24 February 2007

A Case for Independence Part 3

The third, final and most self-indulgent part. This is where I look at identity, and it's as much an exploration of who I am as it is of the Union.

Borders and Identity

This is a very personal argument for me. Those who heard me on Radio Scotland will know that I'm from England. But that's not the whole story. I was born in England to an English mother and a Scottish father. It's the latter's influence that has always been the strongest in terms of identity. On the outside, the house looks like all the others on the street. On the inside, the talk wouldn't be out of place in a living room not in Lancashire, but in Renfrewshire (where my dad's from), Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire or Ayrshire. In other houses it's the Mirror, or the Sun that's bought. The posher ones buy the Express or the Mail. At home, it's always the Record. We listen to Radio Scotland.

Around this place, 'we' in sporting terms can mean Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Man United, Liverpool or Everton. It can even mean Wigan Warriors, the Rugby League club. In my family, 'we' means Rangers, though it can equally mean Wigan for me (and incidentally, I was following them before it was fashionable: I spent many Saturdays freezing on the terraces of Springfield Park while we were losing to Torquay in Division 3). In internationals, while the rest of the village was furious over England's dour 0-0 draw with FYR Macedonia, we were cheering Gary Caldwell's goal against France. So as far as the local community is concerned, I'm Scottish.

When I was a student at Edinburgh, what people heard was my accent. They knew I was from Lancashire, they heard me say t' instead of the and int rather than isn't. When I went home for the holidays, I took a train south. I had to fill in forms about upfront tuition fees. As far as Edinburgh is concerned, I'm English.

So, you can see where I come from in this debate. Gordon Brown talks with glee about the number of families with connections on both sides of the border, and claims that that brings us all together. For me, it's made the differences clearer. There is a difference in attitude, a difference in approach, and I'm more aware of it than many, clearly not fitting in in my 'hometown' and sticking out slightly (though, oddly, not as much, despite the clear difference in voice) in Scotland.

Unionists love to tell us that independence would create a border, a physical and psychological barrier that would make the two countries foreign lands. For many, on both sides, they already are. For most of my neighbours, Scotland is a faraway country, whose people of whom they know nothing. For many in Scotland, England is a grey, formless void, with only London clearly on the map. (By the way, if you've ever been to Chorley, you'll realise that that's fairly close to the truth!) The psychological barrier is already there.

I should be a product of the Union. Without it, I wouldn't exist! And yet, somehow, it hasn't taken on me. I see Britishness as a myth. It's a term I use on forms as a matter of bureaucratic convenience. I see myself as Scottish (and interestingly, Scottish first, though I tried to play that down in Scotland for fear of looking like the family in Goodness Gracious Me, who have convinced themselves that they're white, even pronouncing their surname - Kapoor - as 'Cooper') AND English. But never British.

So that feeling that there is no real sentiment that binds the English and the Scots together makes me sympathetic to independence (there's common ground, of course, but then we have common ground with many countries and peoples). Coupled with the political issues with the Union, and the fact that independence would allow Scotland to respond to the challenges that face it, that's my case. It's a personal case, it's not definitive and it's nto authoritative. But it's why I support it.


Roger Thomas said...

How stange. I was born near Crewe in Cheshire. My father was Welsh and didn't speak english until he was 16. Taught by my mother, whose family are from Lanarkshire. I had Welsh on one side and Scottish on the other. The one thing I never was all my life was English.
I don't know what it was something deep within of the psychology or cultural memories that gets passed down unseen and not overtly spoken but something in the weighting of values and attitudes.
I came up to Scotland and felt immediately at home. Like this is were I belong. I suppose I could have gone to Wales and felt the same. In all my life never ever did I feel England was my home. I understand in Gaelic the phrase is not where do you come from, but the translation is where do you belong. Appropriate really. I think it is helpful to have been in both places to get that objective view on Scotland. As I say to my friends Scotland is wasted on the Scots. If you haven't lived elsewhere you cannot appreciate what you have.

Will said...

Much my experience: Edinburgh felt more like home to me after a few days than Lancashire ever has done or will do.

Perhaps just the difference of being in a vibrant city with actual development rather than a village with a population that could now perhaps be measured in ASBOs coloured my view, though.

Even so, I can picture myself living fairly pleasantly, well, pretty much anywhere in Scotland. I don't get that picture when I think about this part of England.

Roger Thomas said...

Your post really affected me. Chorley. I used to assist bands organise themselves. We used to go to Chorley, it was either the Farmers Arms or The Cherry Tree. It was more than 20 years ago. It was only a few weeks later this bloke from Manchester. No won't go there here. It moves to Simply Red, Greenpeace, Glastonbury then T in the Park.
I read your 1st independence first, and it moved me I felt connected to it. The I read your 3rd independence next, and we were both living in Scotland, having both been born in england with one side of the family Scottish.
What I don't want is Scotland to be taken over from, what in my opinion, is an insane English culture, which I was never part of.
What concerns me is the SNP want to take Scotland independent and try and prove Scotland can compete with England, but on English terms. Thereby losing what Scotland is, and why that underlying Celtic culture is the way forward. Independence Yes. But then as Fleetwood Mac said "Go your own way". England is insane, don't go for independence to try and be more insane. The SNP I feel are into a political, economic and legal competition with England. They seem to have forgotten don't try and be better than someone else in doing the wrong thing.
Scotland should be independent because of what Scotland was, is and can be. Rather than try and be better at being English than the English. On my mothers side I have a 1000 years of Scots, on my fathers 1000 years of Welsh (S Wales Pembrokeshire) so a common Viking source probably. I don't recognise Gordon Brown as Scottish or Celtic and Alex Salmond appears to want to be better than Brown, at being what? The SNP have to realise that independence is not about being better at being English than the English. Independence is about what you said in the 1st post, reponding to events, and that means setting your own completely independent agenda. Not just being independent to compete on someone elses (wrong?)agenda. If Scotland has need of a ship, then a Scottish shipyard should build it. It shouldn't need a gun putting on it to allow them to do it. New Labour, wants to get rid of gun culture. But you can only build a ship in Scotland if it has a gun on it. English insanity.

Will said...

I'm glad that something I write can resonate with others, and relieved that someone else has had an experience similar to mine in terms of belonging and identity. It's ironic, too, that at a time when discussions on immigration and racism focus on integration, multiculturalism and identity, we can post as we do. All the talk is of the Muslim community, of second- and third-generation immigrants to the UK not 'fitting in' or 'toeing the line'; in our case it seems that we were both, of a sort, second-generation immigrants, and that same identity question pops up again. As I think about it, I feel that it's not just one community that faces this: it's all communities, all backgrounds.

It's such a bizarre feeling, the sensation that you can be in the place where you grew up, which you know like the back of your hand and you could walk around with your eyes closed but know exactly where you are, and still not feel like you're home.

For me, I suppose, other factors probably do come into play: I have what might be euphemistically described as a 'metropolitan outlook', so to it's logical that I should feel out of place, uncomfortable even, in a part of the world where, in some people's minds at least, it's still 1958 or thereabouts.

But there's more to it than that: I travel quite frequently to Preston, and I'll be on the platform waiting for the train back when the tannoy will announce that the train to Edinburgh or to Glasgow Central is waiting at another platform. Every time I hear that announcement, I have to force myself not to make a dash for that train. I want to be on it, I feel almost that I have to be on it, and it saddens me that I'm not.

You're quite right about Scotland comparing itself with England: independence should surely mean independence of thought as well. It's not right to do something just because England is doing it, or just because it the opposite of what England is doing, and it's a trap that even under devolution, is easy to fall into.

It's amazing how the nationality debate usually comes to a head around the time of a major football tournament. I remember Jack McConnell announcing he would cheer on Ecuador. How small he seemed! But I also remember how Andrew Wilson suggested that Scots should support England, that that's how Scotland would show maturity as a nation. I think he's wrong: in sporting terms, we'll only progress if we can be indifferent to what happens to the English team. I'm a Scotland fan. Unless Scotland play England, what happens to the England team at any sport makes no difference to me whatever: their results are about as relevant as Uruguay's performance.

There's no reason why Scotland and England couldn't work together in the future. There's no reason why Scotland and England couldn't learn from each other's successes and failures in the future. But the status quo isn't working: it leads either to reliance or resentment (on the part of either nation) and both of those are dangerous.

Everything should be possible, but we have to make it possible.

Roger Thomas said...

"Everything should be possible, but we have to make it possible"

This is what I believe, but as you put in another post it is this negative campaigning. It should be vote for us because this is what we want to do. Once the don't vote for them starts what is possible is lost.