"Telling old stories, and singing songs, that make me think about where I came from"

Posts tagged ‘Scotland’

Who cares what happened all those years ago?

On the 3rd October, 2011, I wrote an article for Scotland’s best political blog, Betternation, entitled, ‘The use and abuse of history in the independence debate: calling all historians to the table’. In it, I made the case for Scottish historians to step up and play a part in the independence debate, if for no other reason than to debunk the myths which abound on either side of the argument. ‘Too wee, too stupid’, may seem like an outdated argument from the unionist camp, and some of you will revile at this characterisation of their position, but it is an argument that is continually employed. And harking back to the brave Scots’ patriots, the corruption and bribery of those who voted for union, and the Gaelic, Dalriada myth from the pro-independence side may, again, appear glib. But it is harked to again and again. It might often be subtle, but our national myths – our historical narrative – may I even say, ‘Scotland’s story’ – provides the framework for so many of the constitutional debates which are currently taking place in our native land. In fact, in many ways, all political parties are involved in trying to shape a story of Scotland in which they are placed into the centre of the narrative. Just think about the SNP’s claim of being, ‘Scotland’s party’. And if one takes a look at Scottish Labour’s website which has had a cosmetic make-over since the election of Johann Lamont as their leader, then you will notice that little has changed, but the saltire has been emblazoned across it like a jingoistic and slightly eccentric uncle at a family wedding.

Just a couple of days ago, on the 19th March, a historian answered my call. Boston College PHD student, Craig Gallagher, made his contribution on Betternation in an article entitled, ‘The challenge of historical preconceptions’. In it, he argued that the Darien Scheme – Scotland’s failed attempt at setting up a colony – was far more complex than the simplistic glorious failure that is so often portrayed, and as it appears in the collective consciousness of modern Scots. Gallagher claims that Darien is often harkened to as an example of what happens when the Scots are left to their own devices. In effect, the unionists cry, Scotland needs England, Scotland is indeed, ‘Too wee, too stupid’. In the comments thread, unionists and nationalists (note the small ‘n’) alike became rather heated in their responses to one another. You could be forgiven for dismissing this as the usual crass and offensive to-and-fro of political anoraks who have nothing better to do than traipse over the same old ground; over and over again. But there is something deeper going on here. If you take the time to really think about it, these are the battles – the exchanges of words – between two markedly different Scottish identities. This is not a new phenomenon and, as I argue in much of my research, it is perceptible throughout the seventeenth century. But recognising the independence debate as, at least in part, a confliction of rival identities, will, in my opinion, allow us to better understand what is going on. And if you’re partisan, as this writer is, then it may – just may – allow us to frame arguments from our respective camps which tap into the bigger picture; into the real reason certain people find the whole debate so inflammatory.

So what am I saying here. Well, not terribly much. I welcome Craig Gallagher’s contribution and commend him for what was an excellent article. I also recognise the rival Scottish identity which is currently entrenching itself, each day feeling a little more surrounded by those who would so quickly wrap themselves in a saltire. Most importantly, however, I’m making another impassioned argument for the importance of history. There is a reason why we find alzheimers – or for that matter, any other disorder where one loses their memory – so terrifying. Primarily because without memory, without a history, we are no longer who we believe ourselves to be, we are stripped of our identity. This is why history is so important in all aspects of our lives and particularly important to the ongoing Scottish constitutional debate. I just hope more historians follow Gallagher’s lead.


Cameron must be on the pay roll

Me in Lanzarote

It’s once again been awhile since my last post, but I hope you can understand the Christmas holidays are hardly conducive to blogging. In the intervening period I have been back in Scotland, have taken a jaunt to the Canary Islands for New Year, and I am now back in the cold, rather dark, fairly bleak, but surprisingly welcoming Uppsala. After the events of late last year my head is a little more, ‘back in the game’. So bring on some history, a bit of blogging, and my half-hearted attempts at learning the lingo.

But I have a little confession. It’s not events in Sweden that have caught my interest this week, but rather the tumultuous roller-coaster that is the run-in to the independence referendum.

I am somewhat out of the loop in my self-imposed exile. The occasional glance at the British media tells me things are hotting up back home, and my former flat mate has gone ‘super-nat’ on me with his updates from his own little exile in Belfast. It’s funny how it’s the nats I know who have left Scotland. Anyway, as Gary put it, we’ll be flocking back before 2014.


David Cameron and Alex Salmond

Well, for the independence referendum of course. Westminster have decided to intervene in Scotland’s constitutional quagmire and I am left thinking that David Cameron must be on the SNP payroll – or at very least Salmond has something juicy on him. Why would a Tory Prime Minister believe it a good idea to tell the Scots what to do? Because let’s be honest, that is what he has attempted. And what has been the result, a surge in support for independence and a sky-rocketing in the level of new recruits to the SNP. The whole affair has shown the utter ignorance that Westminster MPs have of Scottish public feeling and sensibilities. Or rather, the ignorance of the Tories. I still believe the Liberal Democrats have a little more awareness, but having sold their souls, they are left tagging along behind their blue masters like some pathetic wretch – images of Nick Cleg merged with Gollum come to mind.

What of Labour? Well Tom Harris MP decided to make a video parodying Alex Salmond as Hitler – now that was a wise move. At no point did he stop and take a breath, have even the slightest of clarity, and realise this was going to back-fire big time. Ed Miliband has done, well, nothing other than coalesce London-Labour’s position to the Tories. And Johann Lamont (the Scottish Labour leader for those who don’t know) has been less than clear. In fact, her press statement – all the more worrying because it must have been written by a communications team – left anyone who heard it rather confused, certainly less clear on Labour’s position than when she started muttering, and let’s face it, a whole lot less intelligent for having had to endure the speech.

I can almost imagine the conversations that occurred in Westminster a few weeks ago. First between the cabinet, then some calls from staffers making sure all London parties were singing from the same song-sheet. It’s almost possible to hear David Cameron saying,

‘We need to have a full frontal assault on the SNP.’

‘Let’s force them into a corner.’

‘We can outsmart those Scots, they’re just jumped up councillors after all.’

‘I mean, who gives a damn about Scotland, but we need to keep them in the UK: there’s all that oil and what if we were forced off the security council?’

Salmond, for his part, has run rings around Westminster this week. The SNP have played an absolute blinder. There is of course a lot more two-and-fro to come. There will be times that independence looks inevitable, and times when the union looks stronger than it ever has.

These are the musing of an outsider, a patient – and sometimes not so patient – observer. But one thing is for sure, I’ll be out knocking the doors with the best of them. Westminster has thus far underestimated the SNP. I think they may have learnt their lesson this week. But then, never underestimate the ignorance, contempt, and sheer egoism of Cameron et al. They would do well to note that this is the moment the SNP was born for. But then, I would rather they continue the way they’re going.

Too long

It’s been quite awhile since I last blogged. I’m not sure if I really want to anymore, but I thought I’d give it a bash again. It’s a little like trying on a jumper that fell down the back of your drawers; you remember it, it brings back some nice and warm feelings; but it’s old, you’ve been there and done that, you’re not sure if it’s for you anymore.

Sweden has snow. That might be a little like saying, ‘bears *cough* in the woods’, but it’s taken its time to arrive. Even then, in fairness, it’s hardly covering the ground. The famed snow of Sweden seems to have given me a body swerve. In other weather related news, Scotland had hurricane winds and a tornado in Glasgow. No, the tornado was not part of my dream to remove the weege from the map, it genuinely happened. 

Anyway, I’m abundantly aware that this has become word spew; the inner and not so logical workings of my mind. Scotland is beckoning and as of Thursday I’ll be back in the land of whisky and heather – and fish suppers, strokes, alcoholism, and sectarianism. Scotland is like that rough pal – we all have one of them – you know, the guy who you meet for a pint now and again, you kind of tolerate him because he makes you feel real, like you have your feet on the ground, and let’s face it, you kind of like his crass pathetic self-loathing which makes your life feel all the better. It’s self-affirming. Well, if we accept that description, then Sweden is like your posh upper-middle-class friend who went to private school in Edinburgh, whose daddy is a business man, who plays golf, laughs too often and in a rather snorty fashion, who believes everyone owns a piano, wears jumpers his granny knitted but somehow makes them look good, and who generally makes you feel a little inadequate.

My relationship to each country follows in a similar vein: sometimes I feel I could really fit in here, I enjoy the company of my perfect friend, it seems to really fit my personality. But then sometimes, you get sick of how safe you feel, you become tired of the constant conformity of conscience, the equality of it all. Sometimes you just crave a greasy pie, a cheap pint, and the banter of that grotty but strangely homely pal. Sometimes you just want to be in Caledonia.

Anyway, if any of you have got this far and actually followed this train of thought, then, well, unfortunately I have no prize to give you. But good on you and I promise next time my post will be more lucid.

Home Sickness

It’s only been a couple of days since my last post, so I’ll keep this brief. Homesickness is in no way what I expected. It’s rather like any time in your life when people you care about move away, or perhaps you’re really busy and don’t have the time to do the things you would like to do. I miss Irn Bru, Dundee United, my friends, girlfriend, family, and general calamity of life in Scotland. The hardest part is feeling that you are out of the loop, somehow life seems to move on without you and you’re stuck static. Whilst none of that is true, it’s how it feels during the increasingly long, creepingly cold, nights.

This post is really a shout out. I’ve always been a bit of a political anorak, so I was delighted to be introduced to the blog BetterNation last year. Whilst watching the election results trickle in on that fateful eve in May; Iain, Andrew, Gary, and myself were glued to BetterNation for a bit of analysis. Gary and I (the two SNP members in the room) were apprehensive to believe what we were seeing, we couldn’t risk the notion that a majority could be possible, lest it disappear in front of our eyes. We needed affirmation from our favourite political blog.

Now that I’m in Sweden a helpful alleviation of that, ‘I’m out of the loop feeling’, is to follow BetterNation. Ironically, the authors of BetterNation are ex-pats themselves, exiled in London for their sins. But it helps me keep track of the goings on in Holyrood. So thanks.

Do you think there’s enough links in this post? Here’s one more for good measure: http://www.betternation.org/





Sour yoghurt doesn’t go well with coffee

Not for coffee

As the title suggests, I had my first little accident in Sweden. Surviving without coffee was not something I was ever going to do, but when I bought sour yoghurt – thinking it was milk – and added it to the already cheap and nasty coffee, I got a fairly revolting surprise which left me caffeine-less for an evening. It’s a mistake I have no intention of repeating, and I’m pleased to announce, that I have now figured out the Swedish word for milk – mjölk. Don’t ask me why that was hard.

Settling in a new country is a little like being a recovering alcoholic; you have good days, you have bad days. Today is a good day. Everything seems a little easier now and I’ve regained some of my focus; if not really started any serious reading. Being a masters student is rather different from my time as an undergraduate. We have access to a study room exclusively for postgrads, we have a little kitchen to prepare food, 24hr access to the buildings, and an air of superiority – maybe that’s just me. Having been set some reading for one of my courses I was surprised to notice a name

Chris Storrs

I recognised. The book in question was written by Chris Storrs, a Professor at Dundee who taught me during honours. I have to admit that I’ve never read any of his work before. It feels a little strange coming all the way to Sweden to read the works of my former teachers in Scotland. I’ve also decided that most of what I’ll be tackling for my assignments will be Scottish history – which begs the question why I’m in Sweden. Well, I suppose there’s the little fact of no fees.

In the last week I’ve realised how poor Scottish football is, not only because of our defeat to the Czechs (which was hard to swallow), but by watching the Swedish third division and noticing a parity with the SPL, I’ve continued to be sunburnt – Scottish skin is not made for this climate – settled into my new home, enjoyed class, played football with Swedes, drank coffee, had fika, liked fika, refused to eat raw heron, and began to enjoy the whole experience.

Julie visits on Wednesday… I’m counting the days. So much to catch up on, so much to see. For now, spare me a thought as I tackle the mountains of reading that I have been set. I need to make space for my favourite Scottish girl who will have my undivided attention for the latter part of this week.

A different ‘Scot in Sweden’

The year is 1812, Thomas Thomson visited Sweden and recorded his thoughts. I came across them and thought they might be of interest. Got me wondering if it has changed much…

“The principal merchants in Gothenburg are Scotsmen. In consequence of letters of introduction which we carried to several of them, we experienced from that liberal and respectable body a profusion of kindness and politeness which it was impossible to surpass, and which it would be very difficult to equal. The want of inns, and our ignorance of the Swedish language, would have made it very difficult for us to have procured dinner while we stayed at Gothenburg, but this difficulty was obvaited by the merchants, with one or other of whom we dined every day during our stay in that city. The entertainments which they gave were in the Swedish style, and possessed a degree of splendour at which I was not a little surprised. As the mode of dining in Sweden is very different from the mode followed in Great Britain, I shall give a general description of a dinner, that my readers may form some notion to themselves of the customs of that country.

The houses in Sweden are fitted up with great magnificence. The public rooms are usually on the first floor, and vary from three to seven or more according to the size of the house and the wealth of its master. These rooms always open into each other, and constitute a very elegant suite of apartments.The furniture though very handsome is not similar to ours. You seldom see mahogany chairs; they are usually of birch or of some other wood painted. As the table cloth is never removed they have no occasion for our fine mahogany tables, and as the dishes are brought in one by one, and the dessert and wine put upon the table before the company sit down, they have but little occasion for a side-board. Accordingly, except in the house of Mr. Lorent, who had a very splendid side-board made in London, I do not recollect to have seen one in Sweden, even in the houses of men of the first rank. The rooms are not provided with bells. This I am told is owing to the extreme cheapness of servants in Sweden, which enabled every person to keep such a number as rendered bells unnecessary. This reason, which I do not consider as a very good one, exists not at present, for since the loss of Finland the wages of servants have considerably increased. Bells, therefore, might now be introduced with the greatest propriety; and to a foreigner, from Britain at least, they would constitute a great convenience. I have sometimes been obliged to go three times to the kitchen during the course of my breakfast, to ask for things that had been neglected or forgotten by the servants.

The Swedes are fond of great parties. I have more than once sat down to table with nearly 50 people in a private house. The hour of dinner is two o’clock. After the company are assembled they are shown into a room adjoining the dining-room. In the middle of this room there is a round table covered with a table-cloth, upon which are placed bread, cheese, butter and corn-brandy. Every person eats a morsel of bread and cheese and butter, and drinks a dram of brandy, by way of exciting the appetite for dinner. There are usually two kinds of bread; namely, wheat-bread baked into a kind of small rolls, for I never saw any loaves in Sweden: and rye, which is usually baked in thin cakes, and is known in Sweden by the name of nickebroed. It is very palatable but requires good teeth to chew it.

After this whet, the company are shown into the dining-room, and take their seats round the table. The first dish brought in is salmagundy, salt fish, a mixture of salmon and rice, sausages, or some such strong seasoned article, to give an additional whet to the appetite. It is handed round the table, and every person helps himself in succession to as much of it as he chooses. The next dish is commonly roasted or stewed mutton, with bacon ham. These articles are carved by some individual at table, most commonly the master of the house, and the carved pieces being heaped upon a plate are carried round the company like the first dish. The Swedes like the French eat of every thing that is presented at table. The third dish is usually soup, then fowls, then fish (generally salmon, pike or streamlings), then pudding, then the dessert, which consists of a great profusion of sweet-meats, in the preparation of which the inhabitants of Gottenburg excel. Each of these dishes handed about in succession. The vegetables, consisting of potatoes, carrots, turnips, cauliflowers, greens, &c. are handed about in the same way. During the whole time of dinner a great deal of wine is drunk by the company. The wines are claret, port, sherry, and madeira. What they call claret at Gottenburg does not seem to be Bourdeaux wine. It is a French wine with a taste intermediate between claret and port. At Stockholm I drank occasionally true claret; but scarcely in any other part of Sweden. As all the wine used in Sweden is imported from Great Britain, our wine merchants can probably explain this circumstance though I cannot.

The Swedes employ the same articles for seasoning their food as we do, salt, peppar, mustard, vinegar, &c. I was struck with one peculiarity which I had never seen before: they always mix together mustard and sugar: I had the curiosity to try this mixture, and found it not bad. The dinner usually lasts about two hours. On a signal given the company all rise together, bow with much solemnity towards the table, or rather towards each other, and then adjourn into the drawing-room. Here a cup of coffee is served up immediately to every individual. It is but doing the Swedes justice to say that their coffee is excellent, greatly preferable to what is usually drunk in England. This is the more remarkable because the Swedes import all their coffee from Britain: its quality therefore is not different from that of our own, and its superiority owing solely to their understanding better how to make it. You can get coffee in the meanest peasant’s house, and it is always excellent. It is usually about five o’clock when coffee is over. The company separate at this time, either going home to their own houses, or sauntering about in the fields if the weather be good.”

The waiting game

You know that feeling when something has gone wrong in your life and it’s a few months down the line? You learn to come to terms with what happened but there will be the odd day, the more recent the unfortunate event the more regular these will be, where you just feel lost, and down, and frustrated. I’m beginning to realise that moving country entails the same concoction of emotions. The move to Sweden has become a waiting game with little annoyances thrown in. A large part of me doesn’t want the day of departure to come and another side of me is desperate to rip that plaster (band-aid to my American friends) off, step on the plane, and begin my Swedish adventure. Note, if I ever use that term again please hit me, throw me off a bridge – or for the more polite – ask me to refrain from clichés.

There still seems a lot of little things to do. Pack, sort out the relevant documentation, perhaps glance at a timetable of events for the first week, get an EU medical card, say goodbye to people, then say goodbye to more people, have what I’ve come to term ‘the Last Supper’ with my girlfriend (Julie is her name, just thought I’d throw that in there, an introduction I mean), and take a breath, look around, and make my peace with Scotland. Anyway, some of these will be fun, some emotional, some time-consuming, some annoying. I’m not a details person.

Am I methodically working my way through the above list? In a word, ‘no’. Instead I’ve read for pleasure, read for research, gone for a walk, enjoyed the sun, gone for a swim – well down a flume and traversed some waves – drank coffee, eaten Chinese food, cooked fajitas, written blogs, read up on football, watched some football, done some work, shopped, and shopped, and shopped, and done anything which comes to mind that isn’t in the list of ‘things to do for Sweden’. Currently I’m sitting in a pub under my old flat: a pub which is providing free internet, mediocre coffee, and a not so alluring smell of human faeces.

I’ll get around to the organisational side of things. For now I’m feeling fairly contented, enjoying glancing at the International Buddy Page for Uppsala University and awaiting my inevitable fate. 

Planning for Sweden, worrying about Sweden, deciding not to go, then go, then not…

I don’t usually get phased by big changes. I really don’t tend to think about life defining events or decisions until the precise moment when they kick in – in this case it would be stepping on a plane from Edinburgh to Stockholm. For some reason, though, this time is different.

Maybe I’m becoming a worrier in my old age – if mid-twenties can be defined as such. Maybe it’s just how big a decision this really is. I mean, I’ll be leaving Scotland for two years to study in a country I’ve been to once before. The thing is, I can’t quite pin point why I’m so nervous about the whole affair. My girlfriend, for her sins I guess, is having to deal with a rather temperamental version of me just now. At the slightest moment I snap at her – can’t be much fun. Maybe the whole thing will make sense if I go through some of my thoughts – apologies for the incoherence of this post.

Money, or lack thereof, is a serious cause of stress right now. I’m not too concerned about my financial situation a few months into my Swedish stay. The problem is the initial outlays; hotels (note the plural), first month rent on my apartment, food, clothes, books, and the distinct knowledge that my biggest weakness is blowing money on nothing-much-in-particular.

Missing home. This one is odd for me. I spent my whole life growing up dreaming of foreign lands, believing Scotland to have lost any charm or sense of adventure that it may once have had.  I remember reading somewhere that the Swedes have a word which roughly translated means ‘home blindness’. It conveys the idea that people never fully appreciate the merits of the place they call ‘home’. I think that idea can be expanded upon, because it is an affliction that particularly the young suffer from. Recently, and maybe because the reality of leaving has set in, I have begun to realise how great Scotland really is.

Leaving my life; Dundee, family, girlfriend, friends, and so on, and on. The same as missing home but a little different. By this I mean the personal aspect of home sickness, not merely missing my country and the things which I am used to, but missing the people who are part of my life.

Ok, now the big one, the constant nagging questions: Why the hell am I going to Sweden? And, why am I going to do a Masters when I, ignoring the arrogance, know that I could have gone and got a fairly well paid job? I’ll leave these questions unanswered and open-ended right now. I have to admit that the allure of a graduate scheme for some faceless corporation, as soulless as it may sound, is still a temptation that I’ve not fully managed to deal with.

Why is any of this helpful or worth reading? Well, I guess a lot of people who are about to head off to Uppsala, Lund, Stockholm, Edinburgh, or really anywhere that means going to a foreign land, are suffering the same doubts and indecision. If you don’t feel like this at all then I’d chance a guess that you will, or have, at some point. The reality is that we are never sure that a certain path is the right one. Particularly when our chosen path seems to preclude other hitherto options. I’m sure I’ll go to Sweden, figure out my finances, enjoy the novelty of it all, get excited about snow, get bored of snow, enjoy the academic challenge, blog, praise and curse skype in equal measure, and moan. Definitely moan, because if you’ve never met any Scots before then bear this in mind, we like to moan.

Oh, and just for you Troy if you’re reading, the price of alcohol in Sweden is playing on my mind as well.

Neil Oliver, Scotland’s answer to Marmite

From the Scottish public to foreign visitors, students to professional historians; everyone has an opinion of Neil Oliver. To those of you who fit none of the categories above, Mr. Oliver is the rugged, long-haired presenter of the BBC’s ‘History of Scotland’ series. His gruff Ayreshire accent provides the same opening line to each programme, a line which reverberates around my head, a line that is so tempting to imitate, ‘Welcome to Scotland’.

That the BBC has seen fit to create this series is evidence of the growing interest in Scottish History. There seems no coincidence that since the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999 a barrage of books on the early-modern Scottish Parliament have been written. However, between 1900 and 1999 only a handful were released. The correlation seems too obvious to discuss further. Like any television broadcaster, the BBC create programmes which respond to the interests of their audience. There is no doubt that the ‘History of Scotland’ series has been successful, with impressive viewing figures to support this evaluation. The problem, for some, arises when we consider that this series is the only source of Scottish History which many people are exposed to.

Admittedly it is an ambitious project, with a £2million budget to boot. But it was hit by controversy when Professor Alan MacInnes of the University of Strathclyde resigned from the advisory board. He was angered by the ‘anglocentric’ nature of the programme, an early indication of the objections which would be repeated by many others, that with the creation of this series the BBC had an obvious political agenda to downplay Scotland. It was then revealed that Professor Tom Devine of the University of Edinburgh – a historian who holds an almost God-like position in Scotland’s academic community – had refused a position on the project’s advisory board. Without any meaningful academic contribution to the programme’s creation, could the programme go beyond the repetition of tired and outdated myth?

As if to confirm this, the BBC then compounded the problem – in the eyes of many – by hiring the charismatic archaeologist Neil Oliver as the programme’s presenter. Note ‘archaeologist’, not ‘historian’. I’ll always remember the disdain with which the academics at Dundee discussed Neil Oliver in a panel lecture I attended.

I find it hard to believe that from the plethora of academics in Scotland the BBC could not have found one who was articulate enough, charismatic enough, attractive enough, to present a programme on Scottish History. I am confused as to why they would not have tried harder to maintain the support of the academic community by having an advisory board with appropriate credentials. And I don’t understand why they felt it necessary to traipse over the same old stamping ground that we are taught as children in primary school. But, and you knew there was going to be a ‘but’, despite these minor objections I actually really like the BBC’s ‘History of Scotland’. I even really like Neil Oliver (please, please don’t tell anyone).

The objections are motivated by academic snobbery, political victim mentality of the ilk of ‘the BBC are an arm of the British establishment and will do anything to undermine Scotland’. The reality is that this series has filled a vacuum in Scottish broadcasting. It has brought what is too often the reserve of students and geeks alike, to the mass public. Through Neil Oliver’s idiosyncratic style he provides excitement to what can often be dry subject matter.

For better or worse, one thing is undeniable, the ‘History of Scotland’ is the BBC’s contribution to something far bigger than History education. It is playing a part in the awakening psyche of a nation which is desperately trying to define itself. That the mouthpiece for this series doesn’t have a History degree seems irrelevant to me.


Ever noticed how Dundonians are permanently moaning about Dundee but equally are the first to defend it?  They’ll also probably live here for the rest of their lives. People who live in Dundee for any length of time tend to adapt to this schizophrenic relationship with the city.

Dundee is an anomaly. It’s not obviously beautiful and prestigious like Edinburgh, it lacks the middle-class financial district that Glasgow boasts, and it doesn’t have distinguishing features like Aberdeen’s perma-grey sky. But it does have a unique charm. Take a step back for a second and truly think about it. The student bubble is concentrated in a tiny area of the westend surrounded by iconic pubs like the Speedwell (known as Menies to the locals). If you visit Speedwell’s facebook page it has fans from places as far afield as Vancouver. Dundee is a city that infects you deep down. I’m sure everyone thinks fondly of the city they studied in but there’s something magical that lights the eyes of Dundee alumni when you mention our grotty little city. The problem is I can never pin down exactly what it is that makes us feel this way. It seems simplistic to say it’s the student night life. The Union is great but there must be something more.

A friend has just this second changed her facebook status to ‘just watched the sun going down over the River Tay this evening. That’s why I go to uni in Dundee (the only reason)’. Maybe that’s it. Dundee is in a beautiful geographic position with the city rising from the banks of the Tay and the sunsets are enough to put everything into perspective – even if it lasts merely seconds. There’s also something different about the kind of people that come to Dundee to study. Something a bit more real, down to earth, and rebellious. Like the city, the University has a unique character. We’re not like the other ancients but we’re not one of the new kids about town either.

To me Dundee embodies modern Scotland. It has a plethora of ‘old man bars’, dwindling industries and the scars of those that have already left. Pulling in the other direction is a Scotland embodied by the cultural quarter (by that they mean the DCA) but also investment in the water-front project, the Victoria and Albert Museum and a burgeoning biotechnology industry. Look at the city’s politics: a microcosm of the trends in Scottish politics, where we see Labour gripping on to one MP – the only bulwark to total SNP domination over the city. To me this is what Dundee is all about. It doesn’t hide itself away like St. Andrews or Edinburgh, it doesn’t have localised concerns like Glasgow but instead has all facets of Scotland and unashamedly presents them.

The mentality of Dundonians is also a representation of Scotland. We harken to the past but there is a confident, forward looking and progressive beast that is slowly awakening. Dundee is an exciting place to live and study – I just hope it can retain its charm as it strides forward into the unknown.