Tag Archives: self-identity

The Label Fell Off

3 Mar

Recently, following a criticism about “expats living in warm countries meddling in British politics that no longer affect them“, I have been reflecting on the labels used to describe those living outwith their own countries.

Let’s start by examining the term ‘expat’ (expatriate) which was used in such an obviously denigratory sense by the critic.

The term “ex-pat”, which is only applied to folk from the UK (or former predominantly white colonies) who are living abroad, has a casual arrogance about it that hint at colonialist and racist undertones.  It typically refers to those living abroad long term who intend to return to their homeland at some point (often unspecified) in the future; or, as is so often the case in Spain, folk who have a home in both the host country and their country of origin, between which they alternate according to season and/or family ties.

Unfortunately, for I am sure that they are lovely people, the expats I have encountered here in Spain almost all adhere to a nauseating British stereotype, which was already well out of fashion in England in my infancy.  Given their intention to return to their country of origin at some point in the future, their interesed  in the current politics of their homeland is both pertinent and permissible (given that they can continue to vote for the first 15 years of their residence abroad – a privilege which the Tories would like to make lifelong) and should be encouraged rather than curtailed.

Although I now eschew the label ‘expat’, I have been one in the past. I was an expat all the while I was living in England (some 35 years) – something only Scots are fully likely to understand – never feeling settled or really at home there and always harbouring a secret longing to return home to Scotland. It is bewildering, given the much vaunted myth of the heterogeneity of the UK that I feel far more at home living in Spain than I ever did living in England!

Moving on to migrant, which is a term used to describe a person who moves abroad for reasons of work, which I did not when I left in 2008. In fact, I was unemployed for the first few months I was in Spain, having given up a good job (and turned down another offer of work) in London in order to emigrate. Yet, I have to also confess to having been a migrant; first, in 1980, when I moved from Sussex to Belfast in search of work, and again, following the completion of my bachelors degree, when I was willing to migrate to any part of the country for work, but ended up migrating to London because of my first wife’s PhD.

So, if I am not any longer an expat or a migrant, what labels are apposite?

It would be more apt to call me a partial émigré than either expat or migrant, as part of the reason I fled the Benighted Kingdom (as Cammie, Clegg & Co have made it) was to escape just that political eventuality. The continuance of a virtually unfettered Tory reign of terror against the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in British society while lining the insatiable pockets of their ultra-wealthy pals, combined with the government’s rising xenophobia, is one of the greatest deterrents to ever returning to the land of my birth, where they have but negligible electoral support. Yet, when all is said and done, émigré (even if just partial) is too flash and fussy for me.

My personal choice would be for the simplest descriptions; either ‘immigrant’ or ‘emigrant’ both of which are felicitous to my circumstance. I am not ashamed to be an immigrant, despite its pejorative connotations for the small-minded. It is, after all, a factual description as I have immigrated to Spain; but I am equally comfortable with the term ’emigrant’, given the long tradition of emigration from Scotland to all parts of the globe; I am a Scottish emigrant who has chosen to permanently live in Spain.

So, when relabelling this particular person, please stick to the straight talking terms immigrant and emigrant.

Why, YES!

2 Aug

As an emigrant I have no vote – and I think that is correct, as I no longer live in Scotland and this must be decided by those who do live and work there – but I do have a voice.  If I could have, I would have returned to Scotland this year to play whatever part I could in the campaign and to cast my vote in September.  These are my reflections as I have followed the campaigns, the news, the blogs, social media and conversations with friends.

I know that some people think that I am in the wrong camp. My demographics – middle-aged, risk-averse, white male, professional, who was privately educated (for the most part) and has completed post-graduate studies – fit perfectly the profile of a NO supporter. How could I possibly be YES?  How could I betray my very British establishment grandfather, who I adored?

All the NO voters I know personally fit the profile as they come from the same privately educated, white, well-to-do background as I did. Such education in Scotland, in my day, had a very Anglo-centric focus with our being taught English history (not Scottish), English news and opinion, English politics, and geography with maps on which large parts of the globe were still marked in pink. This was an education that still sought to inspire a sense of pride in being British and turn out good servants for God, Queen and Empire (just as they did in my grandfather’s school days), despite that Empire patently being in its death throes. It was already an anachronism.

The Scots Leid was disparaged as just a vulgar dialect of the much superior English, less worthy even than Geordie, Scouse or Brummie (which were bad enough examples of how the lower classes communicated); Gaelic was dismissed as a dying language from a less civilised age whose adherents were just a few old folk in the remotest areas. We were taught the Queen’s English replete with the requisite RP accent. We were implicitly taught that this is the way things were and always would be.

But it was, in part, this very education which led me to YES. Between the ages of 6 and 12, I was fortunate to be educated for education’s sake rather than the current trend to educate for exams. This developed in us an intellectual curiosity, which was openly fostered, and the ability to garner facts to generate a breadth of general knowledge.

This early training meant that the unexamined emotional response, which I encounter in my NO supporting acquaintances, was not enough for me. Scotland’s future is far too important to be left to some vague sentiment instilled in childhood.  But what did it mean to me to be Scottish and /or British? Given that one cannot serve two masters, which was more important to my self-identity?

Having lived most of my life outside Scotland (the land of my birth and the most formative years of my young life), along with the effects of having an American mother, I had to find my identity, be it Scottish, British, Scottish American or European, in the world early on.

When I was uprooted from my homeland, I experienced a casual English arrogance that showed itself in unwitting prejudice. The first example of this was my being put back a year in school for no other reason than I had come from Scotland; then, at the end of the year I was awarded the “Progress prize” for work I had covered 2 years earlier in Scotland.

I very soon discovered that people around me were confused (and sometimes irritated) when my world-view differed from theirs, as not having any accent, they assumed I must be English and so must espouse the same values as them. When I did try to claim my Scots heritage, I had an ever-growing sense that I was somehow being difficult and letting the side down. This feeling was reinforced by patronising or jokey comments that usually had a barb in the tail.

Through this I came to see that, for many (if not most) of the people I lived, studied and worked alongside – without malice or thought – British was merely English writ large, and folk like me were perceived to be no different from them, so we should just stop pretending otherwise and shut up about it (an attitude I see reflected in some of the comments of the “Proud Scots” in the NO camp); and that is what I tried to do.  Yet, instead of making me “British” it slowly reinforced my identity as Scottish.  I was always excited and relieved to cross the border into Scotland, feeling I had come back home (which is still the case whenever I return), and sad in equal measure when returning to England where I lived.  So imagine my ire when the claim was made that my country had been extinguished in 1707 while England had somehow continued.

The whole Unionist case struck me as backward looking, appealing to a sentiment I do not feel, and without hope of change. It claims a certainty for the future – the status quo, which it proclaims acceptable through the adoption of the slogan “UK OK” (with its dual implications that the current situation is acceptable and as good as it is going to get) – while claiming unnecessary risk for the other side, even though it is clear that following a NO vote things will get worse before they ever get better as the bulk of austerity cuts come into force, increased privatisation and Westminster’s lurch ever more to the political right.  “Better Together” for whom? Certainly not the majority of Scots!

At University, I was fortunate enough to have lecturers who encouraged us to think for ourselves and question everything, including them.  This meant that I questioned both sides of the debate, analysed what I was being presented and tried to go back to original sources (much harder to do with NO than YES).  I found that what NO were claiming to be facts were often either spin, misrepresentations or outright lies – from the hypocrisy of a Government who could settle the EU question by simply asking the EU for a ruling all the while accusing the Scottish Government of not giving an answer, to the blatant lies of Vote No Borders and Gordon Brown over the NHS (the former over specialist hospital treatment – countered by Great Ormond Street; the latter over organ donations – dispelled by a letter to an MSP from the NHSBT) – which could only make an already discontented electorate more disaffected. To add insult to injury, the blatant threat of denying an independent Scotland a share of assets (like the pound), which are supposedly held in common by this so-called “family of nations”, along with dire warnings of what would happen were the Scots to vote YES were wielded with all the intimidation of a public school headmaster’s cane.

Surely if the Union – that political union which, like a shot-gun wedding, was forced upon Scotland in 1707 as a short-term solution but which has outlived any purpose and effectiveness it once might have had – if that Union of Parliaments and countries as co-equal partners were worth saving, there would be a positive case to be made for its continuance that the NO camp would want to present in debate, without resorting to false information, which would far outweigh any possible benefit to be gained from “Project Fear”.

Yet, Better Together and the political parties in Westminster (with their Scottish branches) have, aided and abetted by a docile pro-Union press, bombarded the people of Scotland with a relentless stream of negativity and fear-mongering. Even on those occasions when something positive appears to be claimed (eg saving the NHS or pensions being safer), it is loaded to suggest that in an independent Scotland there would be a greater risk, even though, with minimal investigation, such claims can be shown to be demonstrably false (if only one can be bothered to check further than the mainstream media). The message of the NO camp, who harp back to two world wars, is at its best sentimentally backward looking and doom laden at its worst.  And then to crown it all, not content to evade debate (secret venues and vetted guest lists), they try to stifle it (trying to have YES events shut down if there is no corresponding NO event or by withdrawing speakers at the last moment).

Contrast that with enthusiastic positive message of hope emanating from the YES campaign. It is a future focused message filled with possibilities for things to be different. And while that is no guarantee that they will be, it is as welcome, in these dark days of austerity and political corruption, as a sunny day in the middle of a Scottish winter. And the Scottish people, who are hungry for information and are engaging with the debate in a way they have not engaged with politics before, are cramming the halls of the open meetings run by YES to have their questions answered.

When it comes to published information again the contrast is striking. The Scottish Government published (before the Electoral Commission deadline of 30 Nov 2013) a detailed 670 page book “Scotland’s Future“, in which it sets out what an Independent Scotland could look like, how it could prosper and how it could be more egalitarian, on the basis of known facts. The information is presented with references to a variety of sources, some governmental (generally statistics which the Scottish Government is mandated to produce) but the majority to independent (and frequently internationally respected) sources.

Set that against the UK government, which only published a 19 page analysis paper in April (some 5 months after the Electoral Commission deadline), in which there are no references for the information presented. The analysis is based on a key undeclared assumption that the neo-liberal policies of the current government are the only ones possible. This blind belief in official policy is crowned by dubious claims, presented as facts, which are misleading and even contradictory (eg Scotland would have to adopt the Euro but won’t be allowed to join the EU).  A simplified 9 page version (in which the only sources referenced are the OBR, whose track record on prediction is frankly embarrassing, and papers generated solely for the purpose of the referendum by the UK government) was published in June 2014 and distributed to every household in Scotland by Better Together.  Its misrepresentations were taken apart amusingly in a tirade by an Englishman called Bill on YouTube and more calmly and surgically by James Maxwell in the New Statesman.

The composition of the two campaigns, despite both being multi-party and claiming to be grass-roots, is strikingly different as well.

YES clearly is grass-roots. There are groups springing up all over Scotland with a wider appeal than just political affiliation to the pro-Independence parties (SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists). The multiplicity includes: Families for Scottish Independence, Scottish Pensioners for Independence, Generation YES, Women for Scottish Independence, First Time Voters for Independence, Academics for YES, Business for Scotland; Farming for YES, Firefighters for Indendence, Lawyers for YES, Oil Workers for Scottish Independence, Yes – NHS in Scotland, Teachers for Independence, Veterans for an Independent Scotland, Christians for Independence, Scots Asians for Independence, English Scots for Independence, Poles for an Independent Scotland, EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland, Labour Voters for Independence (disowned by the Scottish (sic) Labour Party as a minority fringe group) and Liberal Democrat Voters for Independence (ignored by their party).  None  of these groups is run by YES Scotland.   Many places in Scotland have set up their own YES group and YES events. They have numerous volunteers to canvass, man shops and street stalls, as well as just gossip the message to friends, neighbours and colleagues. More and more people are wearing YES badges or putting YES posters in their windows as they get the alternative view to that peddled by NO and the mainstream media from a range of pro-independence blogs and social media.

NO’s grass-roots have been derided as “Astroturf”. Canvassing is principally carried out by politicians and political activists, with the same small groups reappearing over and over again.  Additionally, there was the embarrassment of the denouement of the supposedly Scottish grass-roots campaign Vote NO Borders, which turned out to be funded by wealthy a couple of Tory millionaires and run from London.  Further embarrassment ensued when it was demonstrated that they were using stock pictures from a Cambridge photo library in their adverts of “ordinary Scots”.  More recently, Labour has been trying to recruit activists from other parts of the UK to come up to Scotland to help with canvassing. This is much needed as there are far fewer NO groups than YES. I’m told that there are a dearth of NAW posters in window and badges in the street (but that could just be that NO voters have been terrified into hiding their voting intentions by tales of “vicious cybernats” or that they are – as one of my NO voting acquaintances openly admits he is – just embarrassed by the whole NO campaign).  Part of that embarrassment arises from the NO camp’s insistence on trying to make the referendum about Alex Salmond and the SNP rather than the issues of democracy, autonomy and social justice that Independence could offer.

Scotland has an epic choice this September between the Empire Model of the NO campaign or the Earth Community model offered by YES. Both have predictable outcomes.

Vote NO and consign Scotland to the status of a mere region of England, whose distinctive voice is disregarded and drowned out by the bellow of the rest of the UK family of nations; accept whatever government England votes for; risk being dragged out of the EU; send vast sums to London to prop up the City and English capital projects that have no benefit to Scotland while seeing the Barnett Formula slashed or abolished; renew the nuclear deterrent; permit the creeping privatisation of the NHS; acquiesce to the continued criminalisation of the poor and vulnerable and ever widening social inequality; leave ourselves unable to blame Westminster as we will have implicitly chosen their agenda as our own.

Vote YES and Scotland resumes full nationhood once more; can make her distinctive voice heard on the World stage through the UN and doubled representation in the EU; have a government that the majority of her people elected; free herself of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy; decide how best to spend her taxes and revenues for the benefit of her citizens; protect the NHS and free healthcare; and try to tackle the issues of social inequality that are crushing so many Scots. We might not be successful, but if we are not, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

No one knows what the future holds, but we do know that it is never static and so the status quo is not on the cards (even were it morally acceptable) no matter how much the NO side promote it. The inconvenient truth for both sides is whichever way one votes there are risks – to pretend otherwise is mere hubris.