Leaders: Being British | Save our playtime
FOLLOW that, Glasgow 2014. After the extraordinary start to the London 2012 Olympics, whoever is organising the opening ceremony of Scotland’s Commonwealth Games in two years might be forgiven for wanting to go and lie down in a darkened room for a few days.
It is a hard act to follow, but follow it we must. And this newspaper firmly believes Scotland can and will rise to that challenge. But first we should take stock of an evening that is likely to become a milestone in British culture as one of those moments – the Festival of Britain, the death of Diana – that reveal to us who we really are as a country. And we should ask ourselves whether the London 2012 Olympics might prove to be a watershed moment in the complex debate about national identity that lies at the heart of Scotland’s independence referendum.
For too long the pro-UK politicians (they must learn to stop calling themselves ‘Unionists’) have talked about Britain using reference points that were whiskery 20 years ago and are now positively archaic – Beveridge’s welfare state, Spitfires, Chelsea pensioners, the sacrifice of two world wars, the Queen Mum. What Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony did on Friday night was provide an alternative narrative of what it means to be British. What it takes from history are the virtues of innovation, industriousness and shared endeavour – but its defining feature is the enormously rich legacy of half a century of British popular culture, and particularly pop music. Dynamic, democratic, stylish and creative, it is Britain’s gift to the modern world. And crucially, Boyle expressed this through the prism of a contemporary Britain that is racially and culturally diverse, and all the better for it. This concept of Britishness still has riches to be mined. Still to be explored is the sense of ourselves found in a thousand social tics and mannerisms, from our respect for queueing to our curiously warped sense of humour, via our fondness for discussing the weather, our love of fish’n’chips and our weakness for a steak bake.
As we report today, the penny appears to have dropped for pro-UK politicians that this is the territory on which they should contest the independence referendum – preferably to a soundtrack of Come Together by The Beatles. Their message at the referendum will be: “Do you want to be part of this United Kingdom, or don’t you?” For the pro-independence parties, the challenge is how to take the positivity about the UK the Olympics will engender, and somehow draw a distinction between Good Britain (culture, monarchy, currency) and Bad Britain (illegal wars, Old Etonian PMs, austerity). This may be harder than it might first appear.
Often, opening ceremonies are designed to showcase a culture’s distinctiveness. Friday night’s spectacular defied that convention. What it celebrated was Britain’s diversity – to the irritation of some right-wingers who see multiculturalism as a source of regret. At first glance, Scotland does not enjoy the same glorious diversity of a global city such as London. But in truth we are simply diverse in more subtle ways. Hugh MacDiarmid said: “Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?” Yes, we have our own rich story of immigration – Irish, Italian, Pakistani, English, Polish – and can take pride in being William McIlvanney’s “mongrel nation”. But we are diverse in other ways too: Gaelic, Doric, Norse; romantic Highlanders and hard-headed Lowlanders; builders of ships and heirs to the Enlightenment. Now, all we have to do is find a way of telling Scotland’s story as well as Boyle told Britain’s.
Save our playtime
SOMETHING has gone wrong with playtime. The babyboomer generation looks back with nostalgia at carefree days out with pals in the streets and green spaces of our towns and the wilder environment of the surrounding countryside. There were trees to be climbed, dens to be built and wild berries to be picked as well as footballs to be kicked. Many childhoods now seem to be increasingly cocooned from the natural world, with kids closeted in bedrooms with their electronic devices. As a result, some local councils have responded by giving less priority to many of the open spaces in which our children should be playing and thriving, expanding their technical and social skills as well as improving their health in an active way. Part of the reason why the obesity levels are growing so fast in Scotland today is that too few children are getting enough exercise.
Playgrounds have become less popular, so the temptation is, in these economically straitened times, for councils to put their maintenance, even their existence, at the bottom of the priority list. So we would support PlayScotland’s call for play areas to be given statutory protection against the many threats they now face and to encourage children to use them through innovative design that restores the wonders of the natural world. Once lost, they are unlikely to return.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West