Why is there such a lack of humour in the Scottish politics?
’Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ singer Cyndi Lauper may not be the name on the lips of most Scottish politicos, but her observation ‘Humour is a great vehicle for getting a message across. If you get too serious, you could die of starch’ ought to always be in the back of more of their minds and more often.
Scotland may suffer from a lot of problems; our dependency on the public sector constantly cripples a private sector which has constantly under-performed, our dietary habits very often lead us to early deaths, and our attitude towards alcohol is self-destructive at the best of times (although our politicians continue to try exactly the wrong policies over and over again in an attempt to confirm the layman’s definition of madness), but we have never lacked a sense of humour.
From the blunt, caustic humour of the Glaswegians to the hilarious story-telling ability of the Highlanders, to the slightly snobbish, self-aggrandising wit of my fellow Edinbuggers (this is the most polite term I’ve heard from my fellow Scots for someone with an EH postcode, the rest being unprintable), we are a funny people. To a certain extent it is a source of cultural pride when we observe our southern neighbours’ attempts to be funny. Christopher Hitchens once observed that ‘women aren’t funny’ without any ill-feeling towards them as a gender, and this commentator fully suspects that we Scots can hold such an opinion with regard to the rest of the UK; it’s nothing personal, we’re just funnier. So, why is this humour absent from our politics and, especially, from the debate surrounding our constitutional future?
This commentator does not suggest for a moment that aspects of the referendum do not have their serious elements. Monetary policy, diplomacy and the proposed re-organisation of our political landscape are serious subjects, and flippancy would be detrimental to serious debate. However, this is going to be a long debate and will be in dire need of comic relief. Rory Bremner is off to a good start in inquiring why our world-leading British satire is so absent from the political scene of what is arguably its funniest nation, but more must be done.
The nature of Scottish politicians may be part of the problem. None of the party leaders are especially funny in their performance and this commentator suspects that, if they are not exactly working with Comedy Store level material, their supporting casts are of much the same level. Regardless, the job of the politician is to be the straight man of satire, so it is perhaps unfair to blame the politicians themselves. They ought to be the joke rather than making them.
Having raised this subject with a number of people, the same point eventually surfaces. The proposal that there is an uncharacteristic humour-vacuum in operation in Scottish politics is answered with advice to dive into the wealth of online opinion and editorial commentary available.
Admittedly, some of the propaganda pretending to be news (mostly on the separatist side) is comical in its lack of self-awareness and inflated sense of self-importance akin to the behaviour of a leader of a small cult, but this is not the same as humour. Alternatively, one is usually instructed to pick a side and observe how side-splitting are their barbs directed at one another are (Who could forget classic wordplay like ‘Bitter Together’? Not I). Once again, this is not the humour required, and it often descends into dull mudslinging and ‘jokes’ aimed at satisfying one’s own rabid support, rather than saying anything genuinely funny or observant.
The comedy required by Scotland’s political scene is an objective one, a view which mocks both sides in equal measure and seeks only to satisfy itself. We could be seeing Alex Salmond characterised as Caligula, Willie Rennie as an apologetic and forgetful schoolboy, or even Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of Mary Queen of Scots character: the possibilities may not be endless, but there are more of them than are currently being created.
We need a Scottish-flavoured comedy, targeted at our relatively newly-devolved political framework, one which will hold the establishment to account and act as a conduit for the disenfranchised to find something interesting in the matters which impact their daily lives. Such enfranchisement through the funny-bone is of special importance with the impending referendum and it is the humorist who will achieve it effectively, the political institutions not having the best record in such matters.
Our sense of humour is one aspect of being Scottish of which we are rightly proud. With our biggest decision in over three hundred years facing us, our humorists need to step up, else we stand to be a nation dead of starch.