On head and heart

This is a controversial topic, one that may flutter a few feathers, and one that most of my counterparts north of the border will say I have no right to weigh in on. But when has that ever stopped me? Exactly.

Just to be clear, this is not a political post. I have never been politically active and am not about to start blogging politics now. But I have always posted about the things that are bothering me at any given time, I’ve always found writing cathartic, and that hasn’t changed. Besides which, we’ve been over the facts and figures in exhausting detail. The numbers, statistics, and question of currency are of little weight to those voting with heart over head – yes voters will vote yes whether the numbers add up or no.

So, later this month Scotland decides. And we England-dwelling folk have heard surprisingly little about it! I mean, the last month we’ve seen a little more coverage, but before that, we were forced to follow the topic via on demand and the occasional late night/early morning First Minister’s Question Time on BBC Parliament.

You’ll notice that I refer to myself as “England-dwelling”, not English. That’s because I am British. I am English and Scottish and Irish. I have an extensive extended family in Scotland. So does my husband. I even lived in Stirling for a while. It was terrifying – from the day not long after I arrived when a rather scary-looking salon owner told me that I was by far the best candidate for her Saturday tea-girl job, but her customers wouldn’t want an English girl making their tea, to the afternoon when a local teen asked me the time, clocked my English accent and chased me home with a gang of schoolmates, pelting me with stones, (mostly) empty coke bottles, and anything else to hand. I quickly learned not to speak in certain public places, and got myself a weekend job in a far friendlier Edinburgh. Most people can’t get away with refusing someone a job based on their nationality, but it happened to me three times in Scotland, all told. I suppose on that evidence, I should be accustomed to being treated as the unwelcome relative by the North.

I have had an enormously emotive reaction to the entire campaign, and it was only this weekend, whilst examining my own heart, that I realised why. I feel rejected by Scotland. I feel abandoned by my own history. I feel personally victimised because my ancestors dared to interbreed. Or move for work. Or both. When I see anti-English and anti-British sentiment on the television, on the internet, on facebook it doesn’t annoy me. It doesn’t anger me or rile me. It hurts me. My eyes sting with tears. My chest aches. It is a racist attack aimed what, at the English but not at me? Rubbish. If it’s aimed at the English and you consider me English – no matter what I consider myself – it is directed at me. And that stings far more than those stones or bottles of coke in Stirling ever could.

But what makes someone Scottish? This is where I really struggle. Is it just being born in Scotland? Because if this is the case, many of those voting are, in fact, English. Is it having Scottish ancestry? In that case where’s my vote? Is it genetic – red hair, fair skin, perhaps? Well, not really, as these were common traits in Saxons, like myself.  Blue eyes, cleft chins and a Viking jaw? Not really native, those marauding Vikings (Dapper and our sons). Perhaps you need the sharp features and dark hair of the Picts? Now watered down enough to be too easily mistaken for the dark-haired Normans and Irish, I’m afraid.

Of course, arguably the Scottish ARE Irish, and Irish are Scottish…  or at the very least, they’re all Gaelic. As are many of the northern French, as it turns out. (Not the Normans though, who were apparently… Vikings! On a linguistic side note, I’m no longer surprised by how much Gaelic survives in Modern French in grammatical structure – at first it astonished me!)

On which topic, Dapper speaks Gaelic. On Skye he ordered food and drink in Gaelic, and conversed with the locals. We go to Scottish Country Dancing with the local Scottish community every week, and whilst almost every last one was born in Scotland, only a handful can chat along with him – all Island born. Are the Islands Scottish? Shetland is certainly something of a grey area – until the 15th century it belonged to Norway and the Danes.

What about surnames. Can your name make you Scottish? My husband changed his name before we met, replacing the anglicised version of his grandfather’s generation with its rarer and much more traditional predecessor. Its exact meaning is difficult to pin down, just as the meaning of “Skye” could be Norse or Gaelic in origin, but roughly translates as “man of mists”, “cloud walker” or, most likely, “Man of Skye”.  His largely Viking genetics support a link between his surname and the Norse settlers on Skye at least. On his Grandmother’s side, the surname Spires turns out to be a Midlands derivation of Spiers, a Borders surname rooted in Spers, first recorded at the assizes at Scone during the 13th century reign of Alexander II of Scotland. The Borders folk were neither Scottish nor English, or more accurately, both – depending on which side was coming for tea! Famously, Border Reivers would wear a flag pinned to their lapel, English on one side, Scottish on the other, and simply turn it depending on which side approached. Many lords and ladies would deliberately divide their loyalties in order that one should always be in favour. My father’s ancestors are Northumbrian, and no doubt also considered themselves as “Borders Folk” above all.   

The most compelling argument for independence seems to have been for a break away from the monstrous Westminster.  I’m afraid that this is not a Scottish sentiment. We ALL hate Westminster. Everyone north of the Watford Gap feels maligned by London. How often is money lifted from central and northern budgets to supplement transport improvements in London? Too, often to count. This is an issue regularly raised by local MPs, and London’s eventual response (after years of complaint) is to introduce high speed rail links to help more folk to work in… LONDON. Trust me when I say that we all detest Westminster with equal measure. Scotland does NOT have the monopoly on this matter!   

My gut feeling now is that it doesn’t much matter to us, south of the border, whether Scotland votes for or against independence. The anti-English feeling is such that we, as a family, have little chance of fulfilling our life-long ambition of moving into the North. I’m already receiving alarming stories from friends and family north of the border about verbal and physical abuse aimed against them in the street, not to mention problems in business dealings. If things were bad for me in Stirling over 10 years ago, they are multiplied tenfold now. I cannot see us feeling safe bringing our sons into their ancestral homeland in the near future, independent or no.

If Scotland votes yes, so be it. I’m sure they’ll do just fine. I suspect a lot of Scots are expecting the inevitable financial difficulties associated with independence, but willing to last them out in order to give future generations their own chance at “freedom”. But let’s not forget who we are together. We have been united far too long for a line drawn in the sand to separate us. Ancestrally we are one. Let us not let the whims of politics sour the many great friendships and family bonds that have flowered amidst the rubble and ruins of an earlier troubled history. Strip the thorns from the roses and the spines from the thistles, and two hardy but beautiful flowers remain.

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8 thoughts on “On head and heart

  1. Thanks for writing this, Caroline. Like you, I have very strong feelings about the independence debate (It’s been the main topic of conversation in our house for months now), and have already voted NO; unlike you, though, I haven’t been brave enough to speak out in public, because for a long time now, the debate has been characterized by bullying and abuse: I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I seriously worry that my home/car would be vandalised, or that I would be verbally abused in the street if I raised my head above the parapet at this point. I know beyond doubt that I would be attacked online if I made it clear how strongly I feel about my NO vote: it’s a very, very sad state of affairs, and it really saddens and frightens me that there’s apparently so little tolerance for free speech in this debate.

    It’s actually really interesting to me that you feel such a strong connection to Scotland, because I’m the opposite, even although I was born here. I have never been particularly patriotic (I really dislike nationalism) and I’ve always felt just as much British as I am Scottish. A large number of my friends and family live in England, and I don’t feel they’re in any way different from the friends and family I have in Scotland. It really bothers me when people try to emphasize differences between the nations that make up the UK, in a bid to promote separatism: I just feel we’re more similar than we are different, and that it’s better to find common ground between people than to set up barriers where none exist.

    I know this is really, really long, but I also just wanted to add that it upsets me so much to read about your experiences in Scotland, and to say that (as I’m sure you know!), we’re not ALL like that, and that most of us are every bit as disgusted by that kind of behaviour as you are. My English sister-in-law, for instance, has been living here for over a year now, and hasn’t had any issues at all, but as your experience proves, there’s a very vocal, and very nasty minority who ARE like that, and it’s absolutely horrifying. I’m so sorry you’ve been made to feel unwelcome, and just wanted to tell you that you most definitely ARE, and while I don’t blame you one bit for feeling the way you do, I hope there comes a time when that kind of behaviour is stamped out for good!

    • Thanks for commenting, Amber – and I’m so relieved to hear that you’re a no voter! Although I’m not sure it’s PC to say so…

      I suppose being all the way down here actually gives me more freedom to comment without fear of intimidation or retribution – although I do genuinely worry about the effect this will have on family relationships – I know many have been torn apart by differing opinions already!

      As for my encounters in Stirling, well, if I thought all Scots were violent racists, my love for the country would be seriously diminished! As it happens, I do love Scotland. I sometimes wonder why when I look at my experiences, though – if I were in a relationship I’d have jumped ship years ago in fear for my safety!

      • Oh, and regarding nationalism, I rather think I’m the same. I was saying just the other day, when I see a house flying the St George flag down here I immediately assume they’re racist thugs. They scare me, although I’m told it’s common enough further south. I suppose in parts of Scotland the Saltire is much the same?

        • Yes, definitely: Terry and I were just saying that yesterday – I see the Saltire flying and I don’t think, “Oh, how nice, those people must love their country!” I just assume they’re probably bigots. (And obviously I know not ALL people who fly flags are like that, but as I said in my earlier ramble, unfortunately people DO end up being characterized by the behaviour of the vocal minority!)

          Also, I forgot to say re: your comment on Facebook about most people thinking you don’t have a right to an opinion because you’re not Scottish: that’s another thing that’s been driving the NO camp absolutely crazy! I think you have every right to an opinion, as does everyone else in the world. The idea that people should only be allowed to express opinions on matters that directly affect them (And actually, independence WOULD affect the rest of the UK, which makes it even harder to understand why they’re being told they don’t get allowed to speak up!) is just so bizarre to me: I guess the people who hold that view don’t permit themselves to ever hold any opinions on things that happen outside Scotland, then? What a narrow world view, if so!

  2. I’m English with parental and marital connections to Scotland, Wales and Ireland, a real Heinz 57 kinda of ancestry. I agree with you both on all the points. In fact I’m actually worried about what will happen if the vote is yes. There are so many unanswered questions, currency, debt, trading, utilities etc. Scottish independence would have a massive impact on the rest of the UK and I wonder where as a UK citizen is my vote? I don’t think it is too far fetched to imagine the rest of the UK wanting to devolve from London if Westminster keep up some of the current trends.

    I hope Scotland votes no and I hope we can rebuild some of the bridges that will undoubtedly been broken in the aftermath of the vote.

    • Well said ginderella! I too am worried about what will happen as a result, and would not be surprised if the rest of the UK were to devolve… In fact, can we not just all be one big country without London in it?? 🙂

  3. I’m an American (well, Texan. We have strange loyalties here as well) and have less access to information about this whole thing than you do, so it was lovely that you chose to share this. You have always really excelled at the written expression of complex, deep issues. It’s what drew me to you in the first place. ❤

    • That and a shared love of sci fi, of course! 🙂 I’m so delighted that you still read, chick – I was thinking of you at the start of August when I began reading Gail Carriger’s YA stuff – after all, I started reading her on your recommendation!

      I think we’re all looking a little to America at the moment as an example of what could happen here if Scotland opts to stay in the United Kingdom. I don’t entirely understand the state system as I’ve never looked at it too closely, but that sense of state loyalty is a defining feature. Conversely, there’s also a possibility that something similar might apply to the European Union in the long run – that the countries of Europe might end up running like states under a wider Union rule… All very interesting! xx

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