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In Praise of Snobs; OR WHY WE SHOULD ASPIRE TO THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE

Daily Mail (London), January 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

In Praise of Snobs; OR WHY WE SHOULD ASPIRE TO THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE


Byline: RODDY MARTINE

UNTIL his death in 1986, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, owner of a modest Perthshire estate, was always referred to in newspaper columns as the world's greatest snob.

This intrigued those of us who knew him because far from having his nose in the air, Sir Iain was probably the most approachable and charming of men.

Duchesses were extended the same courtesies as a dustman.

But it was his obsession with genealogy that got him into trouble.

He just could not resist namedropping.

It was impossible for him to meet anybody, be they high or lowly born, without taxing them on their fathers and grandfathers, and then coming up with some hypothetical bloodline linking them perhaps to Charlemagne or Bonnie Prince Charlie.

And that, in the eyes of those who make judgments about such things, is what made him a snob.

I suppose the late Sir Nicholas Fair-bairn, baron of Fordel Castle in Fife, and the late Brodrick Haldane, society photographer, were similarly considered to be snobs. Both dressed flamboyantly, boasted family connections, mixed in aristocratic circles and enjoyed the finer things in life - art, music, food and fine wines.

Equally both hated vulgarity and pretension.

Did that make them snobs? If so, then there is a lot to be said for the condition.

Last night a TV documentary entitled simply Snobs took a lighthearted look at what constitutes snobbery in modern Britain. It was fun, but its definition of snobbery was less than conclusive.

Snobbery, whether we choose to admit it or not, is part of our culture and part of our nature and it works on every level, from the schemes of Castlemilk to the rolling acres of Balmoral.

In Edinburgh they ask you what private school you went to. In Glasgow they ask your religion or what football team you support, which is much the same thing.

In Aberdeenshire, you either live on Deeside or on Donside, and if you do not know the difference, have a look at your neighbours. The Queen on Donside, Billy Connolly on Deeside.

To the outsider, this can be a minefield, but that is exactly what it is intended to be. It protects the species.

What makes it worse is that Scotland revels in inverted snobbery. How often do you hear those excruciating, worn-out cliches: 'He's nae good, I kent his faither' or 'We're all Jock Tamson's Bairns'? Such putdowns reveal parallel, if infinitely more insecure, sentiments to those of Moncreiffe, Fairbairn and Haldane.

They are all about knowing your place, but at the same time embody old-fashioned virtues such as a sense of family and belonging. That is what makes them so untenable to those who seek to reinvent themselves.

And because of this, the real problem that has to be faced up to in this 21st century is that snobbery has become confused with one-upmanship.

Genuine snobs do not need to score points.

Yet in our increasingly materialistic society where quality is judged by expenditure, the upwardly mobile class obsession with status is not going to go away. As Scotland's self-confidence grows, so will its preoccupation with image.

So what is it that defines snobbery in the modern Scotland with its parliament and newfound sense of self-confidence?

Pedigree? Material possessions?

Political influence?

It depends upon where you are coming from. For example, nothing will undermine the Virtues self-confidence inherent in knowing that you do not wear white socks with a kilt or use the word 'toilet'. There are those who are taught such trivia before they can walk.

But does it matter? Obviously it does.

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