It’s funny how these things go in circles. I am not actually all that English. I have dual nationality (my father is Canadian) and was raised in Austria and Singapore. My mum’s family are all English, but I have lived there for no more than about seven years of my adult life, and a lot of that was in London, which doesn’t especially feel part of England really.
I’ve always embraced a lot of the English sides to my heritage – football, music, stuff like that – but I grew up in a time when the Falklands war, bacon-faced football hooligans and Maggie Thatcher also represented England and given that Canada is about as politically innocuous as anywhere in the world (although don’t look too closely at the current government when you say that) and that Vienna was my home at the time, I never thought of myself as particularly English when I was growing up. In fact I was actively fucking embarrassed by the English people at my school who kept going on about baked beans and god knows what and even singing Rule Britannia at times to express just how wonderful things were back in Blighty. We lived in fucking Vienna, for fuck’s sake, how can you possibly pine for fucking Nottingham or wherever the fuck it was when you live in Vienna?
The only thing which really ‘turned me English’, funnily enough, was moving to Scotland. I don’t know where I got my accent from, but I suspect it was the BBC World Service. In our last couple of years at school a lot of the kids rather inexplicably affected American accents and that irritated me so much I very determinedly turned away from it, and I think the only real alternative influence I had back then was probably listening to the football on the World Service. That’s a guess, but it sounds plausible.
Anyhow, when I moved to Glasgow to study at age eighteen I was introduced to the ‘English Cunt’ school of Scottish hospitality. Partly, I suppose, because I was well into my football but also just because that’s how it seemed to work in Glasgow, I was just English. For the first little while I would answer that hyper-aggressive ‘hoi you – are you fucking English?’ question with a factual response. ‘No not really. I’ve never really lived there and I’m half Canadian, but I was actually raised in Austria’.
That wasn’t the point of the question, of course. It was just good old-fashioned Scottish racism. And don’t give me that shit about ‘prejudice + power’ and being a Western white man I can’t possibly be the victim of racism, because when you sound like I do and you’re in a pub in a ropey part of Glasgow watching an English football match on the telly surrounded by people pricking their ears up at your accent you’d be straining credulity to suggest that I was the one with the power in that particular situation. It wasn’t especially bad most of the time, but there were definitely times when it was very oppressive and some where it was actually pretty fucking scary.
And as I assume a lot of people who have been mocked, attacked or just generally singled out for something they can’t really change will tell you, it makes you jumpy about everyone, even in a small way, but it also has a habit of cementing your relationship with whatever it is you’re being singled out for. English? Fucking English? Yes, fuck you I’m English, what are you, fucking Sherlock fucking Holmes. Getting constant hassle for being English made me defiantly embrace my English side, even though it was never something I really identified with before.
Anyone who listens to the podcasts regularly will know I still hold onto a couple of the sillier stereotypes I ended up embracing during that time, but that’s kind of what it does, I guess. You either start apologising for something you can’t do a fucking thing about – and being abused for being English when you aren’t really English is downright confusing – or you tell people to fuck off and refuse to apologise. You embrace their stereotype as a way of telling them that you will not be fucking ashamed of it.
Now I am not claiming to be a serious victim of persecution here, or that I suffered especially. One or two rather hairy moments aside, the whole thing was at its worst just really annoying. The only reason I even bring it up is that having been sort of forced into Englishness by the Scottish, I rather oddly feel like I am now being rather forced into Scottishness by the English.
I mean, I’ve lived here far longer now than I have anywhere else, I’ve made my home here, married a Scottish woman and contributed far more to Scottish cultural life, and have in turn been more enriched by it, than I have anywhere else. But I am still pretty clearly not Scottish.
But listening to the increasingly venomous anti-Scottish rhetoric coming from the UK establishment, which flickered into life during the referendum but has become something of a blaze since it became clear that No prevailing during the referendum didn’t exactly constitute a pledge of obedience, I find myself with that same old feeling of ‘fuck you, we’ll vote for who we fucking well please, thank you’. ‘We’. It’s a different issue this time, and of course #notallglaswegians and #notallenglishmen etc etc but I think my reaction is the same thing deep down.
I voted Yes in the independence referendum, as you probably know, but I find it depressingly revealing, if hardly a massive shock, that the Westminster establishment were desperate for Scotland to remain part of the Union, but equally horrified at the idea that we have any say in how that union is actually run. How is the SNP being a partner to a minority Labour government any more devoid of legitimacy than the countless fucking Tory governments who decimated the North of England and fucked up the lives of people who never voted for them, or the Tories propped up by the Ulster Unionists way back when, or anyone else having a party involved in government that they didn’t vote for – like the Lib Dems in the last government. Or like, say, the Tories, who run the UK despite having about as much credibility across Scotland as the Monster Raving fucking Loony Party?
And the question I am asking is not about whether the SNP are good, bad or indifferent, it is simply about watching the two major British political parties telling all of Scotland that their entirely free and fair democratic choices are somehow worthless, illegitimate or seen in some way as dangerous or devious. I know this is just political posturing by the Tories to reclaim the UKIP vote, or Labour to woo the centrist and business vote by asserting their neoliberal credentials, but the net result is the two main parties telling a whole country to basically fuck off.
And suddenly with all this hostility towards the democratic will of the same people whose democratic will gave them what they said they fucking wanted back in September – in which case aren’t we supposed to all be one big happy family these days – I find myself developing this really weird sense of defiant Scottish identity. As anyone who read my post about why I was voting Yes will know, patriotism is not something I respect very much. You can love the place you live or were raised or whatever, and I do both, but go much further than that and you are in the territory of reverse racism – thinking that where you just happened to be born makes you in some way special. Or of what Doug Stanhope characterised as taking credit for a bunch of things which had nothing to do with you. Or as a friend of mine said, claiming some sort of weird ownership of a portion of land which existed for millennia before you and will exist for millennia more after you are gone, and which in any case is inhabited by millions of other people with just as little right to claim it as you, and who may think of it entirely differently.
But the worse the screeching from the press and the mainstream politicians (and, god forbid, the fucking comments sections of the national newspapers) gets, the more I find myself referring to Scotland as ‘we’. It is our democratic choice, not yours, and if you didn’t want us to have a fucking vote in your fucking country you should have encouraged us to fuck the fuck off when you had the chance.
Mind you I bet if I go to watch the footie in Glasgow again anytime soon I’ll probably still get called an English cunt.