“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!” Mel Gibson pretending to be a Scot in Braveheart (1995)
“It’s s**te being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the f**king Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever sh*t into civilisation. Some hate the English. I don’t. They’re just w*nkers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by w*nkers. Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonized by.” Mark Renton from the film, Trainspotting (1996), on being Scottish.
On the 18th of September 2014, Scots will be asked to decide whether or not they want their country to remain part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or whether they want Scotland to break off and become independent. As a Scot, I suppose I’ll have to decide too. At the moment, I’m undecided.
Like many other Scots, including Mark Renton, I have mixed feelings about where I was born and bred. What does it mean to be Scottish? Well, for starters, which part of Scotland you come from is important. Mark Renton, fictional character of Irvine Welsh’s novels, grew up in a working class family in Edinburgh in the 80s, when Edinburgh was heroin capital of Europe. (You can read about his exploits before Trainspotting, in Skagboys, Irvine Welsh’s 2012 novel).
I grew up in the suburbs of Glasgow, in the late 80s and 90s. Glasgow is a working class city, with a streak of poverty running right through its core. However, I feel that living in the suburbs is one of the reasons for my mixed feelings about being Scottish. My accent is only softly Glaswegian, but many Glaswegians feel that the strength of your accent is a sign of how strongly you belong to Glasgow. I spent a while working in a Premier Inn in Glasgow (that hotel that’s got a depressed Lenny Henry in the advert) and many guests enjoyed telling me that I wasn’t from Glasgow.
Me: “So, there’s your key sir. I hope you have a pleasant stay”.
Guest: “You’re not from around here, are ye love? Where’s that accent from?”
Me: “Oh no, I’m from Glasgow. I live just up the road”
Guest: “Well ye don’t sound like it love.”
I felt like apologising. I’m sorry sir, I don’t seem to have my birth certificate with me today, but I assure you I was born in Glasgow. The reality of the situation is that if you have a posh accent in Glasgow, then you might as well be English, and a lot of Scots don’t like English people, as you might have heard.
I always felt like Glasgow didn’t really want me, and so I went to Edinburgh for several years. The main difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow is that in Edinburgh there’s a big castle in the centre, and a lot of shops that sell shortbread, tartan teddy bears, and whisky. I suppose Edinburgh’s more welcoming to tourists than Glasgow. In Edinburgh, tourists can busy themselves by wandering around and exclaiming “oh look, there’s a castle”, and “oh look, there’s a statue of a dog”. Whereas, if you’re a tourist in Glasgow, and you ask the wrong person what’s good to see in Glasgow, they might tell you to go and f*** yourself.
In September 2012, I moved to England. I’m now a Scot living in Sheffield. Sheffield is a working class city but it’s not as angry as Glasgow. People seem a bit less likely to tell me to go an f*** myself, which is nice.
There are things that I love about Scotland. One of the things that I love is the Scottish dialect. There are all sorts of words and phrases that I grew up with, and which have been woven into my own manner of speaking. These words, more than anything else, remind me of home. I have to tone them down a bit, now that I’m living in England. But sometimes I watch Still Game, to remind myself of the patter and humour of home.
So, which part of Scotland you come from definitely colours your view of what it is to be Scottish. For me, being Scottish means not quite fitting in. But, perhaps this is a feeling that all Scots have. Scots have always felt insecure about their place in the world, and I think that’s where a lot of their anger comes from. Anger against the English, who they feel have power over them, and anger against each other, if they feel subordinated.
Returning to the topic of Scottish Independence, I’m still undecided. It’s unclear whether it would be financially prosperous for Scotland to be independent, and I’m not sure that my sense of Scottish identity would be bolstered, if Scotland were independent. I think I’d still feel a bit out of place. But it’s hard to say.