Daughters of Gourock

Wee Annie Kempock might be a fictional representation of the girls who enjoyed their holidays Doon the Watter, but she stands a symbol for the many real women of Gourock.

On International Women’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to honour some of the notable women of Gourock.

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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

Scottish Love Poems

McCulloch, Horatio; ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/my-hearts-in-the-highlands-85198

Wheesht, wheesht, my foolish hert,
For weel ye ken
I widna ha’e ye stert
Auld ploys again.

It’s guid to see her lie
Sae snod an’ cool,
A’lust o’ lovin’ by –
Wheesht, wheesht, ye fule!

– Hugh MacDiarmid

Valentine’s Day has a bad rap. Too often, it’s an excuse to engage in cynical commercialism – and even if not, the celebration of love is too often the genteel, shallow, milequetoast sentiment that’s barely worth the tree that died to make ten thousand greeting cards. The original story of St. Valentine was full of defiant relationships, clandestine passions, and daring commitments, with the bittersweet tragedy and triumph of any Shakespeare romance. Love can so strongly be associated with other strong emotions – fear, anger, hate, sorrow, joy – that you wonder how it became so diluted and saccharine in the public consciousness.

A bit like Scotland, really.

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Adventures in Burns Country

One of the blessings of friends in international places is being their guide to Scotland. A while back, a group of friends I knew from my Howard Days were visiting, and naturally enquired as to where are the best places to go and see in my homeland. Since they were literary folk, one of the must-visit locations was Burns Country.

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Loving England Again

Scotland wouldn’t be what it is today without England. That much is obvious: England is our neighbour on the largest of these islands; we’re more or less the same age; a northern branch of their ancestors, the Angles, are among the four peoples who founded Scotland.

It’s nigh impossible to live in Scotland and not have some sort of regular encounter with England. Our public broadcaster is primarily focused on England, with English opinions and interests and accents on the main news, the continuity announcements, all the way to the soap operas and property shows; we elect MPs to a Parliament in Westminster which controls a great number of our laws, frequently against our own representatives’ wishes; the vast majority of newspapers are owned outside Scotland, and regularly headquartered in England. While most folk in England can live their lives largely untroubled by Scottish opinions and interests and accents, we in Scotland cannot avoid England and the English even if we wanted to.

That’s our lot as part of a United Kingdom of England Plus Three.

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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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