An American in Scotland...

Hana Bieliauskas undertakes a virtual tour of Scotland and gets a taste for the real thing

What does the word 'Scotland' conjure up for you? I came to London in January from Midwest America to study and complete an internship at the New Statesman. I have yet to explore the UK beyond England, so ahead of getting on a train I decided to embark on a virtual trip around Scotland.

I begin my tour in the seaside town of Ayr about 36 miles from Glasgow. Ayr was formerly home to Scotland's main west coast port. With a street plan dating back to the 1200s, the town began as a settlement serving the castle of William I, which was built in 1197. Formerly, Ayr was known as St. John's Town of Ayr or Inverayr.

Today, nothing remains of William's castle, demolished by Cromwell's forces in 1664 to make room for the citadel they used to this country. But I discover plenty of historical sights to keep me busy – for example there’s the bridge, built in 1470, still standing over the River Auld.

After sightseeing, I escape to Ayr's beautiful garden of Belleisle to tee up for a game at the world-renowned golf course designed by James Braid in 1927. Certainly way over par, I console myself with a hike through the fields and woodlands at the 98-acre Rozelle Estate. In the old Rozelle House, I sip a drink at the coffee shop and wander around the Ayrshire Yeomanry Museum and Rozelle Craft House.

Next I drop in at the village of Alloway. Here is where the world-famous poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns' home is located, known as the Auld Clay Biggin'.

Born in 1759, Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is the author of, among many other pieces, the popular New Years song “Auld Lang Syne.” I even get a look at the song's original manuscript, displayed at the museum.

In need of a city fix, I decide to explore Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city. It’s dominated the banks of the River Clyde since becoming Scotland's second largest bishopric in the 12th century. The city grew around the Gothic-style Glasgow Cathedral,the only mainland medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland – it’s also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow, or St. Mungo after the saint who built it and whose tomb can be visited here.

Then I join the throngs of people visiting Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Since opening in 1901, Kelvingrove has become the most visited museum in the UK outside of London. Financed by the 1888 International Exhibition, one story goes that it was mistakenly built back to front, and the architect committed suicide when he learned of the error.

Heading out of the bustling city to Pollok Country Park, I find myself gazing at European paintings from the likes of Degas, Rembrandt and Cézanne at the Burrell Collection of Fine Art. A gift to the city from Sir Walter Burrell in 1944, the Burrell Collection opened in 1983. Burrell's only stipulation when he gave £450,000 to build the gallery was it be situated out of the city surrounded by nature. Following his wishes, the museum was eventually located in a park about three miles from the city centre. With over 9,000 items, it's impossible to digest everything at the Burrell in one go, but I hit up some of the highlights in collections from ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Next I head for the hills. Getting off the plane in Inverness, home of the Loch Ness Monster, it's easy to see the Scottish Highlands offer a completely different view of the country. Secretly hoping for a Nessie sighting, I am unable to resist spending some time searching for mysterious ripples in the waters of Loch Ness. Finally, I give up and separate myself from droves of tourists to head further up the coast.

It is in these more remote areas of the country that Scottish culture of today and yesterday collide. I take in the impressive castles that occupy Scotland's rugged coastline, from the Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness to the Dunvegan Castle and the Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Looking out across the ocean in the northern Highlands, it doesn't seem possible that a beautiful place could have such a violent history. However, Viking war galleys once roved the waters, and, later, in the 15th century, Gaelic clans capable of threatening Scottish kings occupied the region.

But it's not until I pay a visit to the Calanis standing stones at the Isle of Arran that I feel I am on truly ancient ground. The 50 stones have withstood the tests of time. Arranged in the shape of a cross, they are are over 5000 years old and were only excavated during the early 1980s. The tallest of the stones towers a couple meters above me at a height of about 4 meters.

Although the stones' main intended purpose will likely remain unknown, it's been theorised they were erected as a calendar system based on moon placement.

Taking off to Scotland's east coast, I find myself in the Athens of the North: Edinburgh and Scotland's capital since 1437. My gaze immediately falls on the fortress constructed on a massive piece of volcanic rock, dominating the city's skyline.

Edinburgh Castle existed first as a fort during the Iron Age, and it wasn't until the reign of David II in the mid 1300s that the castle began to appear as it does today. Wandering around within the castle walls, I come across the city's oldest building; St. Margaret's Chapel, built by David I in the 1100s, is dedicated to his mother, Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093.

To ensure I take in all of the big sights, I walk the Royal Mile Royal Mile. Established after David I founded the Abbey of Holyrood in the royal park, it links Holyrood with Edinburgh Castle.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, farther down the street, is the Queen's official Scottish residence. Built in 1498 by James IV, Mary, Queen of Scots, lived and was crowned in the palace, and her Italian secretary David Rizzio was stabbed within the walls. Holyrood has survived its dark past, though, and is used today for mostly State ceremonies and entertaining royal guests.

I don't miss visiting some of Edinburgh's main religious icons. First, I go to St. Giles Cathedral, founded in the 1120s when the royal family was attempting to spread the Catholic religion throughout the lowlands. The church's over two hundred memorials honouring distinguished Scots and Scottish soldiers bring into perspective who shaped Scotland into what it is today.

I also get a look at the Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by the Da Vinci Code. Before Dan Brown mentioned it in his best-selling book, the Chapel was a quiet place of worship, founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair. Then, after the book and movie were released, it suddenly became a prime tourist attraction. Although still a beautiful structure, Rosslyn's celebrity status attracts numerous tourists every day and threatens to lessen its charm.

The museum selection in Edinburgh is impressive, and I find two huge museums stand out above the rest. The National Gallery of Scotland had its founding stone laid by Prince Albert in 1850 and was opened to the public in 1859. Having undergone a major restoration, the museum was reopened in 2003 and has since held many prominent exhibitions. Browsing through the museum's many galleries, I realise I'm seeing the largest collection of European paintings in the country and the most Scottish paintings in the world.

Another museum that I need more than a day to fully explore is the Museum of Scotland, with its vast collections, high roof over the main hall and seventh-floor roof terrace that looks out across the city to Edinburgh Castle.

There I find out more about the Scottish people, culture and land than I ever knew existed. Opened in 1998, the museum contains items from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Museum. I travel through Scotland's geological history, which tells the story of Scotland's people and their achievements to create a bridge from the country's beginning into the 21st century.

My quick online excursion was a nice break from reality and offered further insight into Scotland, which I formerly knew just as the home of plaid kilts and the legend of Nessie. What it really did, though, was make me want to visit the country on foot rather than simply through a computer screen. Hopefully I'll be able to do so before heading home in May, and then maybe I'll be able to form a first-hand opinion of what Scotland means to me.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times