Drumchapel Conversations

scotland

By Henry Bell

I’m stood in Drumchapel community centre talking with two men born and brought up in the Drum, stood around a piece of paper with a pound sign on it. One of them says growing up round here they used to cut up floorboards for firewood when he was young, but never suffered the indignity of food banks. He doesn’t care what currency we use, so long as there is more of it in the pockets of the working class. His friend isn’t so sure. He agrees that things are getting worse, and we need a radical shift, but should we take this risk now, can we trust Scottish banks any better than ones in London? And what about the folk in the north east of England – would we really leave them behind? They tell me what they know about Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong, and what their visions are for Scotland.
As I’m talking I notice that I’m clipping the edges of my middle class English accent. Did I just say ‘hingwy’? Did they notice? Arguing for Scottish independence in a cut-glass accent is a worry. We rejoin the group and sit in a big circle. One of the first people to speak looks across at me and says: “I think it’s odd. Having these English folk here, talking about all this.”

There’s a noticeable change in the atmosphere. Not just for me; the whole room tenses. He carries on: “I mean, it’s just great that they feel Scottish enough, or involved enough in Scotland. That they want to be part of this conversation. That they get to have a say. Cos it’s their country too.”
The circle agrees this is a question for everyone that calls Scotland home. Folk chip in saying it doesn’t matter if you were born in Bristol or Bangalore or Bridgeton we all need more new Scots coming in, getting involved and building a fairer country.

This has been my experience at every turn of three years campaigning for a yes vote, and six years being involved in Scottish politics. Where my accent might raise legitimate issues around class and privilege I’ve never been made to feel unwelcome in the debate on Scottish independence because I’m English.

It would be a bizarre lie of me to say there isn’t any anti-English feeling. I’ve been called a Sassenach in chip shops, been taken for a Tory in the pub, and at its most unpleasant told I wasn’t welcome in this country by folk with posh Morningside accents. All I’m saying is that my experience of the yes campaign is one of inclusion, outreach, and a genuine aspiration for democracy.

Nationalism is a dark and dangerous thing and I hope to see the death of it in an independent Scotland. But the gleeful searching for anti-Englishness that Jim Murphy, Michael White, Andrew Gilligan and a host of other politicians and writers in national papers have indulged in is the only thing making me worry about being an “English Scot”. It is ignorant, cynical, and dangerous for the unionists to foster and fetishise anti-English sentiment.
What they’re hoping to do is cast the yes campaign as the villain and scare English people in Scotland into voting for the status quo. All this shows is they are either so disconnected from the emerging new Scotland that they actually believe it’s turned nasty, or they’re so frightened by this inclusive movement that smearing it is all they can think of to maintain their own relevance.

The Labour party face a difficult fight to win Scotland back whatever the result of the referendum. Suggesting that those who have lost faith under Blair, Brown, and Miliband did so because of their own racism is not the best of starts.



Categories: Commentary

22 replies

  1. Thanks for this. When I left Exeter University in 1993, my first job was as a volunteer adviser in Drumchapel CAB and I lived in a flat in Kinfauns Drive (I think it´s not there now). People used to find it amusing when I said “Kinfauns” with my BBC-style accent. After a year there, I understood in a very real way why people turned to drink or drugs – I almost wanted to myself. I’m glad to see so much positivity there now.

  2. Well, interesting.

    A lot of Scots expats in England are mad as hell that they can’t even vote, and they are Scottish.

    Says a lot for the much vaunted ‘equality’ in Scotland.

    Equality when it suits.

    • Can you explain
      a) Why someone who doesn’t live here should have a vote.
      and
      b) Why are Scot expats in England different from expats in Canada / Australia / New Zealand / Spain / France / Italy / Ireland. I use those examples because I have friends and family in each of those categories. I am sure you will recognise that many,many more examples exist.

      So please give me your unique case for the expat in England.

    • Well, offensive.

      What your ex-pats want is to keep us where we are but not actually have to endure that themselves or to have to contribute to our society.

      It is indeed equal. Equal who all who are in Scotland. If you want a say then come back & contribute.

    • Recall: who cares the most for Scotland? The people who live here. It makes sense to give the vote only to the people who live here.

    • I live in Sweden and would dearly love to be able to vote YES but I fully understand and accept that it is both right and proper that it is the people of Scotland who should make that choice.
      That has not stopped me from being as fully involved in the debate as possible as I have many family and friends in Scotland. My daughter is studying at Glasgow. My son (born in Sweden but also very pro-YES) and I are heading over for the big day to do our wee bit.
      If you want to be involved you can.

    • I understand the frustration, but I’m never sure how this would have worked?

    • I’ve heard this comment a few times, but how practically would extending the vote to anyone not resident in Scotland work? Who wold qualify? There’s no such thing as a Scottish passport or Scottish citizenship, so how would you decide? Parentage? Place of birth? Schooling? How long would you have had to live in Scotland to qualify? It’s a minefield. The referendum is emphatically NOT about where you’re from, it’s about which of Westminster or Edinburgh do we want to see as our legitimate, directly accountable national Parliament. That’s a question for every citizen resident in the country, no matter how they define their cultural/national/political identity.

    • Och! You know you expats, having disavowed Scotland with your self-interested, impecunious escape to who knows where or what land-of-mirage-plenty, will be snide unionists wanting Scotland to be permanently chained to a deadbeat England with your despicable, treacherous potential “No” votes. Please answer otherwise and all will be forgiven amongst home Scots and expats.

  3. I disagree, Haivers.

    I’m an ex-pat in England. I would love to have a vote but…accepting that I don’t…I decided I would contribute in other ways that I can…by donating to the Yes campaign and taking part in online information sharing which supports the cause of independence.

    • Atlantica7 – that’s not what I meant. Happy for anyone, anywhere to have a say in the sense of offering an opinion.

      My problem is with those who want a say in the sense of a vote, but don’t want to live here. Applies no matter their stance on the subject.

  4. Isn’t all this positivity and inclusiveness absolutely bloody fantastic, especially as we were brought up to think we were a shower of backwoods yokels. Plus unsophisticated. Not to mention, not stylish.

  5. All through my youth I felt disenfranchised in England. After I first moved to Scotland in 2006, I remember the shock and strangeness of actually approving of the party that won the 2007 elections. (I don’t think I voted for them, my radical tendencies were still too strong back then to vote for a mainstream party!)

    I have never understood the talk about anti-Englishness. I dress in smart English style and talk with a posh southern accent but neither here in the East of Scotland, or in my work in the south of Ireland, have I ever seen anything that I recognised as anti-Englishness. Just open friendship and equal treatment.

  6. Very commendable, hopefully “smart English style” will be the jinkies in Possilpark sometime soon!

  7. Instead of an article about an outsider being concerned about his ‘middle class English accent’, would it not have been better to look at what is wrong with Drumchapel and dozens of similar such schemes across Scotland ?
    Regardless of which way Thursday’s vote goes, their problems will remain massive.
    It is necessary to look at why some communities have succeeded while neighbouring ones have not.

    • Personal conversations and accounts are always welcome. Always good to bring people down Florian.

      • I appreciate Henry Bell’s perspective, Florian Albert. How about we discuss what’s right about Drumchapel too, like the folk quoted in this piece who live there? And, let’s face it, we don’t need to look too hard and for too long to see why some communities have flourished and others not. Perhaps you’d like to give us your insights on that, rather than criticising someone who’s trying to make a difference?

      • Magi Gibson

        What’s right about Drumchapel ? Much of the housing. There has been a vast amount of money invested in new housing. It is the sort of housing people want. Unlike the tenements originally built in the 1950s. That is a big plus and means that Drumchapel Mark II might succeed.
        What’s wrong. The schooling system does not appear to be functioning well. Very few pupils get good exam results. (I know exam results are not the be-all-and-end-all but those who do well in exams tend to prosper in our society. That is why the middle classes are so keen on getting their children into successful schools.) The head teacher of the local comprehensive was removed after an inspection. Anyone who knows how education works will be aware that things have to be really bad for that to happen. Pupils get one shot at education. Even if this leads to improvement, lots of pupils will have missed out.
        Employment. The last figures I saw, they were before the 2008 crash, said that fewer than 40% of households in Drumchapel had anybody in paid employment.
        Sadly, the fact that the population is now probably less than a third of what it was when it was built suggests that not many people – given the choice to live elsewhere – want to live there.
        I started with what is wrong because there is plainly something wrong if people have voted with their feet.

      • Magi Gibson

        Thanks for your gracious comment. It is a reminder to me to respond as you have done.

  8. Fair play to any activist no matter what they sound like or where they come from originally.
    I live next door to my local polling station.
    Any activist turning up will get offered eats and drinks from morning till night if they need/want it.
    Even that dodgy No crowd.

    Only joking, i think.

  9. Like many who left Scotland I would love to have a vote. But I have tried in whatever way I could to support this great opportunity for independence by being here for this amazing time. It’s a big journey from Australia both physically and financially but I would have robbed a bank to get here if that’s what it took. Joking of course. This last few weeks will stay in my memory for the rest of my life as I have conversed and been made welcome on a level I have never known. And speaking of accents not once have I had to repeat myself as happens so often in Australia. To be accepted and listened to is the best gift you can give any human being and from what I have seen so far is what is going on wherever i go.
    Yes I’m proud to be a Scot and pride is not something I often feel especially coming from Oz where some of the worst example of injustice and inequality are thriving under the present regime of Tony Abbott. How lucky the Scots are to have some excellent politicians and there will be more as time goes on. The best is yet to come.

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