Couldn’t they just go back to blowing up blocks of flats?
The Team Scotland parade uniforms for the Commonwealth Games were unveiled on Sunday and confirmed Glasgow’s determination to win gold in the neck-reddening category.
First Glasgow 2014 proposed an uplifting opening ceremony in which the Red Road flats would be blown to smithereens; now Commonwealth Games Scotland wants to kit out our athletes in apparel so gaudy it would make Dame Edna Everage blanch.
The shirts and dresses are not blue, not quite lapis lazuli, but the psycho-cerulean hue of a particularly vivid Smurfs doll. The kilts and shawls carry an amber, fuchsia, and aquamarine tartan, a curious mixture of the psychedelic and the twee. This is what the Sixties must have looked like in Ecclefechan.
These are paired with knee-high socks with a distinct shade of burnt caramel. Somewhere in Auchterarder, a tea room is missing its curtains.
Is this the best Scottish fashion has to offer? Not by a long shot. Our designers are gaining world renown amid a renaissance in Scottish style. Christopher Kane, Niki Taylor, and Jonathan Saunders are names held in esteem in London, Paris, and New York.
Instead we get these outfits, which look like the flight attendant uniforms for a Jimmy Shand-themed airline. “If you look out the left side of the plane, you’ll be able to see Brigadoon.”
Twitter was less than enthusiastic about this sartorial sacrilege.
Designer Jilli Blackwood is undoubtedly a talented artist. Her work has been displayed at the National Museums of Scotland, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, and St Andrew’s House — not to mention in the United States, Spain, and India.
Commissioned artists have briefs to meet and Ms Blackwood’s brief called for “a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel”. She can hardly be blamed for delivering what she was asked for.
And when she says “[t]here will be no mistaking that this is the Scottish Team as they proudly step out at the opening ceremony,” we feel we must agree.
The backlash is against the design, not the designer, but it’s also about something else. It’s a reaction against a certain mindset amongst the professional class of events managers and marketing gurus paid to promote Brand Scotland.
These consultants are well-intentioned, and not lacking for skill in their area of expertise. Rather, it’s their vision that’s limited.
Welcome to Scotland 2014. We are a diverse, modern, culturally rich society. We are in the middle of an historic national conversation about our identity and our future. We have National Collective and Yestival imagining the early days of a better nation. A revolution is taking place within Unionism and even the most reluctant of devolutionists are thinking the unthinkable about Scotland’s constitutional future.
Scotland is on the move. And yet, if the Commonwealth Games are to be believed, our culture is still trapped inside the shortbread tin. The White Heather Club plays on loop.
Commonwealth Games Scotland chief executive Jon Doig says: “We wanted a parade uniform that had a bold and confident look, but which still retained the iconic Scottish elements of the kilt and unique Games tartan.” When confidence demands cliche and the iconic is indistinguishable from kitsch, we should aspire to be neither confident nor iconic.
That is why Team Scotland’s Kailyard couture has struck a nerve. This is not a function of the Scottish cringe but a reaction against that corrosive self-deprecation passing as a virtue. We are shaking off the inculcated inferiority of don’t raise your hand, don’t stand out, just keep your head down; that artsy stuff is not for the likes of us. The och, wheesht and parental skelp that greeted so much embarrassing creativity in our childhood, locked our history and our literature out of our school curriculum for generations, and institutionalised the furrowed brow as our national facial expression.
No more. Scotland is, in the words of National Collective, “getting ideas above its station”. We are raising our heads, unfurrowing that brow, unchaining our imaginations. This renewed cultural and political confidence is surging through our town hall debates, in the art that we create, in our pub conversations about the referendum. The old volcanoes are rumbling beneath our feet, no one else’s.
This should not be confused with political nationalism. The new Confident Scots are not necessarily Yes voters and many see Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom as perfectly consistent with national self-expression. Our nation and our culture are about larger, more complex things than a cross on a ballot paper on September 18.
Winnie Ewing’s battlecry, “Stop the world; Scotland wants to get on,” no longer belongs just to the independence movement. Come Yes or come No, a proud Scottish identity has been awakened, one that will not settle for the banalities of shortbread chic.