Ethically Speaking: Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing

Ethically Speaking: Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing

Ethically Speaking: Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing

Ethically Speaking: Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing

Excerpt

In Scottish Literature: Character and Influence (1919), Gregory Smith described a central antithesis in Scottish literature. On the surface, he wrote, Scottish literature gives the impression of cohesion in form and in subject matter, but closer consideration reveals how varied the literature is, subject to the “stress of foreign influence and native reaction, almost a zigzag of contradictions” (Smith: 4). The phrase Smith playfully coined to describe this, the “Caledonian antisyzygy”, was rather overused and oversimplified in Scottish studies throughout the twentieth century. The “zigzag of contradictions”, however, is perhaps a more enabling term, since it implies not a static duality but a constant movement of contradiction and debate beneath the surface.

Contradiction and debate rose to the surface with the reestablishment of a Scottish parliament in 1999, challenging the Scots' sense of themselves in ways they had not foreseen. With substantial powers devolved from the UK government in Westminster, the parliament resumed after centuries of absence the sorts of political decision-making on complex social issues that necessarily involve debate over means and ends. Since proceedings were televised for news and current affairs programmes, Scots watching their elected representatives debate such issues were now pitched into a visibly ethical world.

Scottish writers, whose words had helped sustain the pressure for devolved power in the final decades of the twentieth century, might now wonder that its reality has often seemed as fantastic as their fictions. The contradictions involved in taking up such responsibility were brought home very early by public and media reaction to the new Parliament's attempt to repeal a clause in an earlier UK Education Act that had banned the “promotion” in schools of a homosexual lifestyle as an acceptable family form. And moral issues have continued to cause political problems in subsequent years. There have been resignations of two party leaders because of inappropriate use of . . .

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