A guest post by John Fitzpatrick
I haven’t lived in Scotland for over 40 years and now wish I had never left home. I’m ashamed to say that I actually wanted to leave my own country as so many did then. We were brought up to see Scotland as a forgotten corner at the edge of nowhere that no sensible person would choose to stay in. On the other hand we could get out. Nae problem. The world was our oyster and we could go to England, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Europe. I have relatives in all the above places although I ended up in Brazil.
I didn’t leave for economic reasons as so many did but because I was crazy about a lassie from Liverpool and when she headed back to England after finishing her university studies in Scotland, I followed her. I spent eight years in England – Yorkshire/Derbyshire and then East Anglia – and enjoyed them. However, I was always aware that most English people did not really know much about Scotland. Although we were seen as a bit different, at the end of the day we were loyal Jocks. People like Billy Connolly, Ronnie Corbett, Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish amused and reassured them just as the loyal Sikhs did during the Indian Mutiny.
I had always been in favour of independence but my background in Glasgow was socialist so I would not have voted for the SNP – the “Tartan Tories” as my father, who was a shop steward and a staunch Labour man, called them. It was only when I went to Dundee to work as a journalist that I met SNP supporters. They were different. First of all, they did not care what my religion was or whether I supported Celtic and Rangers and they were not particularly left-wing. Most were lower middle class from farming or self-employed backgrounds, people you would think as natural Tories but they were not. They were actually more patriotic than those misguided Scottish Labour stalwarts who supported the underdogs everywhere except in their own country.
I started to see Scotland differently. I realized that Glasgow might have been the biggest city but it did not represent Scotland. What a shock that was. Later I ended up in posh Edinburgh and found a different kind of Scot with a different view of how our country should be run. Then I ended up in Fife – one of the few places in the UK ever to have elected a Communist MP. I visited the Borders and found a people who, like those other stubborn folk in Orkney and Shetland, refused to fit into an ideological box and voted as they felt. I started to see my homeland as being a bit like Afghanistan where there are different ethnic groups and tribes – Pathans, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara, Turkmen – but they feel allegiance to their country rather than their ethnic origin.
I realized we were separated by regional differences but so is virtually every country in the world. What I could not understand was why we Scots were so divided and why we could not agree that we should come together and decide on our future, regardless of out regions, class or religions. For example, Portugal and Spain have a lot in common and were even united for about 60 years but the Portuguese were never prepared to be ruled or patronized by the Spaniards. You will never meet a Portuguese who would agree to be ruled by Spain no matter how much he or she might complain about conditions. Belgium is regarded as an artificial country made up of Flemish and French speakers but, despite these differences, I have never heard of a Flemish speaker who wants Belgium to join the Netherlands or a French speaker who wants to join France. I lived in Switzerland for over a decade and never met a German, French or Italian-speaking Swiss who wanted to join Germany, France or Italy.
We, on the other hand, have a large number of people who think we are incapable of running our own country. They feel we need a neighbouring country to take care of us. I don’t like to use the word “brainwashed” but that is what has created this mentality.
We have political parties that spend their time telling us we cannot rule ourselves. Somehow or other Scottish people, who have a pretty good track record when it comes to inventing things like the telephone and the television or penicillin and radar etc. (need I go on?) cannot run their own affairs. We are the only people in the world who are incapable of doing things our way.
These people forget that Scotland as a nation was around a lot longer than as an enforced partner of the UK. Scotland is one of Europe’s longest established countries. However, it was obliterated after the 1707 Act of Union. Although we were allowed to keep our church, legal system and education system, none of these institutions has genuinely stood up for Scotland. The Church of Scotland became the voice of the Establishment and has never rocked the boat on behalf of the Scottish people. The legal system maintains some differences but Westminster can impose any law it likes on us or amend any existing Scottish law. The education system, which we used to boast about, has probably been the biggest failure.
Outside the home, I learned about Scotland’s history when I was at primary school, thanks to patriotic teachers who told us about our heroes and taught us songs and poems. When I was at secondary school in the 1960s the history textbooks literally did not mention Scotland. Plenty on the Corn Laws, Industrial Revolution, Clive of India and Gladstone´s attempts at Irish Self Rule but nothing, absolutely nothing, about the Act of Union, Jacobite Rebellions and Scotland’s part in the British Empire.
When television arrived we were exposed to the BBC from London and then STV with grainy football coverage and the White Heather Club. We were expected to see everything presented from an English point of view, accept English accents, recognize English references and just coorie doon and forget that we had a voice and a view of our own. OK we could occasionally talk about Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald but it was as real as the comics we read – I remember Red Rory about a red-haired Highland lad who was held in the air by two eagles and swooped down on the redcoats and gave them a biffing. We saw films like Whisky Galore that presented us as a bunch of lovable rogues ready to outwit the Inland Revenue but never capable of following our ancestors and standing up and fighting against an oppressive power.
Well that’s all changed now and independence is now the main item on the political agenda. Thank goodness there is an up-and-coming generation that is prepared to see things differently from my generation and those that went before us.
Surely the time has come to throw off our humble, embarrassing past and the shackles that tie us to a system that not only does not represent us but despises us and takes us for granted. It’s time we Scots, all of us, regardless of our personal political views, reassert our rights and re-establish ourselves as a sovereign state.