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.