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.