitive about. They are everyday examples that we are constantly reminded of through the media. And we all know how subliminally powerful that can be....So communication and how we talk about things, as mentioned above, is extremely important in helping Scotland reach a 'tipping point'. Maybe the Politicians have helped a bit here by changing the Scottish Executives name to the Scottish Government?

Admittedly some Scots have played a large part in such an egomaniacal, selfish, bloody history that was colonialism. As George Bernard Shaw said,"God help England if she had no Scots to think for her!" (1929). This brings me nicely to the Irish connection. I know the Irish well and have been regularly visiting the Emerald Isle for the past 2 years. As the previous entry states the Irish, at the moment seem to be full of confidence with a can do attitude. They do indeed but it is important to remember that it wasn't always like that. A majority of the Irish I know (some protestants excluded) are extremely anti-British (English in particular) for obvious reasons and remain angry at the failed historical attempts to 'colonise' their country on behalf of the Brits.

I refer to this Anglo-Irish struggle because I believe that Scotland is going through a period of change, and the elected Scottish Government reflects this. I for one think that now there is a different political party in power in Scotland, form that in England, we may now see some 'value for money' from our political system. In my view up until May 2007 the most conservative thing about Scotland was the Scottish Labour Party because it hadn't changed in over 30 years. The time is now....isn't it?

I think this also helps the 'individual' who may be finding it difficult to change his or her perspective because of family, community and cultural pressures. To suggest that it is up to the individual to make the changes is an oversimplification of the so called nations issue with confidence and a bit patronising too. I know many poeple who want to cahnge but don't know how or are too scared.

So the question I'd like to ask is how do we do it? How do we as individuals manage to change into the people and nation we would like to be? What resources are available? Where can I go for help to live the life I want to live when everyone around me is busy, on the Treadmill. If I step off, will I survive? Is there any chance that the New Scottish Governmant could pay for individual life coaches or therapists of our own choosing to help us achieve our individual goals?

Or do we have to rely on that good old Scots character trait, mallum?
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