Finding silicon glen
Historically, the cultural norms of Scotland have been oppressed. Following the aftermath of the Jacobite rising and their defeat at Culloden the Act of Proscription in 1746 saw the prohibition of Highland dress and the suppression of the Gàidhlig language. In modern times popular culture has kicked back against this and my first interaction with one of my research participants sparked me to think about The American Dream and how this may, or may not, fit into Scottish cultural identity in the Twenty-First Century. I suffixed my reflection on our first interview with a line from “The Proclaimers” 1987 song, Letter from America, which explores the Scottish diaspora.
“I wonder my blood will you ever return
To help us kick the life back to a dying mutual friend…?”
This exemplies a parallel in our discussion which highlighted the pressures on academic funding in Scotland, compared to the more expansive open funding opportunities that my interviewee experienced when working in America. This chimed with the song that charts the depopulation of the Highlands associated with the times of the Highland Clearances and draws parallels to the economic migration and depression of the Central Belt of Scotland in the 1970s and 80s.
The original song was a chart hit and arguably blazed a trail for Scottish popular music artists to openly flaunt their cultural identity. Reportedly, the Proclaimers were told to tone down their regional accents on the release of the record which underlines the echo, and persistent deference which still abounds within Scottish cultural identity which reflects a very Scottish cultural problem.
Glencoe, PHOTO BY S MIGAJ ON UNSPLASH
From Glencoe....to Silicon Glen
One hot day in July I found myself inside an unobtrusive building in an industrial estate in Lanarkshire. I'd partly taken sanctuary from the baking sun which was heating up places like Bristol and London to temperatures of over 40 degrees. At 55 degrees north even the central belt felt hot and for a moment I felt like I could be in the dry climes of Silicon Valley in San Jose, CA.
The building contained a recording studio and a mini-museum of artefacts relating to its past including old mixing desks, reel-to-reel, cathodes and diodes, and more. The owner of the studio talked about its significance and history within Silicon Glen (the hi-tech sector of Scotland which stretches from Inverclyde to Edinburgh and Dundee) and he related his personal history. He and his wife are both musician/physicists and his Father had emigrated briefly to the US for a spell as a scientist specialising in semi-conductors before returning to open up a business in the Glen.
Yet this area of South Lanarkshire is not without its social and economic problems brought about by the rigors of de-industrialisation. There was an all-too-sudden shift from industry in the 70s and 80s which led to so many socio-economic problems, despondency, and a need for re-generation. One scientist I interviewed in my PhD study problematises the perceived brain drain in Scotland “…then the question will be, can we replace them in academia?”. However, according to the CEBR (2022) this perceived “victim mentality” within Scottish culture is being turned around from the brain-drain to the brain-gain. There are significant economic gains in comparison to other UK nations; a £7.1 billion uplift following the shift to hybrid working practices during the pandemic arguably presents a new opportunity for Scottish academics in STEM, despite an assessment by the Open University that 86% of Scottish companies struggle to find skilled workers. This underlines the importance of Higher Education to be responsive to challenges particularly in the wake of financial uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can this lead to positive re-investment in areas of economic and social deprivation? Is now a time to explore how the Scottish Dream can support a contemporary knowledge economy in Scotland. Third-tier cities are defined as de-industrialised cities that need to invent, develop, and manage new reasons for their existence; and notably Brabazon (2019) suggests these cities can ably pivot from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. In Scotland this certainly seems true of many post-92 HEIs where STEM forms a vital part of their scholarly, business, and public activity. This emphasizes the potential to fortify the cultural identity of Scotland and its place within the international knowledge economy.
I am a student at the University of the West of Scotland which is identified as being a place where almost a quarter of all SIMD20 students study. Despite this gain there is still work to be done to change the cultural norms of Scotland. Deference, despondency and dereliction can be turned around to reduce the attainment gap. Changing my perspective from the Brain Drain to the Brain Gain makes me hopeful that the Scottish Scientists may be at the forefront of a new era.
Any thoughts? Please share...