Beam us up, Scotties

13th December 2013 at 00:00

Let me tell you about a childhood incident that seemed, at the time, like a terrible betrayal.

As was the case with most fledgling geeks about town, the only comic for me was TV21. Styled like a small tabloid newspaper, it ran stories and strips of all the Gerry Anderson television series: Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet. The titular hero of this last show was a member of an organisation called Spectrum. If you were a reader of TV21, you could become one of his junior agents, a "Shade".

I was a Shade. Captain Blue was in charge of the Scottish Shades. I felt that I belonged. Until the joke.

It wasn't a very good joke, but even if it had been hilarious, its appearance in TV21 would have been damaging enough. "A Scotsman lay dying in a hospital. The doctors asked if he had any last requests. He asked for a bagpiper to come in and play for him. He recovered. The other patients died."

Eight-year-old neurons fired furiously in all directions, simultaneously failing to form words of outrage and to come up with an anti-English joke (for some reason, I saw morris dancers as a suitable target for racially abusive retaliation). I thought I was part of TV21. I was a Shade. But they made jokes about my country. What was going on? Where was Captain Blue?

"Massive over-sensitivity to a crap joke" might be your answer to that penultimate question. Fast-forward to Star Trek. When she saw Lieutenant Uhura for the first time, Whoopi Goldberg ran to her mother shouting, "There's a black woman on TV and she ain't no maid." I might well have done something similar: "There's a Scottish man on TV and he isnae a drunk football hooligan." Let's leave aside the fact that James Doohan was Canadian. He might have been, but Scotty was Scottish.

Warp drive to the near-present. I voted for devolution, not out of any feeling of alienation, of not being an equal partner in the UK or because my country was stereotyped in the media. I did so because I wanted to protect education. I believe that as a nation, we have a different attitude from that of our siblings to the south, although it is not necessarily better (even if it feels that way) and certainly not perfect.

Don't feel I'm being facetious or downbeat when I say that I value the right to risk getting it wrong in our own way. It was the education voucher idea that swung it for me. It seemed completely alien, this idea that you paid, albeit with money given to you, for your own child's education. I wanted my taxes to contribute to the learning of every child.

In suggesting that this is a uniquely Scottish view, I may well offend some non-Scots. That's not really my point. Devolution was a chance to do something about it, so I took that chance. And if I have offended someone? Consider it payback for TV21 and, like most payback, it'll have missed the legitimate target.

Gregor Steele is a head of section at the Scottish Schools Education Centre.

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