One of the criticisms most likely to cause offence to SNP supporters is any suggestion that the Scottish government might be pursuing an 'anglicising' agenda. The thought that our distinctive Scottish cultural identity could be contaminated by dubious importations from south of the border would be enough to cause alarm in nationalist circles.
I'm afraid, however, that that is precisely what John Swinney is being accused of. His proposals on teacher education, whereby alternatives to traditional routes based in universities would be allowed, similar to the Teach First programme in England, have been portrayed as anti-intellectual and an assault on teacher professionalism. Again, plans to reform the governance of Scottish education, giving more power to headteachers and reducing the role of local authorities, have been attacked by both the Educational Institute of Scotland, the largest teachers' union, and School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the body representing headteachers.
The EIS fears the changes could lead to the creation of something akin to English-style academies, which can opt out of local authority control. And Jim Thewliss, general secretary of SLS, has been reported as saying that 'nobody has any appetite for mirroring and duplicating the English system.'
Accusations of anglicisation are not new. George Davie's famous book 'The Democratic Intellect' (1961) traced what he saw as the steady erosion of the tradition of a broad general education in Scottish universities and its replacement by a narrower curriculum of the kind favoured by English institutions. This process was facilitated by the appointment of English candidates to important professorships at Scotland's ancient universities. Davie's analysis has been challenged, but it has served as a canonical source for nationalists.
Some Scottish universities, most notably St Andrews and Edinburgh, remain highly anglicised, recruiting many students and staff from beyond the border. Universities are now international in character and it is to be welcomed that people from other countries wish to study and work here. At what point, however, is there a danger that local values will be overtaken by those with origins in other cultures? Walk through the centre of St Andrews during term-time and you are likely to hear as many English and American accents as Scottish ones.
These issues would pose challenges for any political administration, but they should be of particular concern to an SNP government which sets itself up as a stout defender of a particular version of the Scottish educational tradition. It will be interesting to see how Mr Swinney responds to the critics, especially if some of them emerge from within his own party.
I make the first entries in my 2018 diary. I favour the A5 format which enables me to see a week's commitments at a glance. Some years ago, I tried to switch to an electronic diary. This was not a success – hardly surprising since, temperamentally, I favour the quill pen over the keyboard. Handwriting is a dying art and will soon be regarded as a quaint relic of the pre-electronic age.
My diaries record only appointments, names, telephone numbers and locations. I refrain from offering observations about people and events in case I might stray into actionable territory. In any case, I lead an uneventful life and most of my entries would have limited interest. I am not a nostalgic person and so revisiting accounts of earlier activities would not be something I would turn to in idle moments.
Other people's diaries can, however, provide insights into important social and political affairs. I particularly enjoy literary journals since they are usually well-written, unlike the efforts of some politicians. Many of the latter try to cash in on their time in government by publishing diaries once they have left office. Insider perspectives on the machinations of Westminster and Whitehall can certainly be revealing as the efforts of Richard Crossman, Barbara Castle, Tony Benn, Alastair Campbell and Alan Clark demonstrate. But they have to be approached with a fair measure of scepticism.
Diaries can be used as a means of rewriting history, inflating one's own role and settling old scores. There is also something rather unsettling about people in the midst of the serious business of government finding time to record their account of events. It suggests that they possess a 'guid conceit' of themselves and a desire to be remembered as significant players. Let us hope that Donald Trump is not, in addition to his fascinating tweets, setting down daily thoughts on his time in the White House. While they would be unlikely to add to the sum of political knowledge, they might provide plenty of material for psychiatric analysis.
A more detached perspective on the political scene can be found in the work of politicians who have never achieved high office but who have been close to the centre of power. The three-volume diary of Chris Mullin, a Labour MP from 1987 to 2010, who held only minor ministerial posts before returning to the back benches, was described by one reviewer as being 'written by a creature that the public does not believe exists: an honest politician at Westminster.'
One date in my 2018 diary that will remain without an entry is 25 January. I decided some years ago that I had no wish to attend another Burns' night. While I have great admiration for the poetry of Burns, I find the way in which it is usually celebrated distasteful. Quite apart from the fact that some events commemorating the life and work of the poet are simply an excuse for a heavy drinking session, I dislike the maudlin sentimentality that is usually on display. I do not think it serves modern Scotland well.
Sentimentality has been a recurring theme in the cultural history of Scotland. It found particular expression in the 'kailyard' school of literature at the end of the 19th century, which presented a cosy picture of rural domestic life. At a time when the country was facing turbulent industrial change, it offered only a romantic portrayal of an idealised past. In other words, it was a retreat from the realities of most people's lives. It sought to offer escapist consolation by creating an imaginary world in which truth and justice prevailed, and goodness triumphed over evil. We are still well short of that happy ending.
Anyone who imagines that we have cast these stereotypes aside should examine the offerings on radio and television as New Year approaches. As a Scotsman article put it a few years ago: 'The turn of the year fairly brings out the kailyard Scots from the woodwork, and we get on radio a near unadulterated diet of Scottish country dance music, pipe music and the old chestnuts of Scottish song.' And a walk down the royal mile in Edinburgh, with its tasteless collection of gift shops, selling a caricature of Scottishness to tourists, shows that sentimentality is still a marketable commodity.
Burns's poetry has much to say to about the human condition that remains relevant to all ages and cultures. It is a pity that those who make a show of celebrating it often present such a partial and misleading account of its significance.