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I don’t want to live in a cartoon world

September 23, 2010

During the current betting scandal involving the Pakistan cricket team, there is a predictable reaction in some parts of the Scottish twitterati to the high exposure given to the topic on Scots produced news bulletins. The familiar line is trotted out: “Scots aren’t interested in cricket”.

Well actually, that’s not true. Thousands play the game north of the Border and many more watch, live, or on television. There are thriving leagues in all corners of the country, from Galloway to Inverness and from Dundee to Dumbarton and the current high profile of the Scottish national team as an official One Day International cricket playing nation is an historical high point for the game here.

However, what is true, and deserves mentioning, is that the media reaction to cricket in Scotland is mirrored in other ways, and forms part of a kind of lazy media view of the country, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the facts, but which is so often repeated that it becomes accepted as true, even by the Scots themselves. It is also tolerated, for political reasons, by the unionist parties who peddle the view that, uniquely amongst the countries of the world, we aren’t good enough to manage our own affairs.

You’ll be familiar with some of these sayings: People from Edinburgh are snobs, Glaswegians are all natural comedians, Presbyterians are dour, the Tartan Army are welcomed wherever they go as cheerful ambassadors, local politics is run by conmen, everyone loves River City, Burns is a nationally revered hero and so on. At its most evil, this warped reporting portrays Scots as being inward looking and regressive, as indefensible articles in a couple of redtops in respect of asylum seekers have proved in recent years. It’s as if, to parts of the media, Scotland is a one dimensional land, easily summed up, and often defined by not being English – so hating cricket is a sign of Scottishness, just like eating haggis or drinking Irn Bru. It’s as if we are encouraged to believe that all our grannies wore their hair in a bun, made lentil soup, and lived up a close in Glebe St, that our teachers all wore mortarboards and coppers were all called PC Murdoch. It’s Scotland dressed up in a C U Jimmy hat.

To our shame, we accept this nonsense a lot of the time, partly out of laziness, partly because there may be tiny elements of truth in some of these descriptions, but mostly because it’s easier to swallow the daily diet provided by the opinion formers in our society, than take a good look at ourselves as we really are, and to live up to our heritage.

So we mention our status as the ‘sick man of Europe’ with a kind of sneaky pride, we talk with awe of ‘getting blitzed’, and when anyone suggests that an independent Scotland might make the world, and the country, a better place, we shrug in an embarrassed kind of way, and feel we should believe those who tell us we’re not big enough, rich enough, good enough or talented enough to run our own affairs in the manner that other countries do.

We find it easier to say ‘The Scots hate cricket’ (unsaid but meant – ‘because it’s English’) as a definition of who we are, than to try and live up to the legacies of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the creative buzz that has always been at the heart of Scotland.

I think it’s good that our news bulletins made reference to cricket – because, as a confirmed fanatic of the game, I believe that the values that make cricket, at its best, shine, are also the values that Scotland can take pride in as we look to control our own affairs.

Jimmy Reid was probably as admired as any Scot in recent times, demonstrating the straightforwardness, compassion, insight and tenacity that we would want to see as our national traits. As an auto-didact, he appreciated the growth that came with good education and he valued honest craft and fair mindedness. These are all reasons why he loved cricket as well – he didn’t have to decry it to prove his Scottishness, he could admire it for its depth and challenge, and still enjoy a dram and a cigar as an after dinner delight; no po-faced southern snob, our Jimmy.

Cricket likes to claim that it’s lost its way in recent years and I am sure there are stereotypical retired generals in the more hallowed halls of the MCC who mourn what they see as a deterioration in standards. But they too are deluded.

Cricket’s origins were plebeian: sailors and boatbuilders playing a rough game, using the ‘stumps’ of trees as targets. Ironically, given current events, the nobility originally got involved for the gambling: their servants would play their innings for them, while they bet on the results. At its best, cricket was a game played by ordinary folk, which depended on tactical and physical skill and combined team contest with 1:1 challenges. The flummery of snobbishness came later, with its adoption by public schools and its London-centric ruling elite.

But Scots should note that many colonial countries took on the so called English game and beat them at their own invention. It’s not an easy game to know, but it repays study and reflection, and, like the best of sport, it tells those who play, or watch, something about their own character.

Its strategies and tactics challenge players and spectators to concentrate, to be adaptable, and to take the rough with the smooth. The tragedy of betting scams is that they take the noble features out of the game and reduce it to a form of commercialism. This is why it deserves prominence in our news bulletins. We need to note the pollution of cricket, because it is just one more example of the devaluation and denigration of the kind of values for which an independent Scotland should seek to stand. In building the case for an independent Scotland, we need to examine and develop not just commercial and political resources but also to reinvigorate the philosophy of our country – a philosophy that gave us so many great thinkers in the past. We also need to be generous, inclusive, and to avoid insularity.

If you don’t like cricket as a sport, that’s perfectly fine, but if you eschew it as being un-Scottish in some way, you are making a mistake. Self reliance in a team setting, the vision to plan strategies and tactics, the determination to take on the odds in changing conditions, the ability to reflect and make use of what we learn? Sounds like the best of cricket – sounds like the best of Scotland!

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