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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: scotland, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 79
1. Happy Fairy Friday

Original Painting Available Here: 

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2. Ten fun facts about the bagpipes

Depending on your tastes, bagpipes are primal and evocative, or crude and abrasive. Adore or despise them, they are ubiquitous across the city centers of Scotland (for tourists or locals?). In anticipation of St Andrews Day, and your Robert Burns poetry readings with a certain woodwind accompaniment, here are 10 facts you may not have known about the history of the bagpipes.

The post Ten fun facts about the bagpipes appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. ‘The Tannery’ by Iain Gardner

A fox has a life-after-death experience.

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4. authors live: cakes in space at bbc scotland

Blog written with my co-pilot Philip Reeve: So our shiny silver space shuttle set us down in sunny Glasgow, where we’d been invited by Scottish Book Trust to do one of their Authors Live events.

These events take place at the BBC’s Glasgow studios; there’s a small invited audience of children from local schools, but the show is also broadcast live online to any other schools who want to sign up for it.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon to meet Scottish Book Trust’s Heather Collins and some of the team who were going to be in charge of the broadcast. Part of the Cakes in Space show involves a video transmission from some spoon-crazy alien life-forms called the Poglites. At all the festivals we’ve done we’ve used a video which Philip and his wife Sarah Reeve shot on his phone, of two Poglite puppets in a spaceship set made out of old polystyrene packaging.

But to be shown by the BBC it needed to be ‘broadcast quality’, so we brought the puppets with us and re-shot the whole thing in one of the vaguely futuristic-looking stairwells at the BBC.

The actual show took place on Thursday morning. We suited up and waited nervously in the hotel lobby for the shuttle to take us to BBC HQ…

Filming was to take place in an open atrium area in the middle of the BBC building, which had been decorated for the purpose with stars and silver podia (grammar). It takes a LOT of people to arrange even a simple broadcast like this. Here are some of the team…

And here are some of the audience - a weird and wonderful collection of interstellar oddballs shipped in from a neighbouring star-cluster.

Photo by Alan Peebles

They seemed friendly though. One of them, Abena, brought us this nice letter, so we knew they Came In Peace.

We’d never done a live broadcast before, so we were a bit nervous, but everything seemed to go well.

Photo by Alan Peebles

Photo by Alan Peebles

Photo by Alan Peebles

Photo by Alan Peebles

Photo by Alan Peebles

And you can see for yourself, because one of the great things about the Authors Live scheme is that recordings of the shows are kept on the Scottish Book Trust website, where anyone can watch them whenever they fancy. So we now have a lasting record of the Cakes In Space show, which future generations will be able to look at and say, ‘WHAT were you THINKING?’

Click on the image to watch the video!

It’s especially nice to have this record because this was the last Cakes in Space show we’ll be doing (at least for a while). In the autumn we’ll be unveiling a whole new show based on Pugs of the Frozen North. Big thank yous to Heather and her team from Scottish Book Trust, teacher Jennifer Buchan (who created Author Live's Cakes in Space Learning Resource page), and Janice Forsyth, Donald, Irene, Neil, Liz, photographer Alan Peebles and everyone at BBC Scotland for making it all possible.

While we were in Glasgow, we also managed to catch up with Sarah's Glasgow Auntie and our friends Adam Murphy (who draws the Corpse Talk strip for The Phoenix and his comics colourist partner Lisa Murphy. (Great to see you guys!)

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5. A royal foxhunt: The abdication of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Stewart became Queen of Scots aged only 6 days old after her father James V died in 1542. Her family, whose name was anglicised to Stuart in the seventeenth century, had ruled Scotland since 1371 and were to do so until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Raised in France from 1548, she married the heir to the French throne (1558) and did not come to Scotland until after he died in 1561.

The post A royal foxhunt: The abdication of Mary Queen of Scots appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Diary of a Mad Brownie - an audiobook review

I can't republish certain reviews that have already appeared in print or elsewhere online, but I can point you to where you might find them.

The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville. (Listening Library, 2015)
Suggested for ages 8-12.  298 minutes.


Diary of a Mad Brownie is the first book in Bruce Coville's new series, The Enchanted Files.  I listened to the audio book, and I can tell you that it was the most fun I've had listening in a long time. And it's read by a full cast!

Read my review here: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/102097/

My copy of the book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.

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7. An excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction

This is an excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction by Rab Houston. Although the book was published in 2009, long before the Scottish independence referendum, the thoughts Houston expresses in the conclusion on the future of the country certainly proved relevant in the Scotland of 2014.

What are the implications of the past for Scotland’s future? First, Scots retain a deeply embedded sense of history, albeit a selective one. Like others in the Anglo-Saxon world, they understandably seek identity, empathy, and meaning for their private present by researching family or local history and they want to know about wars and history’s celebrities. They are less interested in the public past that creates the context for the social and political present, including for Scotland a separate national church, a distinctive legal code, and a very different experience of government. This detachment may be linked to any number of factors — a preoccupation with individual personal authority, disenchantment with politics, secularization, and electronic communications — but its effects are clear. Yet Scots still feel themselves touched by history and that awareness is a strong part of their identity. Modern Scotland is solidly grounded on historical foundations and the continuity this provides helps in dealing constructively with change.

One manifestation of the public past is a firm civic sense, which helps Scotland’s communities to score highly in polls of the most desirable places to live in Britain. Coupled with this is the enduring importance of locality and all the variety and the non-national solidarities it implies. An important reason Scottish devolution has worked so well is that historically Scotland had less centralized government than England and there was an effective civil society: precisely those forms of association below and outside the apparatus of the state, such as churches, communities, and families, mediating between public institutions and private lives, which now so concern the modern West. The notion of civil society empowering citizens has appeal both to the New Right and to left-leaning communitarian ideas of voluntary association, because it insists that people cannot have rights without responsibilities and that individualism has to be tempered by acknowledgement of a common good. Based on their historic experience of government, Scots felt that central authority could and should intervene for benign ends, but that most power should be diffused.

This appreciation of civil society is not rose-tinted. Scotland’s history has a dark side of greed, social inequality and injustice, the oppression of women, children, and other races, and bigotry towards different faiths, all repulsive to modern sensibilities. In the present too, there has been sleaze (notably in Labour’s ‘one-party states’ in west-central Scotland), there is a legacy of social conservatism that may encourage ignorance and intolerance, and there are problems of drug and alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour, and crime, like anywhere in Britain. ‘The street’, once indicative of intimacy, has become a by-word for danger. Yet a vivid sense of the past, a firm national identity, and a strong civil society rooted in locality mark out both historic and modern Scotland.

The crowded tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town by Hansueli Krapf. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

History touches modern politics too, for as well as being Scottish, many Scots also feel British. The most important implication is that Scotland’s near-term future is unlikely to involve shunning community with the rest of Britain, because it has for hundreds of years been locked into a British paradigm. That does not mean Scots are always comfortable with their past or present relations with England, and they have never been slow to speak out when they perceive injustice. Less laudably, they have long played a ‘blame game’ against their neighbours. History shows they have a point, but to be a victim is to deny oneself agency. Better to accept how much has been gained from association with England, to recognize what is shared, to take justified pride in what is good about being different, and to change what is not.

The political implications of Union with England are still being played out three centuries on, albeit in a very different world. The component parts of Great Britain (and Ireland, both before and after independence in 1922) developed separately, but they also progressed together in ways that modified their experiences. In some regards, the parts have grown closer over time, but in important ways they remain different. All modern states are artifacts based on conquest and colonization, and laboriously created national solidarity (including Scottish, English, and British identity). Held together for centuries, the integrity of states everywhere is now maintained only precariously, their sovereignty and supposedly inviolable borders steadily eroded. Easy travel, immigration, trans-national crime, and global terrorism, capitalism, and environmental degradation are challenging and complicating our understandings of geography and politics. After 500 years of multi-national accretion, nation states, including Britain, are crumbling back into their component parts. Founded on centuries of uncertainty, experimentation, and compromise, the relations between Scotland and England remain open-ended.

During that time, Scotland has not been a backward version of England waiting to catch up, but something quite distinct. Politically, Scots have known what it is to be both independent and semi-detached in a way that is less true of Wales (whose institutions, if not its language, culture, and habits, were more completely assimilated) and wholly untrue of English regions since the early Middle Ages. Naturally the past should not determine the future, or we should never have shaken off the multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender. But history can liberate as well as limit and attempts to make a destiny that works with rather than against it are likely to be easier, more successful, and longer lasting. If one day Scotland did take the path of independence, it would be as much in tune with its history as would a future within the United Kingdom.

Image credit: Common Green, or ‘The Green’, Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post An excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. Music from Scotland: a playlist

When one thinks of traditional Scottish music, one instrument usually comes to mind: the bagpipe. Although bagpipes are prominent in traditional music from Scotland, Scottish music branches far out beyond that. In light of Scotland receiving the title of Place of the Year for 2014, we’ve put together a brief playlist of music from Scotland, from chamber music to modern classical.

To learn more about Scotland and why it was voted Place of the Year for 2014, read our Place of the Year archive.

Headline image credit: Photo by PublicDomainArchive. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

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9. Holiday traditions from around the world

Here at Oxford University Press, we’re getting ready for the holiday season, and we were inspired by the new, twenty-first edition of the Atlas of the World to explore holiday traditions from around the world, including our 2014 Place of the Year, Scotland. Take a look at the map below to learn and see a little bit about the food, decorations, and other traditions of holiday celebrations taking place around the world at this time of year.

Image credit: Christmas lights on the tree in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC by Jonathan McIntosh. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. Scottish OUP staff reflect on Scotland as Place of the Year 2014

With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year 2014, we asked a few of our staff members who hail from Scotland to share their thoughts about home. They responded with heartfelt opinions, patriotism, nostalgia, poems, and a little homesickness. Here are their thoughts about Scotland being voted Place of the Year:

*  *  *  *  *

If I had been given a penny each time I was asked in 2014 about the Scottish referendum, I could quite possibly have written off the UK national debt. However, while there was no financial gain in these chats, I did sense that something much more valuable was happening; Scotland was finding its voice again. In the referendum, political debate was no longer a pursuit reserved for a privileged few, but open to everyone. There are some famous traditions in Scotland like haggis, tartan, and 12 year old Speyside whiskies (and I love all three), but I think the most lasting Scottish tradition is a readiness to stand at the vanguard of change. Whether this is manifest in new inventions, poetry, or indeed in changing the nature of political debate, Scotland’s voice is often worth listening to.

I’m glad that Scotland’s story is still being told as part of the United Kingdom but I remain grateful for the events of 2014 and the good they can bring. This year has allowed us to take stock, and hopefully, in the words of Rabbie Burns, ‘To see oursels as ithers see us’ and to change for the better again. I may be biased, but Scotland will always be my place of the year.

– Alistair Shand, Marketing Executive, Oxford Journals, from Markinch

*  *  *  *  *

Kirsty Doole keeps a saltire above her desk. Photo used with permission.

I’m delighted that Scotland has been voted Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. If nothing else, I hope it means that people will think of something other than the stereotypical kilts, haggis, and bagpipes when they think of Scotland. It is a vibrant modern nation full of fantastic culture, rich history, and as we have seen this year, progressive politics. No matter which side of the referendum debate you were on, the level of engagement was really heartening, and spanned the generations; for the first time 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. While 55% of voters decided against independence, the referendum has elevated Scotland in the world’s consciousness, and that makes me one tremendously proud Scot.

– Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager, from Glasgow

* * * * *

It’s a great choice having Scotland as Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. Despite having lived away from Scotland for the best part of 20 years, I’m still a fiercely proud Scot (you can take the girl out of Scotland….). When people hear your accent for the first time, they always want to talk to you about Scotland. Where should they visit? (where do I start!) Is Glasgow scary (not in the least!), do you support Rangers or Celtic (neither, I’m a St Johnstone fan). It’s such a beautiful country, something of which I am reminded every time I take a trip across the border. The colours in autumn are spectacular, the natives are friendly, and its cities are vibrant, cosmopolitan places with plenty to explore. But if you asked me what I missed most about The Homeland, my answer might surprise you. It’s the drinking water. Crystal clear, straight out of the tap, and with no limescale — I’m homesick already.

– Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, from Grangemouth

* * * * *

I don’t think there are many other countries that provoke such a positive sense of belonging as Scotland. We may well have a reputation for being travellers, but no matter how far from ‘home’ or how long you’ve been away, that pride remains strong. When I think of home, it’s not the spectacular scenery that springs to mind (nor the much-maligned weather!), but the warm spirit, welcoming nature and humour of the people. We saw this in the summer of this year where Glasgow was the perfect host for the ‘Friendly Games’ and we see it annually in Edinburgh where the Fringe and Hogmanay are the focus of a global audience. However, my own favourite example of our welcoming, humorous people came in a football match against Italy in 2007 where the visiting Italians were treated to a rendition of ‘Deep fry your pizza. We’re gonna deep fry your pizza.’

— Paul Repper, Commissioning Editor, Primary Maths, Oxford Education, from Aberdeen

*  *  *  *  *

‘Ah dinna ken whit like your Scotland is. Here’s mines.
National flower: the thistle.
National pastime: nostalgia.’
— Liz Lochhead

In recent years, the whole world has caught a glimpse of my nostalgic Scotland. This is something we can all thank Alex Salmond for. As the referendum loomed, it seemed as though the drastic change in governance we were pursuing was based entirely on the first verse of ‘Flower of Scotland’. For those of you who may need a refresher in unofficial Scottish national anthems, this football fans’ favourite refers to Scots king Robert the Bruce sending Edward II of England ‘homewards, tae think again’.

Whichever way we voted in September, I’m pretty sure we Scots can all agree that our nation has been invented by nostalgics. We can wince all we like at Mel Gibson’s attempt at William Wallace, and shout down anyone who asks if we solely eat haggis and shortbread, but we’re just as guilty as the rest of you. I personally, having moved to England less than six months ago, have spun many a yarn about the mysterious land in the north, trying to appear exotic to my Oxford colleagues.

Scotland being chosen as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year warms my nostalgic tartan heart; I always welcome an excuse to quote Rabbie Burns and raise a glass to Caledonia.

— Kathleen Sargeant, Marketing Assistant, Oxford Journals, from Falkirk, Stirlingshire

*  *  *  *  *

I may be somewhat biased but I thought it fitting that Scotland was announced as Place of the Year 2014. In a shortlist dominated by war and varying degrees of civil unrest, Scotland was a beacon of progress and positive political involvement. In the lead up to the independence referendum, held in September, the people of Scotland engaged with their future and their choices in a way rarely seen today, with 97% of people registering to vote. It was amazing to see my relatively small country become the focus of worldwide attention, especially for such a positive reason.

– CJ Cook, Marketing Executive, Law Marketing, from Livingston (but an adopted Glaswegian)

* * * * *

Scotland is my favourite place in the world and I’ve never found a bunch of friendlier people than those you find in Glasgow. Our sausage is square, our squash is called juice, and our pigeon holes are ‘dookits’. You’re guaranteed to make a friend if you travel any distance on public transport. My favourite bit about going home to Scotland is standing in the queue to board the plane. I never truly realise how much I miss the accent until I’m standing there, surrounded by people who over pronounce their ‘r’s’ in the same way I do. That’s when I know I’m nearly home.

– Jane Williams, Senior Marketing Executive, Medicine Marketing, from Inchinnan

Heading image: Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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11. Magical Scotland: the Orkneys

The light in the Orkneys is so clear, so bright, so lucid, it feels like you are on top of the world looking though thin clouds into heaven.

It doesn’t even feel part of the UK: when you sail off the edge of Scotland by the Scrabster to Stromness ferry, you feel you are departing the real world to land in a magical realm.

Nowhere else on earth can you go to a place and see eight thousand years of continuous history in such a tiny space.

Skara Brae is what remains of a neolithic village, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids, kept secret underground until uncovered by a severe storm in 1850. You can walk in and sit down, look around at the stone walls, stone beds, stone cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Recognizably human people lived here, seeing this same landscape and coast, feeling the same wind on their faces that you do, their eyes resting on the doors, hearths and toilets (one in each dwelling).

This is ‘stone age’ but talking about such ages is a misnomer in the Orkneys where they had no appreciable bronze age nor iron age so proceeded from the non-use of one metal to the non-use of another in what is now the best preserved neolithic site in Europe.

Skara Brae by Russel Wills. CC BY SA 2.0 via Geograph.

The Orkneys have been so fascinating for so long that even the vandalism needs to be preserved. In Maeshowe burial mound you can see where Viking tourists who came to the monument, already ancient by their time, wrote graffiti about their girlfriends on the walls. They wrote in Norse runes.

The Orkney islands were the headquarters of the Viking invasion fleets, and to this day the Orkneys are the only place in the world besides Norway where the Norwegian national day is celebrated.

The islands are filled with Tolkeinesque place names like the Ring of Brodgar, the Brough of Birsay, the Standing Stones of Stenness. Sagas were born here, like that of the peaceable 12th century Earl of Orkney, treacherously assassinated and now known as St Magnus, after whom the cathedral is named.

Sagas were created here in living memory. This is where the British home fleet was at anchor and the German fleet still lies. The battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow in 1919 to await a decision on its future. The German sailors could not bring themselves to give up their ships; they opened the seacocks and scuttled them all. At low tide you can still see the rusting hulks of Wilhelmine ambitions to dominate Europe.

If the Orkneys sound bleak and rocky, that would be the wrong impression to leave. They have rich and fertile farming land with green plains rolling on under a pearl sky. People tell folk tales around the peat fires, drinking ginger-flavoured whiskey; an orange cat pads around the grain heaps in the Highland Park distillery, and the islands shimmer under the ‘simmer dim’ of nightless summer days. I should be there now.

Headline image credit: Stromness, Orkney Islands by Geoff Wong. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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12. Reflections on the 2014 Scottish independence referendum

Scotland was selected as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year 2014. We invited several experts to comment on the decision and Scotland’s phenomenal year.

Scotland has remained in the media spotlight throughout 2014 for one reason: the referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. This was the most significant event to have taken place in Scotland since the creation of the Union in 1707. But it hardly presented an edifying spectacle to the outside world. Nationalists constantly complained about England, describing every utterance by a Unionist politician as “cack-handed” or “an insult to the people of Scotland”. Celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and J.K. Rowling who publicly backed the Union were subjected to appalling online abuse. Financial projections were produced which might politely be described as misleading. The proposals for an independent Scotland, in preparation since the foundation of the SNP in 1934, were marked by an astonishing lack of detail — voters were not even told what currency the new state was to have. The official Unionist campaign showed a crippling lack of passion; politicians argued for the status quo while pretending not to. Most Westminster MPs, aware of their unpopularity in Scotland, opted to say as little as possible. Three Scottish MPs from the Unionist camp stepped in to fill the vacuum: Jim Murphy, George Galloway, and, very much at the eleventh hour, Gordon Brown. Brown’s passionate speech, the finest of his career, delivered on the day before the vote, left everyone wondering why he had not become involved in the Unionist campaign sooner.

The campaign, indeed, had dragged on for three years. The SNP might have been expected to hold the referendum soon after their election to government in 2011. But the year 2014 appeared propitious: it was the year of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which could be expected to give a boost to nationalist sentiment, and of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, at which the Scots had destroyed an English army of invasion, leaving the way clear for retaliatory Scottish raids on England. In the event, the Games were hailed as a triumph for Scotland, but had no effect on nationalism, while the Bannockburn anniversary was greeted with widespread indifference, with thousands of tickets at the commemorative event remaining unsold. The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, in which Scots and English had fought and died side by side, carried a more meaningful resonance.

When the referendum was finally held, independence was decisively rejected. 1,617,989 Scottish residents voted for independence, out of a voting age population of 4,436,428: that is, 36.47%. The leader of the independence campaign, Alex Salmond, had declared immediately before the vote that the result would settle the matter for a generation; immediately after it, he challenged the result and called for a second referendum to be held as soon as possible. His colleagues in the SNP, meanwhile, floated the idea of a unilateral declaration of independence: the support of a majority of the people of Scotland, not having been forthcoming, was no longer deemed necessary. In the days which followed, the losers formed themselves into a group called “the 45” (44.65 per cent of those who voted had voted for independence). The name “the 45” recalls, of course, the doomed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, in which ordinary Scots were driven by their highland lords into an ill-advised invasion of England, and were roundly defeated, with catastrophic consequences for Scotland.

Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.
Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.

How does Scotland emerge from all this? The referendum exposed Scotland’s politicians to public view, caused old resentments to be stirred up, and led to the airing of attitudes that would have been better hidden. On the other hand, there was no serious violence and no bloodshed. It is enormously to the credit of the UK government that it permitted such a referendum to be held at all. The UK is now much stronger for having given the nationalists the opportunity to demonstrate that their supporters account for barely more than one in three of the Scottish voting age population.

But what of overseas visitors who may be contemplating a trip to Scotland next year? Do come. Scotland remains a country of unsurpassed natural beauty with a rich and visible history and a warm and welcoming people. By virtue of its membership of the UK, Scotland punches far above its weight in world affairs. Its language is English and its currency remains the pound sterling. The visitor to Scotland will find that there is one particular subject on which its people are united in not wanting to talk about: the 2014 independence referendum.

Headline image: The debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament Building by Colin. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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13. Thoughts in the necropolis

One of Glasgow’s best-known tourist highlights is its Victorian Necropolis, a dramatic complex of Victorian funerary sculpture in all its grandeur and variety. Christian and pagan symbols, obelisks, urns, broken columns and overgrown mortuary chapels in classical, Gothic, and Byzantine styles convey the hope that those who are buried there—the great and the good of 19th century Glasgow—will not be forgotten.

But, of course, they are mostly forgotten and even the conspicuous consumption expressed in this extraordinary array of great and costly monuments has not been enough to keep their names alive. And, of course, we, the living, will soon enough go the same way: ‘As you are now, so once was I’, to recall a once-popular gravestone inscription.

Is this the last word on human life? Religion often claims to offer a different perspective on death since (it is said) the business of religion is not with time, but with eternity. But what, if anything, does this mean?

‘Eternal love’ and ‘eternal memory’ are phrases that spring to the lips of lovers and mourners. Even in secular France, some friends of the recently murdered journalists talked about the ‘immortality’ of their work. But surely that is just a way of talking, a way of expressing our especially high esteem for those described in these terms? And even when talk of eternity and immortality is meant seriously, what would a human life that had ‘put on immortality’ be like? Would it be recognizably human at all? As to God, can we really conceive of what it would be for God (or any other being) to somehow be above or outside of time? Isn’t time the condition for anything at all to be?

Entrance to the Necropolis. Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

If we really take seriously the way in which time pervades all our experiences, all our thinking, and (for that matter) the basic structures of the physical universe, won’t it follow that the religious appeal to eternity is really just a primitive attempt to ward off the spectre of transience, whilst declarations of eternal love and eternal memory are little more than gestures of feeble defiance and that if, in the end, there is anything truly ‘eternal’ it is eternal oblivion—annihilation?

Human beings have a strong track record when it comes to denying reality.

One fashionable book of the post-war period was dramatically entitled The Denial of Death and it argued that our entire civilization was built on the inevitably futile attempt to deny the ineluctable reality of death. But if there is nothing we can do about death, must we always think of time in negative terms—the old man with the hour-glass and scythe, so like the figure of the grim reaper?

And instead of thinking of eternity as somehow beyond or above time, might not time itself offer clues as to the presence of eternity, as in the experiences that mystics and meditators say report as being momentary experiences of eternity in, with, and under the conditions of time? But such experiences, valuable as they are to those who have them, remain marginal unless they can be brought into fruitful connection with the weave of past and future.

From the beginnings of philosophy, recollection has been valued as an important clue to finding the tracks of eternity in time, as in Augustine’s search for God in the treasure-house of memory. But the past can only ever give us so much (or so little) eternity.

A recent French philosopher has proposed that time cannot undo our having-been and that the fact that the unknown slave of ancient times or the forgotten victim of the Nazi death-camps really existed means that the tyrants have failed in their attempt to make them non-human. But this is a meagre consolation if we have no hope for the future and for the flourishing of all that is good and true in time to come. Really affirming the enduring value of human lives and loves therefore presupposes the possibility of hope.

One Jewish sage taught that ‘In remembering lies redemption; in forgetfulness lies exile’ but perhaps what we it is most important to remember is the possibility of hope itself and of going on saying ‘Yes’ to the common, shared reality of human life and of reconciling the multiple broken relationships that mortality leaves unresolved.

Pindar, an ancient poet of hope, wrote that ‘modesty befits mortals’ and if we cannot escape time (which we probably cannot), it is maybe time we have to thank for the possibility of hope and for visions of a better and more blessed life. And perhaps this is also the message that a contemporary graffiti-artist has added to one of the Necropolis’s more ruined monuments. ‘Life goes on’, either extreme cynicism or, perhaps, real hope.

Featured image credit: ‘Life goes on.’ Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

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14. ‘Spectators’ by Ross Hogg

"Spectators" is an observational animation that inverts the expected focus of a football match, turning attention to those on the periphery.

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15. The Scots and the Union of 1707: surly then, uncertain now

The Union of 1707 – which by uniting the English and Scottish parliaments created the new state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain – was enthusiastically sought by some Scots and grudgingly accepted by many more, even if most people would have been happier with a federal union. What until recently most historians had missed was the identification with the Union of Scottish politicians and their supporters who had suffered under the later Stuart regime. In some cases they’d been forced into exile in the Low Countries They were backers of the Revolution (of 1688-90) in Scotland, which they saw as truly glorious. They advocated union as a means of securing the gains of the Revolution (constitutional monarchy, the re-establishment of Presbyterianism and certain civil liberties) and keeping the Jacobites’ hands off the imperial crown. This was a union based on Whig principles – religious, civic and economic. It was effected, as far as Scotland was concerned, through the persistence of a number of driven individuals some of whom had advocated closer union with England in 1688-9, and were still around in 1706-7 to vote for this in the Scottish Parliament.

I take issue with the centuries-old shibboleth that in 1707 the Scots had been, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘bought and sold for English gold’, by a ‘parcel’ of roguish politicians. The Union of 1707 was not the betrayal of the Scottish nation its critics had long asserted, a measure to be overturned if Scotland was to be set back on its rightful constitutional trajectory – not as a stateless nation within the British union state but as an independent nation state.

Yet support for the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland has grown strongly since the 1970s, along with disenchantment with the British state and Westminster. Scots’ identification with Britain has fallen sharply, with most Scots now feeling more Scottish than British.

Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via
Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

It’s pretty clear that the Union is more vulnerable today than at any previous time since the Jacobite risings of 1714-5 and 1745-6. The props upon which it was built either no longer apply – its core purpose was to ensure that Queen Anne was succeeded by a Protestant (thereby excluding the Catholic claimant, James Edward Stuart, later the ‘Old Pretender’), or are less important. Presbyterianism, the security of which was enshrined (in theory at least) in the first of the two acts that comprised the Union agreement, has ceased to matter for most Scots. Scotland’s economy is no longer under-developed – unhindered access to the English market and to England’s Atlantic and Caribbean colonies were attractions even for Scots who were otherwise opposed to incorporation.

In short, there is a case for saying that the Union is past its ‘sell by date’. Those who are keen to maintain the United Kingdom need to come up with a vision for a Union for the 21st century – or at the very least a rationale – of the kind that inspired Scots to push for such an arrangement in 1707. Many more rallied to defend it – sometimes by risking life and limb – against the Jacobite incursions of 1715 and 1745. Until recently the main pro-Union campaign, Better Together, has been criticized for emphasizing the negative aspects of Scottish independence – ‘project fear’ – rather than the positive virtues of the Union.

Yet support for Yes Scotland – the separatists’ campaign – is (at the time of writing) apparently no higher than around 40% of the electorate, suggesting that when the referendum vote happens, on 18 September this year, a majority of Scots will vote No. Comparison with other nations in Europe that have recently struggled for and achieved independence may tell us something – not least that Scotland’s experience of union with a bigger neighbor has been somewhat less oppressive. Like being in bed not with an elephant as some allege, but a teddy bear. And that currently, notwithstanding its failings, more Scots than the nationalists hoped for still feel comfortable within the Union. It’s a habit that’s lasted for more than three centuries. As things stand, not enough people have found compelling reasons to give it up.

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16. Shamrock and Saltire: Irish Home Rule and the Scottish Referendum, 1914-2014

This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.

While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.

One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.

Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.

One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.

Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.
Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).

The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.

In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.

And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.

Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.

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17. RestUK, international law, and the Scottish referendum

With Scotland voting on independence on 18 September 2014, the UK coalition government sought advice on the relevant law from two leading international lawyers, James Crawford and Alan Boyle. Their subsequent report has a central argument. An independent Scotland would be separatist, breaking away from the remainder of the UK. Therefore, the latter (known as restUK or rUK) would be the continuator state – enjoying all the rights and duties of the existing UK, while Scotland would be new state having none of rUK’s rights and especially no membership of any international organizations it enjoys now as part of the UK. The bargaining power of rUK as to what it might concede of the UK’s rights would be complete, e.g. with respect to a common currency. This legal opinion has created a confrontational atmosphere around the referendum vote and caused anxiety among Scottish voters about to ‘jump into the unknown’.

It is essential to unpack the distracting complexity of the expert international law professionalism of this advice. Firstly, Crawford and Boyle gloss over the actual legal circumstances of the contract of union between Scotland and England, in particular that the Union was a bargain among powers equal in the eyes of international law at that time. More specifically, the England which, with Wales, concluded the Treaty of Union is exactly the same entity standing opposite to Scotland now as then (leaving aside the North of Ireland which has the option under the Belfast Agreement of leaving the UK by referendum).

There is no international standard, in the event of a dissolution of a union, which can provide any objective criterion to determine that Scotland is the breakaway entity. In international law, recognition of new states is largely a matter of the political discretion of existing states. It depends on an international consensus, or lack of it, where political preference may or may not trump any possibly objective standard of political legitimacy, e.g. self-determination by democratic consent. The vast amount of state practice which Crawford and Boyle’s legal opinion displays is misleading insofar as there is, in fact, no definitive legal marker of guidance. This is shown by the fact that England is the continuator state because it is larger than Scotland. Legally, there has to be a continuator state. But since this obviously cannot be Scotland, it must be England. Even Scotland assumes this to be the case.

Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.
Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.

It is necessary to focus upon an international legal history of the individual states, rather than the more general international law offered by Crawford and Boyle. The Anglo-Scottish Union displays a phenomenon that Linda Colley has referred to as the composite state. This is where two or more sovereign nations agree to merge their highest governmental level institution (parliament) into a single state made up of several nations – a state-nation – but other lesser local institutions might remain. In the Europe of the 15th to the 17th century this was a common phenomenon, the most celebrated being in Scandinavia, involving Sweden, Denmark and Norway in a variety of partnerships from the Kalmar Union (1397) onwards. The logic of these partnerships was that they were always open to renegotiation. Now, this is precisely what the English generously recognize in the Edinburgh Agreement. The logic of the composite state does not cover the many cases in which a core nation forms itself into a state and then jealously guards its territorial integrity against dissident minorities, which are then regarded as separatist and destructive of national unity. It is possible that an aura of this type of scenario runs through the legal opinion of Crawford and Boyle, although they have to accept the consensual context of the advice they are being asked to give.

The real issues facing Scotland have to be confronted on a basis of equality and mutual consent in accordance with the international law established as apposite for this case. These issues are a matter of history, not merely that of the 17th-18th century, but also the evolution of the 1707 Treaty of Union (implemented through separate Acts of Union passed in the Scottish and English Parliaments) to the very recent past – especially the Thatcher years and the neo-liberal revolution in English-dominated UK politics. It has to be recognized that there are profound differences of social philosophy now between Scotland and England around the issue of neo-liberalism and the defense of community. These provide good reasons to revisit that 1707 bargain. This revisiting should be on the basis of complete equality. The sharing of common institutions of the United Kingdom, such as the currency, would have to be negotiated after reaching an agreement in which neither side – as so-called continuator state – would have a higher standing.

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18. The problem with moral knowledge

Traveling through Scotland, one is struck by the number of memorials devoted to those who lost their lives in World War I. Nearly every town seems to have at least one memorial listing the names of local boys and men killed in the Great War (St. Andrews, where I am spending the year, has more than one).

Scotland endured a disproportionate number of casualties in comparison with most other Allied nations as Scotland’s military history and the Scots’ reputation as particularly effective fighters contributed to both a proportionally greater number of Scottish recruits as well as a tendency for Allied commanders to give Scottish units the most dangerous combat assignments.

Many who served in World War I undoubtedly suffered from what some contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists have labeled ‘moral injury’, a psychological affliction that occurs when one acts in a way that runs contrary to one’s most deeply-held moral convictions. Journalist David Wood characterizes moral injury as ‘the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation’ and declares that it is ‘the signature wound of [the current] generation of veterans.’

By definition, one cannot suffer from moral injury unless one has deeply-held moral convictions. At the same time that some psychologists have been studying moral injury and how best to treat those afflicted by it, other psychologists have been uncovering the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for our moral convictions. Among the central findings of that research are that our emotions often influence our moral judgments in significant ways and that such judgments are often produced by quick, automatic, behind-the-scenes cognition to which we lack conscious access.

Thus, it is a familiar phenomenon of human moral life that we find ourselves simply feeling strongly that something is right or wrong without having consciously reasoned our way to a moral conclusion. The hidden nature of much of our moral cognition probably helps to explain the doubt on the part of some philosophers that there really is such a thing as moral knowledge at all.

Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1977, philosopher John Mackie famously pointed out that defenders of the reality of objective moral values were at a loss when it comes to explaining how human beings might acquire knowledge of such values. He declared that believers in objective values would be forced in the end to appeal to ‘a special sort of intuition’— an appeal that he bluntly characterized as ‘lame’. It turns out that ‘intuition’ is indeed a good label for the way many of our moral judgments are formed. In this way, it might appear that contemporary psychology vindicates Mackie’s skepticism and casts doubt on the existence of human moral knowledge.

Not so fast. In addition to discovering that non-conscious cognition has an important role to play in generating our moral beliefs, psychologists have discovered that such cognition also has an important role to play in generating a great many of our beliefs outside of the moral realm.

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, quick, automatic, non-conscious processing (which he has labeled ‘System 1′ processing) is both ubiquitous and an important source of knowledge of all kinds:

‘We marvel at the story of the firefighter who has a sudden urge to escape a burning house just before it collapses, because the firefighter knows the danger intuitively, ‘without knowing how he knows.’ However, we also do not know how we immediately know that a person we see as we enter a room is our friend Peter. … [T]he mystery of knowing without knowing … is the norm of mental life.’

This should provide some consolation for friends of moral knowledge. If the processes that produce our moral convictions are of roughly the same sort that enable us to recognize a friend’s face, detect anger in the first word of a telephone call (another of Kahneman’s examples), or distinguish grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, then maybe we shouldn’t be so suspicious of our moral convictions after all.

The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.

The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/?p=75592&preview=true#sthash.aozalMuy.dpuf

In all of these cases, we are often at a loss to explain how we know, yet it is clear enough that we know. Perhaps the same is true of moral knowledge.

Still, there is more work to be done here, by both psychologists and philosophers. Ironically, some propose a worry that runs in the opposite direction of Mackie’s: that uncovering the details of how the human moral sense works might provide support for skepticism about at least some of our moral convictions.

Psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene puts the worry this way:

‘I view science as offering a ‘behind the scenes’ look at human morality. Just as a well-researched biography can, depending on what it reveals, boost or deflate one’s esteem for its subject, the scientific investigation of human morality can help us to understand human moral nature, and in so doing change our opinion of it. … Understanding where our moral instincts come from and how they work can … lead us to doubt that our moral convictions stem from perceptions of moral truth rather than projections of moral attitudes.’

The challenge advanced by Greene and others should motivate philosophers who believe in moral knowledge to pay attention to findings in empirical moral psychology. The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.

And if there is moral knowledge, there can be increased moral wisdom and progress, which in turn makes room for hope that someday we can solve the problem of war-related moral injury not by finding an effective way of treating it but rather by finding a way of avoiding the tragedy of war altogether. Reflection on ‘the war to end war’ may yet enable it to live up to its name.

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19. Announcing the Place of the Year 2014 shortlist: Vote for your pick

Thanks to everyone who voted over the few weeks as we considered our 2014 Place of the Year longlist. Now that the votes are in, we’ve narrowed the nominees down to a shortlist of five, and we’d love your thoughts on those as well. You can cast your vote using the buttons and read a bit about each place and why they made the list below.

The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist


  • The highest peak in the United Kingdom is Ben Nevis, which is located in Scotland and measures 4,409 feet or 1,344 meters.
  • The Scottish referendum, held in September 2014, drew a staggeringly high percentage of the population and resulted in Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.


  • Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe.
  • Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine, was universally recognized as part of Ukraine until a referendum held in March 2014 resulted in Crimea voting to unite with Russia, a union that is not universally recognized and has caused controversy in Ukraine and the rest of the world.


  • Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country.
  • Brazil was the host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Ferguson, Missouri

  • Ferguson is part of St. Louis County in Missouri, about twelve miles away from the county’s namesake city.
  • The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, and the protests that followed, sparked a worldwide conversation about race relations in summer 2014.


  • The Palestinian Authority was given control of the Gaza Strip by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2001.
  • Gaza has been the site of a great many disputes between Israel and Hamas. Most recently, the region saw fifty days of violence stretch through July and August of 2014.

Keep following along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous winners.

Image credit: Old, historical map of the world by Guiljelmo Blaeuw. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. Immigration and emigration: taking the long-term perspective for our better health

Immigration is an inflammatory matter and probably always has been. Immigrant groups, with few exceptions, have to endure the brickbats of prejudice of the recipient population. Emigration, by contrast, hardly troubles people — but the departure of one’s people is not a trifling matter. I wonder why these differential responses occur. It seems to me that humans are highly territorial and territory signifies resources and power. Immigration usually means sharing of resources, at least in the short-term, while emigration means more for those left behind and brings hope of acquiring even more from overseas in the long term. This might explain why those most needy of settled immigrant status — asylum seekers, the persecuted or denigrated, and the poor — are most resisted while those least in need of immigration status, such as the rich, are often welcomed.

Notwithstanding, consternation about migration it is rapidly leading to diverse, multiethnic and multicultural nations across the world. Many people dislike the changes this brings but it is hard to see what they are to do except change themselves. The forces for migration are strong, for example, globalization of trade and education, increasing inequalities in wealth and employment opportunities, and changing demography whereby rich economies are needing younger migrants to keep them functioning.

Whether you are a migrant (like me) or the host to migrants it is wise to remember that migration is a fundamental human behavior that is instrumental to the success of the human species. Without migration Homo sapiens would be confined to East Africa, and other species (or variants of humans — all now extinct) would be enjoying the bounties of other continents. Surely, migration will continue to bring many benefits to humanity in the future.

Harmony Day by DIAC images. CC BY 2.0 via  Wikimedia Commons
Harmony Day by DIAC images. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

My special research interest is in the comparative health of migrants and their offspring, who together comprise ethnic (or racial, as preferred in some countries) minority groups. There is a remarkable variation in the pattern of diseases (and the factors that cause diseases) among migrant and ethnic groups and very often the minorities are faring better than the recipient populations. Probing these patterns scientifically, especially in the discipline of epidemiology, which describes and interprets the occurrence of disease in large populations, helps in understanding the causes of disease. There are opportunities to apply such learning to improve the health of the whole population; migrants, minorities and settled majority populations alike.

Let me share with you three observations from my research areas that help illustrate this point, one concerns heart disease and diabetes, another colorectal cancer, and the third smoking in pregnancy. Coronary heart disease (CHD) and its major co-disease type 2 diabetes (DM2) have been studied intensively but still some mysteries remain. The white Scottish people are especially notorious for their tendency to CHD. Our studies in Scotland have shown that the recently settled Pakistani origin population has much higher CHD rates than white Scottish people. Amazingly, the recently settled Chinese origin population has much lower rates of CHD than the white Scottish people. These intriguing observations raise both scientific questions and give pointers to public health. If we could all enjoy the CHD rates of the Chinese in Scotland the public’s health would be hugely improved.

Intriguingly, although colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes share risk factors (especially high fat, low fibre diet) we found that Pakistani people in Scotland had much lower risks than the white Scottish Group. This makes us re-think what we know about the causes of this cancer. In our scientific paper we put forward the idea that Pakistani people may be protected by their comparatively low consumption of processed meats (fresh meat is commonly eaten).

Might the high risk of CHD in Pakistani populations in Scotland be a result of heavier tobacco use? The evidence shows that while the smoking prevalence in Pakistani men is about the same as in white men, the prevalence in Pakistani women is very low. Smoking in white Scottish woman, even in pregnancy, is about 25% but it is close to nil in pregnant Pakistani women. This raises interesting questions about the cultural and environmental circumstances that maintain high or low use of tobacco in populations. These observations raise public health challenges of a high order — how can we maintain the cultures that lead to low tobacco use in some ethnic groups while altering the cultures that lead to high tobacco use in others?

The intermingling of migrants and settled populations creates new societies that provide innumerable opportunities for learning and advancement. While my examples are from the health arena, the same is true for other fields: education, entrepreneurship, social capital, crime, and child rearing to name a few. This historical perspective on human migration, evolution and advancement can benefit our health, as well as providing a foundation to contextualize the challenges and changes we face.

Heading image: People migrating to Italy on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea by Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy (Immigrati Lampedusa). CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Place of the Year 2014 nominee spotlight: Scotland [quiz]

As voting on the Place of the Year shortlist continues, we’d like to spotlight a second contender in the race – Scotland. Scotland drew the world’s attention this year as a referendum was held for the country’s independence in September 2014. Test your knowledge of the country by answering the following questions.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist

Keep voting and following along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous Place of the Year winners.

Image credit: Largs Pencil by Dave souza. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. The Oxford Place of the Year 2014 is…


As voting for the shortlist came to a close, Scotland took home the title of Oxford’s Place of the Year 2014. This region of the United Kingdom came into spotlight when nearly half its citizens fought to pass the Scottish independence referendum, which would have allowed Scotland to declare itself as an independent country.

But what happened in September wasn’t Scotland’s first effort to break away from the United Kingdom. Back in 1979, the majority of Scottish residents were in favor of devolution, which would pass the powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom over to the Scottish Assembly. However, despite the public favoring this move, only 32.9% of the electorate voted “Yes” to this referendum.

Then Scotland appealed for power again. In 1997, the second devolution referendum made way for the formation of the Scottish Parliament, which effectively gave Scotland control of its domestic policy. At an overwhelming majority nearing 75% of citizens and 45% of electorates in favor, the Scottish Parliament was established and held its debut session in July 1999.

Holyrood - Parliament of Scotland
Holyrood – Parliament of Scotland. Photo by lbpyles. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

After surpassing the other shortlist contenders — Ukraine, Brazil, Ferguson, and Colorado — Scotland undoubtedly marked the history books despite the referendum failing to pass. But as evident in Scotland’s history, this probably won’t be the last we hear of them.

Read up on our Place of the Year archive, and remember to check back for more posts about Scotland. Let us know what you think of this year’s Place of the Year in the comments below.

Featured headline image: Calton Hill. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

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23. Looking back at Scotland in 2014

With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year for 2014, we’re looking back at some of the key events that put Scotland in the news this year. News of the Scottish Independence Referendum dominated the headlines, and politicians, economists, and analysts discussed and debated Scotland’s role both in Europe and on the global market. However, a number of other important events also put Scotland in the news this year, including playing host to multiple sporting events, passing a bill that will legalize marriage in December 2014, and seeing the first female First Minister of Scotland take office. Here is a look back at Scotland in 2014, in pictures.

Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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24. Looking beyond the Scottish referendum

In British constitutional history, 2014 will undoubtedly be remembered for one thing and one thing only — the Scottish independence referendum. ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ was the deceptively simple question that veiled a far more complex reality. This complexity was revealed in the pre-election build-up as the three main parties offered concession upon concession in order to head-off a ‘Yes’ vote. As such, ‘No’ did not mean ‘no’ but a preference for ‘devo-max’ and a model of devolution that was ‘as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85% of the population’ as Gordon Brown put it. But what did the Scottish independence referendum really expose about the changing nature of politics?

This week’s recommendations by the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution (full control over income tax rates and bands, devolution of some element of VAT plus Air Passenger Duty, the devolution of responsibility for some welfare benefits, etc.) represents the latest but not the final stage in the post-referendum politics of devolution in the UK. Indeed, just hours after the Smith Commission had been published more than 100 English councils demanded more powers — ‘Its England’s turn now’ — and David Cameron committed the coalition government to publish an English votes plan by Christmas. English votes for English laws are not quite the same as the devolution of powers that is demanded by local authorities from Cornwall to Cumbria but it does suggest a need to stop — step back — and reflect upon the broader implications of the Scottish independence referendum. I’ve attempted to answer five questions below to help tease out some of the broader issues.

What did we learn?

We learnt a huge amount about democratic energy and participatory zeal. Doom and gloom about democratic apathy and public disengagement from politics was replaced with a vitality and verve that was almost tangible as every school hall, pub, and youth club was filled with debates about the pros and cons of independence. The lesson for the political parties and politicians is that public will engage in politics when they feel they have been given a meaningful role, a real choice, and a say in matters such as their country’s fiscal policy. The statistics speak for themselves: 4,283,392 people voted (85% turnout) and as Robert Crawford hoped, Scotland has emerged as a stronger country with an intensified (and globally admired) sense of itself as a democratic place.

Tenement block in Leith (North Junction Street/Lindsay Road junction), with both YES and NO referendum posters and Union flag. By Brian McNeil CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Tenement block in Leith with both YES and NO referendum posters and Union flag. By Brian McNeil CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

What is the key challenge?

The Scottish independence referendum breathed new life into politics and the question for all the main political parties is how to sustain and channel that democratic energy in other ways and across the UK. This won’t be easy as the Scottish referendum tapped into a number of very deep historical and cultural issues in order to generate its energy but there must be some way to harness and replicate the civic energy and civic engagement that Scotland displayed with such pride. Put slightly differently, if the main political parties cannot offer some of the hope and belief that energized the referendum campaign on both sides then the more extreme populist parties will feast upon the political frustrations that currently exist.

Where does this leave us now?

Confused and divided. Confused in the sense of lacking any real understanding of what the United Kingdom is any more, both constitutionally and politically; divided in the sense that there is no shared agreement amongst the main parties about what is to be done. To some extent — and as James Mitchell highlighted, this is not a new situation for the UK but I would argue that the situation is now more extreme. It’s increasingly a unitary state in the very loosest sense of the term but the parties are divided on the best way to deliver a new sense of equilibrium within the system. More devolution to Scotland unleashes similar demands from other parts of the UK but the culture of Westminster and Whitehall lacks the capacity to deal with the constitution in a ‘joined-up’ manner. The current situation is therefore one of classically British ad hoc, unprincipled muddling through — with the recent devolution agreement between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the leaders of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority being a case in point.

Is the post-referendum UK experiencing a ‘constitutional moment’?

Yes, it probably is but this is the problem. The Scottish independence referendum was a ‘democratic moment’ in the sense that there was a bottom-up pressure for change that was accommodated by the democratic process. The post-referendum discussions and debates have, however, been undertaken at an elite level and the most telling evidence of this comes not in the form of the Smith Commission but in the work of William Hague’s committee on ‘a fair settlement that applies to all parts of the UK’. When announcing this committee the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that ‘it is also important we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance in our United Kingdom…we will say more about this in the coming days’. But so far these plans for ‘wider civic engagement’ have remained undisclosed. The idea of a national Citizens Assembly has been rejected and as a result the UK is experiencing an elite-driven top-down ‘constitutional moment’ but certainly not a ‘bottom-up public-led’ democratic moment.

What is the big issue that no one is talking about?

One of the most positive elements of the Scottish independence referendum had nothing to do with the quality of the debate, the inclusion of a cross-section of society, or the level or turnout. It had everything to do with the simple fact that two countries were able to decide upon their mutual futures through peaceful and democratic means. This was an independence referendum that was not driven by war, crisis or disaster; nor did it demand battle or bloodshed; and the results were peacefully accepted with grace and goodwill on both sides. In a world that too often seems bloodied and bowed by territorial politics maybe this is the ‘big issue’ that we should be talking about and learning from.

Heading image: Flags outside Parliament by Calum Hutchinson. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. Scotland is a different place now

One of the ironies of the Scottish independence referendum is that Scotland is widely recognised to be a changed place despite the majority voting in favour of the union. It became clear during the course of 2014 that something significant was happening. Scotland witnessed levels of public engagement and debate never before seen. Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Glasgow 1960’ comes to mind. Returning to Glasgow ‘after long exile’, MacDiarmid’s narrator encounters packed trams heading for Ibrox, the home of Rangers football club, but discovers that the crowds are going to listen to a debate between ‘Professor MacFadyen and a Spainish pairty’ and that newspapers with headlines ‘Special! Turkish Poet’s Abstruse New Song’ were selling ‘like hot cakes’.

The Scottish Question may not have been debated on quite so elevated a level but debates were conducted the length and breadth of Scotland in a remarkably civil, engaging, and open manner. Those who sought to portray these debates as something sinister could do no better than refer to a professional politician who had an egg thrown at him while he addressed meetings on top of an Irn Bru crate. The dull, limited, predictable, binary debate of the conventional press contrasted with the expansive, lively, and engaging discussions that took place in often novel venues in every nook and cranny of Scotland. The Scottish Question, as debated by the public, was not restricted to a narrow constitutional question but became a genuine dialogue about what kind of place Scotland should seek to become. The referendum started a process that has not been halted by the outcome of a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country, the formal question that provoked this all-embracing national conversation.

The result of referendum and reaction to it has been in stark contrast to the referendum on devolution 35 years ago. In 1979, Scots had narrowly voted for a very limited form of devolution – 51.6% in favour on a turnout of 63.7% – but the measure on offer was not implemented as it failed to achieve the weighted majority demanded by Parliament at Westminster. The expectation in the run-up to that referendum had been that a decisive majority would vote for devolution. The slight numeric majority hid a defeat in expectations. Expectations were very different in the months leading up to September 18th this year. Early in 2014, opponents of independence thought that they might push support for independence below 30% and were still convinced that it would win less than 40% only a few weeks before Scots went to vote. In the event, 55.3% voted for the union on a record turnout of 84.6% but it has been the 45% that has been celebrated as victory. It has been the membership of the Yes parties, that has increased dramatically, with the membership of the Scottish National Party now dwarfing that of the other Scottish parties. With just under 100,000 members, the SNP can claim to be the only mass party in the UK today. Politics is an expectations game and supporters of independence knew that they had a ‘mountain to climb’, in the words of the chair of the official Yes campaign.

As opinion polls narrowed towards the end of the campaign, a ‘Vow’ was signed by the three main UK party leaders promising substantially more devolution while protecting Scotland’s share of public spending. This means that even the debate around the narrowed constitutionalist understanding of the Scottish Question will continue. More powers will be delivered with ramifications for the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland is a changed place but an answer to the Scottish Question remains as elusive as ever.

Headline image credit: Glencoe, Scotland panorama by Gil Cavalcanti. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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