The Big Yin of­fered an al­ter­na­tive iden­tity to tar­tan stereo­types

So­phie Law cel­e­brates Billy Con­nolly’s 75th birth­day – and the award of a knight­hood

The Scotsman - - The Scotsman 200 -

The un­veil­ing of three murals on Glas­gow ten­e­ment walls which pay trib­ute to Billy Con­nolly on his 75th birth­day, make it clear that The Big Yin is more than sim­ply a Scot­tish co­me­dian.

He’s a na­tional trea­sure. He’s our brick and mor­tar, bread and but­ter – he’s our Scot­tish iden­tity.

Iden­tity is one of the most evasive and com­pli­cated words in the dic­tio­nary, yet bears such a rich con­cept. In a year of elec­tions, a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the cards and Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, many of us may well be pon­der­ing what it re­ally means to be Scot­tish.

Kilts, hag­gis, this­tles and heather are the ro­man­ti­cised, fic­ti­tious as­pect of Scot­tish cul­ture but most peo­ple find it hard to re­late to these things. They don’t re­flect my life, nor does it say much about most Scots. It’s a Scot­land that doesn’t re­ally ex­ist ex­cept to tourists in the glossy travel guides – a tame sto­ry­book ver­sion for vis­i­tors’ con­sump­tion.

What if our Scot­tish iden­tity is some­thing less man­u­fac­tured? Our iden­tity is not some­thing fixed but mal­leable. Na­tional iden­tity is a con­struct and some­one has to be brave enough to chal­lenge it.

Con­nolly, the for­mer Glas­gow ship­yard welder who has just been given a knight­hood in the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours, spoke for a Scot­land that wanted to shake off the old tra­di­tional stereo­types, a coun­try that was fierce and ur­ban.

When Michael Parkin­son asked him about what he ob­jected to in the view that the English had of Scots,

he replied that “the wee cot­tage in the High­lands with the pur­ple heather” was com­pletely false.

Con­nolly of­fered an al­ter­na­tive to what many saw as Scot­tish iden­tity. His was one that was self-mock­ing, wickedly funny and por­trayed the gritty re­al­ity of Scot­tish life at the time in a hu­mor­ous and re­lat­able way. As a coun­try we have strong con­nec­tions to our Scot­tish iden­tity. ‘Brave­heart’ and ‘canny Scot’ may rep­re­sent our past, but Con­nolly broke us free from those tar­tan shack­les and paved the way for change borne out of Glaswe­gian hu­mour, wit and wis­dom.

He’s your dad, your un­cle or your granny af­ter a few drinks. You could meet peo­ple like him down the pub, or at the shops. Ev­ery­one knows some­one like him in their own lives.

A sur­vey into na­tional iden­tity in 2012 told us that more Scots took a sense of na­tional pride from Billy Con­nolly than the Queen. That’s got to say some­thing. ● So­phie Law lives in Glas­gow. She is study­ing jour­nal­ism at Uni­ver­sity of Strath­clyde.

0 Billy Con­nolly chal­lenged con­cepts

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