Bothy and soul: coming to terms with the indyref
Last weekend, Dougie the Dug took my husband, Peter, and I to An Cladach bothy on the Sound of Islay for a couple of nights away from it all. “Away from what?” I hear you cry, you pair of feckless freelancers, you. Well, Dougie had discerned a certain flagging in our spirits, a doon-heidedness, a pall of despond.
The blues started on the morning of 19 September and would not lift. In truth, they affected me more than Peter, for I am afflicted with being Scottish, whereas Peter is originally from Brighton. As everyone knows, it’s sunny in Brighton and it’s shite being Scottish.
Metabolising the result of the referendum on Scottish independence was, for me, a bit like dealing with a bereavement. There were grief and tears. There was anger. With the Labour Party. With John Lewis and RBS. With the Daily Record and the BBC. With no voters – the hardest part, as some of them were, gulp, quite good friends of mine.
What there wasn’t – what just wouldn’t come – was acceptance.
Instead, I began to wish I were not Scottish. For it’s not just shite being Scottish. It’s hard and complicated too. I began to fantasise about being, say, French. Imagine the joyous simplicity of la vie à la française. You are French. You speak French. You have a French passport. You live in France, which is French. Above your town hall flies the French flag, and so on.
You don’t have to ask yourself if you are French first and Earthling second. Or Earthling first and French second. Or equally French and Earthling (whilst also of course being ‘conforme aux normes européennes’). You’re just French. C’est tout. There is clarity. Being French is so simple, so chic. Like a nice Hermès scarf or a proper croissant au beurre.
Being Scottish, by contrast, is a seething cauldron of contradictions, a cassoulet of conflicting emotions. Pride. Shame. Fear. Hope. Frustration. Above all, frustration.
Let me give you an example. Some years ago, I travelled round Tunisia with an English chum. We were constantly assailed by cries of “Anglais? Manchester United! Fish and chips!” My chum would nod rather resignedly – oui, Anglais – though Manchester United and fish and chips no more defined him than they did me, while I battled gamely to assert my separate identity.
After two weeks of delivering lectures on the four-nation structure of the United Kingdom in medinas from Carthage to Nefta, I’d had enough. In the interests of a quiet life, I too was nodding – Anglais? Manchester United? Yorkshire pudding? Yeah, why not? – feeling as I did so that I should reach out my wrists to be handcuffed and say, “It’s a fair cop, governor. Take me away.”
That of course is Scotland seen – or rather not seen – from without. The referendum was Scotland seen from within. On a bright, sunny day in September, our hearts were not big enough. That’s what the result said to me. Others will see it differently. Very differently. I understand that now only too well.
“It’s not their Scotland,” Gordon Brown bellowed during his supposedly fabulous speech that supposedly saved the union, pacing the stage like a great injured bear, seething with rage against all those who had failed to understand that Scotland is a Labour fiefdom, whose purpose is reliably to deliver a cohort of Labour MPs to Westminster, not to start using its parliament – gifted to it by Labour, for goodness’ sake – to go its own way and do its own thing. The cheek of it!
He better not have been talking to me. That’s all I’m saying.
I got back in touch with my Scotland among the berry-brown hills and blue, blasting seas around An Cladach bothy. It’s yours and mine and everybody’s. Alba gu bràth. And that – in the interests of clarity – is not an expression of narrow nationalism. Just of a desire for this northwestern corner of Europe to be all it can be for all its residents and visitors, and all the many people who love it.
I’ve put my application for French citizenship in the bin. Knowing my luck, I’d probably just end up back where I started as a Bretonne or something. Scotland’s for me. And, of course, for you.