Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A year and nearly 120 posts later, Scotland still isn't a country... and I still "talk like a fag"

Last Spring I put up this post about how Scotland is not an acceptable answer for a Speed round quiz question asking for "European countries." Why? Because Scotland ceased to be a country in the early 18th century, and is a constituent unit of a country (now) called the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", a.k.a. the United Kingdom or UK. "Scotland" isn't even in the full name of UK any longer; it's a part of Great Britain.

According to the "devolved" Scottish Parliament's website - and you would think this would end the argument, wouldn't you? - Scotland is a "kingdom" (I still find this a bit of a stretch as its own distinct royalty disappeared in 1707!) in a country called the UK.

The response was harsh and immediate, and has continued with idiotic comments and emails right up through this week. I still get called an asshole for insisting on objective reality. I'm not the only one in that boat.

All of the articles out there that point out that Scotland isn't a country also tend to point out that England, Northern Ireland and Wales aren't countries either. Yet nobody from those places nor with ancestry from those places seems perturbed by this. Only on the Scotland portion of the issue do people suffer from some form of fact-impervious mind-melt that precludes all reason on the issue.

In the case of the Scots I imagine some sense of shame over the region's domination by England, combined with the contrasting (largely) successful revolt of the Irish to create the Republic, and perhaps one too many viewings of Braveheart, have combined to make this a very touchy subject. A lot of Scots or people claiming some ancestry (in the latter case this is a bad joke; you're completely American culturally) have stated in comments on this blog and in other forums that Scotland "is a country in their heart" and for some reason the rest of us need to recognize that officially as reality, and I need to accept that as a quiz answer.

Among other problems, this leads to people claiming that Altoona "is the capital of Pennsylvania in my heart" and so forth, and would pretty much be the end of any and all trivia games anywhere.

One poor delusional fellow writing in from Scotland - who maintains a Scottish nationalist blog with what appears to be an, um, interesting version of history - spent about 7 weeks trying to sell me on the idea that the United Kingdom never existed/doesn't exist as a country, a "delusion" that I have because I'm an ignorant American who doesn't understand the political culture. At this point I had to wade into the literature and found out pretty quickly exactly what one would expect - that even the devolved Scottish Parliament recognizes the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament and agrees that they are now, have been and for the forseeable future will be a province-style chunk of the UK, with local government powers akin to those the Tenth Amendment cedes to US states.

Interestingly I've asked him or any other Scottish resident - that is to say a UK citizen who lives in Scotland, much the same as an American citizen who resides in Nebraska - to produce any form of document that makes even an informal reference to the "Country of Scotland", in the same way that a driver's license or birth certificate would read "State of New Jersey." A lifelong resident of the place, he admits he couldn't come up with one. Not one. Not a single instance of the Scottish political entity itself using the word "country."

For some reason, this hasn't shut people up either. I've gotten emails, I get blog posts, I had one person come up to me with computer print outs of internet pages (which after a very quick review, using basic reading comprehension skills, actually bolstered my arguments...)

The UK has no formal constitution as such that would lay out "The UK is comprised of nouns we offically call _________s ...", so this seemed like giving him a sporting chance, since he was pretty civil if also arguing some fairly bizarre lines of argument. From there I expected to enter into an argument over the difference between what Scotland means by "country" in context and what "country" means in an international context, akin to how Vermont is not the equal of Belgium even though in some context in certain usages both are sometimes called "states."

So far as I was concerned, the inability of the other side of the argument to produce threads of evidence to even get that far should have killed the debate dead.

What you have in a lot of cases are dictionaries and encyclopedia entries - not all but a few, and that's all it takes when Googling a phrase you'd like to read - that make a quick reference to Scotland and/or the other UK parts as "countries." Some of these are even written in the US, and none of them I'm abundantly sure were written by poli sci people. This is what I get triumphantly quoted at me by people who think that 10 seconds of selective Googling an educated response makes. More on this below.

In the case of Americans who've been arguing that Scotland is a country who don't seem to have an ethnic ax to grind on the issue, the trend has been far more disturbing. There's a rabidly anti-intellectual angle to both the tone and content of the arguments from some people that I've likened to Idiocracy, to creationists, to the Obama birthers, to the 9/11 truthers.

The facts simply don't matter. A person can Google "Scotland + country", find any sentence with the two together, then post this as a logical "proof." Any attempt to point out how many of these references are flat out incorrect, or need to be interpreted in context, is dismissed out of hand as me "talking like a fag" to use the Idiocracy term. The "common folk" call Scotland a country, and the anonymous person who updated the Wikipedia entry on Scotland, and an intern over at infoplease.com who condensed an article on Scotland used the word "country", thus I am both wrong and a pompous ass for suggesting anything else can be true.

I've also been hit with the (unstated) postmodernist argument that Scotland is a country because the hearer of the question believes that to be true, either because the listener determines the reality of what I meant when I used the word, or because the reality of what countries are is determined by the listener. Why even have a quiz, then? Why even go on living, in your world without sanity?

The fact that I have a political science degree from a top school, the fact that I worked for the US Department of State for a short time, the fact that I spent a year and half heading a geographic encyclopedia project, the fact that I spent 7 years working for a UN-registered geography teaching NGO as the head of the Research Department - are these points in my favor? Certainly not!

These only serve to make people angrier with me, because as a college boy with my fancy book-learnin', I refuse to see the simple truths perceived by the common people when they read a quick dictionary defintion, or any other line, out of context. Or add their own context, because what any of us thinks is presumably equally valid as anyone else. (Not my thoughts, though, because I have formal experience in the area; this only works in one direction.)

In fact HOW DARE I even mention the fact that I spent about 14 years of academic study and professional, compensated work days dealing with precisely these issues. This is the homeopath's retort to the (normal, effective) doctor, and the creationist's answer to the biologist: your experience and education is an active negative, because I have Google and basic reading (if shaky comprehension) skills. A degree is a liar's license, and professional experience counts for less than shit.

Thus I also hear that "we're both right", which is precisely to say that the people insisting on one objectively correct answer are wrong.

The frightening bit is that everyone insisting that Scotland is a country also insists that it's my responsibilty to prove that it is not, thus reversing the Enlightenment. Somehow we now believe that burden of proof is on the the person refuting a positive assertion without supporting evidence. "Salem Witch Trials, here we come!" Argument from ignorance is the order of the day, dominating most aspects of American debated life and "winning" more often than not, and we should believe anything we'd like to be true in the meantime, while the egghead fag-talkers attempt to prove a negative.

Repeatedly people will introduce a reference which specifically backs up my argument, but because they have poor reading comprehension or because they read selectively, this somehow simply doesn't matter.

Facts simply don't matter to the majority. Most people can't determine the difference between a fact and a fallacy, and as long as this condition doesn't confront them with ugly truths, are content to live that way.

My "favorite" few proofs for Scotland = country thus far:

- Showing me an article written by a poli sci professor which lays out some ways we could define a "country." Some of the items lend some support to a Scotland bid (most didn't). The word "Scotland" did not appear in the document. This of course was one poli sci professor; all of the other ones who would lay out some other criteria for countries - as well as the objective reality of the international community of nations - are to be ignored. The kicker: this guy had a link to a commonly accepted list of the world's countries. The UK was on the list and Scotland predictably wasn't. Somehow this was not acceptable as a point in my favor.

- There are a lot of dictionary definitions for the word "country", thus when I ask a trivia question asking for "countries", I should accept the answers the listener thinks I meant, regardless of the context of the question and all other answers to that or similar questions. Hand in hand with this, it's perfectly OK to switch out different numbered definitions of one word in a sentence occuring once, regardless of context. Presumably then Red Sox fans, as a "nation", are a country the way that France is. Amish Country is a similar unit to Bolivia. Delaware, as a "state", is a like unit to Canada. [My eventual counterargument to this is to ask if a cop knocks on your door and says "We think your 6 year old son may have a gun!", should we take this as granting permission? Think that'd hold up in court..?]

- The UK doesn't exist as a country, because if Scotland left then the Kingdom wouldn't be United any longer. [Wales? Northern Ireland..? What about them..?] Thus the UK - which simultaneously doesn't exist - is a larger entity than country, and Scotland is a country inside of it. Except when it isn't inside of it, because it never was part of the UK to begin with.

- "Assume nothing." Except, apparently, to assume that you're correct and I'm wrong.

- Showing me a section of a Googled 1930 [?! - this was the best we could do?] US customs training document which noted that someone might list "Scotland" as a country of origin for goods. And it's true, they might. [A person might also answer "Yes" to Sex? ______ on a job application...] The document went on to say paragraphs later that "Great Britain" or "UK" might also be listed, and to treat all as "UK." But we ignore these bits.

- The dictionary-definition crowd will use an edition of a dictionary that refers to Scotland as a country en passant, but this edition won't have that definition for Wales, while simultaneously claiming in a separate entry that the UK is "four countries", including Wales, also deemed correct. Thus if Wales is a region on one page of the book, but a country on another page of the same book, they'll go with the second if that supports the Scotland argument. If neither Wales nor Scotland are called countries in that dictionary, we drop it and pick up a different one with "more favorable" definitions. The UK is usually also claimed to be a country, meaning that the UK can be defined as 1, 2, 3, 4 or FIVE countries, simultaneously, depending on which combination of definitions in which dictionaries one chooses to use at the moment. For some reason it's perfectly OK to mix editions, mix publishers, mix British and American publications... just to keep moving, just to keep the argument "in play." When I point out that varying definitions are clearly a reason the dictionary is the wrong tool to use for this, and this is clearly not what the UN (for example) is using, I am ignored. When I point out most of the world doesn't speak English, I am ignored. When I bring up my educational background in this and suggest using a comparative politics method instead of abusing dictionary.com, I am accused of using an appeal to authority argument - which is exactly what is used when claiming that condensed dictionary writers are infallible in all matters... even when they contradict themselves from one portion of a book to another.

- 2+2 = 4 [which is somehow its own formal math proof now?!], thus 2+2 can't equal 5 [I'm pretty sure a math professor would not follow this path]. Thus 2+2 =4 means that an infinite number of negatives were just formally proven, thus it's possible to prove a negative, and I have the burden of proof to refute the non-documented assertion that Scotland is a country. And until I do that, Scotland is a country.

- Showing me an OED reference that called Scotland a "country in the UK." The same sentence listed "Ireland" as a country in the UK, which is plainly wrong. The claim was then that the word "Ireland" actually just means "Northern Ireland." (I assume that this was a very old and/or biased reference; I wasn't shown the original nor given a date.) And what was the "proof" that the word "Ireland" is used by British people only to mean "Northern Ireland"? Some quoted chat room discussion from Britain in which some Brits noted that they hated it when people say "Ireland" just to mean the north. Thus the chat room discussion proves that sometimes Brits are wrong about what to call Northern Ireland, as was the person who wrote the OED entry, which therefore proves the same author who goofed on Ireland was therefore right about Scotland. This might be the most tortured argument I've ever encountered on any subject, and I still have trouble trying to understand how these steps connect in any fashion.

It's all very simple, don't you see?
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Tony said...

I missed the original issue (I'm in New York), but that's a mighty big rant for something that sounds like it's an axe being ground by one small ill-informed group.

Contentious answers are part of the game. You know this as well as anyone. Do your research, stick to your guns, and play the parent sometimes. You ranting isn't going to help. Show your work, point to the facts, and move on.

You do have some kind of "All decisions are final" rule, right? Then screw them. Let the haters hate. You bring the parade. Let them bring the rain.

Also, it's one question on one night. (I am reading that right, right?) If someone's going to freak out for a whole year over, and please correct me if I'm wrong, one question on one night a year ago, um, they need the kind of help no trivia host could possibly provide.

You're not running these quizzes for real estate, or to get relatives off of death row or something. (Are you?) If they have a problem with Scotland not being a full-fledged country, then they should take it up with the Scottish Parliament, not you.

Be the bigger man, not just the bigger hat. (So to speak.) Take the long view. You're nae the one keeping ye Scots doon. Let it go.

QuizMasterChris said...

Thanks, Tony.

I guess the overarching issue is that I feel like *EVERY* issue in our society is being argued this way now, and for me this has been my poster child argument that displays anti-intellectualism over the past year.

This issue isn't that important, but most are, and I'm tired of getting into similar arguments with people who use the same "logic" working at the bank, the cable provider, or in a political discussion... when its actually going to matter to me/others in a big way, immediately or down the line.

It's one thing to be arguing, it's another thing to be confronted with people who can't recognize the merits of an argument.

QuizMasterChris said...

Somehow it's taken a year, but I just realized that the Scottish Parliament has its website on a .uk "Country level domain".

There isn't an available Scotland domain code. Doesn't exist.

Wouldn't a "country" apply for a country-level domain, even if for no other reason than the parliament's website shouldn't be based in a "different" country?

High irony!

Anonymous said...

"Wouldn't a "country" apply for a country-level domain, even if for no other reason than the parliament's website shouldn't be based in a "different" country?"


Anonymous said...

You have issues to address that are nothing to do with Scotland. What is important is that Scotland is recognised as a country by the very people who sit in Government See here: http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page823

As a Scot who lives here, what is important to me is that Scotland is a country recognised by me. And that is good enough for me. What some ranting oik yank thinks is completely irrelevant to me and Scotland.

When Scotland votes for full fiscal autonomy amd an end to the 303 year old union with England, it will be recognised by all and sundry and you can go on howling at the moon with the rest of the window lickers.

Some say it is time that America was ruled from London again as you lot have shown you just cannot hack it without the motherland holding your hand. I could not possibly say that.

Since 2007 Scotland has become a much more civilised place to be, confident and sure of itself. The colonisation of scotland has not worked as it was intended, because some of us found out about out history and The Declaration of Arboath upon which the American constitution is based.

By the way, what do "Morans" look like?

I think what has got under your skin is that no one gives a f**k what you think.


QuizMasterChris said...

"When" Scotland votes for autonomy? "If" sounds more like it.

And you're fairly well deluded if you think that Scotland is only lacking "fiscal" autonomy.

You know who doesn't have to vote for autonomy? Countries.

"As a Scot who lives here, what is important to me is that Scotland is a country recognised by me."

Great. Try getting into the US with a Scottish passport and see how far that gets you.

In fact, try committing a crime in England and then claim you can't be "extradited" from Scotland. See how far that gets you.

"I think what has got under your skin is that no one gives a f**k what you think."

I think you do give a f**k or else you wouldn't take the time to write. No one from England nor Wales has bothered complaining that I restated they aren't countries.

I would fear an attack from the Scottish Air Force... if there were one...

Anonymous said...

One of your reasons for stating that Scotland is not a country is that it doesn't have control over its own currency.

Are you therefore suggesting that Germany isn't a country ? That France isn't ? Italy ? Belgium ? Austria ?

QuizMasterChris said...

Please read what I posted more carefully - I said Scotland doesn't have CONTROL OVER its own currency.

For example Scotland is currently using the pound like the rest of the UK, whether an independent Scotland would or not.

The UK as things are currently arranged decides as a unit to join the euro or stick with the pound. France adopted the euro as unit, dragging the Basques and Corsicans in regardless of their opinion. Germany adopted the euro regardless of whether the residents of the former Bavarian Free State want it or not.

This is all part of France, Germany and the Uk being countries and Bavaria, Corsica and Scotland no longer being countries.

QuizMasterChris said...


I approved a comment of yours at the same tine as the currency one above.

I'm going to do w/ this what I did before, which is go grab the email I'm sent of the text and paste it up here. I'm not censoring you. It should be up w/in a couple of hrs.

QuizMasterChris said...

Every 1 in 50 times or so I approve a comment and it just disappears. If it weren't for that email of the text I get they'd lost.

Chandler said...

Don't like "concise"? How about this?

Article: Scotland (constituent country)

Northernmost country of the United Kingdom.

"Scotland." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online

QuizMasterChris said...

Hey, look who can Google!

OK, I can Google too:


The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008 | The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright 2008 Columbia University Press.

Scotland - political division of Great Britain (1991 pop. 4,957,000), 30,414 sq mi (78,772 sq km), comprising the northern portion of the island of Great Britain and many surrounding islands. ...

Scotland, England, and Wales have been united since 1707 under the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain."

So, which encyclopedia is correct, then?

For the 100th time, clearly people writing the dictionaries and encyclopedias have used their words differently (sometimes carelessly) and they can't all be correct because they contradict each other and sometimes - from one entry to another - even themselves.

This should be a red flag to a thinking person that you can't read a private company's reference books like a fundamentalist reads a religious text.

How about you do what a political scientist or geographer would do, compare like units to like, recognize the countries the international community of countries recognizes, and come to the conclusion that Scotland is a division of the country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Chandler said...

"So, which encyclopedia is correct, then?"

They are both correct. The terms country and political division are not mutually exclusive.

Especially considering that one definition of country is "a political division."

You're comparing independent countries to non-independent countries and concluding that the countries of the United Kingdom aren't independent.

However, a country doesn't have to be independent to be a country, according to numerous reference works.

You're saying your book, whatever it is, is the one "true" book, and ignoring books which contradict your belief.

You're the one behaving like a religious fundamentalist.

Anonymous said...

Why do you even care? You aren't in Scotland, you're in the United States. I don't think the people of Scotland care what you think. Just drop it, pal. It's a pointless argument. All you are doing is making people think you are an idiot.

QuizMasterChris said...

Thanks for letting me know where I live.

If you were paying any attention at all, you would know that I've been attacked for this for the past year by people with axes to grind, and I happen to to have a very sound argument.

I also happen to be interested in the subject.

The question becomes why do YOU care enough to leave a disparaging, anonymous remark?

QuizMasterChris said...

In instances such as one encyclopedia claiming that the UK is three countries and another four, they most obviously aren't "both correct."

In isn't at all "correct" to claim one country can be part of another.

QuizMasterChris said...

Would that be just the Scottish Labour Party or would that be the Labour Party you share with England and Wales because they're in the same political body..?

The fact that even the major political parties are shared across various parts of the UK is another argument against it being anything other than one country.

I found it interesting that Scotland actually seems to have more per capita representation in Westminster than England, which is a pretty good deal actually for Scotland:

"English constituencies currently contain nearly 70,000 voters on average, far more than the Scottish average of 53,500."


What's amazing as well is that the Scottish Parliament doesn't even have control over the Scottish Parliament; it seems subject to the Boundary Comission of the UK:


Thus the devolved parliament thing is again shown to be a terrible argument in favor of Scotland being a country.

Anonymous said...

If you've been attacked like this for a year, then wouldn't that be all the more reason to drop it?

If you're interested in the topic, good for you. Be interested in it by yourself and not run around on the internet, acting like a jackass, yelling in peoples faces that Scotland isn't a damn country.

And are you calling me a coward for clicking the "anonymous" button? One of the basic and fundamental rules of using the internet is never ever tell anyone your name on the internet. Be it real or fake.

And just what you think will come out of this anyway? Do you hope to gain anything out of this?

QuizMasterChris said...

Did you set out early in life to be anti-intellectual or did you just fall into it casually?

Anonymous said...

I dunno. Are you a professional idiot, or just a gifted amateur?

I'm wondering why you even why you even started this topic to begin with. Why did you you start it? Give me a reason why you started this topic about why Scotland is or isn't a country and why you even bother to stubbornly continue arguing this topic and insulting anyone who disagrees with you when absolutely nothing beneficial to you or anyone else will come out of it? Come on. Give me a reason.

Anonymous said...

"What's amazing as well is that the Scottish Parliament doesn't even have control over the Scottish Parliament; it seems subject to the Boundary Comission of the UK:


I guess why that article includes this link in it http://www.bcomm-scotland.gov.uk/ (to save you the trouble of clicking, that's to the Boundary Commission for Scotland).

Mac said...

Scotland has been de facto a colony of England for 303 years.

The bulk of the Scottish are indeed anti-intellectual, as you correctly observe.

If you visit the language section of Scotland.com/forums and read at least a few pages of Lowland 'Scots' was the ruin of Scotland your verdict on the subject would be most welcome.

I reckon that perhaps 99% of the Scottish agree with ANDY=J3. Note, for instance, the comments in the online Gaelic section of The Scotsman newspaper, printed and published in Edinburgh - the capital city of Scotland.

Anonymous said...

You keep going on and on about Scotland, but you live here! America rules, you commie! Eat me!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! People keep ragging on you for spending so much time on this but as someone who is interested in the subject, I applaud you. You are obviously an intelligent person well-versed in geography, and it's amazing that people are trying to use that AGAINST you. I've been trying to read more on this topic and wanted something that had evidence and explanations, not just dictionary definitions and assertions from Scots that they "know" they are a country while no one else in the world recognizes them as such.

It great that scots WANT to be an independent country. So go ahead and try. That's what all other real countries have actually done so far. But until then, they are a country the same was that Missouri is a state and Ontario is a province. Oh and I love the comparison to red sox nation, too funny.

QuizMasterChris said...

Mac -

Almost a year later I read through some of the thread you pointed to here. I'm afraid that I approved the comment and then failed to follow through.

I have no special expertise in the history of the English nor Gaelic dialects spoken in Scotland. Having said that, it doesn't seem much of a stretch that your basic point as I'm reading it that linguistic ties influence ethnic identity and political ties. This is generally true anywhere in the world where multiple languages are spoken.

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