Friday, 1 August 2008

Train in Vain

I see the blogosphere has already seized upon this story, seen on the front page of today's Scotsman - but I want to throw my own thoughts out there on it.

Transport Scotland is set to unveil bright new livery featuring the saltire on all of its trains across Scotland - for the first time ever a uniform look for Scotland's trains.

Now - you may call me a nationalist (duh!) and think that this view is informed by this, but I can't for the life of me see anything wrong with it. For one thing, it makes the trains look neat and tidies up the old-fashioned and tired looking "blood & custard" colours of SPT. It might be a superficial change of image - but image is important to the tourists we want to attract - and this is just another way of marketing Scotland. We're not just all about shortbread and tartan. And what better way of improving the look of our transport infrastructure than marketing the trains with saltires in time for Glasgow hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games? Plus, the planned livery looks pretty cool.

What's that you say? Not everyone agrees? Labour peer Lord "George of the Jungle Union" Foulkes says its tantamount to "independence by creep". He reckons the saltire is an SNP symbol and the Scottish Government's rebranding exercise is merely sticking their political symbol all over Scotland's infrastructure.

What a load of crap. Last time I checked - last Thursday gave a decent indication - the SNP's symbol was a black thistle shape on a yellow background.

The saltire - for Lord Foulkes' information - is one of the oldest national flags in the world, far older than the SNP. It's a symbol of nationhood and a recognisable feature of Scottish nationality. And using it to market Scotland makes sense.

Also, I note this, from the Scotsman article:

"Transport Scotland, whose own logo was inspired by the Saltire, stressed work on the new train design had started before the SNP came to power last year."

Might want to check the background to something before slinging the mud, m'laud.


Anonymous,  1 August 2008 at 16:24  

I think you've misrepresented George Foulkes’ comments. He doesn't reckon the Saltire to be an “SNP symbol”.

On the contrary, he thinks that your party is attempting to appropriate it as a nationalist icon. In that regard, his comments are consistent with the Conservative Party spokesman’s.

Now, about the timing. The design agency (Redpath) initially pitched to Transport Scotland in March last year. They’ve been working on the brief for just under a year.

Stephen Glenn 1 August 2008 at 19:24  

Have to agree there it is sadly being used for aulteristic motives within the SNP for a while now. Every SNP car moving through Glasgow East recently was flying a Saltire from the roof.

It's the same as for me back home, I'm proud of both my Irish and British ancestry, in fact my desk at work has both Tricolour and Union Flag on it. But the provincial flag of Ulster is used by certain sections in the same way that the SNP are attempting to highjack the Saltire to the detriment of the actual national flag, as recognised globally, of the UK. Both are valid symols of nationhood as with the Red Dragon, or Flags of St. George and St. Patrick.

However, I quite like the livery just hate the infighting over who owns what flag, I've been through that all my life already ; ENOUGH!

Sam 2 August 2008 at 13:20  

Nationalism is and always will be the ugliest & most divisive of ideologies. Appropriating an icon which mean a lot to many people for the overt political purposes of a party which does not represent all those people is always going to piss off those others, and denigrate the meaning of the icon.

If the SNP wants to unite the Scottish people behind a concept of Scotland as a political identity it needs to recognise that there will always be differences of opinion and multiple identities within that Scotland. It, the SNP & Scotland, should be large enough to enjoy those differences, not to hide them beneath faux-patriotism.

Paint the trains by all means, like most people are saying it does look good (though "blood & custard" is an intriguing idea!), but don't pretend using such symbols is non-political.

Sam 2 August 2008 at 14:23  

Thinking about what I wrote above, it may seem as though I'm anti-SNP, anti-Scotland and/or anti-independence. I'm not, I'm just very anti-nationalist. I wouldn't, even though you invited us to, call you nationalist Malc. Because I've heard you speak, argue, and cheer for Scotland in the Six Nations, and you're intelligent & articulate, and nationalism is not. It's biased, uncritical & negative. It proclaims superiority without question, and the 20th century has taught us the dangers of that over & over again. It creates & breeds on fear of the threat of difference, and it allows no criticism.

It's possible to love your country and still criticise it when its wrong (Dan Parks against Wales anyone?!). It's through that criticism that we try to make our countries better. That should be the goal of politics.

With regards to the SNP, if they and the people of Scotland believe that betterment will come through independence, then go for it and good luck to you. That's surely a far more important issue than the colour of the trains & some Lord's reaction to that. But sadly its on the trivialities where politics seems to focus too much these days.

Anonymous,  2 August 2008 at 15:33  

I find it all rather amusing.

Anonymous,  2 August 2008 at 15:40  

"Have to agree there it is sadly being used for aulteristic motives within the SNP for a while now. Every SNP car moving through Glasgow East recently was flying a Saltire from the roof."

Look what I found Stephen.

Anonymous,  2 August 2008 at 15:42  

"It's biased, uncritical & negative. It proclaims superiority without question, and the 20th century has taught us the dangers of that over & over again. It creates & breeds on fear of the threat of difference, and it allows no criticism."

Ah, so the SNP are Nazis? Ding, ding. Godwins rule. You lose.

Sam 2 August 2008 at 19:11  

Quirk's Exception perhaps? But nice try, just try to remember Benford's Law in future.

Malc 2 August 2008 at 21:34  

Wow... where do I start?!

Mr Unionist - my understanding of the timing comes from the Scotsman report which states they were pitching before the SNP won the May election. However, if, as you say, it wasn't until March last year, I bow to your superior wisdom.

On the Foulkes comment, I accept that he probably did mean - that he thinks - the SNP are trying to appropriate the saltire as a nationalist icon. I disagree with him - I think they are using it as a national icon, which is what it is. And using it to advertise/ market Scotland is something that should be applauded, not run down.

Also, what the Conservative spokesman said was derivative of Dave's 'ugly stain of separatism' comment - comparing the SNP to the BNP was unnecessary, bad press and, well, simply wrong.

Other than that, their comments were spot on...

Malc 2 August 2008 at 21:39  

Stephen - agree, mostly. No one owns the flag. And while the SNP used it in Glasgow East, there's nothing stopping other parties from using it... unless, *gasp* they're ashamed of their Scottishness...

Malc 2 August 2008 at 22:00  

Sam, Sam, Sam... where do I start?!

Think you're first comment might've been written either when you were particularly mad about something or a bit druunk... either way, its a bit out there.

I don't think you're anti-SNP, anti-Scotland or anti-independence and recognise your anti-nationalism - believe it or not, it kinda shone through your comments...

And I am a nationalist Sam. But I'm a nationalist in the 21st Century - not the 20th. Your view of nationalism is the predominent view of the electorate (at least pre-2007) that we all want to emphasise the differences between ourselves and the rest of the world, prove our racial supremacy and try and take over the world.

The SNP - like nationalist brethren in Wales, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Quebec and numerous other places - exist for political purposes. They believe that their nation can exist better politically separate. They want to celebrate the distinct culture that exists and safeguard its future. That for me is the difference between the civic nationalism that I subscribe to and the ethnic nationalism tore Europe apart in the 20th Century.

You are right - it is possible to love your country and still criticise it (Dan Parks et al). My nationalism doesn't proclaim superiority. It simply believes that a system of government that allows a nation control of its own affairs is a better system than we currently have.

I do agree that, sadly, it is the trivialities that politics is focusing on. And its not like Foulkes doesn't have previous on this - he's called the SNP xenophobic before. It's just sad - as you say - that this is a FRONT page story when there's much more going on.

How's that for an explanation of my position?

Anonymous,  2 August 2008 at 23:13  


I'll limit myself to two themes.

1. Timing. Your sarcasm aside, I think we’re agreed that the pitch was made before the May election. But we don’t know when it was awarded, and we don’t know how Stewart Stevenson’s claim that “the design pre-dates the administration” can be married with the report at that the agency were working on the brief for under a year. We do know that Stewart Stevenson admitted to “minor fine tuning” of the plans. I’m not sure how that all fits together.

2. The much misrepresented George Foulkes. Do you have a link for him calling the SNP “xenophobic”? I googled that and similar terms and (other than the famously unreliable Wikipedia) could only come up with him saying this: “I'm not suggesting for a second that the SNP are racist, or indeed, anti-English”, which doesn’t quite tally with your apparent recollection.

Malc 2 August 2008 at 23:44  

Mr Unionist,

I wasn't really trying to be sarcastic. I took the timing from the Scotsman article - all I meant was that if you had hard fact that it was wrong, then I accepted it (without checking at that point as I was being lazy). Agree we don't know how it fits together - though I would suggest that "minor fine tuning" would not equate to "radical overhaul of original plans" meaning the saltire was probably part of the original design. But again, I'm just speculating.

On your second point, it was in a tv debate pre election last year.
Link here:

I'm not suggesting Lord Foulkes thinks the SNP are xenophobic because he doesn't like the design for trains. He just doesn't like the SNP. Fair enough really - most Nats don't particularly like him - or indeed Labour politics very much.

But, can I make one thing clear? As I mentioned in response to Sam, these things are the trivial things in both politics in general and the constitutional question in particular. Surely we can rise above them - as Stephen Glenn says, no one owns the flag.

Anonymous,  3 August 2008 at 00:28  

Agreed re "trivia". Thanks for the link, but anyone following it can see that it's not quite the same thing.

Sam 3 August 2008 at 14:43  

Hmmm maybe that came across not quite how I intended it. The SNP certainly isn't nationalist in a bad way, neither is the desire to live independently from the Union under a distinct Scottish identity a bad thing. I thought I had made it clear that actually I support that principle of government on a local level, provided the people want it (and I can't understand why the SNP doesn't just ask them if they do).

Going back to the lessons of history, I find the British Empire and the whole English colonial project to be uncomfortably similar to National Socialism (yes Nazism if my Cyber friend is reading), and so putting power back into the hands of those who had it taken from them in the past seems fair & necessary.

So really I do agree with your point on "civic nationalism" Malc. I just worry, like you I think, that arguments with people like Baron Foulkes of Cumnock (and doesn't that title just say it all) degenerate all too quickly into the trivial, and that important symbols such as the Saltire do get tarnished by association. That is something the SNP has to be as careful about as anyone though. Don't let your civic nationalism become something like the thing that (as you well observed!) I get mad at when I'm drunk.

Malc 3 August 2008 at 17:28  

Mr Unionist,

I think coming at this from a nationalist perspective versus a unionist one we probably won't find common ground. It might not quite be the same thing - but its pretty close.

And your quote from Baron Foulkes - "I'm not suggesting for a second that the SNP are racist, or indeed, anti-English”.

That - for me - is Foulkes all over. Putting the SNP, racist and anti-English in the same sentence - it doesn't matter what the other words are or whether, as he was her, saying that he wasn't suggesting they were linked - is pure politics. The same type of politics that the Baron is accusing the SNP of with the saltire train livery.

I suspect both he and you know that.

Malc 3 August 2008 at 17:38  


I think there are potentially three reasons why the SNP haven't asked the people yet. For one, they said they'd do it in 2010 - which gives them 3 years to show how good they could be. Equally if they tried now a referendum bill in the Scottish Parliament would be shot down in flames (though I expect support from one W. Alexander...)

Also, the majority of people in Scotland are not convinced EITHER WAY about devolution, independence or staying in the union. We all forget in this clamour for a referendum that it was only 1997 when the referendum for devolution was held, only 1999 when it was delivered - not even a decade ago. It takes time for these things to bed in - which is why leaving a referendum a bit longer is not that daft an idea.

And thirdly, despite what opinion polls say (they were BADLY wrong about Glasgow East) I think that a vote at the moment may be swayed in favour of independence. Not because the SNP have won that particular argument yet - which I do believe will happen - but because the UK Government has been so incompetent and the Scottish Government (comparatively, at the very least!) so good. I think it is responsible not to hold it now as people may vote for it without actually wanting independence (yet). Allow the population time to see what the SNP can see already - Scotland's potential for change.

After that - I'll try to stop sounding like a party political broadcast - I will agree with you about the Empire. It was expansionist nationalism of a similar kind. The difference being that it was based (not wholly I will concede) on economics - although I think we did have an element of racial (or at the very least national) supremacy thinking going on.

One more thing - find more fun things to be doing when your drunk!

Anonymous,  3 August 2008 at 18:26  


Your suspicion is baseless, at least in my case.

Here's an example of the kind of relationship that exists between what SNP politicians say and the way such ideas can develop in the wild.

Sam 3 August 2008 at 18:30  

Well technically I was/am hungover, which may explain some things. Don't laugh however, I just saw this.

I particularly like this:

"Almost half believed Scotland's record of heavy drinking was a source of shame - but two thirds also said it was "a major part of the Scottish way of life".

Having said that, I would rather live in your country than a country which is considering this act of evil.

Stephen Glenn 5 August 2008 at 11:57  

As Malc pointed out in his link and indeed as I've blogged recently other parties have used the Saltire. It is the way that the Nats do shamelessly use it politically that is an issue not it's use.

If every vehicle used in the Glasgow East campaign by any party had flown a Saltire what would have been the perception on the streets. I doubt it would have been that all parties were showing thier Scottishness. Willie Rennie did use it on his signs for Dunfermline and the word Scottish does appear in all the main party designations at election time(Which I have to say does make doing box counts on the longer lists of parties a great deal easier).

But as Crap Holyrood Chat points out today there is a SNP Motion when tries say the flag is non-political but ends with point scoring fopr independence. Just how "non-political" does the SNP view the Saltire?

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