A guest post by John Fitzpatrick
Lots of things are happening just now in relation to the chaos around Brexit and the goings on of Boris Johnson – Lyin Bastert Johnson as I think he is known on this site. Interesting they may be but they are not issues that would make me or many other people change their views on independence.
I would like to indulge in a personal comment that has no news value whatsoever but is a gut issue that might win hearts over more than shenanigans over Brexit and the ignored decisions of Scottish courts.
That is what is our flag and what are we as a nation and a people? Where do our allegiances lie? We should ask these questions because when – or if – we become independent then the UK will become a real foreign country – not the foreign country we have always know it was. This means we will be able to ignore Westminster, get rid of British troops from our soil, put our own interests first and hope our interfering southern neighbours will changes the habits of centuries and respect our right to live life as we see it on our side of the garden fence.
About 25 years´ ago I was going through US immigration at Miami airport and wrote “Scottish” on the form asking for my nationality. When I handed it to the official she scored “Scottish” out and scrawled “UK” instead. As I had already had experience of how American officials in uniform react to answering them back, I bit my tongue, dug my nails into my palms and entered the US legally but beelingly.
In fact, she had done nothing wrong and I had nothing to complain about because Scotland is not a sovereign state and does not issue its own passports. A smart-arse Irishman I knew gleefully pointed this out one drunken night, producing his Guinness harp-adorned passport for dramatic effect. Ouch!
A quarter of a century later I still have a British passport, a document I regard with the same disdain as the pass which black South Africans had to carry during the apartheid era. I might be accused of exaggerating because the English-dominated UK state has not treated me as harshly as the apartheid system treated non-white citizens. However, this “British” passport I am forced to carry in order to travel across an international border does not represent me or where I come from. It represents “This England”. After all, not only does “British” equal “English” in the eyes of many if not most English people but people in other countries know almost nothing about Scotland and think it is part of England. Broadcasters, newspapers and magazines routinely refer to England rather than the UK and show maps in which Scotland appears as part of England. I am sure all of us have had experience of this, either as visitors or as expatriates.
However, I no longer care or get frustrated. After all they are right. England has always been in the driving seat. Sure individual Scots have done well for themselves and even become prime minister or head of the military but the nation has never been given this chance. “England expects” and Scotland delivers.
The only view of “British” I now accept is related to geography – the British Isles – or history – the British Empire. The British army still flies the union flag over Edinburgh Castle like military occupiers showing who is in charge. It used to fly like that over places like Jalalabad, Delhi, Singapore, Washington, Dublin, Rangoon, Nairobi and Kingston just to remind the locals who was in charge. By continuing to fly over Edinburgh, it makes the point that Scotland is under British, i.e. English domination and there is a garrison there to show who is boss.
After all this Anglicization, I felt that if English people regarded British as being the same as English or associated with English values then let them use the term that way. Remember Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking Glass” who says, “When I use a word, it means just what I want it to mean”? So the English are welcome to it because “British” does not include “Scottish”, “Welsh” and “Irish” values and I doubt if it ever has.
Another term, “the Celtic fringe”, comes to mind. This is a patronizing insult used by the descendants of Anglo-Saxon invaders as if we Celts were an unsightly loose thread with a button on it dangling from a shirt. It might be best to try and sew it back on but why bother wasting time on such a trivial task?
This change from accepting to rejecting “Britishness” was a long process that took almost 30 years in my case. I was born in the 1950s when Scotland was an intrinsic part of the UK and nationalism as a political force was a dormant seed. The union flag flew high and the Saltire was relegated to cultural events. Supporters of independence in those days were portrayed as hairy, kilted savages wielding claymores and targes, the precursors of the woad-painted, bare-chested Conan the Barbarian types the unionist press still uses to illustrate articles about independence.
This was a ridiculous misrepresentation of Scottish nationalism then just as it is now. For example, it was not a horde of Bannockburn re-enactors that broke into Westminster Abbey in 1950 and repatriated the Stone of Scone but four middle class students with duffel coats and scarves. They “stole” it according to the press at that time although they were actually recovering stolen goods. I always found it interesting that none of these students was ever prosecuted. One of them, Ian Hamilton, claimed in 2008 that the UK government had taken this decision because it feared there would be protests in Scotland if they ended up in court.
This might sound irrelevant nowadays but it showed that these early supporters of independence – whether garbed in blue bonnets with eagle feathers or tweed jackets with leather elbow patches – were reflecting a genuine grievance. The dormant seed would start flourishing sooner than the complacent British Establishment ever imagined.
There may have been little support for independence among voters in those days but the UK governments were unknowingly stoking nationalist feelings by their contemptuous handling of Scotland´s interests. I don´t have space to go into all this here but a brief list would include the siting of Polaris missiles in the Holy Loch in the 1960s, the construction of a nuclear power reactor at Dounreay, which showed how that the UK regarded Scotland as a convenient carpet to shove its dirt under, the ending of steel production and coal mining, the Upper Clyde Shipyard closure, the poll tax etc. The discovery of vast oil reserves in the North Sea went to enrich the “British” Treasury. (Incidentally, I urge you to read James Robertson´s novel “And the Land Lay Still” which covers this period.)
After decades of this treatment Scots were finally learning that being “British” meant nothing. We were the minority then. The response of our unionist compatriots in the “Scottish” Labour, Conservative and Liberal parties was to say that the English were the majority so “sit back and dae whit ye’re telt!” As for the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, that was as a cynical move by the Labour government of the time to kill independence feelings “stone dead”. It backfired and provided a leadership under the SNP – OK and the Greens if you insist – that Scots did not have until then.
There was also a cultural undercurrent that was crucially important. This involved writers, musicians, artists, dramatists and film makers. Poets like Sorley MacLean, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig and, of course, dear old plodding Hugh MacDiarmid who tried to revive Scots as a language were and are unsung heroes. Our national anthem stopped being “God Save the Queen” and became “Flower of Scotland”. Andy Stewart and Moira Anderson stepped aside for the Corries, Five Hand Reel, Runrig and The Proclaimers.
The Saltire started to fly in public again, outnumbering the tired union banner that has outstayed its welcome. I cannot describe how thrilled I was to see the Saltire flying outside the City Chambers in George Square on a trip back to Glasgow. My dream is to see it fly over Edinburgh Castle and for the British flag to be hauled down, folded up and given away to whoever wants it because we certainly don’t.
I know there are still lots of Scots who regard themselves as British but they are an endangered species. The latest survey I could find from You Gov in 2016 showed that 56% of those interviewed felt “Scottish not British” or “More Scottish than British” while 29% felt “Equally Scottish and British”. Those who felt “British not Scottish” or “More British than Scottish” came to 10%. I imagine most of the latter were English or other non-Scots. This is an astonishing result and shows that more than half those polled were either hostile or indifferent to “Britishness”. Once that concept goes – as was seen in the Brexit vote – then the UK will collapse and Scotland will go its own way and be a nation again.
Don’t forget a majority of those born in Scotland actually voted “Yes” as did those aged up to 39 with the 40 to 50-year-olds split down the middle.
John Fitzpatrick is a lifelong supporter of independence. He comes from Glasgow and has worked as a journalist in several countries. He now lives in Brazil but visits Scotland regularly.