Most Holy Father, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. It journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage peoples, but nowhere could it be subdued by any people, however barbarous. Thence it came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to its home in the west where it still lives today.
– The Declaration of Arbroath
Scotland, like many nations, was founded by migrants. The creation myth of Scotland starts far to the east. According to several sources – Historia Brittonum, Lebor Gabála Érenn, and Lebor Laignech – Scotland and the Scots were named for Scota, an Egyptian princess, who married either an Iberian called Mil Espaine, or a Greek (in some accounts, Scythian) called Goidel Glas, roughly contemporaneous with Moses. Scota was exiled from Egypt, and after long wanderings found Ireland, where they settled. The children of Mil Espaine/Goidel Glas and Scota gave rise to the Gaels and Scots, who of course migrated to what would become Scotland. There have been many folkoric connections of the Irish to Iberia, Egypt and the Scythians, though there have also been some very intriguing archaeological discoveries which show at least something behind the myth.
Compare with the foundation myth of Britain: Brutus of Troy, descendent of Aeneas, the Trojan who settled in Italy after the fall of Troy – most famous as the founder of Rome in Virgil’s Aeneiad. After killing one or both of his parents (again, depending on the source), he goes off on adventures in North Africa, the Tyrrhenian Sea, Gaul, and Greece, where he finds fellow Trojans and leads them to conquest. Although they saw initial success in Gaul, even founding a city (Tours), they battled their way on to the island of Albion, and conquered the native Giants who dwelt there. Brutus renames the island after himself, and founds the city of Troia Nova (New Troy) on the banks of the Thames – which would become corrupted as Trinovantum, and over successive ages, renamed London. Brutus then bequeaths his island to his three sons: Locrinus ruled England, Albanact ruled Scotland, and Camber ruled Wales.
The Scottish foundation myth posits a man & woman, from different ethnic backgrounds and nations, travelling a far distance to settle; the British foundation myth shows one ethnic group fighting and conquering their way to their new island home.* Through Scota and Goidel Glas/Mil Espaine, the Scots and Gaels are associated with the nomadic Scythians, the fiercely independent Iberians, the knowledgeable and far-travelling Greeks, and the cultured Egyptians; through Brutus, the British are associated with Rome, the ultimate conquerors of Ancient Europe, and Troy, legendary doomed bastion of civilisation.
There’s a similar dissonance between nations happening right now in Scotland.
#WeAreScotland is filled with stories of people born outside this wee corner of the world making their homes, families, and lives in Scotland, as a response to statements from the UK Government’s Party Conference. #WeAreScotland is a celebration of New Scots, a tacit rebuttal to a government that wants employers and schools to provide lists of “non-national” workers and schoolchildren, and excludes foreign scientists. And of course, because everything has to be about them, there are people who object to #WeAreScotland, frequently using American Alt-Right terms like “virtue signalling” while simultaneously accusing pro-independence Scots of being anti-English racists. Others think it is an example of Scottish chauvinism, suggesting that Scots are morally superior to the English: I would think it’s more that the current cultural converation about immigration and internationalism in Scotland is far more inclusive & progressive than the conversation dominated by the UK Government party, which appears to be courting their more extreme fringes in those fields.
Robert J. Sommyne has an excellent vlog on these issues:
For my part, #WeAreScotland is not simply self-congratulatory mawkishness about how very enlightened and tolerant we Scots are: it is a simple collective statement on what it is to be a Scot, and what kind of a nation Scotland is.
I’ll tell you the Scotland I’m a part of. Inverclyde is not particularly diverse racially speaking: at the last census, Inverclyde was 93.8% White – Scottish, 3% White – Other British, 0.9% White – Irish, 0.1% White – Polish, and 0.8 White – Other. Only 0.9% identified as Asian, Asian Scots, or Asian British, and 0.4% as literally any other ethnic group. Likewise, 90.7% of Inverclyders consider themselves Scottish (69.9%), Scottish & British (19.7%), or Scottish & any other identity (1.1%) – one of the four highest “Scottish” populations in Scotland. On a purely demographic basis, Inverclyde would appear to be monolithic. Yet my experience of Inverclyde has been anything but monolithic, and all I have to do is go for a walk.
I stroll down one street, and I find my relatives. One was born in Kenya, and moved here decades ago after marrying: their first child was born in Singapore, and returns here after going on globetrotting adventures; the second was born here in Scotland, where I take them with my other family members to comic cons. I could invite all three around to the Bath Street Arches for tea, where the Mumbai-born owner & proprietor brings dishes from across the Middle East to a wee corner of Gourock. Or we could get a takeout from the lovely folk that run the Kempock Street 3-in-1 kebab shop, Pak Lee’s Chinese restaurant, Gianni’s Pizzeria, or the famed Taj Mahal – all of whom are not just traders, but members of the local community.
Or I could walk down other streets. I could stop by the Italian Club, where I spent a good few years learning the language with friends from school – to the point I could stumble my way through a conversation with the many friends from different Italian families, many of whom are “first generation” Italian Scots. One of my mother’s best friends is such an Italian Scot. I could pop in and say hello to my Spanish neighbour, my German cousin, my friend & his Mexican wife. I could go out for coffee with my friends from places as far afield as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Rwanda, the United States – even England!
Then there are the families of migrants I’ve grown close to, like one of my best friends’ mothers of Estonian ancestry, or the Polish family who came here decades ago, or the French family who came here following the Second World War. And when I come back home, I can cast my mind back down Memory Lane to who used to live in Inverclyde and have moved away, like the lovely Palestinian friend of the family, the Ghanaian artist who held brilliant workshops, or the man from Honduras who was always so understanding.
This isn’t posturing. This isn’t “virtue signalling.” This is the life I’ve lived. These are the people I know.
In the EU referendum, which was dominated by the issue of immigration, there was a common pattern – generally speaking, the highest Leave votes were in constituencies with relatively low immigration, while the highest Remain votes were in constituencies with high immigration.
Inverclyde had far fewer non-UK born residents than any of the top Leave votes, yet had the 8th highest Remain vote in Scotland – and the 30th highest Remain vote in the entire referendum. This isn’t an example of Scottish exceptionalism (Mr McColm) – it simply means that a places’ demographics do not need to determine its politics. Whether a council area had thousands, hundreds, or just dozens of people who weren’t born in Scotland, every one of those areas rejected the narrative defined and commanded by the UK Government’s extreme wings, and voted to Remain.
Numbers don’t matter. People do. We are Scotland.
*Obviously this is not to say the Scots were unilateral pacifist settlers while the Britons were blood-mad conquerors: the Declaration of Arbroath alleges that the Scots “drove out” the Britons and even “utterly destroyed” the Picts, after all, and there were times of peace in Brutus’ Britain in-between all the fighting. The point is, oftentimes, history is what you make of it.