Scottish self-pity proves Sandi Thom has flowers in her head

Sandi Thom is quitting the music industry.

It’s a bit like me announcing the end of my edible thong modelling career. The ersatz hippie chick had precisely one hit nine years ago and, save for being caught up in an expenses row over Scottish Government sponsored events in 2009, hasn’t done much else of note.

That is until earlier this week, when the 34-year-old went into an epic Facebook meltdown after learning that Radio 2 and the Bauer radio stations would not place her new single ‘Earthquake’ on their all-important playlists.

“F— you Radio 2,” she bawled into the camera. “F— you Bauer network and f— the lot of you.”

You can see why she’s found success as a lyricist.

Most acts have to get BBC and major commercial radio playtime to have any hopes of shifting downloads. All the same, the complaint about being sidelined by the big, bad mainstream broadcasters is ironic. Thom was one of the first UK artists to promote herself through social media, her Sixties nostalgia debut ‘I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)’ going viral and topping the charts in June 2006.

It’s the kind of song that does well in summer: Poppy, mindless mush to listen to in the airport departure lounge en route to Benidorm. A crowd-pleasing encomium to the decade of flower power and tie-dyes, the song’s structure is straightforward and the lyrics bromidic:

“When music really mattered and when radio was king/ When accountants didn’t have control/ And the media couldn’t buy your soul/ And computers were still scary and we didn’t know everything.”

‘Punk Rocker’ is a Back to Basics anthem for superannuated hippies in which Thom yearns for the good old days when you could leave your door unlocked and the local bobby could give Simon Cowell a clip round the ear.

Her story was lapped up north of the border and the Banff-born performer celebrated as one of wir ain done good. The columnist Melanie Reid pegged her early on, finding in her lyrics “a tour de force of muddled, middle-aged wistfulness”.

That description could almost double as a mission statement for Radio 2 and the fact that they aren’t interested this time round will be particularly galling for Thom. (Any singer who yearns for Radio 2 playtime probably deserves it.) So her Facebook tantrum is understandable since she has no doubt worked very hard on her latest offering.

Where she fritters any sympathy coming her way is in her attempt to play the “poor wee Scot” card. In an interview on Scotland Tonight with STV’s Rona Dougall on Thursday, Thom griped: “This week on the Radio 2 playlists, there are no Scottish artists whatsoever and that is not for the lack of talent in Scotland and that is definitely not for the lack of artists who are looking to be put on the playlist. I don’t know whether you think that’s fair or not; I certainly don’t.”

Pressed by Dougall on whether she was claiming discrimination, she continued: “I think there’s many reasons and I think there’s a massive biasm [sic] within the BBC network and within Radio 2. The facts really speak for themselves. If you look at the playlists and you go back through the weeks, even in the last month, you’ll see that there is a real lack of Scottish presence there.”

Although her turn as a simpering, blow-dried James Kelman is risible, Thom is onto something. By mining the deep reserves of self-pity underneath the Scottish psyche, she can deflect criticism of her individual abilities and cast a rejection of her as a snub to Scotland. Kelman too accuses those who fail to worship at his feet of class and national prejudice. “Writers like myself are guilty of being ‘too Scottish’,” he sighs, “our ‘Scottishness’ is an attack on ‘Britishness’ and acts as a disqualification.”

Kelman is an exhilarating stylist who captures the grammar of working-class Scottish vernacular better than anyone except Irvine Welsh but, speaking as a progeny of that social stratum, I find his work richer in observation than insight. But that’s not allowed. I must either be for Kelman or against him, hallow all Scottish creativity or be parcelled away with the other rogues.

Imagined oppression is becoming engrained in Scottish culture. It is a delusion which confects pains and horrors of subjugation for a free country that chooses to be an equal partner in a political, social and cultural union. No one has the whip hand over Scotland, no jackboot presses down on our neck, but there is a profound need amongst many to see things that way.

It’s there in the SNP, who have turned grievance into a crushing electoral strategy, and their cybernats, who always take offence so you don’t have to. It’s in Alasdair Gray’s pungent pronouncements on “settlers” and “colonists” and it’s in enervating outrage over the Scottishness of passport designs. You’ll find it in Alan Bissett’s complaint that too many English writers win the Booker Prize and Alan Warner’s pre-referendum denunciation of a No-voting Scotland as “a mere global brand, its reality officially cancelled by its own people”.

Perhaps there still is a “Scottish cringe” but it is rapidly being replaced by a Scottish whinge, one long wail of indignation and self-righteousness.

No country can thrive on victimhood. Eventually, we will have to stop blaming Westminster, the Tories, England, the BBC, Radio 2 and every other bogeyman for our shortcomings. If independence is the only means of snapping us out of this reverie of resentment, so be it.

Sandi Thom is a creature of this mindset, evidence of its spread and grip. I get that she wants to be a star. She may even want to make music. But no one owes her anything and no one is keeping her down. And if she thinks she’s being discriminated against because she’s Scottish, she doesn’t just have flowers in her hair – she has them in her head.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © P G Champion / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0-UK.

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