Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

4 May 2009

Carol Ann Duffy: First Female (correction, first Scottish) Poet Laureate

With all the hoo-ha last week about Carol Ann Duffy being the first woman appointed to the position of ‘Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, the fact that she is also the first Scot to hold the position was conveniently glossed over.

I’ve got nothing against the woman. I don’t know her work, although people I know who have read it speak highly of it. Nor is it altogether inappropriate that a Scot should be appointed, as the geographical extent of the post does comprise the whole of the UK. Nor is it even especially surprising that Carol Ann Duffy is the first Scottish poet to have been thus honoured, as the position enjoys a long heritage in English history, going back to the role of versificator regis in the medieval English court, and later being named ‘Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of England’.

Fair enough, I suppose: if the UK can have a Scottish PM, why not also have a Scottish Poet Laureate? Well, in the case of the PM, as we know, the problem is that Scotland and Wales have their own First Ministers to deal with domestic policy issues; so that it is inappropriate for someone elected in Scotland to have governmental responsibility for English domestic issues when they are not accountable for their actions in that respect to any English voters.

In the case of the PL, the problem is that there are separate¬†‘national poets’ for Scotland and Wales now. I say ‘now’ as shorthand for ‘after devolution’: the first ‘Scots Makar’ having been appointed by the Scottish Parliament in 2004; and the first ‘National Poet for Wales’ having been appointed in 2005. And Carol Ann Duffy is the first ‘British’ Poet Laureate to have been nominated since those dates. So at the very time when Scotland and Wales have gained their own national parliaments and national poets, we in England get an unaccountable Scottish PM who denies the very existence of England, and a Scottish Poet Laureate whose remit covers the whole of the UK, not England in particular.

I trust that she will refrain from writing poetry that claims to speak on behalf of England or to represent an authentic English voice – unlike Gordon Brown, who does abrogate the right to represent us when he doesn’t. But then doesn’t the land of Shakespeare deserve its own present-day national poet? Any suggestions?


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