Living amongst the English: No. 7 – ‘I love the diversity of London’

With this contribution we’re almost at the half-way point of Living amongst the English, a series of guest posts by Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

I am now in my mid-50s. For the first half of my life I lived in Scotland (Central Belt mainly but the North East for a couple of years). I have lived in Greater London and worked in the City of London for more than 25 years now. I work in financial services and am about to change job for the second time since moving South. My move to London in the 1990s was made easy as it was a company relocation so the arrangements were largely made for me and there were subsidised mortgages and other help available in those days.

I was single when I moved to London, but I am now married to someone I met after moving here.

The biggest difference between London and living in Scottish cities is the sheer size of the place. The boroughs I have lived in have populations the size of Aberdeen or larger and Greater London has a much bigger population than Scotland. And it’s a much more diverse population. I am a white, middle class male living in a leafy, middle class suburb so I know my view is subjective but I think that the diversity of London is one of its biggest strengths.

I love the diversity of London. I meet people from all over the world in my daily life – that might be chatting to them standing at the bar waiting to be served. It might be a work relationship, or it might be a friendship. I am much more appreciative of cultural differences than I think I would ever have been had I stayed in Scotland. Not a criticism of Scotland just a reality because Scotland is not as diverse.

I love the easy communications and travel that the proximity to Europe and one of the world’s major air hubs brings. The availability of a huge variety of theatre and music twelve months a year is one of the reasons that I moved to London and hopefully after covid we will get back to something approaching normality at some point.

To consider the English as a homogenous group is just as bad as doing the same to the Scots. Within any group you get many people who are decent and some who aren’t. I can’t say I have encountered any anti-Scottish feeling in all my time here. They even take my Scottish money!

I have always been a unionist. I was also very against leaving the EU. This stems from my training in economics  where it became very obvious that the 21st century was going to be about massive trading blocs not diddy wee standalones. Most people I talk to in London don’t understand why Scotland would want to break away and stand alone. Neither do I. These feelings have got stronger since I have lived down here.

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Living amongst the English: No. 6 – ‘I never once received a negative comment about being Scottish’

Living amongst the English continues with an account of the author’s belief that we’re all essentially the same in these islands; one of a series of guest posts by Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

My husband and I have a child in high school and we both work.

I grew up in a council house in the time when Thatcher was hated in Scotland. I remember when places like Ravenscraig closed. 

Since then I’ve lived in England twice. While studying I spent a year working in Essex. I had family in England but this was my first time living there. It was a bit daunting moving down South but everyone made me feel so welcome when I arrived. Not long after I started a workmate offered me a lift to work as I was walking in or getting the bus. 

I made new friends and had a really great year. I visited London with those friends and, just like living in Scotland, the last train home on a Saturday night was entertainment alone.  I celebrated my 21st there with a meal and night out paid for by work. When I left I was really touched by the many goodbye presents. A gift of a key ring with white stilettos to commemorate me being an ‘Essex Girl’ was cherished until it broke.  

I never once received a negative comment about being Scottish. The company I worked for supported the Uni placement scheme for years before I went. I remember the site manager was Welsh and most of the staff were from different parts of England. 

I met my English husband while we were both working here in Scotland. He was offered a new job in the South of England and not long after I found a new job and moved down to join him. 

We lived there for over ten years and it was terrific. At work I never experienced anything negative about being Scottish. If anything, people at work or at the shops would comment on lovely Scottish accents, how beautiful Scotland is and if I enjoyed the better weather. 

Work had a mix of Brits and Europeans. The senior team had a Scot on it. Being Scottish never held people back from being successful in their careers. In general, people I knew at work who were Scottish tended to have moved to England to move up the career ladder. 

You didn’t have to go far to find another Scot living in England, we had one living next door to us. All our neighbours were friendly and no different to our neighbours here. 

Before I moved, I’d heard people in Scotland complain about England never doing anything for Scotland.

I remember money spent per head in UK came up at work, I think it was on Sky news at lunch. People were well aware that London and the South made more money and accepted that rural places and places with less industry would need more.  No rants like ‘That’s our money, it should be spent here’.  We were soon back to the usual lunch time chat. 

We got married in England and family and friends from across the UK came to the wedding.  My husband decided to wear a kilt because he was marrying me.

Our wedding photographer was excited when he heard that the groom, father of the bride and best man would all be wearing kilts. Some of our wedding photos were on display in his photography studio because of the men in kilts. Honest, I was there for the wedding too. 

Our child was born in England and the NHS were excellent, just as they have been for my family living here. I’m so glad we live in a country with free healthcare. 

We returned to Scotland for work and I thought a benefit would be our child getting an excellent school education like I had. I was wrong. The SNP have ruined what was once an advantage to living here. Previously, education levelled the playing field between kids like me from council houses and kids from wealthier families.

It was the referendum campaign and what was said by Alex Salmond, the SNP and Indy campaigners that put me in the No camp. Promising we would be a Scottish Dubai with a £600 indy-oil bonus (or was it an iPad each?) to spend on Scots didn’t sit well with me. Probably living in England and having family and friends there made me feel that this was just wrong and unfair. Us having more when a family in the rest of the UK could have less was just selfish. Especially when it was oil that would be financing it. We didn’t create or produce the oil in the North Sea, we were just sitting closest to it. It was pot luck. 

Overall, there were no negatives from living in England. We visit family and friends in England regularly (or we did up until covid restrictions last year). The people are great and we enjoyed loads of nights out, dinners, weddings, christenings, birthdays and never once thought that it was all that different than living in Scotland. There’s still nights out with workmates and friends, drinks with your sports team after a match and drunken hen nights and stag dos too.

I find English people just like Scottish people. We’re all warm, friendly and helpful. We’d never see anyone stuck. And the kettle is always on for a cup of tea.  We might have different accents but we all worry and care about the same things; relationships, money, families, jobs, education, healthcare and our homes. There really wasn’t much difference to me living down South apart from the glorious summers there.

My siblings live in the rest of the UK. Our nieces and nephews were all born in England. One of my grandparents was Northern Irish and a great grandparent was Irish. As a family of partners, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. we’re a mixture of Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

I’ve got family and friends all over these islands and could never support breaking up the UK. Most recently, many in Scotland have been helped by the furlough scheme and that’s been a lifeline to them. I’m very glad that the UK has been there to support them. We’ve also seen some great collaboration across the UK to deliver testing, build hospitals, test possible medicines and develop a  vaccine.  Scientists, NHS, industry, the Army and academics from all over the UK have worked together and shown how excellent we are. It makes you proud to be Scottish and British. 

When I look back at our time living in England, I think about our first house together, where we got married, places we visited, the friends we have, where our child was born and the memories we all made. I think of England as our home just as I think of here being home.

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Covid and a tale of two tweeters – Boris vs Nicola

There’s been a flurry of concern recently about Nicola Sturgeon’s use of her personal and official government Twitter accounts, @NicolaSturgeon and @ScotGovFM respectively. The short version is that many official government announcements appear only on her personal account where she can and also does comment on personal and party political issues, while the official account goes largely unused.

It’s a subject I shall return to shortly with the aid of evidence gleaned from a successful Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government. Meantime, I thought it might be instructive to see how she and Boris Johnson had each handled yesterday’s related announcements of new covid lockdowns on Twitter. He also has personal and official Twitter accounts – @BorisJohnson and @10DowningStreet.

Part of the context for this post is that when objections are raised about Ms Sturgeon’s use of her personal account (1.3 million followers compared to her official account’s 178.1 thousand followers), a counter-argument is put along the lines of ‘What’s it matter? Don’t be so picky. The important thing is that the news gets out and the personal account has so many more followers’.

So on that basis you would expect her personal account to spring into immediate and effective action to inform and reassure, although I would personally prefer the official account to be the bearer of lockdown news. In any event, since the lockdown she announced at Holyrood at 2 p.m. was due to start at midnight, speed in communicating it was of the essence.

Here’s what appeared on her personal account by midnight, posted at about 11 p.m.:

Apart from this, nothing. And on her official account:

That’s right, absolutely nothing. Neither account retweeted the practical information that appeared on the Scottish Government’s general Twitter account, of which this was part, posted at about 5 p.m.:

An announcement was also made about the new lockdown in England, in this case by the prime minister on television at 8 p.m., with England’s lockdown to start ‘immediately’. By midnight, with six hours less notice than the first minister’s accounts had, the following had appeared on his official account:

plus five tweets giving context to what he said, of which this is the first:

plus this, if you wanted to catch up on a video of his announcement:

Also by midnight, his personal account had retweeted the first and last of these official tweets but had added no further personal messages.

So, to summarise. By midnight, ten hours after Nicola Sturgeon made her announcement and four hours after Boris Johnson made his:

  • in Scotland, we had a single brief message on the first minister’s personal account and nothing on her official government account
  • in England, people had seven tweets on the prime minister’s official government account – the stark warning in yellow above; five tweets giving back-up information; and the video of the announcement he made; two of these were retweeted on his personal account.

Contrary to the usual assumptions about effectiveness of communication, who do you think is getting this right? Sturgeon and the Scottish government? Or Johnson and the UK government?

I shall return shortly to the broader question of the first minister’s use of her personal Twitter account for government business.

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Living amongst the English: No. 5 – ‘It wasn’t all juggling barmaids and admiring the scenery …’

A touch of humour and some nostalgic memories take Living amongst the English into the New Year; one of a series of guest posts by Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

Stow-on-the-Wold … ‘A particular favourite [and] a typical warm English welcome’ (Photo © Graham Horn cc-by-sa/2.0)

Many aspects of life these days are termed ‘journeys’, often apparently, on a rollercoaster.

Well I’ve never been on a big dipper but I have journeyed long and often across the wonderful highways and byways of Britain and its islands, where accents change every forty miles or so and life itself reflects the location, on coast or in the country, in small market town or heaving metropolis.

In 1966 Bobby Moore’s England gave a small Edinburgh boy his first sporting memory. My Scots mother was supporting England to beat Germany because of course England is British and she was an ex-WAAF. Watching that astounding world cup final I became an instant England fan. Later, alas as a teenager I was to join in with the England footie baiting and supported their opposition, so I understand the tribal herd mentality that accompanies Anglophobia. It’s not pretty and thankfully it really wasn’t for me.

However, I’d had my interest piqued by job opportunities advertised in professional journals and hankered after a move South for a fresh challenge. Made more attractive on a social visit where the young ladies of Bedford were sporting “I’ve sucked an Abbot” t-shirts with cartoons of lascivious monks with slipped halos, an advert for Abbot Ale as it turned out. I liked the humour and more besides.

This was a foretaste of not only English beer and more liberal female company than I’d been used to but of a general lightness of spirit which maybe wasn’t always evident in a cold Edinburgh easterly. The climate often seems to dictate the mood of the locals, and it’s easier to be relaxed on a balmy evening where you can still feel the warmth of the pavement rising, than in horizontal rain shrinking more assets than just those of Scotland’s permanently socialist-dampened economy. Which isn’t to reject the appeal of my birthplace, just to understand what limits it. IMO, as they say.

Due to career opportunities I became privileged to work from Caithness to Cornwall and further afield. But the enduring appeal of a distant Norman church tower shimmering in hazy summer light beyond the greenest of green fields, and the mouth-watering promise of an English village pub sure to be found nearby was and is entrancing to the soul and for me impossible to compete with elsewhere on this planet.  As is the generous company therein where a welcome seemed always to be offered with a genuine smile in Dorset,  Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk … I could go on, and very happily did. The hearty companionship in bluff but sound Yorkshire, the sound of leather on willow strolling by the Severn in Worcester, polite and er, slightly Bacchanalian Bath, the best wine bar in the world the Montpellier in Cheltenham, on a par with Mad Hatters, Cirencester where the winsome but knowing barmaid would play the spoons off every part of her anatomy bar none.

But if there was a single template for a beautiful and welcoming area it has to be the Cotswolds. Stow-on-the-Wold along the Fosse Way, a particular favourite, combines a bloody history with hearty village life. A typical warm English welcome and superb cuisine was always to be found there, for this Scot at least, and I’m sure for any other.

Down then to London! A whole series of ‘villages’ grafted together and people of all ethnicities rubbing along, my happy window to the world.

Westminster was one of the friendliest areas I’ve ever lived in, local shopkeepers as helpful as in any Highland village. Quiet at the weekend with the politicos emptied out and apart from the occasional siren screaming towards St Thomas’s. The dry cleaner would stay open late if I phoned ahead, and I needed a lot of dry cleaning then. Particularly after a night at Ronnie Scott’s, Dover Street Wine Bar or in the local boozer where the MI6 lads (I’m sure they were) came from across the river. During a crippling bout of food poisoning ‘my’ local Asian cab company brought me a bagful of medicine and food, refused to take any money for it. They got it back in tips but wow, such generosity of spirit in London. As far removed as could be from the girning of some Scotnats claiming no-one’ll ever take their Scottish money.  And the archetypal London cockney cabbies were mostly sent down by a God who must love the Jocks. Spurs or West Ham I usually found, toppers the lot of ‘em. ‘That’ll be an Ayrton, mate.’ A tenner….Senna, geddit?

I found London to be a city comfortable with itself and not in a state of constant bitterness as perhaps Dundee is (sorry folks, it’s that easterly wind again). Londoners aspire to better things and are willing to compete, that’s why many head there. Westminster around the Pimlico end has a good amount of social housing and is more diverse than you might think, all the more colourful for it. Full of local characters including the lady who ran Tate Britain’s cafe. She’d look my late breakfast companion of the day up and down raising an eyebrow, but was always the soul of discretion. She summed Londoners up for me, always friendly, always correct.

Seeing West Ham United at the Boleyn, it always struck me how almost everyone outside the ground in the shops and streets were black, half the team were too and the crowd was … white. No problems there, just banter. I don’t know about the 70s and 80s but these days are happily behind us and it saddens me to see parts of the community being used divisively by political organisations. Londoners come in all colours, shapes and sizes, Scots even, and most never give it a minute’s thought, they’re just Londoners in London. Please let it stay that way Mr Khan [the Mayor of London – ed.].

In case you wondered, I worked damned hard in England: it wasn’t all juggling barmaids and admiring the scenery. The teams I worked with in my twelve hour day job were comprised of highly skilled people, mostly salt of the earth characters who would do anything for a workmate. Of course as anywhere there were people who would sell their grannies for advancement but in the main, even they were good guys and gals when it came down to it. Also, dealing with English authorities seems easier as there’s a more positive attitude to developing the economy than I’ve found in the North, where particularly these days with the SNP,  jobsworth authoritarianism abounds. I find England a refreshing and welcome change as a can-do society instead of don’t-do puritanism which sucks the spirit dry. Not in an Abbot Ale way…

Back in Edinburgh, a stunningly beautiful home city in which to live is now slightly tainted for me and many fine folk I know, by a minority constantly bleating inanely about ‘the English’ to cover up for their local inadequacies. Enough to get any man down were it not for the thought that when this lockdown ends my journeys South will begin again.

Oh for those balmy Cotswold evenings next summer and even warmer English welcomes.

England, my England – while Scots are British and people are sensible, our ‘journey’ continues as one.

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‘No Thanks!’ blog: most-read posts of 2020

Every year I do a round-up of the most popular – well, most read – posts on the No Thanks! blog over the past twelve months. In what was a tough year for so many people in so many ways, here are 2020’s Top Ten, in traditional countdown format. Enjoy.

No. 10 Celebrating the UK: No. 4 in an occasional series – what the world thinks of us

One of several counters on the No Thanks! blog to the Irish Republican-inspired nationalist conceit that Britain is ‘the most hated nation in the world’. This international survey covering young adults in the G20 countries found that amongst those nations Britain – is the 2nd-most attractive to study in; has the 3rd-most trusted government; has the most-trusted institutions (like media, police, justice system); and is the most attractive overall. Earlier posts looked at attitudes to immigration and diversity, the welcome we give to foreign academics, and political asylum.

No. 9 Mass conversions to Scottish independence?

This post from 2018 is updated whenever more alleged mass conversions from No to Yes come to my attention. It began with thirteen GPs and has reached a ‘staunch Labour man’, his wife and four sons, though not yet their daughter. Read, chuckle, and file under ‘Fiction’. [New contributions always welcome]

No. 8 A tale of Highland holidays – who clyped on Boris?

Yes indeed, who clyped on Boris when he headed North for his hols in August? ‘It wisnae me’, whined the SNP’s Ian Blackford. Believe him if you will.

No. 7 More nationalism in dodgy disguise – the case of eu+me  

The capacity of the SNP to set up front organisations pretending to be something they’re not seems without limits. I noticed this one in October. It seems to have £100k ready to pay staff and, surprise, is soliciting donations through PayPal. As on various other occasions the No Thanks! advice is to not touch it with a barge pole.

No. 6 Corona and closing the Scottish border  

Back in June a strident sub-set of nationalists were calling for ‘the border’ to be closed. They meant the boundary with England of course because, you know, solely and uniquely that’s where the virus comes from. As the first wave of the virus receded, the calls became a little less muted (though see No. 8 above) but of course have returned in wave 2 with Sturgeon ‘closing’ it. Cops have been posted to the boundary. Unsubtle, but plays to the nationalist agenda.

No. 5 Ice cream wars updated, with a side of good Scottish berries

Another ‘oldie’ that seemed to find favour this year, again like No. 9 from 2018. The details are quite amusing insofar as they reveal the self-defeating ignorance of many nationalists. If you want the briefest of summaries, the words ‘boycott’ and ‘karma’ will do. On a more serious note, it’s an example of the darker side of nationalist politics.

No. 4 More SNP hypersensitivity about the media … or just a put up job?

Have you sometimes thought like me that Nicola Sturgeon has enjoyed the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules? Back in May the BBC’s Sarah Smith voiced the heretical thought in a longer piece about a corona road map for Scotland. Inevitable nationalist outrage followed and, sadly, Smith and the corporation apologised for an incidental remark. The leader and the cause, you see, must not be traduced. Taken with some other Top Ten posts this year, you can see the way this is going. And it’s not a pretty direction.

No. 3 Has the Scottish civil service become too politicised?

Short answer – yes. This was the case of the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary ‘taking the knee’ for black lives matter in June. I set out the reasons why this should not have happened, or at least been referred to, in public. The post explains why, although some drew the wrong conclusion about my views. The same civil servant, by the way, has not distinguished herself in front of Holyrood’s committee of inquiry into the Salmond affair, but that saga’s still running. Let’s hope it’s completed before next May’s Holyrood election.

No. 2 What might a land border between the United Kingdom and a separate Scotland look like?  

A glib assumption by nationalists from Nicola Sturgeon downwards is that any future border with the UK of a separate Scotland in (they hope) the EU would be open or frictionless. It’s not possible, and this post explains why. They don’t like it when they see it, but this is an objective and detailed examination of the subject. I’ve invited counter-arguments but none, apart from the usual bluster and assertion, have come.

And finally, topping the No Thanks! charts for 2020, we have

No. 1 Social justice and fairness – the SNP’s latest wheeze?

In all honesty, I was surprised by the popularity of this May post about the SNP’s high-falutin’ Social Justice and Fairness Commission. Like the group in No. 7 above, it is indeed another SNP wheeze, all to keep the pot of grievance bubbling and tell us how much better things could be if we were independent. Aye, right. The ‘commission’ had a brief burst of life over summer and seems to have gone quiet, the ‘Latest News’ on its website dating from June. It’s about a universal basic income for a separate Scotland. Great idea. What? Where’s the money coming from? Don’t ask awkward questions. Damned yoons!

If you enjoyed reading or reading about the blog’s most popular posts in 2020, you might wish to face the New Year with the dose of positivity injected by a series of articles that began too late to build up readership for this Top Ten – Living amongst the English, by Scots who like England and the English. It starts with an Introduction which links to the four accounts already published, with more to come in 2021.

Have a good and safe New Year when it comes, even if it’s constrained by covid.

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Work available. Only ‘pro-indy’ Scots need apply

The tweet at the head of this post speaks for itself. The author obviously got some stick for it because he followed up with:

loving the fact that a seemingly innocuous tweet asking for pro-indy tradespeople has sent so many Britnats into a fit of apoplexy

and

I make no apologies for preferring to spend my money helping to ensure that those who helped me have the opportunity of work in these trying times.

I’ve deleted the individual’s name. If you already know it, you know it. If you don’t, don’t bother to seek it out. I don’t want to give him more publicity. Suffice it to say that he is assiduous in his pursuit of separation, well-known in nationalist circles, has a column in a national newspaper and has had more than one online fundraiser to support the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.

My interest, as you will have surmised by now, is in his specification of someone to carry out the house improvements he wishes to undertake. Of course he wants a tradesperson. But not any competent tradesperson. He wants one who is ‘pro-indy’.

His excuse for this precise specification, certainly when challenged, is that he wishes to spend his money with someone who has ‘helped’ him, though that would surely narrow his search to anyone who’s stumped up for one of his fundraisers. Anyhow, and he seems to take some pleasure in this, his ‘innocuous’ tweet has sent ‘many Britnats [sic] into a fit of apoplexy’.

Well, his tweet is far from innocuous. He’s wrong – very wrong – although I say it in a calm and rational way with not a hint of apoplexy in sight.

The demand that his bathroom is fitted by someone with a particular political standpoint goes further than routine nationalist demands for a boycott of this company or that organisation. It is direct discrimination against any individual who is not ‘pro-indy’. You don’t even have to be a raving ‘Britnat’ in his eyes to find yourself ineligible for this work. You might be genuinely indifferent to politics (many are, believe it or not) or you might hover around the mid-way mark of those 0-10 scales that ask if you’re pro- or anti-indy.

In principle, this is no different from those hand-written signs in newsagents windows of yore that specified ‘No Irish, no Blacks, no dogs’. It would need a lawyer to say whether it is illegal under the Equality Act of 2010, which bans discrimination in employment on grounds of belief. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that a belief in this context is ‘genuinely held and more than an opinion. It must be cogent, serious and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour’. Sure sounds like my belief in which nation-state I want to be part of.

Regardless of the law, what sort of society would it be that determines whether or not you can get a job on the basis of an opinion you hold entirely irrelevant to the work you’d have to do? I first drafted the answer to my own question that it would be a sad society. In fact it would be much worse than sad. It would be vicious and it would be divisive. It seems to be the sort of society that some nationalists want.

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Living amongst the English: No. 4 – ‘The “return” to Scotland was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life’

This challenging account is the last of the series of invited posts on the No Thanks! blog before it takes a seasonal break. It will return in the New Year with more Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

‘I suppose it’s all down to the way you speak.’

My parents were born in two different areas of Scotland and whilst my father spent his formative years in the Central Belt, my mother spent her early teens in England before her parents took the family back to live in Glasgow when she was in her late teens. In the 1960s while my parents were both in the forces and stationed in the home counties, they met and married in London, before settling in Cumbria.

I was born in Cumbria although my mother had, two years earlier, travelled North to have her first child delivered in Scotland.

I began nursery school in England then when I was aged three and a half, we moved to Scotland to my mother’s birthplace and I started school there aged four.

For the next ten years we moved house every two years, as my father kept changing jobs. In my third primary school, in a New Town in the Central Belt,  I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Whit team do you support?’ and we began life in a council house on a new-build estate.

We moved again, to another town in the area, again living on a council estate, and I graduated from primary to secondary school.

I studied at university in Scotland for a while although I dropped out after three years. But after teaching myself to type I started living independently and working in Edinburgh’s financial sector.

In the 1990s I moved South to England, where some of my family had also moved earlier. I then lived in the South East, including a spell in London, working in telecoms, broadcasting and newspapers, until I was made redundant in 2007. I returned to Scotland, to a village I had lived in as a child, and where I had earlier bought a house for my mother (who had sadly died a few years before my return). I have been here ever since and am self-employed.

I’ll be blunt: I preferred living in England and feel that the ‘return’ to Scotland was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life.

In the nearly twenty years I lived in the South East, I never encountered any anti-Scottish sentiment. Joking and leg-pulling, yes, but never with malice intended. As I stated in my opening paragraph: maybe it’s down to the way I speak. I don’t sound Scottish. After so many years of relocating as a child, I have no strong accent, so I can ‘pass’ as English. I’ve also been asked if I was Dutch, German, Canadian or Australian as I inherited my mother’s chameleon-like ability with accents. She could sound like a Doonhamer with her Galloway compatriots, a Weegie with her Glasgow cousins, or a Miss Jean Brodie when she spent every Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day delivering flowers round Edinburgh during the mid-80s.

As a child in central Scotland, once my Cumbrian birth was discovered, I was picked on as being English. It didn’t help that my accent was not the same as that of my classmates. I also read books, and watched documentaries on TV, so I didn’t join in playground discussions about football or rugby or last night’s TV (we didn’t watch ITV). I had no interest in sport, and religion paid no part in our family life (I got thrown out of bible class at primary school because I asked awkward questions).

An early memory of school is having a writing composition returned, covered with red marks. Not because of issues of grammar or spelling, but because I had written of the ‘Vicar’ and the village ‘Fête’. ‘It’s Minister and Fair in Scotland’ was the teacher’s response. Shame on my parents for letting me read Enid Blyton!!

Living and working in England, political discussions with my work colleagues and friends were never acrimonious, even if those discussing were from across the political spectrum: strangely most of my friends are left of centre. I would be fearful to allow any of my neighbours where I live now to know my political leanings or my antipathy to so-called independence.

‘Down South’ I have no problem entering an unfamiliar pub or restaurant. I rarely do it in Scotland because the minute I open my mouth I can feel that I am being judged on my accent, or I have to drop into dialect in order to ‘pass’ as ‘Scoatish’. Earlier this year I was in a local restaurant. At one table a diner had a voice that carried. At the table beside me, two ladies of late middle age were sitting. I heard one say to the other, sotte voce, ‘English’, with a disapproving tone.

If I could sell up and move, I would.

I’m not sure if I have ever felt ‘Scottish’. My father is actually an SNP supporter, longs for independence, and dislikes the English (although he did vote for Brexit). I sometimes wonder if he was picked on in the armed forces.

I have, recently, been researching my paternal family tree. I’ve traced it to the mid-1700s in Fife, Lanarkshire, West Lothian, and County Antrim. If I have one branch correct, then I can go back to 1513, and a Slamannan land grant from James IV. I’m more Scottish than many who bang on about breaking up the UK. But I was born in England!

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Living amongst the English: No. 3 – ‘My opposition [to independence] has hardened’

This is part of a series of invited posts on the No Thanks! blog that explore the feelings of Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

I’m now in my sixties and have lived and worked in England for most  of the past forty plus years (apart from six years in Spain). I’ve been married twice and have an English child. I’ve lived for considerable periods in several different parts of the country – the North East of England, twice, London and the South East and the South West, also twice, where I live now. I originally moved South as a student and worked in several different jobs – bingo caller, barman, bakery worker, abattoir checkweighman and endured a long period of unemployment in the 1980s before becoming an author. I also served as a local councillor for many years.

Personally I find little difference between living in England and Scotland. People are people the world over. There is good and bad in all of us. I visit Scotland frequently for various reasons – family, friends, holiday, research for example – and have never felt I was travelling to foreign climes. Unlike when I lived in Spain and the difference in arriving at either an English or Scottish airport was palpable. Living there was a wonderful experience but unlike moving from Scotland to England it meant learning a new language, customs and practices and adjusting to a different currency. It also meant adapting to a new climate, although that was the fun part.

When I first moved to England it wasn’t with the intention of staying here permanently but I married, made friends and felt it easy to fit in with the local community (at that time in the North East). There was also a significant number of Scottish ‘expats’ and while Scots would often socialise together there was no physical community, no ‘Scottish quarter’ anywhere in England such as can be found for instance with Irish or Asian communities. Fitting in was easy. I’ve never felt any great drawbacks about living here. If I had I wouldn’t have remained for as long as I have.

I don’t think of English people collectively. Most regions possess their own distinctive local identity and have a fierce attachment to them, the same as most Scots. I’ve never experienced racism or any form of discrimination. Unless you count being called a ‘sweaty’* on a few occasions as offensive (I don’t). Except for international sporting encounters and requests to first foot at New Year I’ve never felt I’m being treated or judged particularly as a Scot. I’d add that the reverse hasn’t always been necessarily the case. Both my wives have experienced greater discrimination on a week’s trip to Scotland than I have in close to half a century South of the border.

I would be sad to see Scottish independence happen. From a personal point of view what happens to me, to my wife and my family? Do we acquire dual citizenship? Will we require passports? Crucially, given my age, what would happen should I move back to Scotland after reaching retirement age? Who would pay my pension? And in what currency?

My views on independence haven’t changed. I have always been opposed to the idea (well, since I was around fourteen or fifteen anyway). The main difference I suppose is that my opposition has hardened. Like the majority of Scots I was opposed to leaving the European Union and logically it follows that I am opposed to leaving the British one. There has never been a physical border between Scotland and England – even pre-1707. The idea of erecting such a barrier in the 21st century – as would be inevitable if Scotland embarked on different terms of trade and immigration laws – appals me. I also fear that for the first time Scots in England may begin to experience real animosity as a consequence. My view can be summed up by what Billy Connolly once said, that all Scots are nationalists at Hampden, Wembley, Murrayfield and Twickenham and that’s where it should stay.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the only time I’ve ever felt at a disadvantage being a Scot in England also relates to sport. In the 1990s a sports editor on a national newspaper told me he couldn’t give me a  freelance assignment one particular weekend as all he had available was a cricket match. When I asked why not he replied that I was Scottish, his assumption being that therefore I would know little about the game and care even less.

Fortunately in those days I was a bit quicker off the mark in thinking and responded that I came from the same part of Scotland as Mike Denness who had captained England and that Bob Massie who once took sixteen wickets in an Ashes test for Australia had played for Kilmarnock. From somewhere deep within the recesses of my mind I also dredged up a dim memory of having read Peter West’s book ‘The fight for the Ashes 1953’. That was enough to get me the gig though never having covered cricket before and to be on the safe side I purchased a copy of the laws of the game before going to the match in question.

The upshot of that encounter was that as well as getting more related work  that summer I got to meet and interview the great Brian Lara. The other beneficial consequence came via the press pass. Unlike some other sports where these were issued on a match-by-match basis this entitled the bearer to admission to all matches bar tests and one-day internationals. At the time I lived a twenty-minutes bus ride from the Oval. I enjoyed an entertaining – and free – summer of sport that year DESPITE being Scottish.

* Editor’s note: from Cockney rhyming slang – ‘Sweaty sock’ = ‘Jock’

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What is it with the SNP and demography?

Current and projected population of Scotland. Source: National Registers of Scotland

Sorry, folks. A bit of a fancy word there for ‘population’ but I didn’t want any ambiguity hovering around the title of this post. Demography of course is the science of populations. And it’s there that I find, curiously and I assume coincidentally, two aspects of the same subject brought to my attention on the same day.

Short version – the SNP are looking forward to the old dying off, because they tend to be pro-British, and want to encourage couples to have lots of Scottish babies who’ll grow up under the tutelage and education system of the party to be good little nationalists.

Before you go any further, yes that characterisation is a parody but like most parodies there’s a kernel of truth in it.

First, the oldies.

In the wake of the 2014 referendum there was, to my knowledge, only one public expression of the implications for separation of the changing population of Scotland:

Ms Rollo got a lot of stick for the implied callousness of her arithmetic but survived and seems to have transferred her creative energy to something called ‘Yes stones’, whatever they are.

The point is, she was a lone outlier.

Now, however, no longer. The political demography of death has gone mainstream.

Former SNP Westminster leader and wannabe MSP for Edinburgh Central Angus Robertson wrote in The National newspaper on 19 September this year about:

the underlying change in the electorate, with roughly 55,000 predominantly Yes supporting 16-year-olds joining the electorate and 55,000 predominantly No supporting older voters passing away every year.

One senses that like Ms Rollo he found deaths amongst predominately pro-GB older voters encouraging.

Which leads me to my second point.

Robertson is also encouraged by the ‘fact’ that most new 16-year old voters are pro-separation. I put the word fact in inverted commas because only the 2021 Holyrood election will prove if this claim still holds true.

Incidentally, if it does turn out to still hold true, you may wish to ponder why that might be. Possibly something to do with the relentless wooing of young people? There’s the very fact of extending the franchise to children – we know they’re children because the failed ‘named person’ scheme said 16 and 17 year olds were. There’s the increasing Scottification of school-age education since the SNP came into power when those 16-year olds were aged only three. And there’s the potential bung of free bus travel for 17-25 year olds, currently the subject of government consultation.

Anyhow, the arithmetic as presented by Angus is clearly not enough for some because another SNP luminary, Kenny MacAskill, is now floating the idea of paying couples to have more children. He’s concerned with that population graph above and the declining number of children being born:

‘I am sure there must be young people who want to have a family or increase their family, but have been restrained by financial restrictions. Is it a lump sum, is it a single payment? I don’t know, we need to find out from them.’ (The Scotsman)

According to MacAskill, the Scottish parliament doesn’t have the powers to make such payments. His conclusion, almost inevitably, is that the parliament should be given those powers or (you’re not surprised, are you?) the UK Treasury should cough up the loot needed.

What neither of these amateur demographers seem to have taken account of is the law of unintended consequences. Ask Romania, whose Communist government had a disastrous policy to grow the population by banning contraception and abortion. The result was overflowing state orphanages as people abandoned babies they could not afford to bring up. Or ask China, whose long-standing one-child policy to restrict population growth has now led their government to realise that they’re going to have too many retired old people and not enough young adults coming through to fill all those jobs needed to drive their economic domination of the world.

As far as older people are concerned, it is foolish of separatists to assume that as they die off those moving into the older age groups will necessarily carry ‘Yes’ votes with them. People change, one might say mature, and they may well find that their life experience moves them from Yes to No.

Meantime, of course, there’s a whole list of things the SNP could do that is within their control, not least to reduce poverty and grow the economy. But as Nicola Sturgeon famously said, independence transcends everything else. They just haven’t realised that human behaviour of the most intimate sort is not within their control.

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Living amongst the English: No. 2 – ‘Living down South definitely changed me, for the better’

This is the second of a series of invited posts on the No Thanks! blog that explore the feelings of Scots who have lived in England and feel positive about their experience. You can find an introduction to the series here.

London panorama (Photo © Rod Allday cc-by-sa/2.0)

I moved to London in the 1980s  when I was in my early 20s.  I had visited the year before and liked the ‘feel’ of the city.  After that, I started looking for a job in London, which I got.  At first, I stayed with a friend who had moved down before I did.

For me, the great thing about London was freedom – from having to live the way, mainly, my family wanted me to live, but also freedom from wider society in Glasgow.  I made new friends, and started going to Goth clubs.  The occasional person would stare on the Tube, but mostly people minded their own business.  It was also the cause of the first great culture clash – I went home, and took my dad out for a drink.  I ordered two pints of lager, and was told ‘we don’t serve pints to women’.  Dad stepped in and paid for them, then, to my surprise, gave the barman a dressing down for his outdated sexist attitude!  He was also remarkably chilled when I told him that yes, in ‘that London’ women could and did go into pubs or restaurants on their own, another thing that back then just wasn’t done in Glasgow.  That was the funny thing – it was all the little differences that really made me happy.

I moved into IT, which was just starting to grow.  Personally, I don’t think I would have been able to make the move to IT had I still been in Glasgow.  If I couldn’t buy a pint in a bar, I really doubt there would have been opportunities to move out of a traditional ‘female’ job or role.

People told me before I moved that English people are cold and unfriendly.  And while there might be some that are like that, the ones I met were warm and friendly, and distressingly fond of hugging me!  Walking along the streets in my leafy North London neighbourhood, people I didn’t know said ‘Good morning’, which I was surprised by.  Lots of them loved Taggart, and I was constantly asked to deliver Mark McManus’s ‘There’s been a murder’ line, with appropriately rolled ‘rs’.  I was also much in demand as a translator for Rab C. Nesbit, who they thought was hysterical, even if a bit unintelligible.

Only once in all my years in London did anyone ever tell me to ‘go back to where I come from’. When I said I lived in Islington, I got a round of applause, and the fool was ejected from the Tube by my fellow passengers.  With my friends, I would indulge in a bit of banter around sporting occasions, but it never turned into the kind of bitter nonsense I’ve seen here since I moved back.  I found that many English people were fine with supporting other teams from the UK as long as they weren’t playing against England, which mirrored the way I was brought up.  What it came down to was that we were all British, and happy to be so.  We might have little disagreements over football or rugby or whatever, but it never got in the way of friendship.

I spent a few years in the Midlands, and then a few in York, and while Yorkshire folk can indeed be a bit dour, once you get to know them, they’re a decent bunch.  Be straight with them, and they’ll be the same with you. Working with people from all over the country was fun, and, again, proved to me that people are people, no matter where they come from.

Living down South definitely changed me, for the better – it broadened my horizons in so many ways, but in the interim, I find that Scotland has also changed, but for the worse.  Some friends who have been in my life since the ‘80s used to come up and visit me quite regularly, but they won’t come up now, after the reception they got the last couple of times they dared cross the border.  I was never interested in Scottish ‘Independence’, but now I loathe it and laugh at it in equal measure.  Its supporters can’t be reasoned with, they won’t accept financial fact as fact.  They have embraced a victim mentality that lets them blame England for all their ills, even when those ills involve devolved matters.  After living in England, I can see the lies about England and the English for what they are.  But the fanatics won’t listen.  They’re not interested.  And they need their bogeyman.

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