A couple of things got my attention this week which jointly prompted this blog. One was a big thing and one was a relatively small thing.
The big thing first and it was a thing that went a long way to making my day. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of their independence, the people of Barbados have decided to ditch the Queen and become a republic. Well three cheers to chat. I have never been any kind of Royalist. As a born and bred Lancastrian, I guess I am hard wired in my instinctive dislike of cap doffing. It has never made any kind of sense to me why we should all be in breathless awe of the rather mediocre German family who for some inexplicable reason we have deemed to be royal. What on earth has The Duchy of Saxe Coburg and Gotha got do do with us? And why on earth should we fund these dreary people to the tune of so many millions of pounds a year?
The pragmatic part of me has always accepted the commercial sense behind this particular tax payer’s investment. Sure the Royal Family cost us millions and they are categorically not worth it, but the payback we receive is more than enough to keep on shelling out. Would all the millions of Asian and American tourists still be so keen to come to Britain and take photos of everything and anything without the bait of our high profile German royalty? Probably not.
So from a pounds, shillings and pence point of view, I fully accept there is a commercial argument to keeping these dreary people in their palaces. But just because rest of the world seems to be in thrall of our royal family doesn’t meant the rest of the world is getting anything right.
Let’s never forget that the rest of the world was also particularly impressed with Maggie Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Beckham.
I rest my case!
So. Hawking the soap opera of our royal family to millions of foreign visitors is tawdry but lucrative. Accepted.
But it is a completely different story for the people of Barbados. I have a personal connection to this one. My wonderful mother in law, Judie, is 100% Barbadian. My partner Carol is 50% Barbadian and my two lads are 25% Barbadian. Dyonne and Courtney represent the generation at the end of an extra-ordinary immigrant journey that spans several centuries. A few hundred years ago a relative of theirs was yanked from their home by Arab slavers and marched in chains to the West African coast and sold to the Brits. The Brits locked them down in the hold of a slave ship took them through the hell of the Middle Passage to the sunshine island of Barbados. Against all odds, the relative with no remembered name managed to survive the ordeal for long enough to meet a partner and have children.
Successive generations survived the torture of slavery until eventually one became free. In the late 50’s Judy extended the immigrant journey of the family by accepting our invitation to come to Britain to help with our NHS as a ward sister. Carol was born with Caribbean blood and a British passport. Dyonne and Courtney had their Caribbean blood blended with Lancastrian blood and in 1996 the next chapter of the long immigrant journey saw us all trekking north to Scotland.
This all means I feel a strong connection to the island of Barbados and explains my delight at their decision to dump the Royal Family. They have no tourist payback for having the Queen’s head on their stamps and coins. They don’t need the Queen to encourage the tourist trade. They have beaches, palm trees, rum and reggae to do that, As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, their island in the sun was the scene of one of history’s greatest ever crimes against humanity. I have never felt so ashamed to be British as I was when I discovered that the life expectancy of an African slave being sold in a seventeenth century Barbadian slave market was SHORTER than a Jew getting off the train at Auschwitz Birkenau in 1943.
It makes the survival of the heroic ancestor of my two sons all the more remarkable. When that kind of obscenity has been committed on your soil, why on earth would you want the head of the Queen of the people who did the deed on your stamps and coins? Well the people of Barbados have chosen to cut the cord and bloody good on them.
The second thing was a smaller thing. My constant insomnia meant that I was up and about at a ridiculously unholy hour a couple of mornings last week. To fill the dark empty hours, I used Sky Go to piggy back onto my dad’s Sky Sports account and watched the two semi finals of the cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The cricket itself was relatively unremarkable. What go my attention was the crowds in Wellington and Sydney. Kiwi supporters wore the same black as the All Blacks whilst the Aussies were clad in yellow. Fair enough. What was fascinating was the range of skin colours of those wearing the shirts. They were black, white, brown and yellow but each and every one of them was cheering every run or wicket with a shared passion and enthusiasm. Each and every one had completed their individual immigrant journeys and now they were roaring on the cricketers of their adopted home. In fact, the ones with the black, brown and yellow skin were the ones who were cheering the loudest.
My own two sons wear England football shirts when the football World Cup comes around. But when it came to the big vote on September 18th, they both voted enthusiastically for an Independent Scotland.
They wanted to see their adopted home get the chance to row its own boat.
Both things got me to thinking about my own immigrant journey which is mundane in the extreme when compared to the epic saga of Dyonne and Courtney's ancestors. To the best of my knowledge, my ancestors have kicked around Lancashire and Yorkshire for the last few hundred years. Before that, I guess some bearded type from Scandinavia must have hopped across the North Sea in a long boat to help themselves a spot of rape and pillage.
My own immigrant journey started in 1996 when I headed north to live in Scotland. But it didn’t feel that way to be honest. Dumfries is a mere 125 miles and two hours of motorway from my Lancastrian roots. I never felt like an immigrant. I was merely a Lancastrian living in a different part of Britain: A born and bred Northerner who had chosen to head a little further north.
Did I feel like some kind of Englishman abroad? Not really. To be honest I have never felt particularly English nor British. In my younger days back packing the countries of Asia and Africa, I always masqueraded as a Scot or Australian. To admit to being either English or British guaranteed a frosty reception. Pretending to be Scottish prompted an entirely different reception.
Think about it. Scotland fans travel to the World Cup and it is one long party – everyone is glad to see them and the bars are open 24/7. England fans travel to the World Cup and everyone wishes they hadn’t qualified at all – all the bars are locked tight and the riot police are out in force.
At the Wembley cup finals of the 70’s and 80’s when King Kenny Dalglish maxed out his medal collection, all of the Liverpool fans on the terraces would drown out the National Anthem with booing. Why? I guess we didn’t want to be seen as British. We were Scousers. Northerners. Not Brits. Not English. Saving the Queen was something we wanted no part of.
Then a year ago everything changed.
I had written a blog explaining why I would be voting ‘Yes’ for an independent Scotland and a surprising number of people had read it. It didn’t seem like any kind of a big deal. Here is the link in case you are interested
I said sure. I’ll give it a go.
I was nervous as hell. Never in a million years had I ever imagined I would stand up to give any kind of a political speech. There were about 50 people in the Town Hall and when I sat down the applause seemed genuine enough. I was just happy not to have crashed and burned. The speeches were filmed that night which seemed a little strange, but not particularly. Here is mine if you are interested.
When the meeting was done, I drove home and chalked the night up to unexpected experience. It had the feel of a one off.
How wrong I was.
What happened next took me completely by surprise. To my enduring astonishment, the video of my speech was watched over 5000 times and for the next six months I became a part of the magnificent ‘Yes’ campaign. I spoke at a whole bunch of ‘Yes’ meetings. I got to experience the visceral nastiness of professional politicians in a series of debates. At times it got thoroughly nasty, most notably on a particularly ugly debate on BBC radio, but overall those six months were some of the most extraordinary of my life.
Oh, and I wrote a serialised book called 'Toxic' which I released online chapter by chapter all the way to our date with destiny on September 18th. Here it is by the way. £1.99’s worth of nostalgia for anyone wanting to time travel back to those heady days of the summer of 2014.
In the end we lost of course. And September 19th was without a shadow of a doubt one of the very worst days of my life. But without my really noticing, something had changed inside me. My immigrant’s journey had accelerated. In fact my immigrant’s journey was complete. For a few days I received gloating messages from English friends and acquaintances and complete strangers who had followed my Indy journey via my blogs.
Suddenly these taunting voices were clearly coming from a land that was now foreign to me. In November when Scotland played England at Parkhead, it came as no surprise when I found myself rooting for the men in blue shirts. And now when anyone asks me about my nationality and I say I am Scottish, I am no longer using a flag of convenience.
I am Scottish.
To the toenails. How bizarre. How completely extraordinary. But as all those brown, black and yellow faces cheering on Australia and New Zealand proved last week, enthusiastic immigrants always tend to make the most fervent patriots. American has found a way to more or less rule the planet on the back of its ability to make anyone from anywhere feel a part of the Stars and Stripes.
My Scottishness has nothing to do with postcards of Loch Lomond and bagpipes and tossing the caber. My Scottishness is born out of the fact that this is a place where UKIP will lose lots of deposits.
It is a place where my black partner and two brown sons are made to feel welcome.
It is place where the community of a town of 50,000 have donated £38,000 worth of food in the last 12 months to feed the victims of the Welfare Reforms.
Scotland is what Britain is supposed to be.
Scotland is what Britain pretends to be.
Instead of Golden Dawn and UKIP and The Front National, we have the Scottish National Party.
Anyone looking for prejudice and racism should look elsewhere.
And you know what, telling people I am Scottish feels pretty good. It sits well with me and it sits well with the rest of the world. And this time the rest of the world has it right!
Has my own immigrant’s journey arrived at the final destination? I hope so. It feels that way. All being well, in the next few years the journey will be formalised when we all see sense next time and say goodbye to London rule for ever and ever.
And then maybe we will take a leaf out of the Barbados book and get rid of that dreary immigrant family from the Duchy of Saxe Coburg and Gotha as well.