When it comes to finding relevant and credible data about Scotland, I fall back on a wry observation that I’ve made many times before. That is that a large part of a nation’s academic output has more to do with seeking gainful employment for bored academics than to learn anything new, useful, and relevant.
That’s why a country like Sweden will spend quite a lot of resources on research into things like the amount of one-legged blacksmiths as a percentage of the High Middle Age population. Further studies will then be conducted about the political and social implications of a high degree, or indeed a lack of, one-legged blacksmiths at that time.
I joke here, but reading the abstracts of some research, one gets the distinct feeling that there has been a meeting at one point where the agenda was to find something, anything, to keep a group of academics together.
Sometimes it is useful to tread water when one is waiting for a more relevant subject, particularly since one still needs to publish in order to gain or retain research grants. That is why this is not intended to be a snide sneer at the important compromises that has to be made in the pursuit of knowledge.
But my joke illustrates one point about Scotland that I think is missed by those in the middle of it. For Swedish academics, it’s natural to focus on Swedish things rather than pan-Scandinavian things. For a Scottish researcher, that leap is not so automatic. As a sub-state in a larger union, a lot of Scottish academic research is about UK wide phenomena.
When a foreigner like me comes along for a crash course in Scottishness, this is a bit of the problem I have when examining polls. Often, the polls will be UK wide, and have a small sub-sample of Scots. One can see them, but one can not draw a definite conclusion. The margins of error are too great when it comes to the sub-sample. Transpose this problem over to other academic research, and the distinct threads and attitudes of Scots are smeared over a much larger canvas together with English, Welsh, and Northern Irish attitudes.
That’s not to say there aren’t exclusive Scottish research. Of course there is, but the point is that unlike with Swedish researchers, there’s no natural without-thought instinct to limit the research to the Scottish perspectives. As researchers in a sub-state of a country, when they want to study phenomena in ‘the country’, they will study phenomena in the United Kingdom and not exclusively in Scotland.
That is the useful observation I made that prompted me to write this post, as a reminder to myself. I must keep this in mind as I continue my research into all things Scottish.
It will make reporting on Scotland more difficult. Without Scottish focused data, it becomes harder to spot trends and attitudes in the population. It becomes easier for the Scottish identity to hide, or be hidden, behind a larger and louder British identity.
It also makes it easier for forces who want to disperse that identity to make a case that Scottish identity is no different from identities elsewhere in the country. And personally, with my own ignorance about Scottish things, it makes it far easier for me to make dumb mistakes and get things wrong.