Reading the British press online over the past few weeks it seems that the Scottish referendum is likely to be won by the “Yes” campaign.
The campaign seems to be getting ugly, I read with dismay of “No” signs being torn down or defaced, residents of Scotland with English accents being told to go back to England, and a significant rise in anti-Englishness, all thoroughly depressing but to me somewhat unsurprising, I did after all endure eight years of hideous daily sectarianism whilst living in Glasgow. What Alex Salmond has dreamt up whatever the outcome is only going to make the country more divisive.
I love my country, the country that is part of the United Kingdom. Through my Mother’s family I can trace my roots in South West Scotland back to 1260 ish, always in Galloway that lovely soft countryside bounded on the north by the magical and majestically silent Galloway hills and to the south the Solway Firth that large stretch of low tidal waters, looking towards the English Lake District. My forebears were close supporters of William Wallace. We trace our origins back to Kirkcudbright from where Wallace set sail to France. Later in the 15th. century Patrick Maclellan argued with William Douglas against joining him in an alliance against King James II of Scotland, and so it continues… We are a family of patriotic Scots. You could argue that my family history dictates I should side with the “Yes” camp but I do not, not at all. My roots are Scottish, but first and foremost I am British.
As a young man home to me was a mix between London and Wigtownshire, South-West Scotland. I grew up with the best of both, a cosmopolitan city life balanced by a rural idyll. Home in Wigtownshire was my Mother’s family house, passed down through generations, overlooking Wigtown Bay and on the Stewartry of Kircudbright side the great slumbering giant of Cairnsmore of Fleet. Indeed the house sits above the former harbor where many years ago an elderly woman and a young girl were drowned for their adherence to the Coventanters, the right to freedom of worship and expression, one I am reminded, was a relative of mine.
My Father was an immigrant to the UK. He arrived from his former home of Poland, through the prison camps of Russia and via the Lebanon and Cape of Good Hope into Carlisle, thence to London. Long before I was born he became a naturalized Briton and to his dying day was proud of his British citizenship, he is buried in the place he called ‘home’ and which meant the most to him, Wigtown. So my parents were a mix, Scottish Presbyterian and Polish Catholic, home was always multi-cultural, for which I am really thankful, and had I ever had children I would have hoped to have instilled in them the same tolerant multi-cultural values.
My Father’s immigration was forced upon him by the Second World War. He was tortured by the communists and after the war had no country to return to, but by then Britain was his home, his English both written and spoken was perfect. Until his dying day he was unable to return to the land of his birth, all lost to him in the mire of the Soviet bloc.
In my imagination I too stand the possibility of becoming a stateless person. I simply do not understand how this possibility has come about. Just what are they wanting? My Passport is British, I am an ardent monarchist (to me the alternatives are far worse) and as a resident of Italy am delighted to hold a British Passport. Although resident in Italy for nearly eight years, I am not an Italian citizen (that application will take another five years to process) through some strange anomaly, I am able to vote for the local council elections here in Italy, my comune is Gubbio, my European vote likewise is for a representative of Italy, but my parliamentary vote remains in Scotland, Glasgow South ward to be precise. I find that a bit strange, am not quite in agreement but that is the law. Yet Mr Salmond has refused me a vote in the referendum which is where my parliamentary vote is. Why? It is so illogical… I am really concerned that being denied a vote and with the possibility of a win for the separatists, I will have to have a Scottish Passport, this I do not want, and have no chance to voice my dissent over the issue. Like my late parents I am British.
I do believe in the principal of decisions affecting people to be made at a regional level, for there to be some form of autonomy. I was a keen member of two community councils in Scotland, but what the current move is about is not that, but some form of English bashing, unleashing and whipping up of hatreds that should long have been buried and forgotten.
On a purely economic and geographical basis I fail to understand why the SNP are using ancient borders to stake their claims. I well remember the last referendum in the late 1970’s. At the time I was an hotelier in a small market town in south-west Scotland. Our economic outlook was bleak, I remember I’m my school days the three day working week, lack of electricity, the power going out at 22:00, newspapers not appearing because some union had called the workforce out and closed the production because some non-union member had changed a blown lightbulb over his desk, uncollected rubbish piling up in the streets, it was absurd and never to be repeated. In my early business days those memories were not far in the past, interest rates were 17.5% and the outlook was still bleak. The same problems rang true in the old industrial heartland of the north and midlands of England, which suffered the same industrial decline and abandonment in the way the central belt of Scotland suffered. I never understood why if the Scots felt so democratic and so much the underdog and alienated by Westminster why they did not speak with the councils and regions in the North of England, who were feeling exactly the same and rally together for a North Britain, socially and economically they had and have so very much in common, especially now with the obscene overwealth in London and the Home Counties.
I look back to more recent times, the cult of celebrity, that scourge of modern life, fifteen minutes of fame. Tony Blair wanted his, Alex Salmond desperately wants his, and Donald Dewar certainly wanted his. To this day, a poignant reminder of DD, his bronze statue looking gloomily down the length of Buchanan Street in Glasgow. He was Scotland’s first First Minister in the new Scottish Parliament. The one that was built next to the house Liz and Phil have in Edinburgh, designed by a Spanish architect that had clearly never seen Scottish dreech days and rain. The new politicians fed the Scottish public a figure of 50 million £ for the parliament building – a cost that escalated to 500 million £ we all lapped it up and said hey ho! – doesn’t augur well for Scottish budgeting. Why did they need to be slap bang in the centre of Edinburgh, and with nuclear bomb proof underground car spaces for the MSPs??
If they really meant to be men/women of the people they would have built the parliament at Motherwell. Why? Because, Motherwell sits to the east of Glasgow, and the west of Edinburgh, geographically kind of central. It is connected to the north and south by the M74 motorway, to the east and west by the M8 motorway, has excellent rail connections, and having been the home of the long closed huge steelworks know and Ravenscraig, is a ginormous brownfield site, plenty of electricity and perfect communications and a most importantly a town without a future and much in need of help and encouragement and lifting out of the doldrums. To boot there were many vacant flats and shops and offices, perfect for MSP’s accommodation – and a chance for them to have a real-life experience, Motherwell was a town in the last stages of decline. The parliament built at the former Ravenscraig could have changed all that, brought about new opportunities for rebuilding and revitalising the local community, but no, the politicians wanted the cliquey cosyness and snob appeal of Edinburgh… plus ca change… animal farm comes to mind…
Having lived in England, both as a child and in my working career, I was unaware at any time of any Scottish-bashing by the English. Most English people until this debacle arose had no opinion of the Scots. They liked Scotland as a holiday destination, but it was kind of a non subject. Conversely the Scottish central-belters have stirred up an inbred hatred of the English, they feel downtrodden unrepresented and that they have been dealt a bad hand. I really do not see how this is merited or sustainable. One only needs to look at the composition of the British cabinet since 1945 to see that this is clearly cannot be true. Many former cabinet ministers and indeed Prime Ministers were either of Scottish descent, birth or education, is it not they that the Cabinet rule the country?
I am thoroughly depressed by the whole debate. Immediately before coming to Italy I lived in Glasgow, the home of my then and now ex-boyfriend. Initially we lived on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. Latterly and somewhat ironically our palatial flat was the former residence of Winnie Ewing! Now I admit, I have had a gilded life, and life in the East end of Glasgow as a shock and an eye-opener to me. I saw so much poverty and met people with no ambition or incentive. People rant on “Why do they not better themselves?” “Why do they not ask for help? ” Quite simply I feel, they do not know how to ask the question indeed they do not even know there is a question to ask, for too long they have been sidelined and abandoned by an ever more affluent and compartmentalised society. However as the recent TV programme “Benefits Street” and the riots in London, Birmingham and Manchester illustrate, they are not unique in this, all cities in Britain suffer the same ills. As a nation we need to unify and help include everyone.
Back to the start of my rant. The nastiness, and vicious campaigning. I lived eight years in Glasgow, a city that I found really difficult to live in. Yes, the architecture is fabulous, the green spaces and parks abundant and a real breath of air, the museums fascinating and all consuming, the countryside close to enchanting, and the restaurants passable or even a bit better, but my daily life was punctuated by rabid sectarianism that made life in Glasgow untenable. First question on meeting a new person was “What’s your surname” You daren’t go near the city centre on the days the ‘Old Firm Game’ was being played, such was the violence, alcoholism and rabid sectarianism. Both sides to blame, priests closing masses with prayers that Celtic win the match, Rangers supporters refusing to and forbidding their kids to have Catholic friends, and then the marching season, that was quite simply terrifying, starting in the suburbs it made the entire city centre a no go area. Out of the marching season, I remember being forbidden to leave the office one day when I was off to get lunch for the team in a local cafe. The company secretary refusing to let me walk through Bridgetown in my Italian cotton shirt, pastel green and white stripes… I see this ignorance and intolerance manifesting itself in the independence campaign. We need the obverse, galvanize and restore the peaceful calm helpful and soft appeal of the Scots, that is what I love about my race, and I want my say and I want my vote.
People reportedly afraid to speak out against independence for fear of reprisals. Is this what an independent Scotland wants? Why are the voices of calm and reason muted? Home in Galloway in the pubs where I cut my drinking teeth there were always disagreements and arguments, often over a girl or similar, there were protestants and catholics, the odd rejoinder but never the violence that I have described above, we all melted along happily in one way or another, the same I found true when on my many visits to the Islands and glorious West Coast, decent hard-working folk, making the best of their lives, oh dear has all changed so very much?
And one final thought, should the vote go the wrong way and Scotland become independent, and as the oil runs out, and the Scottish economy falters, then the English bashing will continue, the Holyrood politicians will not blame themselves, but they will blame the Westminster politicians for giving Scotland a bad and raw deal over independence…. I rue the day