by SRB

EIBF: Alistair Moffat and James Naughtie

August 19, 2013 | by SRB


13.30: Alistair Moffat and James Naughtie 

As the independence debate intensifies it might be forgotten that there are many different Scotlands. The two Scotlands that Alistair Moffat examines in his new book, Britain’s Last Frontier, are divided by a cultural and geological fault line separating the highlands and lowlands. James Naughtie, who has written the introduction, joined Moffat in discussion.

Moffat described how Scotland’s geological land mass was formed 420 million years ago. Four terranes, ‘hunks of rock’,  collided at a north-east to south-west angle to form ‘Scotland on a slant’.  Taking into account present geography, this division runs from Inverness eastwards along the foot of the mountains and on reaching Aberdeen turns westwards to Glasgow, before finishing on Arran. Moffat argued that natural and human history developed in a way that reflects this geological division. As Naughtie pointed out, it is ‘a line that delineates a huge series of momentous events in Scottish history’. Agriculture and industry developed differently on either side and therefore so did the economic prospects of the people. On the highland side people still struggle to keep the last vestiges of Gaelic culture alive. 

The Romans were the first to recognise the divide but Moffat identified the Battle of Culloden in 1745/46 as the most crucial point in its history. ‘What died at Culloden was a way of life’, the beginning of a long death for the clans and their language. This point laid the groundwork for related craic: the appropriation of highland culture by the lowlands. Moffat and Naughtie blamed Walter Scott, whose novels spread a particular image of Scotland through Europe. Scott also orchestrated King George IV’s visit to Caledonia in 1814. The king arrived wearing a Stuart tartan kilt. The tartan business has never looked back. During the shuffle out of the theatre a gentleman remarked that for all Moffat’s talk of the cheapening of highland culture, nobody had mentioned that lowland culture has also suffered as a result. 

According to Moffat, ‘if you want to understand Scotland’ you have to get to grips with its oral tradition and learn Gaelic. But behind his quip that ‘we live in a country where 90% of the people can’t pronounce 50% of the place names’ is a more serious problem. If only 40,000 people speak Gaelic and democracy survives on informed decision-making there will be a great many uninformed people, including yours truly, ticking the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box next year. 

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