Sophie Law: The Big Yin offered an alternative to tartan stereotypes

The unveiling of three murals on Glasgow ­tenement walls which pay tribute to Billy Connolly on his 75th birthday, make it clear that The Big Yin is more than simply a Scottish comedian.

Billy Connolly challenged the tartan and shortbread stereotype of Scots. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Billy Connolly challenged the tartan and shortbread stereotype of Scots. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

He’s a national treasure. He’s our brick and mortar, bread and butter – he’s our Scottish identity.

Identity is one of the most ­evasive and complicated words in the ­dictionary, yet bears such a rich concept. In a year of elections, a ­second referendum on the cards and Brexit negotiations, many of us may well be pondering what it really means to be Scottish.

Kilts, haggis, thistles and heather are the romanticised, fictitious aspect of Scottish culture but most people find it hard to relate to these things. They don’t reflect my life, nor does it say much about most Scots. It’s a Scotland that doesn’t really exist except to tourists in the glossy travel guides – a tame storybook version for visitors’ consumption.

What if our Scottish identity is something less manufactured? Our identity is not something fixed but malleable. National identity is a construct and someone has to be brave enough to challenge it.

Connolly, the former Glasgow shipyard welder who has just been given a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, spoke for a ­Scotland that wanted to shake off the old traditional stereotypes, a country that was fierce and urban.

When Michael Parkinson asked him about what he objected to in the view that the English had of Scots, he replied that “the wee ­cottage in the Highlands with the purple heather” was completely false.

Connolly offered an alternative to what many saw as ­Scottish ­identity. His was one that was ­self-mocking, wickedly funny and portrayed the gritty reality of ­Scottish life at the time in a humorous and relatable way. As a country we have strong ­connections to our Scottish identity. ‘Braveheart’ and ‘canny Scot’ may represent our past, but ­Connolly broke us free from those tartan shackles and paved the way for change borne out of Glaswegian humour, wit and wisdom.

He’s your dad, your uncle or your granny after a few drinks. You could meet ­people like him down the pub, or at the shops. ­Everyone knows someone like him in their own lives.

A survey into national identity in 2012 told us that more Scots took a sense of national pride from Billy Connolly than the Queen. That’s got to say something.

Sophie Law lives in Glasgow. She is studying journalism at University of Strathclyde.