A few weeks ago I rejoined the Scottish National Party (SNP). This decision followed weeks, months, of reading, thinking, discussion and not a little soul searching. I am not a political animal by nature – I am more free radical than party hack – but I feel a change coming and I want to be there, involved, in the front line.
Saltires started popping up all over Edinburgh. Everywhere I looked I saw the blue and white fluttering in the breeze. It brought me to a realisation. I love that flag.
I make no apology – I think the Saltire (or St Andrews Cross) is beautiful. I tried, during my years in the wilderness, I really tried to love the Union Jack. I can’t. It just looks so angry to me, so strident. But the Saltire… Look at it. Sky blue, gentle, loving, welcoming. I look at that flag, my flag, and I honestly feel my heart swell. You can’t fight a visceral reaction like that. As The MacNeill said: “You can’t deny what you are”.
And what I am is a Scot. Not British. Again, I tried that but it just didn’t fit. For a long time I couldn’t even say the words – “I’m British” – they would just stick in my throat. My little-Briton facade finally began to crack back around the time of the last UK election.
Before continuing I should probably make something clear: I am not anti-England. I am PRO-SCOTLAND. I just want the best for my country and her people. I have English friends, one in particular who’s friendship I value dearly. So please believe that I don’t wish England any harm. However…
The day after the election of 2010 I was in Arles, in France – lunching in the sun (ooh la la). I had voted, by post, before leaving home and was keen to learn the results so I questioned a group of English people at the next table. The resulting conversation preyed on my mind during the following months.
First of all, they were really pleased by the apparent Tory victory(!). This clearly marked them as persons different from myself. However, the real issue, the thing that worked on me subconsciously afterwards, was their manner towards me. They were not rude, exactly. They were just fantastically condescending. One man in particular talked down to me like I’d been brought out just for his entertainment. One of those amusingly chippy jocks he’d heard about. Bear in mind, I did not at any point, mention independence to these people. This guy brought it up, then proceeded to ridicule the very idea. I did not argue. I was on holiday, I was a-political and I just wanted to hear who’d be governing ‘my country’ when I got home. I bit my tongue and stopped talking to them as soon as possible.
But their attitude rankled. Why on earth, if we were all one Great British People, should I be condescended to in that way? I’ve travelled a bit. Whenever I’ve met a fellow Scot abroad it has been like coming upon a long lost friend. These englanders made me feel more of a foreigner among them than I did among the French people surrounding us. We were not the same people.
So, that incident planted a seed in my mind which, fed by the great result in Holyrood, and watered by my heartfelt love for the Saltire, has flourished into a renewed and shiny desire for self determination in Scotland. Like I said, it’s not about the English. It’s about the Scots.
There is an old, lighthearted and rather clichéd Scottish toast:
Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us?
And they’re a’ deid
We are very fond of listing the many, many… many things we Scots have invented or discovered. We are innovators and explorers, writers, painters, warriors, poets and philosophers. Or we were. For a long time I think, as a people, we’d lost our way. Scots are prone to be backward looking, dwelling on past glories rather than looking to the future. Fearing the unknown, perhaps. But we are artists and thinkers – we must grasp the nettle or, indeed, the thistle! We are neds and numpties too, of course, but we shouldn’t let that stop us.
Alba gu bràth!