The Scottish Nationalist Party waited more than 70 years until in May 2007, under the leadership of First Minister Alex Salmond, they formed the new Scottish Government. After an election campaign of pure genius, ideas, music, graphics and more contributing to the attrition of the Labour lead, the country waited for the next big idea.
On the world stage, not in Scotland, but at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York on the 12th November, Alex Salmond revealed his vision – the Scottish Celtic Lion. A Scotland equalling the economic growth rate of the UK as a whole by 2011 them matching that of other small independent EU countries by 2017.
So where did Salmond’s Celtic Lion come from? A series of transpositions which began in the 1980s. The rapidly expanding Asian economies of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, got dubbed the East Asian Tigers. From 1994 Ireland’s economy boomed, due to a number of factors. Membership of the EU, often given as a major influence, with up to 4% of GDP being transfer payments from other member states. Access to the markets of Europe, US investment, assisted by an English speaking, low wage workforce at the time of a high technology boom, amongst others. With a growth rate almost matching the Asian economies, Ireland became the Celtic Tiger.
So after the economic success of it’s near neighbour, the SNP want Scotland to become the Celtic Lion.
Here the comparison could break down. Celtic Tiger is a descriptive term from 1994. Celtic Lion is a much older symbolism which may not fully reconcile itself with Alex Salmond’s vision, but could provide broader, more expansive, inclusive and aspirational objectives for Scotland. A alternative version of the Celtic Lion which if the Scottish Government considered, might be more compatible to the interests of Scotland and more in keeping with the underlying small print of Alex Salmond’s Celtic Lion vision.
As Alex Salmond in New York referred to, and at a later Gaelic college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig lecture, in Edinburgh on the 19th December spoke on, the need for a strong economy and a strong culture to go hand in hand. Perhaps the origins of the Celtic Lion need to be explored.
The Celts were a culture, not an empire, which covered most of Europe in pre Roman times, around 400 BC. A decentralised, trading network made up of individual tribes. After the rise of Rome, the culture continued in the Celtic fringe, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Jewellery and artefacts show the lion was a common symbol in Celtic culture. Without a written record it is difficult to be precise, but it would not be unrealistic to consider it is similar to today’s associations in terms of meaning. Courage, leadership, light, justice etc. The lion also having many meanings in heraldry, depending on how it is presented. The Scottish lion rampant, face in profile, is magnanimity.
Celtic culture had a strong affinity with the natural world, a relationship which persists today, whether in music or simply the way brand Scotland is marketed. Mountains, wildlife, lochs and surrounding seas. In terms of a cultural identity, Celtic Lion is perhaps more representative of leadership in environmental issues, rather than a single goal pursuit of increasing economic growth.
For the SNP Government it is not unreasonable for them to place increasing economic growth at the centre of their vision for Scotland. Alex Salmond is an economist, and one area of contention for the party is Scotland’s oil. In the 1980s, when the high growth economies of Asia were taking off, they had to watch Scotland’s assets contribute to fuelling the consumerism and business centric policies of Margaret Thatcher’s UK Government. A situation they feel Scotland did not get the best end of the deal from. Now in power, why not have the attitude of “we can do that”?
The world has now moved on. Though world leaders discuss climate change, it is only one small part of the need to manage the planet more sustainably. Away from the headlines, beneath the veneer of traditional policies is the quest for the ‘new development model’. Is there a better way to run a country or a planet than the strategies that have brought us to the edge of global ecological life support system collapse?
This may be the vision of Scotland’s Celtic Lion given form, this may be the strategy that fulfils the subtext of the First Ministers speeches better than the pursuit of narrow economic growth strategies. In the quest for independence from the UK, Scotland runs the risk of being dependent on an out of control and increasingly chaotic global dynamic. Far better for Scotland to create it’s own destiny and even have the ability to lead the world to a better future.
The Scottish Government has exceeded many expectations in it’s achievements and conduct so far, golf courses aside. The question is, do they have the courage to surpass their own aspirations? There is a way forward for Scotland which leaves the goal of increasing economic growth in the 80s. Is Scotland brave enough to seek the thistle and grasp it?