Monday, 25 August 2014

A Swift Journey To Yes, But A Long Wait

I said to someone recently that I had wanted independence for Scotland since I was an eleven year old. He was bemused to say the least. Let me explain.

Perhaps I was being over-dramatic saying I ‘wanted independence’ but I definitely became aware of the imbalance of the Union from a child’s point of view. Sometimes the simple perspective of a child can help even an adult see the wood from the trees.

I was a wee Hearts fan (I liked the name) in 1976 and for the first time in, like forever ‘my’ team were to contest a Cup Final.
So, after counting the days down to the 1st May 1976 I was like a kid in a sweet shop. My team was to be the star of the day; I discounted the fact we were up against Rangers; being in the Final and getting mentioned on the News was enough for me.

So, I sat with my football-hating mum to see and hear about my team getting to the Final. However, the BBC News that day featured Manchester United v Southampton in the FA Cup Final. The Scottish Cup Final didn’t get a mention (Why is it the FA Cup & not the English FA Cup anyway? I guess because the tournament in England is two years older.)

I was distraught. My mum assured me that Hearts would get mentioned on the local News after the national News. ‘But this is the “B” BC News. We’re part of Britain just as much as England,’ I said. I could see my mum (who was English) struggle with the simplistic view. ‘Why should the Scottish Cup Final be on local news? The English Cup Final will be on their local news too so how come our Final isn’t on the national news?’

‘Ok,’ my mum relented, ‘you have a point. So why don’t you write to the BBC and tell them…and you can offer to be their Scottish Football reporter.’ I don’t know if she said it tongue in cheek or not but write to the BBC I did. I got no response.

 Later that year something else struck me. ‘How come when we’re on our school summer holidays we don’t get good telly programmes but when they (I called English schoolkids they – perhaps the first recognition of a ‘difference’) are on holiday and we’re still at school they get all the good cartoons and stuff all day?


Then in 1979 there was a devolution referendum and a majority of Scots voted ‘Yes’ to devolution. But, Westminster imposed a 40% rule which meant 40% of the registered electorate had to be achieved by Yes for it to count; this meant that anyone on the voters roll who did not vote or had even died but was still on the roll would be counted as a ‘No’. Thus, the majority ‘Yes’ vote was defeated.

Thatcher; need I say more?

Jobs became scarce in Scotland and I moved to England for work. 

The ‘differences’ became more pronounced. I had Scottish Pound notes refused in shops in England and questioned or refused abroad. 

I lived in England and could not read in the ‘national’ newspapers about Celtic or Rangers competing in Europe. I could tell you who the English cricket team captain was but not the Scotland football team captain. I rarely saw Scotland games on television.

At work I was allowed time off to watch England World Cup or European Championship games but not any time off to watch Scotland games (that’s even if I could find anywhere that was showing them – I drove from Oxfordshire and the West Midlands to Moffat on a few occasions to watch games). 

I watched the national news interview David Cameron when Tony Blair stepped down and the conversation veer into ‘too many Scots in Government already’ as Gordon Brown was mooted as next Prime Minister. I imagined the furore if ‘Scots’ was substituted with ‘Asians’, ‘Blacks’, or ‘Pakistanis’.

I could buy a French newspaper in WH Smith: a German one, Polish, Asian Eye, newspapers for Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, Canadians, various Italian newspapers and even papers in Urdhu or Hindi. I couldn’t buy a Scottish one and The Sun, Telegraph, Daily Mail never reported any Scottish related news (well apart from a swan in Anstruther that was suspected of having bird flu); they regularly ran ‘whinging Scots’ and ‘Let them eat haggis’-type stories. 

'National Newspaper Cartoon'

My Black Country-born English wife started out claiming I had a huge chip on my shoulder but eventually became more infuriated about my ‘perceived injustices’ than I did. She even joined me on a trip to see Scotland play France in Paris (we lost 5-0) and loved the atmosphere. She didn’t like the anti-English chants however. But not long after we went to a pub in High Wycombe to watch an England/Scotland rugby game on the big screen; she begged me to leave such was the anti-Scottish venom. All that proves is there are good people and bad everywhere.

I would sometimes, in a haze of drink and kilted up, head to the Lozells Inn on Lozells Road (scene of the famous riots of Lozells/Handsworth in 1985 where two men were left dead and a police officer shot and wounded) in Birmingham and laugh and joke with the Jamaicans that I was more foreign than them. They agreed. However, I could play ‘their’ style of dominoes and not the local ‘five and threes’ style. I was constantly warned not to go to such a dangerous place at night but I was only ever welcomed with big smiles; perhaps I was looked at as a novelty?

My point is that I have never seen the ‘Union’ as being an equal partnership and I have never seen my desire for Scottish independence as Anti-English. On the contrary, I always felt that many Scots used the power of Westminster as a convenient excuse to blame England for all our woes. 

Now we can say YES and start taking responsibility for ourselves.