Scotland and the USA: A tale of two countries that are more similar than you might think – Professor Joe Goldblatt

Over the course of 64 days, I have had the opportunity to observe, experience, engage with and come to greatly appreciate the similarities and differences of the good ole USA – the land of my birth – and my adopted home country of Scotland.

The contrasts are, at first glance, indeed severe. However, I have found that the closer I inspect these differences the more similarities I recognise that may lead to greater mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration in the future.

For example, it is often said in Scotland that when America sneezes, those of us in Scotland quickly catch a cold. The recent global pandemic has made us all-too aware of the close proximity due to international travel of the world’s citizens.

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This metaphor may also be used in a wider context to characterise our many similarities in terms of the economic, cultural, ecological, and health ambitions for the future.

During my two months in the USA, I have observed stark poverty, a growing homeless population, a severe struggle for access to health services, and the widening gap between those at the top of the financial ladder and those struggling to reach the first rung.

I have also noted that in Scotland, we have many similar struggles as a large number of our young adults find it almost impossible to purchase a home and, due to the Covid pandemic, the NHS waiting lists for many elective surgical procedures continue to grow. Perhaps most telling is how in each of the two countries, both Americans and Scots appear greatly stressed and burdened by growing mental health challenges.

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Throughout the streets of New York City, I saw, on a daily basis, dozens of individuals aimlessly walking about while shouting to the wind in angry outbursts.

The Tartan Day parade in New York is a reminder of the historic links between Scotland and the USA (Picture: Mark Mainz/Getty Images)The Tartan Day parade in New York is a reminder of the historic links between Scotland and the USA (Picture: Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
The Tartan Day parade in New York is a reminder of the historic links between Scotland and the USA (Picture: Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Furthermore, in Scotland I know of many doctors, teachers, police constables and ordinary citizens who are suffering from poor mental health and how that was greatly exacerbated by the horrors of the recent global pandemic.

Whilst the Scottish Government has made a noble attempt to increase mental health support and services and there are also many third sector organisations working flat out in this area, this has not been enough to stem the rising tide of mental dysfunction that will cause further harm to people in the USA and Scotland.

In my opinion, Scotland has a better opportunity to address this tsunami of poor mental health because of our size and our historic values related to caring for one another.

However, the stigma of seeking mental health treatment still seems to be an impediment that prevents or delays the various treatment options for many of our citizens.

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The current strident debate over abortion rights in the US, the ongoing messy investigation of the insurrection at the Capitol, and the multitude of disagreements over immigration and foreign aid demonstrated all too loudly that America is still an unsettled country that is in search of future opportunities to clarify her way forward both domestically and internationally.

In the USA, the age-old focus on individualism, that is so lauded, has begun to give way to a sense of collectivism through collaboration, due to the urgency of both a deeply troubling economic period as inflation rises and also the continuing uncertainty caused by new variants of the Covid virus.

However, it will be more difficult for the 50 state legislatures in the USA to rally together, as compared with Scotland, due to the deeply ingrained federal system of government.

With Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visiting the USA, perhaps the American people will recognise, appreciate and even embrace her sense of optimism and hopefulness. She has campaigned for the equal value of measuring the happiness of our citizens along with economic and other barometers of success.

Perhaps, as a result of her trip, the USA will now actually catch something positive from the smaller country of its elder cousins, the Scots. After all, America is the only country in the world where 75 per cent of their past presidents are ancestrally related to people from Scotland.

Therefore, I believe that the time has finally arrived when there is much that we may learn from one another and, through this mutual exchange of knowledge and values, both nations may finally grow closer together and from strength to strength.

Upon return to my home country of Scotland, I have come to realise that similar to a great love affair, you never realise the passion of your romance until you are away from your lover for an extended time.

In my case, my ardour for Scotland has grown both roots and wings. My new roots now reinforce my greater respect for our historic values that stretch from Wallace to Burns to Scott and to our more recent female political leaders. My new wider wings now connect me more closely with the land of my birth where I first learned through school the value of an independent nation that supports and celebrates the hallowed principles of the United Nations.

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My final observation, from both the land of my birth and the land of my dreams, is that through greatly improved mental health services we may one day together fulfil the promise enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence – that some scholars believe was inspired by Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath – guaranteeing life, liberty and also, very importantly, the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.

Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and he has just completed two months of service as a visiting professor at New York University’s Jonathan M Tisch Centre of Hospitality in New York City. He is grateful to be home!



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