This Land Is Ours

I feel a great sense of personal failure over the news that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity decided to move to Denmark.

I’m an EU citizen, and I’m not willing to be left to the mercy of the UK Home Office. All Nicola Sturgeon’s sweet statements saying that “Scotland is your home, we want you to stay” are just that without independence: words. To protect New Scots, Scotland needs independence, and it doesn’t seem to be happening soon enough. If Sturgeon doesn’t feel she can help us, she should say so instead wringing her hands helplessly – it’s infuriating.

So I’m leaving, together with my Scottish wife and our children (aged 9, 11 and 13). We’re moving to Funen in Denmark (I’ve found myself a job in Bogense). We have our own company here in Scotland, but we don’t feel confident it can survive the recession caused by Brexit, so we’re shutting it down.

After 17 years in Scotland, I will always feel partly Scottish. I’ll always support Scottish independence, and I hope we’ll be back for an independence march from time to time. But we’re not willing to expose ourselves to Brexit Britain, complete with chlorinated chickens, a privatised health service, rising university fees, getting hounded by the Home Office, and potential no prospects of an independence referendum for decades.

It’s devastating to leave, but we don’t believe remaining here is an option.

Thomas and the other millions of EU citizens in the UK are perhaps the main reason I campaigned so strongly for Remain – to the extent of working with the official Remain campaign, rather than the SNP or another pro-indy pro-remain group. Inverclyde was the 5th highest Yes voting constituency, but a statistical knife-edge, and the SNP vote in 2015 & 2016 was “only” around 55% – meaning the other 45% might not necessarily want to talk with someone with Clootie or Yes badges. I figured that if I’m there not as an SNP member, not an independence supporter, but as part of an outfit run by people who would normally be my most dedicated opposition, I would be able to converse & talk to people who might not otherwise be receptive. It seemed to work well in Inverclyde, where we ended up the 30th-highest Remain voting constituency in all of the UK & Gibraltar. Certainly it was a lovely, if awkward, change to go to the count with the “regular” party activists & politicians on the same side of a campaign. (Indeed, of the 40 or so present at the count, there were exactly 2 representatives for the Leave campaign in Inverclyde.)

So I campaigned not just because we needed to hold the UK to a promise they made in 2014, and not just because we Scots benefit so much from working with the EU (when the UK Government allows it), but because I felt we had a great duty and responsibility to those born in another nation who made Scotland their home. I was certain that this would come before the end of March 2019 – it had to. And, like Thomas, I thought the SNP were fighting well. Then the 2017 snap election – which I maintain was nothing to do with giving Theresa May a meaningless “fresh” mandate, and everything to do with neutralising the SNP & stopping indyref2 – came & knocked the SNP for six. It’s quite demoralising when the 2nd best Westminster result in the party’s 80+ year history hurts like it did. At some point, the SNP decided to stop and regroup – and in doing so, let the deadline for an indyref that would allow Scotland to seamlessly transition from UK-region-leaving-EU to independent-nation-in-EU.

I think of all that time trying to reassure my colleagues, friends, & acquaintances who would be affected by this that the SNP wouldn’t allow this to happen. I don’t know whether the 2017 election rattled the SNP. I don’t know if this is all part of some big plan we aren’t privy to. But I do know that one great advocate and campaigner for Scottish Independence has launched his own lifeboat, taking his family to a confident independent European nation not too far away, because he lost faith. And I’m so utterly, utterly furious that we let that happen.

But even in the darkest doldrums, there must be hope. When the Yes Campaign told Inverclyde activists that “we probably won’t win Inverclyde” & had a wee table predicting a 25% Yes vote, we didn’t play that game – because the alternative was unthinkable. When SNP higher-ups were suggesting that Inverclyde might not be able to unseat the party which has dominated it practically uninterrupted for 80 years, especially after the referendum, we weren’t going to just let that deter us from doing our damnedest. And now, when some folk suggest that the SNP are just going to let a Triple-Lock mandate that is unprecedented in Scottish political history just run out, I cannot help but think I’ve heard that before.

I’m not entertaining the possibility that this will happen any more than I entertained the possibility that Inverclyde would be one of the lowest Yes-voting constituencies, or that there’d be an Inverclyde-shaped gap in Scotland’s 2015 Yellow Blanket. I don’t see the point in it. Come the end of March, whether it’s May’s ruinous deal or the ultimate goal behind the UK leaving the EU in the first place, the SNP won’t really have a choice at all. That’s why there wasn’t a referendum in the 2007 Parliament’s lifetime, and why there was a referendum in the 2011 Parliament. In both cases, the Parliamentary arithmetic was academic. That remains the case here.

I’m sorry, and frankly ashamed, that we didn’t grasp the thistle in time for Thomas, his wife, and their children to stay. I cannot stand the thought that more have already made this exodus, and that even more are considering it. They don’t want, or need, “caution,” or to wait for “the best time,” or fiddling about. They need confidence, they need determination, they need hope, that the party whose entire existence is to make Scotland the best country it can be is willing to push the boat out as far as they can. We all do.

This land is mine. This land is Thomas’. This land belongs to all of us who make it our home. But Thomas isn’t the only Scot in exile who longs to return.

I mention it only because it always makes my heart glow. The phrase “New Scots” is a well-intentioned and rather sweet one, but I prefer a simpler version – such people are Scots. They say you can’t choose your family but you choose your friends, and nothing makes me prouder of my country than that those from far-off lands should choose to come here and become, wholeheartedly, one of us, and to bring up their offspring in the same way…

… I want Scotland to be independent with my head, for the reasons exhaustively detailed on this blog for the last seven months. But I realised this week that its reluctance to stand up and take its place among the nations of the world gnaws at my heart and my soul too. Scotland is vastly more different to England than Newcastle is different to Birmingham or Norwich or Southampton, and it makes no sense on any level for it to continue to hobble along in the ill-fitting, badly-repaired shoes of Britain.

So if this rambling old post has a purpose, it’s to answer a question I’m often asked by surly Unionists. Why do I campaign for Scottish independence when I don’t live there? It’s simple: because I want to go home.

Let’s tidy up, get the tea on, and prepare for the homecoming.

This land is mine
God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land To me
And when the morning sun
Reveals her hills and plains

Then I see a land
Where children can run free
So take my hand
And walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me


The Great Dinosaur Plot

One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!

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Ending On A High Note

These memes just keep getting more and more apocalyptic.

Jings, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?

It’s been a quiet year in the Wilderness, but there were still some fond memories and popular enough posts. I aim to do better next year, as always. For now, I’ll take a look back on the most popular blog posts of each month from the year that was.

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Aye, Scot: iScot

I’m not great at self-promotion. Every time I try, I curl up in a ball of bashfulness like a Mimosa plant. So instead, I’ll promote IScot, a quality magazine for all those interested in Scotland – full of great articles on Scottish culture, history, heritage, language, politics, media, wildlife, science, you name it. It’s a real success story of modern media in Scotland, and it deserves it richly.

This has nothing to do with the fact I just had my first article published there – an overview of depictions of Robert the Bruce in cinema – and that I’m bouncing off the walls seeing a magazine I contributed to being published on TV.

Anyhow. Go have a look.

This was on TV. In Scotland. Where I live. And I wrote something in it.

Patriotism vs Nationalism

It’s funny: in many dictionaries, Patriotism and Nationalism are treated as synonyms. Yet for some reason, I keep seeing people arguing that they are different – opposites, even.

When did this distinction between Patriotism and Nationalism arise?

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Peace of Mind

Palestinian women & girls enjoy a day at the beach, organised by Israeli women – who risked prosecution to bring a little joy to their neighbours’ lives.

Scottish Jews will proudly tell you that theirs is the only country in Europe where a Jew has never been murdered for being a Jew. However, a few will cynically add that although this may be accurate historically, the local community is small and relatively young, going back only two centuries.
Anshel Pfeffer

Regular readers will be aware that I’m involved in several peace organisations. You’d be amazed at how angry some people get when I talk about wanting peaceful solutions to Protestant-Catholic sectarianism, Chinese-Japanese xenophobia, and Israeli-Palestinian violence, to say nothing of nuclear disarmament and pacifism. For some reason, peace seems be controversial.

The utter tragedy that is happening in the Levant is, perhaps, the most difficult of them all to navigate, because how could it be otherwise? The entire history of Israel and Palestine since the beginning of the 20th Century is based on division and conquest, both sides used and abused in proxy wars by murderous powers for political and financial gain, no care or consideration given to the lives lost and ruined, the minds warped by hatred and loss, the generations sacrificed for money and power. Where once Jews, Muslims, and other religious and ethnic groups coexisted and worked together, now it seems to be torn asunder by madmen and isolationists.

The end result? Any discussion that’s even tangentially related to that period in our world’s collective history has to be treated with the utmost care and consideration. The ubiquity of the World Wars in our collective consciousness and the poppy policing sometimes makes it counter-intuitively easy to forget just how monstrous it all was. We got all the stories about toughing through the Blitz and making do with rations, the happy-go-lucky Evacuees and reunions with family after 1945, the tales of derring do as Our Boys whipped the Luftwaffe back over the Channel. The tales of children’s shoes & wedding rings piled into mounds, the boxer forced to fight his people in deathmatches, and the dark grey snowflakes that shadowed Europe may be occasionally revisited by way of a blockbuster film or television series – but all that happened over in other countries. Precious few of us, especially in later generations, have that connection with such a pivotal event in humanity’s collective soul.

I’d ask to keep the following things in mind:

22nd October 2018: Commonspace published an article regarding the Deputy First Minister’s decision to withdraw material on Israel-Palestine education sources following a complaint from the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

27th October 2018: 11 are killed and 7 injured in a shooting at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh

28th October 2018: the First Minister announced she would be joining school pupils on a visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Education Trust

30th October 2018: Dr. Philippa Whitford announces in the UK Parliament that she & other doctors hired by Medical Aid for Palestinians were denied permission to enter Gaza by the Israeli Government

30th October 2018: the SNP suspends a member for writing a blog post which was accused of antisemitism

30th October 2018: the First Minister returned from Auschwitz

This all happened in the space of a few weeks, in a political realm where SNP politicians have simultaneously been accused of antisemitism for retweets and meetings, while others were accused of apologism and timidity. Meanwhile, party activists have been detained & choices of conference stalls questioned, as social media and blogs are being scrutinised. I don’t even need to mention what’s going on in other parties.

Scotland is blessed with the presence of several thousand Jewish Scots, and is also home to a small number of Palestinian-Scots. There are people out there who don’t want them – us – to live in peace with one another, and will treat any attempt to reach that peace with as much hostility as they kindle in the people they seek to control. They have no ethnicity, no creed, no sense of commonality beyond shared love of power and profit – and even then, they will happy betray one another if it means getting one up on them. The people who so shamefully & unforgivably exploited and persecuted Jewish people over the centuries are the exact same people who chopped up homelands and radicalised devastated Islamic communities. This is how they work. This is how they’ve worked for centuries. The only thing that can stop them is peace.

There was a time that Glasgow was one of the most violent cities in Europe. Now it isn’t, and cities across the world are asking us how we did it. There was a time when sectarianism in Scotland and Ireland was a constant, persistent danger, and many believed that there would be no peace in my lifetime. Now there is peace. We didn’t get there by magic: we got there with hard graft, ignoring the people saying it was impossible or wouldn’t see fruition for decades, because we decided that enough people had died. Israel & Palestine are orders of magnitude beyond where Scotland was many years ago – but there was a time, not so long ago, where the peoples of those lands viewed their neighbour’s religion and ethnic background as just another facet of their common humanity. Not perfect by any means, but a damned sight better than the horror we see today.

Even as pundit after expert after commentator claims peace in the Middle East is impossible, the people who live there are ignoring them and working for peace. We’ll only get there if we work for it.

No True (King of) Scots(men)

An addendum to yesterday’s post: it’s illuminating to read the reactions of the story.

Here’s what some people say:

And here’s what others say:

It’s almost as if some people think that supporters of Scottish Independence will think less of one of their greatest historical figures if* it was revealed he was born in England. That the party whose first president was born in England will have a meltdown. That the people who march with the flags of many countries – including St. George’s Cross – will have a canary.

Why would people think that?

Like I said. Illuminating.

*The jury’s still out on that, of course.